Letters: Council houses can make money

Ever since David Cameron floated his naïve suggestion that council tenants should not have security of tenure, I have been frustrated by the apparent lack of factual information available to those who are making the loudest comments.

For over 30 years council house tenants have had the right to buy their property, which in my opinion is a good thing. The bad thing was that councils were not allowed to reinvest the income from the sales. As a result, for instance, a small council like Blaby District has over £8m from council house sales sitting in a financial portfolio producing at the moment very little income. No one can say that there is no money to invest in new social housing. The money is already in the bank.

One third of all council house rents are taken by the Government, which leaves councils unable adequately to maintain their remaining stock of properties.

At present council tenants have right of tenure, so that a family can move into a property suitable for them and over time as the children leave and perhaps one of the partners dies, the remaining partner can remain in the property for life, leaving perhaps another family in sub-standard accommodation.

If the law was changed, I pity the poor councillors who would have to sit in judgement between an elderly person whose family home it had been for most of their life and a family desperate for suitable accommodation. Nevertheless I think the law should allow the judgement to be made by councillors.

In the early 1970s, before this ridiculous state of affairs developed, I was involved in local politics in Leicester. At the time the council house account made a surplus so that council house tenants subsidised the rate payers, so there was no stigma of council tenants being subsidised. It was possible because the council was able to borrow money at preferential rates and the housing stock had been accumulated over many years.

Perhaps the Coalition should allow councils to spend the money they have in the bank from council house sales to build some much needed affordable homes.

Councillor David Pollard, Blaby District, Leicestershire

Who will vote for a tax rise?

The Government is proposing to introduce referendums into the local authority tax-raising mechanism. A recommended maximum increase in council tax (and in levels of precept in parish and town council areas) will be set by central government. Any council setting a council tax increase above this level will be required to hold a referendum within their administrative area in order for the increase to be imposed.

On the face of it this would appear to be in line with the published coalition policy of empowering local people, but it is empowering them at the expense of local government powers. I thought they proposed that it would be central government which was to become smaller.

The chances of people voting in favour of a hefty council tax increase must be low to non-existent, and so this would end up being council-tax capping by another name. Worse, it would be capping of the lowest level of local government, the parish and town councils, which have never been capped previously.

Elections are held every four years and councillors are elected to, among other things, set the annual budget for their area. It is an important part of the democratic process that central government should not interfere with local administrations in this way.

Tony Day, Chairman, Herne and Broomfield parish council, Kent

No, Taliban are not the Nazis

As a former teacher of history, I have long felt that the increasing marginality of my subject in the schools has potentially dire consequences. This view is now confirmed by Julie Burchill's comparison of opponents of the war in Afghanistan to the partisans of appeasement of Nazi Germany in the 1930s (11 August).

Nazi Germany was indeed a threat to both the British national interest and humanity in general, which the Taliban, however hateful they may be, are not. Concepts like the "War on Terror" and "humanitarian intervention" are no more than cover meant to convince us of the justice of what is essentially a struggle for western geopolitical control of a vital sector of the Third World.

Given these circumstances, is it right to celebrate the bravery and commitment of "our boys", volunteer soldiers sent to the slaughter in pursuit of policies they have no part in making? To do so is to become complicit in a policy that leads so many to death. We must sympathise with their predicament, even as those of my generation did with the conscripts of the Vietnam war. And the best way to serve their – and our – interest is to call for their immediate withdrawal.

Jeffry Kaplow, London SE3

Years ago I worked with Vietnamese "boat people" for the UN. Now I teach human rights law. In the past my students, friends and colleagues doing humanitarian work have been murdered in Iraq, Sri Lanka and East Timor. Many of my students now work in Afghanistan.

They train the police, provide security for President Karzai, decide whether targets meet the standards of the Geneva Conventions, manage aid projects and organise parliamentary elections. They all know what will happen to the Afghan people when our troops pull out, the women and girls most of all. But not one of these brave and committed men and women thinks the civil war in Afghanistan is winnable.

They know the efforts and sacrifices they are making are only postponing the inevitable. Our leaders also know this and it is they who are the cynics that Julie Burchill ought to be condemning. For Julie to accuse those of us who want this misguided adventure to end now of appeasement, cynicism, cowardice and a lack of patriotism is an accusation we resent.

Andrew Shacknove, Oxford

Julie Burchill's comparison of soldiers in Afghanistan to firefighters back home is a curious one. To continue with the analogy, one might say that in the absence of house fires, the Government should start their own so that we might further applaud the bravery of our fire service. Yet best not give the politicians any ideas.

No one is questioning the bravery of our troops, or their willingness to honourably sacrifice themselves in combat zones; it could be questioned though, without being accused of armchair cowardice, whether such deaths are necessary. Afghanistan and Iraq – like Vietnam, before them – are political and economic conflicts, concerned with maintaining spheres of interest rather than a physical need to defend British interests. Indeed, the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan has greatly increased the possibility of terrorist attack.

And while Ms Burchill can quote John Stuart Mill, I can quote Jean Anouilh, who said: "[Old men] grow fat on ideas, and young men die of them."

Gary Clark, Radlett, Hertfordshire

Welfare cuts hit the wrong target

Another day, yet another initiative from the Coalition. For an administration that didn't want to be like the last one, they aren't doing much that isn't like New Labour, especially with regard to the constant drip, drip, drip of radical new this and radical new that. One can only hope that the coalition has more success than New Labour did, with their "new" initiative to tackle welfare benefit fraud.

Why, though, has David Cameron chosen to focus on welfare benefit fraud, when there are much bigger fish to fry with regard to the billions of pounds that are owed to the UK by tax-dodging scallywags? It has been estimated that over £100bn is owed to the UK by people who evade paying income tax, which dwarfs the estimated £5bn welfare benefit fraud.

Julie Partridge, London SE10

No one would argue with tackling fraud in the benefit system ("Cameron calls in 'bounty hunters' to catch benefit fraudsters", 11 August), but it is important to remember that levels of fraud are in fact remarkably low relative to the coverage it often receives.

For example, according to Department for Work and Pensions figures for Incapacity Benefit, the amount of money lost through official error is four times greater than the amount lost through fraud (2.1 per cent compared with 0.5 per cent). Estimates also suggest that far more is gained by people not claiming their entitlements or being underpaid than is lost by people defrauding the system.

Many disabled people rely on support from the benefits system, or have been helped to find work through out-of-work benefits. This support can be absolutely vital and people who need it must not be put off from claiming.

Unfortunately some disabled people have reported being the targets of abuse or even violence simply because they receive benefits. The Government must ensure that any further "crackdown" on fraud does not end up driving people who desperately need support away from even making a claim in the first place.

Guy Parckar, Acting Director of Policy and Campaigns, Leonard Cheshire Disability, London SW8

David Cameron is quoted: "The first port of call in cutting spending is to stop paying money to people who shouldn't receive it. Cutting fraud and bureaucracy in welfare should be the first and deepest cut that we will make."

So the president of the coalition millionaires' club sees the bottom stratum of financial society as the most promising, and most defenceless one in which to pan for gold.

It would of course be more difficult, and less ideologically pleasing for Cameron to seek the immeasurably greater returns from curtailing the actions of various non-doms and seeking international support for the strangulation of off-shore havens for the really rich. Paying more attention to bonuses and share options, which still fall as if from heaven into the pockets of bankers and others, would be more just and effective in the pursuance of his honourable quest.

But no, welfare comes first.

Eddie Dougall, Walsham le Willows, Suffolk

The Government is so obsessed with saving money that the human aspect of those seeking employment has been forgotten, along with those who are truly sick, disabled or otherwise unemployed. Those in receipt of benefits are being unfairly vilified as the politicians consider paying private companies to seek out benefit recipients who are suspected of living "lavishly" without "reasonable cause".

There has been no consideration as to the stress and worry that the verifiably sick and disabled are being subjected to by the employment of these vigilante companies, who will possibly be given carte blanche to access the private financial assets of often innocent individuals.

D Roberts, Tredegar, South Wales

Our ossified political culture

Sean O'Grady's analysis of the backgrounds of the 119 people now running Britain ("A government of straight, white, privately educated men", 7 August), showed that ex-Bullingdonians hold two of the country's top offices, there are enough Old Etonians for a football team (plus a substitute) and Old Wellingtonians outnumber the products of secondary moderns (like myself) and technical schools. The article reminded me of what Disraeli – himself something of an outsider – had once advised the Marxist Socialist H M Hyndman: "A very difficult country to move Mr Hyndman, a very difficult country to move."

Compare Britain's ossified political culture with that of an apparently more open emerging nation like Brazil, where during the 1990s the presidency was held by an internationally renowned sociologist and public intellectual, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and, more recently, "Lula" who hails from the country's deeply impoverished north-east.

It is almost impossible to imagine figures like them ever becoming Prime Minister here. Sadly, Britain, it seems, remains the "deferential" nation of Bagehot.

Time for a change. What a stuffy country!

K G Banks, Maidstone, Kent

Wasteful way to generate power

The article on the architecture of Britain's "new energy plants" (9 August) included references to waste-burning plants. These are not power stations; they should be called "incinerators". They do not belong in any discussion on power stations, and the technology can certainly not be considered to be new.

An incinerator is still an incinerator, however beautiful its appearance. Its primary purpose, which should not be disguised or misnamed, is to burn waste, and such an idea is environmentally and economically misguided, especially in times of recession.

The energy consumed in keeping an incinerator going is far more than the tiny amount it can produce. A mixed waste incinerator produces more CO2 than any other waste facility, and incidentally, even more greenhouse gases than a coal-fired power station.

Anaerobic digestion is rightly the present government's preferred waste technology: this method heats the material without burning it. Methane is produced which can be used as a fuel. It is a cleaner and more eco-friendly way of dealing with waste.

Valerie Moffett, Seaford, East Sussex

The heritage of Hiroshima

Iain Smith (letter, 11 August) argues that the atom bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki "did show the world how dreadful were the effects of the use of such weapons".

This, for many people, is why the US dropped the second bomb on Nagasaki: to show the Soviet Union what they had. One could argue that the dropping of the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, rather than ending the Second World War, started the Cold War, because the Soviet Union felt they had no choice but to build a bomb of their own.

Karl Osborne, Hounslow, Middlesex

Because the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were specifically aimed at massacring and terrorising civilians, they constituted war crimes according to international law and should be officially classified as such.

The political excuses put forward by your correspondents (which are not even accurate as they clearly haven't read Alperovitz's definitive study) have no bearing on the matter and are on a par with an attempt to excuse the Holocaust on political grounds.

If Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not war crimes, neither was Srebenica. Indeed the category "war crime" cannot even exist.

Malcolm Pittock, Bolton, greater Manchester

High-speed train we don't need

Results of the rail passenger survey (report, 10 August) will not surprise regular travellers and especially commuters. Affordability, reliability, punctuality and simplicity of fare structures are key themes. Clearly, there is work to be done.

In this context, why is the Government even considering the multi billion pound high-speed rail network? The first stage, designed to cut 30 minutes off the journey time from London to Birmingham, will cost £17.8bn for the infrastructure alone. This is £160m for each of the 108 miles between the cities.

HS2 is superficially prestigious, but it will not improve the daily grind for most people. Rather, it will devour money over the next 30 years which could be better spent on improving services for commuters into London and our provincial cities.

Marilyn Fletcher, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire

Put to the test

Pete Dorey makes an apt comparison between athletes and exam candidates (letter, 9 August). Athletes train to succeed in a few events. Likewise pupils are nowadays trained to pass various tests and exams to improve their schools' standing. Like poor athletes, pupils who are deemed likely to fail are not entered. Pupils need a good all-round education across a the full spectrum of a subject, not just enough to get them to pass the exam.

Keith Eves, Mold, Flintshire

Almost innocent

First, under New Labour, people arrested but never convicted still have their DNA retained as they have to prove they did not commit an offence. Now, under the Tory-Liberal coalition, people cleared by courts are told they have to be "clearly innocent" to be eligible for compensation. What has happened to the principle of innocent until proven guilty?

Johnny Burrows, St Albans, Hertfordshire

Strange fruit

Changing pastimes: my computer spell-checker doesn't recognise blackberrying and thinks I must have been BlackBerrying.

Robert Hall, Swansea

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