Both the Labour and Conservative parties are being less than honest in their statements that their proposed efficiency savings will not result in a high number of job losses.
Efficiency savings can be defined as maintaining the existing level of outputs and services at lower costs. Although it is true that not all cost savings will be the result of a reduction in direct staff levels, it must be accepted that other cost savings, such as on materials, will almost certainly cause job losses in the firms providing the materials. The only recipients of money are people (when buying wood the money is not paid to a tree) and at the average wage of £25,000, each saving of £1m will cause 40 job losses.
Therefore a saving of £1bn will result in 40,000 job losses. However the Treasury will lose £8,100 of payroll taxes for every lost job and the net saving per 40,000 jobs will be less than £680,000. To achieve the efficiency savings of £6bn proposed by both main parties, unemployment will have to rise by 350,000.
Any teacher who has been subjected to the stream of jargon-ridden, platitudinous drivel that emanates both from the Education Department and local education authorities in the form of new initiatives and guidelines, or who has been forced to attend the countless and utterly spurious "training days" that put so much strain on resources for no apparent benefit, will be able to identify two or three billion pounds' worth of efficiency savings in less time than it takes to get through the "broadly Christian" element of a school assembly.
But it is doubtful whether either political party will even acknowledge, let alone tackle, this bureaucratic mountain, since they are the ones responsible for piling the Pelion of paperwork upon the Ossa of overwork in the first place.
Vote Tory and run the country
What we need is a strong leader who has worked out a full set of plans by which to govern the country for the next four to five years and to solve its problems. What the electorate needs is for that person to come forward during the next few weeks and explain to them, truthfully, what those plans are.
David Cameron's plan, apparently, is for ordinary working people to rush home in the evening, have their tea and then go straight back out again to solve the problems of education, the economy, law and order and the health service while, at the same time, organising a petition to sack their own MP for some reason.
When I watched his broadcast on the evening after his manifesto launch, he appeared to be delivering this master plan while relaxing in the back garden, in his leisure clothes, catching a bit of afternoon sun. I honestly think he is going to have to try a bit harder than that, don't you?
If there's one thing I've noticed about the Tories it is that while they are quite happy to take power, they show a distinct disinclination to accept the social responsibility that should go with it. The "Power to the People" gimmick is a perfect example.
At a time when the electorate has lost trust in the politicians, David Cameron has come up with what is no more than a moral cop-out. How on earth does Mr Cameron hope to restore that trust by shifting burdens of responsibility away from the Government and on to the public?
G L Samson
Among the ludicrous Tory manifesto proposals for "direct democracy" (surely the Tories, after losing three elections to a "morally corrupt, venal Labour Party", would agree that the electorate is not always the wisest) was a proposal for the election of police commissioners.
Such a prospect brings to mind the delicious image of David Cameron's infamously huggable "hoodies" setting up a special interest group in advance of such elections and lobbying officers on their polices towards cannabis and knife crime. It says a lot about how low the Labour Party is right now that such stunts are actually being taken seriously by the British media.
We elect MPs to represent us. They are paid to do so. What phantasmagoria prompts Mr Cameron to think that we should also volunteer (unpaid) to help them do their job? Sounds to me like keeping dogs and barking yourself.
The Tory Manifesto, at 130 pages long, could be summarised in three words: "Do it yourself".
Woodford Green, Essex
Black teenagers and gang rapes
When Stephen Glover questioned Rod Liddle's sources for his Spectator blog about violent crime (5 April) he wrote that Liddle cited myself as a source for his assertion that black or mixed-race men are disproportionately involved in gang rapes.
I would like to set the record straight about the Channel 4 Dispatches investigation into gang rape, "Rape in the City", in which my team and I examined the ethnicity of the perpetrators of gang rapes that had taken place in London in the previous three years. We were prompted to do this work after police and child welfare expert advisers on the Channel 4 Street Weapons Commission raised this as a problem alongside knife crime and other aspects of gang behaviour. There were also two high-profile court cases in December 2008 which raised questions about the continuing prevalence of such horrific crimes.
Our own research examined convictions in gang-rape cases involving three or more perpetrators, all aged under 25. The team spent four months collating information by contacting all the British police forces, looking at news reports and court listings, speaking to journalists and barristers. We did this research because the CPS doesn't keep statistics on gang rape. This is one of the problems the programme highlighted.
Among other results, our research found that two-thirds of young people convicted of being involved in gang rapes were black and mixed-race males. This disproportionate representation of black offenders has been supported by evidence from barristers, the crown courts, police forces, youth workers, community leaders, young people from black communities and the victims of such crimes.
As a black father of three girls as well as a journalist, I wanted to understand what lay behind such attacks. So I spoke to victims, groups of black and mixed-race teenagers, youth and social workers and community leaders. The final film provided an in-depth analysis of why these attacks are carried out and context for the statistics. I regret that Liddle has made any association between his blog and this film and stand by the challenging issues it uncovered.
Channel 4, London SW1
Simple spelling is no simple matter
Simplifying and rationalising English spelling, as suggested by some of your correspondents, would present two different sets of problems.
English spelling is more divorced from phonology than most people realise, and a basic simplification would still leave us with plenty of irrational letters, such as the R in most positions except the initial position. Rationalisation would call for a complete revision of vowels and the addition of several new graphemes, as in the International Phonetic Alphabet.
However, probably the greatest problem would be deciding on which English accent to base the new spelling system. At the moment English is a language very much held together by its irrational spelling: the Scot might say "fitbor" for football; the Canadian might say "tape rider" for typewriter; the Cockney "door'a" for daughter; but they can all understand the written word.
As far as reading is concerned, it is not so much irrational spelling that causes problems as lack of exposure to a wider vocabulary. English is a language where most of our more conceptual, abstract and technical vocabulary is based on intimidatingly polysyllabic loan words. Failure to recognise these words is far more likely to retard a person's literacy than the spelling of them.
Morality of killing foxes for pleasure
In his letter (13 April) Tim Bonner of the Countryside Alliance quotes Lord Burns as saying that there was "not sufficient verifiable evidence or data" to decide whether hunting was cruel.
Cruelty was not the primary basis for the ban, though I confess I'm rather vague about how one might gather "verifiable data" about the fox's experience of being chased for miles and torn to bits. No, the unarguable basis for ban is that the destruction of a sentient creature purely for the purpose of human enjoyment is morally wrong.
We don't permit humans to indulge their baser urges to rape and pillage – neither should we permit them to take pleasure in the lesser evil of the killing of a defenceless mammal. In a few years, when the fuss has died down, we will look back and wonder that it took so long to reach such an obvious conclusion.
Steve Edwards is wrong when he says that foxes are a top predator (letter, 6 April). Throughout their natural range foxes are preyed upon.
Predation has a positive biological effect by limiting numbers and removing weak specimens. Foxes would have been preyed upon in this country by both wolves and lynx. Their sole remaining predator is man and the method which most accurately mirrors the beneficial effects of natural predation is fox hunting. Banning it is to the detriment of the fox population and the wider ecology.
South Molton, Devon
Trapped in the NHS database
Arriving home from holiday, I found a communication about Summary Care Records. Having read the information provided, I decided to opt out.
I accessed the website given in the documentation but found that, every time I clicked on the "opt out" option, the system entered a state of suspended animation which I could only get out of by closing the site.
After several attempts, I gave up. I tried again next day with the same result. Via a Google search I found a direct link to the form in pdf format. I opened the form and read it with no problems. However, when I printed it out, everything, apart from the logos, was in "code". Each letter printed out was the next one in the alphabet to what it should have been: for example, "Date" appeared as "Ebuf".
Have any of your readers been successful in opting out of the system? If so, would they let me know how they did it, please?
Democracy in ermine
Labour stalwarts from the past must be turning in their graves as Gordon Brown parades ermine-clad Lords Mandelson and Adonis to present his case not to be hung, drawn and quartered by the electorate, especially when voters cannot rid themselves of this duo of hypocrites.
Bridlington, East Yorkshire
No body count
Peter Tajasque (letter, 13 April) shouldn't worry too much about why Taliban casualties aren't published by the higher echelons and political establishments (letter, 13 April). The only dead guerrilla fighters you can count are the ones you can find, and that number isn't the same as the number killed.
What am I worth?
Sir Norman Bettison, Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, says he is not worth £213,000. Despite eschewing his bonus, his message would be more powerful if, having worked out what he is truly worth, he gave the excess to charity or back to his police force. If more people acted upon their consciences in such a way, we would not be in this mess.
Insult to injury
Recent correspondents on the poor quality of reading materials in GPs' surgeries should count themselves lucky. After a cycling accident, a friend and I spent three hours of Easter Monday in the A & E waiting room at Tameside Hospital, where we were subjected to a giant plasma screen blaring out the dismal "family" movie Three Men and a Little Lady. As if gravel-filled lacerations weren't painful enough already.
Lewis Smith tells us that a ruddy turnstone weighs "somewhat less than a 250g stick of butter" (report, 12 April). Does it weigh somewhat more or somewhat less than a 250g bag of flour or a 250g box of chocolates?
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