Letters to the editor: September to October 2020

Close-up of a letterbox on a door.
Photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash

Let’s keep the NHS in public hands

29 October

Dear editor,

It is often said that we do not miss things until they have gone. For the past year PM Johnson has been in trade negotiations with the US. He has refused time and again to place protections for the NHS on the negotiations.

Donald Trump has insisted that “everything is on the table”. We know that the US want access to the NHS market both to sell drugs and to have access to providing services. It seems that the NHS is being put up for privatisation.

It is not likely to go all at once but will likely be a softly, softly approach. A bit here and bit there. Then one day it would be gone, sold off to big companies. We know from the experience that handing the track and trace system to SERCO was a disaster. But still SERCO got paid by taxpayers for failure.

Recently I have had cause to have a conversation with my dentist. Certain procedures are currently, due to the pandemic, not available on the NHS so we discussed me “going private”. There were several options for me to take but all had a price tag attached. This was an unpleasant experience, as I felt a price was being put on my health and well-being. My health had become a commodity to be bought and sold. 

I feel that I have had a glimpse of a possible future with no NHS, where we would have to make decisions about whether we could afford treatments for ourselves and our loved ones. 

Let’s keep the NHS in public hands. Don’t let us miss it once it’s gone.   

Yours faithfully,

Brian Batson


How can one government and its prime minister be so out of touch?

25 October

Dear editor,

Boris Johnson complains he is unable to cope on £3000 a week, but fortunately there is a big payrise on the horizon. MPs are to get a massive £3,300 increase. Johnson is, of course, an MP.

But what of the nurses who cared for him when he was very ill with coronavirus? Well, despite all the clapping, even by Johnson, no pay rise for nurses. (The idea that we should just clap for the MPs and all their pay rises should go to the NHS staff does not seem to have been considered.)

But how MPs justify a £3,300 pay rise whilst denying food to hungry children is beyond most people. Even Nigel Farage commented “If the government can subsidise Eat Out to Help Out [to boost restaurants and cafes], not being seen to give poor kids lunch in school holidays looks mean and is wrong”.

How can one government and its prime minister be so out of touch? One would almost think they were in parliament to make money…

Yours faithfully,

Andy Milroy

Will Mr Hollinrake hand power to an algorithm?

17 October

Dear editor,

The planning white paper, ‘Planning For the future’, published by the government in August, proposes to sweep away the discretion of local councils and impose house building numbers determined by a new algorithm. Areas with a large gap between incomes and house prices will have large increases in house building forced on them. In the most extreme case a tripling of the building volume currently allowed. At the same time the government proposes to eliminate the requirement for affordable homes on all schemes with fewer than 40 new dwellings.

It is widely recognised that there is an acute shortage of affordable housing for local people in Ryedale, Scarborough and Hambleton; the result of a wide gap between incomes and house prices. Many feel that house building has already been excessive around towns like Malton and Thirsk, but the new government proposals will almost double the number of new homes to be built, according to the Lichfields Planning Consultancy. So, a lot more houses, but fewer affordable ones for local people.

It is reported that up to 70 Tory MPs, horrified at the impact on their constituencies, are lobbying for a rethink and threatening to vote against the white paper in its current form. As Local Government Association spokesperson, Tory Cllr David Renard, said “Algorithms and formulas can never be a substitute for local knowledge and decision-making by councils and communities who know their areas best”.

It would be nice to know that Mr Hollinrake will also be standing up for the local communities he represents, but to date it is not clear that he is. After the distress caused to so many A-level students by the government’s blind faith in an algorithm can they seriously be proposing to plan housing development using the same principle?

Yours faithfully,

Pennie Hamer

North Yorkshire

Another lost chance for Kevin Hollinrake MP to support his constituents

14 October

Dear editor,

You kindly published my letter of 21 September regarding the maintenance of high food standards now that the UK is leaving the EU. Kevin Hollinrake, MP for Thirsk and Malton, while repeatedly saying he supports farming and food standards, did not vote for amendments to the agriculture bill and the trade bill that would have enshrined these in law.

Sadly, he has wasted another opportunity to support both his constituents who work in agriculture and the overwhelming majority who want to see the UK’s high standards maintained. When it came before the House of Commons on Monday, he voted against an amendment to the agriculture bill proposed by Lord Curry, which was passed by the House of Lords with a majority of 107. The motion was supported by Baroness McIntosh of Pickering, who was the constituency’s Conservative MP until 2015. Lord Curry is a man who knows a bit about farming. He chaired the Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food that helped the industry recover from the disastrous foot and mouth disease outbreak of 2001.

If the amendment had passed into law, it would have given the Trade and Agriculture Commission set up in June, the power to provide parliament with independent advice on the impact of all future trade deals on British food and farming standards. The Commission would have established criteria for maintaining standards that could not have been ignored.

Yet Mr Hollinrake voted against it.

Yours faithfully,

Martin Phillips


Listen to the scientists – Covid-19 may be aerosolised

5 October

Dear editor,

On 25 March and 6 April, I emailed BBC Breakfast and Good Morning Britain about the fact that whilst the coronavirus in not airborne, it is nevertheless contained in the air that we breathe out. Unfortunately, my observations were triaged out of sight and never saw the light of day. What a shame.

It seems that scientists are cautiously suggesting that Covid-19 may be aerosolised (in tiny droplets, that stay in the air for great distances and for many hours) – the point I made six months ago, only with more consumer-friendly English. On Sunday, a national newspaper reported that a university in the US is saying that coronavirus is unlikely to spread though contact with hard surfaces or indeed from hand-to-hand contact. I’ll return to that last later on.

Covid-19 is spread in moisture from our bodies – spit, sweat, sneezing – as confirmed by government health advisors. It’s spread in what comes out of our mouths every time we breathe out. Try these examples: go outside on a cold day and see what looks like steam coming from your mouth (water vapour); in a bedroom without double glazing, see the condensation that gathers on the windows by morning (also water vapour). Don’t imagine that the air coming from the sleepers falls on the carpet after two metres; it whistles around all over the room, all night.

How many of us breathe on our specs before cleaning them? That film of moisture goes on them in the Sahara desert as well as the North Pole. In other words, we are expelling possibly virus-laden air every time we breathe out – and it can travel significantly further than the 2m distance we’re supposed to be keeping. It makes even mask wearing inefficient, though it’s better than nothing.  

One last thing in this vein. As a former professional trumpet player, I have been blowing water out of the water key at least twice a minute for the last 45 years. Contrary to the opinion of many of my colleagues, who feel that it is necessary to drink five or six pints of Marston’s Pedigree to replace the spit that goes down the instrument, what actually comes out is vapour condensed moisture from the lungs. In the old days, you could put that straight into your car battery, as it is in fact distilled water.

To return to the hand shaking, if one is to believe what is coming from the States then this shouldn’t harm you in itself, except that hand shaking inevitably involves things like “Nice to see you” and “How’s the missus?” etc., all of which ensures a possible unhealthy exchange of breath and coronavirus. Hand washing is, of course, a good idea anyway and should be encouraged. But the solution the scientists are suggesting above all else … fresh air and ventilation.

Yours faithfully,

Bill Houghton


Lorry park in Kent looks set to become the Brexit naughty corner

25 September

Dear editor,

We have just been told that lorries coming into Kent will have to have a permit, and those without one will be fined. I suspect Sevington Lorry Park is to be used as the naughty corner for migrant HGVs invading Kent without an authorised passport.

We in Kent are asking how they can be stopped if they are unauthorised. A portcullis at the Dartford Tunnel, causing jams on the M12? Signage at the turn-offs for the M2, M20 or A21, might be able to route HGVs into special check-points, but this would just push the queues on to the M25. Would-be customs dodgers who might try the back lanes of Kent would soon get stuck around the sharp corners, and for some years now Kent Police and local residents have been getting more vigilant against HGVs illegally parking on the roadside at night.

But does this mean there will be border posts on all the roads that cross Kent county boundaries? We have our scouts out taking photos of suitable locations. Will the HGVs have to fly the Invicta Kent flag proudly from the cab to show that they’ve got the permit?

Perhaps the locating and erection of these border offices will soon be put out to tender, or handed out to another Tory peer. Memory flickers back to other countries that have put up internal borders. South Africa’s attempt to make borders around ‘homelands’, for instance, led to grim places staffed by men in uniform with guns, which have now either been quietly abandoned or transformed into rest-stops and tea-shops. Or the former border on the island of Ireland …

A border needs infrastructure, staffing and enforcement.

It would clearly be too difficult to set up physical borders to Kent. The Kent permit is intended as a costly fine to those arriving at the existing checkpoints at Dover and at Eurotunnel without the correct documentation. What is no doubt intended is a reconfiguration of the lanes there, so that those with the number plates that are cleared to enter EU are allowed to board for Channel crossing, whilst the rest, without argument, are routed back up the M20. There is simply not enough space at the coast for HGVs to queue up so that their drivers can argue their way through.

So the solution is that the naughty lorries will be turned around at the coast and sent up to Sevington, where “we” will get them sorted!

Yours faithfully,

A Kent resident

We face a second national lockdown because of the corruption of Cummings and his cronies!

24 September

Dear editor,

Beyond the increased restrictions, reputedly the government is desperate to avoid a second national lockdown and stresses there will only be local lockdowns. But the massive obstacle to this strategy is the strict rationing of testing for Covid-19. There is no way that local hot spots can be identified.

If it is not known where a local lockdown will be necessary, local hotspots will grow unchecked.

The huge problems with the promised “world beating” Track and Trace system, overseen by Johnson’s aristocratic sidekick Baroness Diana (Dido) Harding, are totally undermining the government’s whole coronavirus strategy.

So, are we reverting to the government’s original discredited strategy of herd immunity?
Reputedly Dominic Cummings expressed the view that “if that means some pensioners die, too bad”. Well, pensioners have died  in their thousands. Many see that down to the government’s failure to put in place an effective Track and Trace system from the start.

The failures of the present system stem from its outsourcing to private companies, with no experience, run by cronies of Dominic Cummings; large contracts given out without competitive tendering. The failure of Track  and Trace is therefore down to the corruption at the heart of government.

Yours faithfully,

Andrew Milroy


Is Kevin Hollinrake MP voting in parliament in support of his constituents?

22 September

Dear editor,

Agriculture is a major part of the economy in the rural Thirsk and Malton constituency. So too is food, with Malton the self-styled food capital of Yorkshire. Our farmers and growers are rightly concerned about the future of their businesses when EU rules governing agriculture cease to apply. The National Farmers Union and Save British Farming are pressing government for legal safeguards against reductions to UK standards. This aim is supported by various supermarkets, environmental organisations and industry experts, including local chef Tommy Banks. In recent polling, the public showed overwhelming support for the country’s farmers, expressed concern about how the nation’s food is produced and wants to see a greener recovery from Covid-19.

A fellow Tory MP tabled an amendment to the Agriculture Bill in May. It would have enshrined in law the principle that imported food must be produced to the same or higher welfare and environmental standards as those required in the UK. Twenty-two Tory MPs and all opposition parties voted for the amendment. Mr Hollinrake professes his support for farmers, most recently in a statement on his website. Yet he voted against it.

Imports of chlorinated chicken, hormone-treated beef and produce treated with pesticides banned in the EU must not be allowed to compromise our food standards. If Kevin Hollinrake really wants to support his constituents, why didn’t he vote for the amendment that would have done just that?

Yours sincerely,

Martin Phillips


Respect for the dead

18 September

Dear Editor,

I have an issue that requires an airing and you may be interested in this. I have approached local councillors, the Bishop of Wakefield, and our local MP Imran Ahmad-Khan all to no avail. I have also sent letters to the Wakefield Express, with no response. 

I am starting to wonder if anyone cares any more about deceased relatives? At the end of your life, you hope that your affairs are all taken care of. You have worked all of your life, paid your dues, and your taxes. What you don’t expect is to be accruing taxes after you’ve left this mortal coil.  

Not true. 

The custom we have in this country of respectfully dealing with our dead has been with us for hundreds of years. But now, if your headstone is found to be unsafe by council inspectors they will send your next of kin a letter to put the matter right. This costs around £450 for a stonemason. If this is not done within 12 months, they will come along and lay the stone down on the ground. This means:

  1. The stones that have no relatives will stay on the ground.
  2. The stones that have relatives that cannot afford to re-instate them will stay on the ground.
  3. There are stones belonging to people who live and work abroad and periodically visit – are these stones ever be re-instated?
  4. There are stones that have been laid down that now have garish yellow stickers on them, further demonstrating disrespect to our dead.
  5. Headstones deemed to be ‘dangerous’ and laid down now become dangerous trip hazards instead.

Wakefield cemeteries are fast resembling builders’ yards rather than places of peace and tranquility where people can visit the graves of loved ones. This is so wrong in my eyes.

Grave stones laid flat on the ground.
St Paul’s cemetery, Wakefield
Photo: G Hall

Yours faithfully,

Mr G Hall


Yorkshire Bylines contacted Wakefield Council about this issue. Glynn Humphries, corporate director for communities, environment and climate change, sent us this response:

“The Council has a duty to protect the health and safety of visitors and staff working in our cemeteries. Stonemasons fit and install headstones in cemeteries, and families can pick which stonemason they choose.

“A decision to lay down a memorial and place a tag is taken in cases where it presents an immediate risk. There have been cases where an unsafe memorial has caused serious injury in other areas of the country and we want to prevent this from happening.

“We always try to contact the last known owner to let them know and give them a 12-month period to make their memorial permanently safe. The council does not make any money from this and we do not make any charge that normally applies for any new memorials that need altering.

“We understand the laying down of a memorial can be upsetting for the loved ones and our staff are trained to provide support and guidance in supporting them to make the memorial safe for everyone.”

See previous letters to the editor.

If you would like to contact Yorkshire Bylines, email editor@yorkshirebylines.co.uk

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