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Letters to the editor: May to September 2020

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The prime minister does not speak for ordinary Conservatives

12 September

Dear editor,

I am deeply concerned by the government’s plan to break promises made in the Withdrawal Agreement; an international treaty signed less than a year ago. The Northern Ireland secretary admitted this would break international law. The internal markets bill would renege on commitments to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland and would set negotiations with Europe back to square one.

The Conservatives pride themselves on being the party of law and order, of economic stability and of the Union. Now the government is openly breaking international law and paving the way to a no-deal economic disaster. How can the Conservative and Unionist Party jeopardise the hard-won peace in Northern Ireland? 

The prime minister does not speak for ordinary Conservatives. He was elected to deliver a comprehensive, ‘oven-ready’ deal with Europe, which would help communities and businesses like mine. Yet his actions threaten not only the reputation of the Conservative Party, but the global reputation of the UK as a trustworthy nation. 

Yours sincerely, 

Magdalena Williams 


Blood on their hands

30 August

Dear editor,

The Friday edition of The Times has the headline: “Get Britain Back to Work” Senior Tories Tell Johnson.

That is easier said than done and would be a great deal easier if Johnson in particular, and his government, had not handled the Covid crisis so incompetently. What our prime minister is reaping are the consequences of, among other things, his failure to lock-down earlier.

In an effort to get an overview of how the pandemic has been handled I put together a “charge sheet” of how history might in future assess the culpability of this government. It runs to twenty-two charges, an important early one being the failure to take Covid seriously. (Quiz question for thirty years hence: “Name the prime minister who chose to miss the first five COBRA meetings relating to Covid”)

You do not beat a pandemic by attempting to tough it out with ill-based optimism, bluff and bluster. The coronavirus has no respect for English exceptionalism. Marginalising local authorities with their well-established links into local public health, in order to favour private-sector partners, is ideology getting in the way of success.

History will conclude that this government has blood on its hands.

Yours faithfully,

John Cole  

Bradford


Bemused about test and trace

22 August

Dear editor,

I wonder if I’m the only person who feels rather bemused after contacting the test and trace organisation in this country?

It came about after I had driven my grandson to play football, and collected him afterwards. He was due to play again the following day, but phoned to tell me the team manager had told him not to attend as one of the players had coronavirus. I duly phoned the doctor who said to contact 111. They in turn said I was to call 119.

When the phone was answered I was required to press 1 a couple of times in answer to questions, such as whether my first language was English. Eventually a person came on the line and asked casually what I wanted. I explained, and he still seemed uninterested. I suggested that perhaps I ought to be tested for covid. He seemed to think it was up to me, but if that was what I wanted, he would get a test kit sent to me. I wondered if he had any advice, but he hadn’t. 

No questions such as the location of the boy concerned, the name of the football team. No questions such as whether I or my grandson had been in contact with anyone else. Not interested in whether I live with other people, whether I went to work. Not a flicker of interest!

So that’s tracing I thought.

I rang back to ask the name of the organisation I was dealing with. Public Health England was the reply. Not Serco? I asked. The first reply was repeated. It is my understanding that Serco has been handed a lucrative contract to deal with test and trace. But they clearly didn’t want to admit that.

Yours sincerely,

Jean Hopkin

Tideswell, Derbyshire


A government without shame

19 August

Dear Editor,

It would seem from today’s national press that Gavin Williamson has offered to resign over the exam results debacle but that his boss has decided to keep him on. This was clearly a resignation issue given that the government were alerted to the potential problems some weeks ago but continued down the party line until the self-evident injustice forced a U-turn. It now seems that, in true Conservative fashion, the buck is being passed to Ofqual who only did what they were paid for.

If only this was an isolated incident – but it is not. This government has a history of gross miscalculations, mistakes, half-truths and downright lies and has accepted responsibility for none of them.

Going right back to the prime minister’s feeble attempts to excuse his top aide’s excursions to Durham and Barnard Castle, and then close down the debate, it has been a litany of obfuscation. Who has taken responsibility of the shortage of PPE which was highlighted three years ago? Who has paid the price for a plane load of PPE (and the RAF flight) from Turkey which did not meet the specification? Who held their hands up to wasting £150m on face masks with the wrong straps? This demonstrates endemic governmental incompetence and shows what happens when top jobs are handed out to loyal Brexit supporters regardless of ability.

What happened to the communities minister, Robert Jenrick, who overturned a perfectly legal planning refusal within hours of having dinner with the developer at a Tory fundraiser? This gross abuse of authority should have ended with a sacking but all we got was a weak apology. Are we really supposed to believe that developer contributions to Conservative Party funds make no difference to planning decisions?

The most recent news from Matt Hancock is that he is about to scrap Public Health England in the middle of a pandemic to create a new “independent” body that would become “world renowned” and make the country safer. Is this to be in the same world renowned class as the track and trace app, widely heralded as a world beater, which has since faded from sight? Even his fallback position using Serco and employing hundreds of track and trace operators who sat by their computers all day doing nothing has failed abysmally, and the responsibility for track and trace is now being transferred to local authorities who not only had responsibility for public health all along but knew their local areas.

This is a history of incompetence, arrogance and possible corruption, bolstered by a large majority in parliament. It demonstrates the dangers inherent in governments with a very large majority.

Cllr Geoff Webber

Harrogate


The management of grouse moors is grotesque and environmentally damaging

18 August

Dear Editor,

I was appalled, but sadly not surprised, by the coverage that the British Association for Shooting and Conservation received last week in another of Yorkshire’s papers – the Yorkshire Post. The continued lauding of ‘the glorious 12th’ is disgusting to many people who object to ‘blood sports’, but it should also be increasingly concerning for those working to combat climate change and in protecting the environment more generally.

We all have our own opinions, but it is wrong to quote from one small study, as MP Robert Goodwill did (opinion Yorkshire Post 13 August), in order to present something that may be beneficial financially and socially to a very small proportion of the population as beneficial to us all. Incidentally, the study commissioned by the Uplands Partnership, gave a very specific date for completion, of 4 August, presumably so that its contents could be used for publicity around on 12 August.

Let us be very clear, despite the claims that have been published this week, the management of grouse moors for shooting is very damaging to the environment. Research published earlier this year by the University of Leeds found that burning grouse moors degrades peatland habitat, releases climate-altering gases, reduces biodiversity and increases flood risk. Thank goodness an increasing number of landowners are banning the burning of peat.

It will require many changes in the way we live in our world if we are to tackle the climate emergency. Some jobs will have to go, but many more green jobs can be created with the political will. Continuing a leisure activity for 40,000 people, which provides just 2,500 full-time jobs across the country whilst damaging the environment for the rest of us, cannot be right.

As many more of us are choosing to holiday in the UK this year, due to Covid-19, there is an upsurge in rural tourism. As tourists we are not going to want our holidays disturbed by hearing shooting, but we would be delighted to spot rare birds of prey like hen harriers, which there is clear evidence are still being illegally shot by those ‘managing the moorlands’. 

It is my hope that this campaign by the BASC backfires, as it exposes their grotesque and environmentally damaging practices to a wider public. In this difficult time how was the BASC able to fund their massive advertising campaign this week? It is unclear who funded the study which is being widely quoted by the BASC, and I have been unable to find any record of the Uplands Partnership who commissioned it. The study (interviews with 61 people and a survey of fewer than 600, overwhelmingly male) looked just at the economic and social factors of grouse moor management, ignoring the environmental factors.

There is nothing glorious about privileged people shooting birds for enjoyment, then trying to justify it as ‘job creation’ and ‘social cohesion’ or even worse, environmental protection. We know we need more trees to be planted. Thousands of years ago, before humans interfered so grossly with the natural environment, these moors were forested. We need to plant trees to respond to the climate emergency and allow our moorland and other areas to rewild.

Cllr Ann Forsaith

Leeds


We’ve painted ourselves into a corner

15 July

Dear editor,

Those whose task in life is to paint floors learn early the important lesson: “Do not paint yourself into a corner”.

Yet politically this is precisely what this government has done and is doing with respect to Brexit.

Mr Gove’s announcement on Monday of the various activities the government is engaged in by way of preparation is indicative that the painter is still painting. In consequence the constraints are becoming tighter and the room for manoeuvre less.

Zero substantive progress is being made with talks on the future relationship with the EU27 and most of the blame for that resides with the UK side. From the start, May’s government and now Johnson’s has shown no intellectual honesty or clarity of thought or purpose.

January 2021 is set to be a disaster. Our best hope of being rescued from this lies with the EU27 saving us from ourselves.

Now, there’s an irony for you – the organisation we have spurned riding to our rescue.

Yours faithfully,

John Cole (Bradford)


13 July 2020

No to Death by Brexit chaos

Dear editor,

The loss of access to Euratom and the removal of the European Medicines Agency from the UK to another EU country following the UK’s vote to leave the EU will have a devastating effect on some of the most vulnerable members of the population and on the NHS.

The European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), established in 1957, covers all civil nuclear activities in the EU and designed to provide a common market in nuclear materials. It guarantees a supply of nuclear fuels, ensures the safety of nuclear materials and protects them from being diverted from their intended purpose.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is responsible for the scientific evaluation, supervision and safety monitoring of medicines in the EU. The EMA is essential to the functioning of the single market for medicines in the EU. The agency’s work is vital in providing EU citizens with effective, safe and high-quality medicines and in maintaining a regulatory environment that fosters innovation and the development of new medicines.

The EMA is a networking organisation whose activities involve thousands of experts from across Europe. These experts carry out the work of EMA’s scientific committees. The UK, as a non-EU country will neither participate in the work of the EMA nor profit from the results of that work.

Why does it matter that the two agencies mentioned above have left the UK?

Firstly, the UK’s cancer screening as well as cancer treatment is dependent on research into and supply of isotopes from Euratom. Isotopes cannot be stockpiled as they are perishable.

The second issue is transport. In the absence of new agreements with Euratom and no special arrangements at the borders between the EU and the UK, there are no guarantees that “just in time” supplies to the UK can carry on if, as seems more and more likely, we crash out of the EU.

A large number of other lifesaving medicines, such as for diabetes and epilepsy, and implements for dialysis are not produced in the UK but are supplied from mainland Europe. Many of these medicines have short shelf lives and cannot be stockpiled. If we leave the EU, border agencies will struggle to cope with new entrance requirements and delays in the supply chain will create a crisis.

We are not exaggerating when we say some people’s lives depend on regular and timely supply of their prescribed remedies. Availability and transport are of importance for all consumers of pharmaceutical products. But just as importantly, the EMA also assures the quality and safety of medicines. Without its oversight and if the UK market opens up to new trade deals outside EU supervision, counterfeit drugs might put lives at risk.

We cannot accept that people already coping with the seriousness of life-threatening conditions which put them at high risk through Covid-19 should be further burdened. The health insecurity arising from this Brexit chaos after a pandemic is taking its toll on their physical and mental health and will put their lives, or the lives of their loved ones, at risk.

On 15 February, we held a flash mob outside the Department of Health and in Parliament Square for people who live in fear for their own or their loved ones’ lives. It was not reported by media. On 15 July, we are holding a UK wide protest. Tonight at 7.30pm, Glasgow Loves Europe will do a live stream on this issue.

We demand assurances that lifesaving medicines and treatments for people living with life-threatening conditions will not be disrupted by Brexit, especially no deal.

Yours faithfully,

Magdalena Williams


10 July 2020

Social housing

Dear editor,

The current pandemic has highlighted the need for a major expansion of good quality social housing across the country. It is no coincidence that the highest incidence of Covid-19, and subsequent deaths, is concentrated in areas of poor quality and cramped housing.

Under Winston Churchill the Conservative manifesto of 1951 declared, “Housing is the first of the social services. It is also one of the keys to increased productivity. Work, family life, health and education are all undermined by crowded houses”. There followed an extensive programme of building council houses until Margaret Thatcher reversed this enlightened policy by declaring “right-to-buy”. Since right-to-buy discounts were raised in April 2012 86,000 council houses have been sold and only 28,000 replacements have been started on site or purchased.

The government has recently proposed substantial changes to the planning laws to allow developers to convert commercial buildings to residential units without the need for planning permission. This, in planning terms, is called “permitted development” and would mean that the local planning authority would lose control over such conversions.

On the face of it this may seem a good idea and an effective way to provide much needed and truly affordable residential accommodation, however experience dictates that most commercial buildings are entirely unsuitable for residential conversion and such conversion leads to low quality and environmentally poor dwellings.

A further concern is that developers will see this as a cost effective way of satisfying the requirement to provide a percentage of affordable housing as part of large developments and will attempt to trade off commercial conversions to satisfy their affordable commitment.

In the last year my own council, Harrogate Borough Council, has built just three new houses for social rent. District councils do not have the resources to make large investments in housing – this requires a major investment by central government and despite all the “whatever it takes” talk I see little sign of that yet.

The situation is further complicated by the phasing out of the government’s support for local authorities to provide hotel accommodation for rough sleepers during the pandemic. The ministry of housing, communities and local government recently stated that they were to provide £433m over the next four years to fund 6,000 supported housing units. Whilst this funding is welcome it works out to an average cost of less than £10,000 per unit. One has to wonder what that will buy, particularly in areas with high land values.

Yours faithfully,

Cllr Geoff Webber (leader of Liberal Democrat group, North Yorkshire County Council)


7 July 2020

Immigration detention

Dear editor,

Alexander Stafford, MP for Rother Valley, spoke in Parliament on 30 June regarding the immigration and social security co-ordination (EU withdrawal) bill. He commented on the proposed amendment to impose a 28-day time limit on immigration detention. I found his speech so appalling that I felt I had to write to you.

He claimed that imposing a time limit would result in the immediate release of many foreign nationals that are criminals – rapists, murderers and paedophiles – into the community. He said that anyone wishing to leave immigration detention can do so at any time simply by leaving the country as they are legally obliged to. In reality only 19 to 20 per cent of immigration detainees are people who have served prison sentences for having committed such crimes and, if necessary because of the severity of their crimes, the Home Office should be able to arrange for their deportation immediately after completion of their prison sentences.

Around 80 per cent of immigration detainees have had no criminal action taken against them whatsoever, yet as the law stands they can be detained indefinitely purely for administrative immigration reasons. Many have endured human trafficking, torture, rape, forced prostitution or modern slavery and as a result are already mentally damaged and vulnerable. Indefinite detention leaves them in limbo and studies have showed that their mental health is made even worse.

We are the only European country that has indefinite immigration detention. Many detainees have perfectly legitimate claims and 63 per cent of people held in detention centres are eventually released back into the community. Of course for a large number of people who have fled to this country, voluntarily returning to their country of origin is not a possibility.

For Stafford to suggest that detainees should simply do this if they want to avoid being in detention for more than 28 days – and fail to mention the situation of the majority of these people, only mentioning serious criminals – is disingenuous and cruel. Over the past five years the taxpayer has had to pay out in excess of £20 million to people who were unlawfully detained.

Alexander Stafford claimed to be speaking on behalf of the people of Rother Valley. Well he certainly was not speaking for me!

Yours faithfully,

Anne Greenwood (Rother Valley)


26 June 2020

Cruel, unkind and unfair

Dear editor,

Why are the Yorkshire MPs unable to take kind and wise action for the people they represent? Can anyone explain why the Yorkshire MPs, with some notable exceptions, are struggling to enable the current government to take action to extend the transition time and prevent a no-deal Brexit?

No-deal Brexit is cruel and unkind. The government and the people that support a no-deal Brexit outcome are obviously unkind people and know little else in their lives than chasing money or running up to Durham. They will add more unnecessary suffering to the people in the UK at this time of a pandemic.

A trade agreement that is wise and compassionate to Europe and the UK would be best because it is a good and kind thing to do. The evidence is that the government is totally unable to do kind and wise actions, 95 per cent of the time. Their core value-base for our lives and their own is completely wrong.

Enabling more than 20,000 people, including 10 Chelsea Pensioners, to die unnecessarily from Covid-19 because of their value set and focus on “getting Brexit done” is cruel and unfair. Put another way, it is an unkind and rotten way to treat the British people including the health and social care / key workers and the families of those who have died unnecessarily.

God bless all their families in their pain and grief in months and years to come.

Yours faithfully,

Dr Frances Cole (Ripon)


Business owners need EU trade deal

2 June 2020

Dear editor, 

We write as citizens & business owners in Derbyshire to highlight our concerns about lack of progress with the trade deal with the EU. 

Opinion polls show that the public is still overwhelmingly in favour of the Conservative Party’s manifesto commitment to secure a trade deal with the EU. The government, understandably given the public health crisis of Covid-19, has not been able to advance negotiations and there is a grave danger that we will be out without a deal unless the transition period is extended. The deadline for requesting an extension is 30 June 2020, when the country is still likely to be battling coronavirus, which seems incredibly difficult to meet.

Some 85 per cent of our imported fresh vegetables and fruit, and two thirds of our pig meat, like bacon and sausages, arrive in lorries via Channel ports into Dover. Applying a 22 per cent WTO tariff on all food imports and having regulatory checks on each lorry would see long queues and empty food shelves in our supermarkets. No wonder the UK logistics sector is requesting that the Government extend the transition period. 

The Covid-19 outbreak means Derbyshire companies will have little capacity to prepare for the disruption to UK-EU trading arrangements that the end of the transition period will bring.

At a time when we face unprecedented economic and social challenges as a result of the coronavirus, including the risk of a deep economic recession and massive job losses, leaving the Single Market without a deal is an act of self harm. We need an extension to strike a good deal which will bring the benefits of Brexit that the government promised. 

Yours faithfully, 

Andy Nash & Anna Smallwood, Catherine Allwood, Jennifer Argent, Jane Barrett, Lucy Bishton, Steve Bond, Paul Borland, Hugh Brittain, Ian Burgess, Val Burgess, Anne-Marie Clarke, Naomi Compton, Aline Danks, Anne Danks, Paul Downing, Liz Downing, Tony Glew, Catharine Grundy, Richard Hall, Keith Hall, Christopher Heady, Trudi Hodges, Tony Hodges, Jean Hopkin, Pippa Jones, Andrew Jordan, Michael Joseph, Jenny Kartupelis, Maria Kenyon, Alice Knight, Denry Leighton, Joel Leighton, Heather Marsden, Elizabeth Marshall, Lynne Matthews, Wendy McMylor, Cath Moss, Vincent O’Callaghan, James Patterson, Pennie Roberts, Phil Rogers, Matt Silverton, Rod Smallwood, Dominic Swords, Sara Swords, Laura Vincent, Janet Treacher, David Treacher, Jeremy Wright, Mandy Wight, Claire Wigley


1 June 2020

Are we all just working in the dark?

Dear editor,

Following the launch of the government’s new ’test and trace’ system I have some questions. I gather that if someone has been in close recent contact with a person who tests positive for Covid-19 then they will be instructed to self-isolate for 14 days from the date of that contact. A couple of scenarios spring to mind that concern me.

Scenario 1:

I am a teacher in a primary school and I now teach a small class of eight five-year-olds. I use the common areas of the school, the main entrance, the one toilet facility, the common wash room and the corridors. There are 11 other teachers, a deputy head and the head all working at the school. The cleaners and the back room staff are also working and we all use the common areas. We all exit the school via the same doorway. 

I have tested positive for Covid-19. Does this mean all the staff must self-isolate and all the children must be sent home to self-isolate also? Or should we just wing it in a pragmatic British way and hope it will be all right on the night?

Scenario 2:

I work in the central control room for a major utility. My colleagues and I cover the operations 24 hours a day every day of the year. There is a trained staff of around 20 people on 12-hour shifts. I have worked a 12-hour day shift followed by three 12-hour nights. This means in the last seven days I have worked alongside most of my colleagues. We use a common kitchen and a common washroom facility.

I have been tested for Covid-19 and have had a positive result. Does this mean all the control centre staff must now self-isolate and if so, should we just switch off the lights, or should we tell somebody first? 

Or are we all just working in the dark and should simply use good old British common sense, and hope?

Regards,

Ann Thomas (Hemsworth)


24 May 2020

Has the time come to end ‘clapping for carers’?

Dear editor,

Health and social care workers, like the rest of us, cannot live on applause. They need financial recompense to feed and clothe themselves, pay their rent and mortgages. As long as they’re regarded as ‘heroes’ they’ll continue to be treated as such – altruistic individuals willing to sacrifice themselves, including to the point of death, in the service of others.

The weekly ritual of applauding the efforts of our NHS heroes seems to have become an automatic reaction – a sort of habit.  Like many habits, it could become irritating so will it ultimately have any really beneficial effect?

In a recent Guardian report a frontline doctor declared he had no wish to be applauded for doing his job. That started me thinking about the longer term effects of the activity. Could it result in a government (any government, whether now or in the future) thinking it can get away without recognising the value of a service which has become second nature to many since it was first conceived in the 1920s, long before the NHS as such came into being?

The current government threatened to increase a surcharge that is imposed on foreign workers coming to the UK to support our NHS for using it themselves should they become unwell. It raises funds to support the service, we were told (needless to say, the actual amount raised is microscopic in relation to the overall running costs of the NHS). Under the threat of a backbench rebellion, the government backed down – at least for now. They could rely on the general public forgetting the promise was ever made however, and reintroduce the charge (and doubtless many others) once the pandemic is over and a major effort is deemed necessary to pay off the debt the government is currently running up.

Isn’t it time we got real about this? Public services in general have been cut back under successive governments, but especially in the last decade or so, in efforts to reduce account deficits and keep taxes down. We have had austerity measures inflicted on us, particularly by the Tories who have for decades promoted themselves as the party of low taxation. That’s all very well, but taxes are a means of redistributing wealth, so that essential services can be supplied to everyone. If those services are to be starved, why should those who can afford to pay not be required to do so, leaving scope for provision to the less financially fortunate when they need those same services?

Like other public services, our NHS needs a major financial overhaul so the efforts of all staff members are recognised in a physically sustainable manner. I would like to believe it will happen once the current crisis is over.

Yours faithfully,

Kim Boon (Barnsley East)


3 May

Brexit is an elective issue

Dear editor,

In 2017 I had a hip operation and two knee replacements. This was ‘elective surgery’ in that, between us, the NHS and I chose to do it. My conditions were not life-threatening.

If, on the other hand, I had been suffering from acute appendicitis with the threat of peritonitis the NHS would have given me ‘emergency surgery’. Not a matter of choice.

The Covid-19 pandemic has presented the world with its most severe crisis since the Second World War. Dealing with this has to be the top priority. Brexit is an ‘elective’ issue – we can choose to go ahead with it – or we can choose, under changed circumstances, to give up on it.

If, in 2017 I had been afflicted by acute appendicitis, I would not have chosen that point in time to say to the surgeon “and when you have finished with the appendix thing, can you please do a right knee replacement”. 

It is crazy, absolutely crazy, for the UK to seek to go ahead with Brexit in current circumstances. To wish to proceed you would need to be a swivel-eyed ideologue. Or a self-promoting narcissist.

Enough said.

Yours faithfully,

John Cole (Bradford)


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