The possible failure of some smaller energy suppliers might not raise major issues, even for their customers, but clearly illustrates the stupidity of privatisation of such vital national resources (“Small energy companies risk going bust in financial shock”, News). Oil and gas prices are determined by global markets, so there is little scope for competition there; in fact, the artificial competitive elements might even contribute to increased prices as British suppliers outbid one another in order to get enough for their needs. The dozens of companies involved, all with shareholders, managers and employees to be paid, inevitably increase costs when compared with the state-run enterprises that successfully ran the businesses for decades.
At the same time, alternative energy supplies are very limited, while the bulk of the costs of energy delivery to consumers are fixed, so the role of competition is almost non-existent: companies can cut back on maintenance, a possible factor in the recent power failures, or staff wages, but not much else.
Of course the same is true in water supply and the railways, which is why we are paying the highest rail fares in Europe, while the new owners, including German, French and even the Dutch state-owned railways, laugh all the way to the bank, as they use our money to cut their costs!
Aid for the visually impaired
Chaminda Jayanetti’s article “Special educational needs crisis deepens as councils bust their budgets” (News) is consistent with a worrying trend that we at the Royal National College for the Blind have noticed across the country in educational provision for young people with visual impairments (VI).
VI is a low incidence, high impact disability and many young people with VI experience a deterioration in their sight in their teenage years. Preparation for adulthood often requires specialist intervention to access education and to develop the independent living skills they will need to be employable and active in their communities.
We have specific concerns about services for young people with VI being cut in most English local authorities. Specialist provision cannot be provided locally in a cost-effective manner due to the wide variations in condition and need and the low numbers affected, so the need for a national centre for education has never been greater.
When young people with VI do not develop the skills they will need for an independent adult life, it greatly increases the likelihood that they will fail to find sustainable employment, will not be able to live independently and will not be able to fully contribute to their community. The emotional cost will be borne by the young person, while the financial cost will be borne by their family, adult social services and the Department for Work and Pensions. Only one in four people of working age who are registered blind or partially sighted are in employment. Only one in ten of those with no sight are in employment. Short-term thinking to “save” money on an education placement converts to a lifetime of expense for the public purse. It also wastes the resource of talented young people, who have great potential to contribute to their community.
All children and young people with SEN deserve access to education that meets their needs but for this to happen we need financial and practical commitments from local authorities and national government.
Lucy Proctor, charity CEO
Royal National College for the Blind
‘Magic’ Lord’s? Not in my seat
Tanya Aldred was at a different Lord’s to those of us crammed into the middle level of the Mound stand on the third day of the second Test against Australia (“Gloom, drizzle and little cricket but Lord’s neighbourly magic still crackles”, Sportblog). Her “meeting place for old friends and beloved family” seemed more like a raucous gathering of sub-Bullingdon clubs. We were constantly bobbing up and down to allow a stream of multi-pint beer carriers to pass. When the rain came, the line of bars under the stand sheltered thousands of tipplers and the “conviviality” was deafening.
The snooty Lord’s of old, where the turnstile operators seemed to check whether you were dressed appropriately, has long been replaced by rampant commercialism. Spectators are now punters, encouraged to keep drinking and eating for as long as possible after rain stops play – a peculiar “sense of belonging”.
To those of us who came for the cricket – it was still just worth the struggle to focus beyond all this mayhem on what was a compelling contest.
Fishermen deserve better
The major problem for maintaining any form of stock recovery is that “sustainability” remains a pious hope rather than having intrinsic value (“Where did all the cod go?”, Special report). Thus, among the objectives in Michael Gove’s draft fisheries bill 2017-19 is one on sustainability, which is described as both “environmentally sustainable in the long term” and “managed in a way that is consistent with the objectives of achieving economic, social and employment benefits, and of contributing to the availability of food supplies”.
But the two strands effectively cancel each other out, as management of the stock is inconsistent with any other objective. Compare that with the Australian Fisheries Management Act 1991, whose objectives are both the integration of “long-term and short-term economic, environmental, social and equity considerations” and “the principle of intergenerational equity – that the present generation should ensure that the health, diversity and productivity of the environment is maintained or enhanced for the benefit of future generations”.
Until we build into the system a real meaning for sustainability, we’ll continue to fail. The problem for fishermen is that they are locked into a stupid system that makes them act stupidly. I’d like to think Brexit would solve it but it won’t, not until resource-use responsibility is taken on by the resource users.
A paean to the British seaside
It’s good to have an article about British seaside resorts, but I felt that Sarah Ditum was too negative (“Oh I do like to be beside the seaside, but many of our coastal towns need more love”, Comment).
Two weeks ago, my family and I visited Filey in north Yorkshire. The town was buzzing. Thousands of people were on the beach playing games. We enjoyed rounders on the golden sands – I didn’t know I could still run at the age of 72! It was a lovely weekend and people were swimming in the sea, so it can’t have been that cold.
The great chicken lottery
Campylobacter is a curse – it is by far the commonest bacterial cause of food poisoning and can cause very nasty complications (“A trade deal with Trump will change Britain for the worse”, Business). But getting it out of the food chain has proved very difficult. It will be interesting to see whether British chicken producers will start to wash carcasses with chlorinated water rather than ordinary water when freed from the EU ban by a no-deal Brexit. US producers justify it by pointing out lower human infection rates in the US than in Europe. Maybe they are not as good at recording cases as us. Whatever, it is a statistical impossibility to say that US chickens have 10-fold higher infection rates than ours, which currently run at 56% in birds bought from all retailers and 75% bought from non-major retailers.
Counting down to Doomsday
Thank you for your informative interview with Martin Rees (Q&A, New Review). After going online to purchase his book on humanity’s future, I noticed that in the UK it was sold as Our Final Century and in the US it’s marketed as Our Final Hour. Apparently, our perception of the passage of time is dependent on our culture.
If there’s a vacancy for a world leader, can I suggest Martin Rees? A ray of evidence-based, compassionate common sense in the fog of narcissistic self-interest.
If your face fits…
David Olusoga’s article on the inequalities of university entrance procedures reminded me of my much simpler application to Edinburgh University in 1963 (“Predicted grades are a lottery and work against the poorest students. Let’s get rid of them”, Comment). There was a one-page questionnaire to fill in – educational achievements etc – followed by a space to glue in a passport photo. “This will be used for identification, not selection purposes” was the reassuring final sentence.