The Spectator

Letters | 19 February 2011

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The army’s example

Sir: Ross Clark and Martin Vander Weyer have hit the nail on the head again with their customary precision (‘Councils of Despair’ and Any Other Business, 12 February). The only aspect of ‘best practice’ that seems to have thrived in the public sector is eye-watering levels of remuneration for top management. I certainly hold no brief for fat cat bankers, but at least they do not pretend to be ‘delivering’ public services — they do what they do to make money for their shareholders and for themselves. If they fail to perform, they are sacked.

There are some parts of the public sector which have been mercifully unscathed by modern management fads. The British military is one of these. The contrast between the salaries of local government ‘chief executives’ and, for the sake of argument, that of the commanding officer of an infantry battalion serving in Helmand (just under £70,000 p.a.) is instructive. Equally so is the contrast in what taxpayers get for their money.

The British military could serve as a ‘centre of excellence’ where ‘benchmarks’ for ‘performance’, ‘delivery’, ‘risk-management’, ‘investment in people’ and ‘value for money’ (not to mention quiet moral courage, a belief in public service and good old-fashioned patriotism) could be ‘showcased’ for the benefit of the rest of the public sector.

Pablo Miller


A council gravy train

Sir: It is to be hoped that Ross Clark’s deft exposé of local government excess helps to derail this particularly repugnant gravy train. Since 2006, I have had a ringside seat at Wakefield, where my (now late) father paid council tax. Over the last few years, I have had dealings — regarding identical issues — with 19 different council officers. These have included: the ‘Service Director, Physical Disabilities and Older People’; the ‘Complaints and Representations Team Manager’; the ‘Service Manager, Customer Access, Business Development and Support’ and the ‘Service Director, Legal and Democratic Services’.

They also included the chief executive, Joanne Roney OBE, whose official basic salary is £184,999. Ms Roney’s position appears to come with some quite extraordinary prospects. Her immediate predecessor was John Foster, who secured a £545,000 pay and severance package when he left Wakefield in 2008. Within mere months, he had secured a £210,000 per annum contract as chief executive of Islington council, where he still presides.

Dominique Jackson

London SW18

Return of the saint

Sir: Thank you for employing the correct name of the festival celebrated on 14 February, namely St Valentine’s Day, in your editorial instead of the more usual term Valentine’s Day.

Somehow I cannot believe that Irish people will be celebrating Patrick’s Day next month.

Eric Brown

Bromley, Kent

A fish to throw back

Sir: I must take issue with Sue Dickinson (Letters, 29 January). Many years ago I was on a charter fishing trip out of Lymington. I caught two cod and then a sizeable pollack. ‘What is the best way to cook pollack?’ I asked the skipper. ‘Ah, best to take two pieces of thick cardboard and wrap the pollack in them with an onion and plenty of salt and pepper. Put it in the oven for forty minutes, take it out, throw away the fish and eat the cardboard.’ Undaunted, I took it home and cooked it in a more normal fashion. The skipper was right!

Mike Bailey

Nuevo Portil, Spain

Doomed by Delingpole

Sir: I watched the Horizon programme where Sir Paul Nurse determinedly and admirably exposed climate change sceptics and their journalism. Now I read James Delingpole’s attempt at self-justification (12 February). He is the self-appointed high priest of the human lemmings, dragging us nearer and nearer the cliff. He should stick to the sort of journalistic opinion pieces he is good at, and let the 99 per cent or so of scientists who unfortunately have very good reason to believe that our planet is in a mess — and that it is due to humans’ excessive consumption — work with governments and the public to find urgent ways out of it. Delingpole is out of his depth and more importantly wrong. There will be none of our children’s children left to say so if he and his fellow bloggers continue, so I am saying it now.

Penelope McKee


Don’t judge the bereaved

Sir: I agree with Theodore Dalrymple (‘The Disneyfication of Death’, 12 February) that many modern manifestations of grief can appear both insincere and tasteless. However, I strongly believe that grief is one of the most powerful human emotions, the expression of which should not be subject to the judgment and/or interference of others. Clearly it is necessary to have certain restrictions at graveyards, but the utter devastation of loss can yield a spectrum of responses which must be viewed with sympathy and understanding rather than harshly.

Victoria Watson

Maidenhead, Berkshire

Triumphant arrival

Sir: In his piece on graveyards Theodore Dalrymple deplores the maudlin expressions of grief found on headstones in cemeteries. Notices in local newspapers often match these valedictions. My favourite has always been, ‘The trumpets sounded, St Peter said come. The Pearly Gates swung open and in walked Mum.’

Robert Vincent

Wildhern, Hampshire