The Spectator

Letters | 6 August 2015

Plus: who builds most houses; and alternatives to the RAF

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Exploiting our charity

Sir: Melissa Kite (‘Asking too much’, 1 August) is spot on about charity fundraising. This has changed charitable sentiment into an exploitable business asset. The consequences are bad for both givers — who are likely to become more cynical as time goes on and therefore less charitable — and the charities themselves, which will suffer in the long term from reluctance by donors to continue to give.

One might broaden the picture and question the number of charities (more than 150,000), the details of what they do and achieve, and say that their use of ‘business models’ is simply inappropriate (for instance, salary packages for senior staff that are comparable to those in private businesses, the use of commercially oriented outside firms for fundraising, and so on).

Sadly the concept of charitable giving and activity has degenerated from its roots in Christian caritas (and its equivalent in other traditions), and is clearly ripe for re-assessment.

Michael Towsey


Support local causes

Sir: Melissa Kite writes sensibly about charities’ fundraising practices. For a couple of decades I have been very cynical about the large national charities. Many of them seem to exist to fundraise, and pay little attention to the needs of those who would benefit from them.

My attitude is to support mainly local charities. One can observe and learn about these charities and know that one’s money is not going to keep executives in a lavish lifestyle. Possibly I might stretch to supporting the RNLI, as it saves lives on our coastline, and also the Wales Air Ambulance, as with our terrain we need this assistance. Those I would never support include the hysteria-fest appeals by Children in Need. In any case a one-off donation is infinitely preferable to monthly giving, which is far more difficult to cancel.

Sally A. Williams

Dinas Cross, Pembrokeshire

Henry Hicks: an apology

Sir: In an article about the recent rise in knife crime in London (1 August), I mentioned in passing Henry Hicks, who died late last year in a scooter accident. I referred to Henry as ‘thuggish’, which in retrospect was unsubstantiated. My apologies to Henry’s family.

Mary Wakefield

London N1

Who built the houses?

Sir: In his reply to my piece on housing associations (Letters, 1 August), David Orr claims that I have misrepresented the number of homes built by housing associations last year; he says that they built 40,000 homes. The Department for Communities and Local Government records that housing associations made 23,260 ‘starts’ on homes in England in 2014/15 and 27,010 completions. You only get to 40,000 by adding properties which were built by private developers for housing associations under planning deals known as section 106 agreements. While housing associations may have funded these homes, in no reasonable sense have they built them. They have not taken the risks associated with construction, and of course the supply of these homes is limited to locations where private developers want to build.

Ross Clark


Handmaid clothes

Sir: Your Barometer column (1 August) claims William Maxwell, 5th Earl Nithsdale, was executed for treason. This is not the case. A leading Jacobite, he was sentenced to death but realised a daring escape from the Tower of London on the eve of his planned execution, thanks to his devoted wife. By all accounts the countess was the brains of the operation (not to say the marriage). When she visited him to say farewell, he swapped clothes with her maid and fled.

The disgraced Lord Sewel’s decision to don ladies’ underwear seems to have had different motives.

Matthew Maxwell Scott

Carshalton, Surrey

‘Freight dogs’ and the RAF

Sir: With reference to previous letters on the subject (Letters, 1 August), the air transport role of the RAF could also be done much more efficiently and cheaply by civilian air crews. In the Gulf war of 1991, I flew a civilian Boeing 707 from the UK to El Jubial (close to the Saudi/Kuwait border).

During the most active phase of the air war, we carried 40 tons of tank spares urgently needed by the British army. (The RAF VC10s, on the other hand, carried 15 tons and demanded an extended crew.)

Such were the chancy financial rewards for a freelance ‘freight dog’ pilot that small wars were always to be welcomed…

Denis Hetherington

Somerton, Somerset

Challenging higher spending

Sir: I must reply to Isabel Hardman’s suggestion (Politics, 1 August) that the Taxpayers’ Alliance in any way provided ‘institutional support’ to the Conservatives in opposition. The TPA was founded in 2004 precisely because a cosy consensus had emerged among all the political parties in favour of ever-higher public spending, which badly needed to be challenged. Thankfully, a decade down the line, a new consensus has emerged that we were right — that the Labour government was indeed spending too much.

We are proud, however, to be a non-partisan campaigning organisation which has always held to account governments and local councils of all colours when they have failed taxpayers with their frivolous spending. The current Conservative government can certainly look forward to our scrutiny over the coming years and we will in particular be holding ministers to their projections for public spending to be down to around 36 per cent of GDP by the end of the Parliament.

Jonathan Isaby

Chief Executive, Taxpayers’ Alliance, London SW1