Newcastle arts cuts sabotage magnificence of a region | Letters

The founding of an orchestra in the 50s was the spark for a cultural scene whose fruits are now at risk

In 1956, my husband, Michael Hall, who founded what is now the Northern Sinfonia, went to Jarrow on the ferry from North Shields. He decided something had to be done about music in Newcastle (“As Newcastle’s cultural venues face huge funding cuts, can its arts scene survive?”, News).

The founding of the orchestra was a spark that lit a cultural and social revival in Newcastle and the lasting fruits of those early efforts are neatly encapsulated in Mo Lovatt’s assertion in your article that she had no need to leave the area to fulfil her artistic ambitions. The decision of Newcastle city council to cut its entire arts budget is an act of sabotage against all that has been so magnificently achieved.

Shortly before he died in August, Michael talked about his fears for the future of the arts in the current economic climate. It seems his fears have been cruelly recognised.

Brenda Hall


Osborne’s no fool, just immoral

Is George Osborne an economic illiterate? (“This savage attack on benefits is an affront to British fairness”, Comment) Will Hutton assumes the chancellor is concerned to remedy financial inequality but that he just doesn’t understand the best route to that goal. Yet so far from making a technical economic error – taking Hayek’s Road instead of Route Keynes – Osborne’s real aim, below the “we’re all in this together” rhetoric, has always been political – to exorcise the spectre of welfare from the national economy, leaving “scroungers” to the cleansing mercy of market economics and private sector profit.

To credit Osborne merely with economic illiteracy, as Hutton and Blanchflower et al do, is too charitable. He is a shrewd ideologue and strategist. It’s not that he doesn’t understand the ruin he is inflicting on families. He knows what he’s doing; he just doesn’t care. Osborne is not an economic illiterate; he’s worse – a moral illiterate.

Graham Aspinall


Shales may be safely fracked

In his article “The frack-heads whose dream is putting Britain’s future at risk” (Comment), Andrew Rawnsley states that shale gas is “very risky for Britain” and results in water pollution. However, research shows that a safe and responsible approach to shale gas development in the UK is possible. The conclusions of a report by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering in June 2012 state that “the health, safety and environmental risks associated with hydraulic fracturing to extract shale gas can be managed effectively in the UK”. Professor Mike Stephenson from the British Geological Survey has stated that hydraulic fracturing is “extremely unlikely” to contaminate ground water supplies.

Profitable extraction is still unsure, but the potential exists. The BGS estimates onshore shale reserves at 150 billion cubic metres.

The UK will not resemble Texas. Some 199 oil and gas onshore development wells have been drilled in Britain since 2000 without outcry. Sustainable and safe shale gas development in the UK is possible.

Monica Cristina

Adviser to Shale Gas Europe


We’re no secret society

Your article “Cameron accused of ‘sham listening exercise’ of NHS reform after links to lobbyist are revealed” (News) conveys the unwarranted impression that the NHS Partners Network (NHSPN) was engaged in secretive and inappropriate activities to “ensure the new legislation went ahead”. That does not give a full and fair picture .

During the period to which your article refers, the government and its “future forum” were actively seeking views from across the spectrum of healthcare organisations. We put forward views on behalf of our members, consulted with other organisations who shared similar views and discussed with them how best to be heard and, indeed, to carry the argument. This is an entirely normal approach for a trade organisation such as NHSPN and one that was perfectly properly also taken by many other organisations, including those who represented very different viewpoints from our own.

The NHSPN is completely open about the work we do on behalf of our members and our relationship with other organisations, including the government and opposition. We promote entirely legitimate views about what will most benefit patients and the NHS.

David Worskett

Chief executive

NHS Partners Network

Miliband’s painless tax options

In your editorial “Miliband can strike a blow for social equality” , you stated that 70 years ago the effectiveness of Beveridge’s plan for a welfare state depended on full employment and a short retirement. There was a third factor: income tax was high. War had necessitated its being raised to a rate unheard of.

The present crisis presents a rare opportunity to Ed Miliband. A promise to raise tax on the really rich would be popular. He could also revive the suggestion of a mansion tax and introduce the Tobin tax on financial transactions. These measures would only alienate those who would never vote for him.

Dr Michael M Winter

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