Matthew Engel (“The death of local government”, 28 April) did not mention a crucial issue for poorer parts of the UK such as South Yorkshire: the cuts in the revenue support grant – supposed to bring up standards of services to a good average across the country – since 2010 in areas with the lowest council tax bands.
When I was elected to Sheffield City Council in 1971, we could rely on that grant and during the 1970s cleared slums, built 2,000 council homes a year, improved many private sector homes, declared Improvement Areas, maintained the roads, improved schools and introduced the cheapest bus fares in the UK. We could plan for the future and set what rate we felt was right.
Then in 1979 came Mrs Thatcher and the attack on our services began. Things improved under Labour, but after 2010 the cuts came fast. It is now virtually impossible to plan or run efficient services on £150m less than in 2010. In wealthy areas they have suffered no cuts, unlike areas like ours with 80 per cent of properties in bands A and B. If the government was serious about “levelling up” it would restore the revenue support grant to where it was in 2010, adjusted for inflation.
Veronica Hardstaff, Sheffield
[See also: Letter of the week: The NS great and the good]
I broadly agree with Matthew Engel (Reporter at Large, 28 April) but take issue with his representation of parish councils as cosy clubs where nothing happens, and of Jackie Weaver. She was attending Handforth on behalf of the Cheshire Association of Local Councils because of bullying behaviour. As a former parish councillor driven out, along with my colleagues, by other councillors, I know this is a widespread problem. In 2019 a government briefing paper highlighted the need for reform. Nothing has been done and monitoring officers are toothless.
It is no surprise good councillors resign and recruiting new ones is impossible. The loss of trust in democracy starts at its roots.
Jane Brook, Northaw, Hertfordshire
Matthew Engel writes that “the government wants to make councils both poorer and bigger”. This is the case in Scotland, where the Highland Council covers 9,906 square miles, which is 11.4 per cent of the land area of Great Britain. It had a population of 235,540 at the last census. What is “local” about a council struggling to balance the needs of people 165 miles apart?
Sandy Thomson, Cromarty
The exchange between John Gray, Robert Kaplan and Helen Thompson in last week’s NS (Cover Story, 28 April) was fascinating, covering everything from Malthus and Jevons on resource scarcity to nitrates, oil and German policies in the two world wars. There were illuminating insights into the interplay of realpolitik and resources, from the Soviet Union and the Baku oil fields in the 1920s to shale gas in today’s eastern Ukraine. This was so different from much of the insularity of most current affairs coverage. My thanks to all involved.
David Herman, london SW13
Labour’s forgotten man
When Jason Cowley travelled to Hayes in west london in autumn 2018, readers were introduced to a pragmatic and principled shadow chancellor, John McDonnell. Today he (The Politics Interview, 28 April) deserves better than only to be credited with Labour’s 2019 thrashing and “making a last stand”. His economic analysis should be seriously considered.
Les Bright, Exeter, Devon
If I send a draft letter to a newspaper in error I immediately correct it. Did Diane Abbott (Politics, 28 April) check what she’d transmitted? In any event, she wrote in that “draft” that Jews “are not all their lives subject to racism”. As a Jew, I have experienced anti-Semitic abuse. Diane Abbott should understand that not only people of colour suffer lifelong racist abuse, and that such comparisons are odious – this is not a competition.
Gavin Littaur, london NW4
Grant Feller is right to draw attention to the impact of free papers on newspaper decline (Correspondence, 28 April). As a former partner in a family wholesale newsagent business, I would suggest a possibly more significant reason: the orchestrated demise of the independent wholesaler in favour of two large businesses for the whole UK, whose prime interest is not maximising sales but effecting distribution over a very large, and possibly unmanageable, area.
David Jennings, Market Bosworth, Warwickshire
Love and death
On the matter of white weddings (The Critics, 28 April), in his 1913 memoir Labour, Life and Literature, the Whitechapel bookbinder Frederick Rogers recalls that it was common at the funerals of prostitutes in east london for “many of her sisters to follow the hearse to her grave, ornamented with white ribands as would have been the case if the person to be buried was engaged to be married”.
Ken Worpole, london N4
Regarding William Davies’s review of Daniel Chandler’s Free and Equal (The Critics, 28 April), one amusing example of the famous Rawlsian “veil of ignorance” was the technique of tasting wines “blind” introduced by Robert Parker. Making objective judgements is difficult to reconcile with attachment to identity, as the scions of Bordeaux found out to their cost.
David Perry, Cambridge
Hunter Davies (The Fan, 28 April) asks if it is still possible for a small-town club to rise. I offer the case of Luton Town FC: relegated in 1992 from the old First Division – a demise that ended with five seasons in the Conference – but now looking at possible promotion to the Premier League.
Mark Brooks, Welshpool, Powys
Hunter Davies’s reminiscence about Carlisle United leading the First Division in 1974 omitted this neat headline in the Sunday Times: “ROSS ON WHY”. Allan Ross was Carlisle’s keeper. He probably understood why United finished bottom that season.
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[See also: Letter of the week: Conservatism’s DNA]
This article appears in the 03 May 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Beneath the Crown