Letters round-up: Bucks Herald editor’s ‘usual balance tipped by self interest’

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On our letters page this week, the chief executive of Aylesbury Vale District Council defends his authority’s right to compete against private firms.

SELF INTEREST

Was I the only one to spot the huge howler in editor Roger Hawes’ editorial last week? 

In our über (and only?) businessman Alex Pratt’s article on page 16 he says that “rule no1 is NEVER rubbish your competition” going on to say that”.....you appear desperate, manipulative and more interested in you than the people you serve...”  

So, deeply disappointing that in your Editorial you go on at length to question the right for AVDC to compete against private firms.

Your usual balance seems to have been tipped by your understandable self interest in the sales of the Herald against competition from our very own Aylesbury Vale Times.

Surely, competition is healthy in that it offers choice to customers who are able to make their own mind up about what they want to buy?

A pity councils don’t have that choice when it comes to public notices which we’re legally required to place in local newspapers (with falling readerships) at significant cost – over £50k a year in our case!

Our own publication is no match to the Herald in terms of frequency and content, and it really is pathetic to think that it might be, but flattering perhaps.

You said twice in the article that you understood why AVDC needed to diversify and broaden its services to ensure that much needed services could continue against drastic public sector funding cuts.

Indeed you applauded us for it. And yet you seemed to have got fixated about us competing on product, quality and price with the rest of the world.

I’d agree that this would look unfair IF AVDC was fully funded by public funds and used this to play on the wrong pitch with that subsidy.

The truth is sadly the reverse, which anyone who has experienced the recession over the last 8 years would know. 

Alex in his December column described the challenge of protecting front line services in the face of savage budget cuts as a “difficult, thankless, complex and highly responsible task.” On that we certainly agree.

We’ve have had over a 40% cut in government grant since 2010 and expect all of it to disappear by 2018.

We receive only 10% of council tax paid by your readers, and even that only covers a third of our costs to serve “for the good of the community” as you put it.

The gap in keeping us in business must be found from new income to keep our business (no different to yours or Alex’s) in business. 

So, in the interests of keeping those essential services going, don’t you think it’s in the residents’ interests for us to use our skills and abilities to provide things that people think are valuable, quality and well priced if it means we can use this income to offset potential reduction and closure of essential services?

And you also mention that the private sector doesn’t get any public subsidies.

Are you sure about that Roger? Think of farming perhaps?

Also, Alex seems to think we shouldn’t be in his club, but even BT wouldn’t have extended superfast Broadband to Aylesbury Vale’s rural areas if the Government wasn’t subsidising them to do so from TV License fees. They’d not be the remotely interested without it. 

The Government is encouraging our commercial approach, industry has recognised AVDC’s entrepreneurial approach and like any business if we don’t get enough income in to cover costs out, we go out of business. Plain fact of life. No excuses for local government.

Our continuation is not pre-ordained, inevitable or subsidised. You need to wake up to the 21 century Roger.

We all need to provide things that people value. If we can offer something that others can’t, what’s the problem?

If we lose out then at least we tried. What’s your alternative to what happens then? Let me know.

Andrew Grant

Chief Executive, AVDC

HS2 IS DEMOCRATIC

I must respond to the letter in last week’s edition of Bucks Herald from Sue Hetherington.

The HS2 project was supported by 404 MPs (almost 2 thirds) the last time it was debated in Westminster, so her comment of undemocratic is incorrect.

Brian Roberts

Aylesbury

LORDS REPORT NEEDS HIGHLIGHTING

Something which deserved more attention was the recent release of the House of Lords report on HS2.

It is highly critical and its words are worth quoting.

The Committee found that there is “No capacity problem on existing lines now or in the near future.’ It was recognised that overcrowding exists on some commuter services which however would not be helped by HS2.

The Committee discovered what HS2 cited as evidence of capacity problems, for example overfull Euston trains arriving at Manchester merely stemmed from commuters getting on at nearby Stockport for the last leg of the journey.

If there were a longer term issue the Committee found it “Impossible to agree with the Government that HS2 is the only solution.” It said “Other options have not been assessed equally.”

On the revenue side the Committee found the methods used to evaluate the key benefits to business travellers to be “out of date and unconvincing”. The Government should redo its calculations. And as for narrowing the North – South divide, the Committee concluded that “London would be the chief beneficiary of HS2.”

The Committee added “The evidence we have heard shows that investing in transport infrastructure does not necessarily lead to economic growth.”

Transport Projects needed to be properly thought out - and the tenor of the report does not suggest that the committee thinks HS2 has been.

How come, it was asked, the French have built TGV lines for around £10 million/km (£s of 2010) when HS1 will cost £90m/km. The Committee seems not to have been impressed by HS2’s assertion that cutting maximum speeds by 50kmph in line with French practice would not save costs, or that UK high construction costs were due to deficiencies in the UK construction industry.

Finally, recognising that even if HS2’s benefits could be taken at face value there will still be a net cost to the taxpayer of at least £30bn or £1,000 for each household in the UK, the Committee said “Government should consider the fairness of taxpayer subsidy as many taxpayers will derive no benefits.”

Expressed in polite Parliamentary terms though it is, this report effectively finishes the credibility of HS2.

If it goes ahead after this, it would be because the Government and the Opposition were indifferent to the country’s interests.

Alan Stevens

UKIP County Councillor for Great Missenden and Parliamentary Candidate for Chesham & Amersham

PRIORITISE REGIONS

A House of Lords report on HS2 out last week said that the Government has failed to make a convincing case as to why the £50bn project is needed.

The report ought to be the final nail in the coffin for HS2 as it vindicates what many have been saying for the last 3 years: that the arguments in favour of HS2 are pitifully weak.

HS2 would entrench the UK’s dependence upon London, not challenge it; and there are far better alternatives to it anyway, in value-for-money terms, in order to improve capacity.

The reality is that HS2 is a truly terrible way to invest public money.

It’s already very quick to get to Birmingham and Manchester from London.

High speed trains certainly could be part of the answer to encouraging people to fly and drive less in the future but the Government needs to prioritise regional areas where rail routes are very slow and where there is a higher demand for a boost in capacity.

Keith Taylor

Green MEP for South East England

CREMATORIUM

At first sight I thought that your report “ Rare Newts endanger crematorium plans” published on April 1st was an April Fool’s joke.

It seems that Westerleigh managed to get construction of the Bierton crematorium halted by Judicial Review on the grounds that it might ( I stress might) affect resident Great Crested Newts.

Meanwhile the same company intends to go ahead with its own crematorium at Watermead on the banks of a river and lake teeming with wildlife and in the face of 99 % objections from local human residents who undoubtedly will be affected by this unwanted and inappropriate intrusion.

For us this is definitely no joking matter.

Dr Eric Rose

Watermead

RURAL BROADBAND

I’m not sure why but the press seem to be under the impression that AVDC is subsidising broadband in rural areas, which is not correct.

The report to the 3 December council meeting, which is available online, states “Funding will extend superfast broadband to areas that remain out of reach of commercial and gap funding investment.

This funding will not be used in areas where commercial providers have their own investment plan, but will focus on areas that will not be covered under a usual commercial investment business case.”

AVDC is therefore bringing a modern necessity to areas where residents would not be customers of a supplier, which is a far cry from subsidising to a commercial supplier.

Cllr Timothy Mills

Buckingham North Ward

Aylesbury Vale District 
Council