Letters, June 2, 2011, part two

PUBLISHED: 11:12 02 June 2011

In defence of the public sector

SIR – Errol Johnston’s attack on the public sector, (Letters, May 26), should not go unchallenged. He is totally incorrect to state that the public sector does not create any wealth for the overall economy.

He may dream of a fantasy world where there are no public hospitals, schools, police forces or maintained roads.

But the economy cannot function without healthy, educated workers, in a law-abiding society with good communications.

Many would argue that the armed forces are value for money, if the results of their activities create greater stability in the world and allow trade to flourish.

It is too simplistic to argue that inefficiency in the private sector is always corrected by market forces, and that poor performers are punished.

Small companies may go out of business, but large institutions like the banks have to be rescued by the taxpayer.

The modern world is complicated, and managers make mistakes from time to time, in the private as well as the public sector, as well as encountering circumstances beyond their control.

The NHS is not overmanaged, and by international comparisons is the most efficient health service anywhere. If by ‘efficiency’ Mr Johnston means fewer staff on lower pay, then this is hardly likely to improve quality of care.

Current concern about the neglect of elderly patients has been attributed to staff shortages, not to waste.

The current legislation, halted at present due to almost universal criticism from doctors, nurses and patients alike, will not improve quality if competition is the aim, rather than co-operation between service providers.

Faced with the requirement for 20 per cent ‘efficiency’ savings, the last thing we need is loss of expertise in management and wholesale upheaval of structures.

Pejorative terms like ‘bureaucracy’ are unfair when we need people to ensure that beds are available, supplies are ordered and posts are filled.

GAVIN ROSS

Connaught Road, Harpenden

‘Twixt Kings Harry and William...

SIR – Has King Harry got a useful message for King William?

Many years ago, there were traffic lights at the King Harry junction and the queues of cars waiting for the lights to turn green in their favour were legendary.

And then, one day, the traffic lights didn’t work; the queues of cars disappeared and the council decided that the junction was being blighted by the traffic lights and decided to get rid of them; and now the flow of traffic is far better than it ever was when the lights were in operation.

On a recent Monday, the traffic lights at the King William IV junction were not working; the queues of cars disappeared and the traffic flowed freely – even in the rush hour.

Will the council follow the same line of thought now as it did all those years ago and apply the lessons of history?

The two junctions are quite dissimilar in a number of ways. At the King Will crossing more roads converge (if you count Marshals Drive and Valley Road); more pedestrians need to be catered for and it is significantly wider than the King Harry’s.

But I believe that these factors can be satisfactorily dealt with by means other than traffic lights. Will the new council be brave and show its ability go back to basics? I hope so.

JOHN WHINNEY

Homewood Road, St Albans

County’s land grab for school site

SIR – The St Albans and Hertfordshire Architectural and Archaeological Society (Arc and Arc), the St Albans Civic Society, the St Albans Museums and Galleries Trust and the many supporters of the Campaign for a New Museum for St Albans view with great concern the recent developments regarding the planned acquisition by our county council of the garden and land that are part of the Museum of St Albans in Hatfield Road.

In November last year you published a letter from the supporters of the Campaign for a New Museum for St Albans.

The letter drew attention to St Albans City and District Council’s unequivocal support for a report on the museum service and its wide range of recommendations and changes necessary to “exploit the post-Roman collections and links to the history of the city and to develop a reputation as a place showing two thousand years of culture and heritage... by utilising the museums, parks and open spaces”.

The then-head of cabinet endorsed the museum report and its recommendations and concluded by saying: “St Albans, compared with other cultural centres such as York and Bath undersold itself. St Albans has a huge history and is more than just a city with a Roman past.”

At the time and in our published letter we expressed satisfaction with the council’s support for the Museum of St Albans and recommendations for its future.

Unbeknown to the museum supporters as well as some St Albans council employees and individual councillors, Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) was plotting to acquire all the land and buildings to the rear of the museum to provide an additional play area for a proposed free entry (FE) school that would be established in the School of Law – a building separated from the museum by a public footpath and the garden of the Liberal Club.

When on February 13 HCC announced its plans for the FE school it defended its requirement for the museum land on the grounds that it was a Department of Environment requirement to provide so many square metres of play area.

When questioned on this point HCC revised its statement and confirmed that there is no such DofE requirement for FE schools.

In an email dated May 11, Peter Tiernan, HCC estates officer, wrote regarding the position that the HCC cabinet had resolved to approve to acquire the land and if it could not be acquired by agreement, cabinet has already resolved to acquire the land by way of compulsory purchase.

This act of perfidy is impossible to defend.

The land was given in trust by Earl Spencer on June 14, 1898, “out of his goodwill towards the corporation and inhabitants of St Albans” for a new county museum at the instigation of members of the Arc and Arc who raised £1,500 from donations and subscriptions to cover the cost of building.

The foundation stone was laid on July 20, 1898, and the new museum was opened on November 15, 1899.

The county council as the local authority was a reluctant and irregular provider of funds to cover the running costs, deficiencies being made up by donations from private citizens and bequests.

In 1954 the museum received a severe blow when HCC decided to discontinue its financial support. St Albans City Council, with great acclaim from citizens, then took over the assets and liabilities of the museum and assumed the responsibility of trustees.

Earl Spencer agreed that the tenancy of the bungalow as accommodation for the museum caretaker should continue and the county museum became the city museum. HCC can claim no moral, ethical or legislative reason for acquiring the land by compulsory purchase.

The loss of the whole of the land to the rear of the museum will scupper any plans to improve it for its citizens and to act as a centre of heritage for our children.

It will fail in its attempt to provide a site of interest for tourists and a place to showcase our pride in our city. It will be the loss of another green space.

It will prevent or inhibit the exhibitions and events that have been planned to take place in the building and its garden.

The bungalow that acts as kitchen, staff offices and store will be demolished.

A fence constructed by the school will be positioned within a few feet of the rear wall of the museum and exclude visitors to the garden.

The effect of this land grab will impact not only on the museum but also on the whole community, including all of its children who take part in open air activities related to St Albans’ history.

It had been hoped by the St Albans Museums and Galleries Trust that if a smaller part of the garden were to have been compulsorily purchased by HCC, then monies paid in compensation would be put to improving the museum’s facilities by extending the building at the rear and providing disabled access and more exhibition space.

This cannot be done if all the land to the rear of the museum is seized.

Various alternative arrangements are possible. For example: re-locate the museum building and the Margaret Harvey Gallery inside where the work of students of the University of Hertfordshire is exhibited; or “borrow” the land for play-time and use it as a way to introduce the pupils of the free school to the museum.

Given the strength of our appeal we very much hope that Hertfordshire County Council will reverse its decision to acquire all of this small but important piece of land.

It should cease its arrogant decision-making process and begin consultations with local citizens.

All that is needed is imagination and a desire to find a fair and ethical outcome.

PROFESSOR MICHAEL COOPER

President, St Albans and Hertfordshire Architectural and Archaeological Society

MICHAEL GRAY

Chairman St Albans Museums and Galleries Trust

DR JILL SINGER

Secretary, St Albans Civic Society

JOHN HUMPHREYS MBE

Secretary, St Albans New Museum Support Group

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