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Letters: Outsourcing small nuclear reactors would be a betrayal of British industry

Aug 26, 2023

Plus: the Archbishop and the immigration Bill; Coronation origins; NHS training; solving the housing crisis; and food prices

SIR – I’m incredulous that the Government has yet to give its formal backing to the small modular reactors (SMRs) proposed by Rolls-Royce (Business, May 8).

The company has 60 years’ experience providing power plants to our submarines, with an exemplary safety record. It is ready to go with a design and the capacity to start building the first unit quickly, yet it almost seems as though the Government would rather wait and let a foreign company get involved.

Most other countries would back a national champion with proven expertise, but not, it seems, us.

James LongmanBurton, Dorset

SIR – I was immediately angry reading your article on Bill Gates wanting to tender for Britain's next-generation small modular reactors or "mini-nukes", when the country has already invested £210 million with Rolls-Royce for their development.

Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, does not have a CV that indicates he understands purchasing sophisticated technology, which is inappropriate to competitive tendering.

Competitive tendering is suitable for commodities and building work, but not to unique products designed and made to a particular specification. Defining the specification then negotiating a price is a much more suitable methodology. Tendering for such a development is just poor business practice.

Does this Government not understand Britain's urgent need to develop cheap, reliable and secure energy?

John ConleyBellingdon, Buckinghamshire

SIR – In pursuing its "net zero by 2050" policy, the Government wants a total switch in the way we heat our houses and water, and power our vehicles. It would be economically unsustainable, indeed nonsensical, for this massive technology change to be government-funded.

These alternative technologies have to be made as affordable and convenient as those we are using now. Then we will want to adopt them and the market will facilitate the required change. It is already clear that heat pumps and battery-powered EVs are no more than a partial technical solution, largely available to the better off. Subsidising them further will delay the development of better and cheaper technologies.

The Government needs to be far more realistic and open about the enormity and cost of what it wants us all to do. The technologies they have chosen to support are the beginning of the transition, not the end. Improved policymaking will deliver far better options over the next couple of decades.

Dr Alan HearneWoodstock, Oxfordshire

SIR – After 20 years of using hybrids (simple and plug-in), I have for the past 18 months been using a pure electric car, which leads me to offer a word of caution. The dealer from whom I bought the new car has been unable to provide a printed owner's manual, so there are features of the controls that I cannot access, and some of which I may be unaware.

Fortunately I can charge it at home, but I can't find out how to charge it without using a smart phone if I need to drive it beyond the range of a single charge.

David LawrieShrewley, Warwickshire

SIR – Archbishop Justin Welby's criticisms of legislation to prevent illegal migration into our country (Leading Article, May 11) appear to stray too far into a political debate.They are also misguided.

He speaks of denying dignity to illegal immigrants. There is no dignity in paying people smugglers, no dignity in cramming into overloaded small boats to cross the channel and even less dignity when tragedy strikes. He also implies it is undignified to send illegal immigrants to Rwanda, implying that Rwanda is inferior to the United Kingdom.

The Archbishop offers no alternatives to deal with the people smugglers. He might argue that it is not his role to come up with policy – and he would be right. So why is he making policy-specific criticisms rather than articulating principles?

A point that is consistently overlooked is that by definition, because France is a safe country, anyone crossing the Channel illegally in a small boat is an economic migrant.

There may be legitimate arguments as to how fair that is on France or whether there are sufficient legal routes for genuine asylum seekers. But it has to be right for the British Government to seek to stop economic migrants risking their lives and funding people traffickers.

Nick GreenLondon SW6

SIR – As a dedicated Anglo-Saxonist, I have followed with interest David Allen's response (Letters, May 7) to Lord Frost's Comment piece (May 5) on the Anglo-Saxon origins of today's coronation rituals.

My only quarrel with them is that they have set the date for the first recorded notice of the coronation a little late. Athelstan's father, Edward the Elder, the son and heir of Alfred the Great, was crowned and consecrated at Kingston-on-Thames on June 8 900, according to the chronicler Aethelweard, a kinsman of Edward. Ralph of Diceto tells us that the rite was performed by Plegmund, Archbishop of Canterbury. If Alfred had not been so busy with invading Danes (the cause of his own succession), it is likely that we could have put the origins of the rite even earlier.

The version used now is generally known as the second English coronation ordo, which may have been used for the first time for Edward. Athelstan, whose fame today is greater than his father's, has tended to get the credit for several of his initiatives, but here at least we do have a date and a modicum of supporting evidence.

Harriet Harvey WoodLondon SW5

SIR – The Mall, which last week saw the Coronation procession, also recently hosted the Royal Society of Portrait Painters’ 132nd annual exhibition at Mall Galleries.

Traditionally, portraits and their painters have embellished and reinforced hierarchies, be they aristocratic, royal or political. To say that artists have been complicit in these establishment structures is an understatement, and to some extent they are still complicit.

This year's annual exhibition suggested that things are changing, however. Of the 200 or so paintings, few fell into the categories outlined above. Instead, artists are choosing their own subjects. They are painting "ordinary" people. This, I think, is because they are interested in how a portrait connects us to others and to ourselves.

Yet there is a sound economic basis to the traditional model of the commission. The painted portrait also plays a part in chronicling those playing the most high-profile and influential roles in our society. But as this exhibition showed, this customer-client or artist-historian model doesn't really fit the shifting nature of the painted portrait.

We can't be certain as to what might happen next but, like the British monarchy, we are at a very live moment in the history of figurative painting, and portrait painting in particular.

Anthony ConnollyPresident, Royal Society of Portrait PaintersLondon SW1

SIR – In today's NHS, it seems that all nurses must have a university degree, but some potential doctors don't need to go to medical school (report, May 11).

We definitely need more psychiatrists, because the lunatics have finally taken over the asylum.

Dr P E PearsColeshill, Warwickshire

SIR – It is generally recognised that the NHS is failing, and that pouring more millions into it will not resolve the issues. Surely it is time that health-service provision ceased to be a party-political football and became the subject of cross-party strategy.

A similar approach should be considered for energy, education and defence to ensure the long-term security of these key areas and to avoid successive governments changing the rules for party political gain.

A R ArmitageHermitage, Berkshire

SIR – Liam Halligan (Business, May 7)identified the key reform needed to stabilise the volatile housing market and capture unearned gains for the benefit of the whole community. His recommended "land value capture" has been the funding source for infrastructure projects in countries including Denmark, Australia, South Africa, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Mr Halligan's proposed site-value tax would overcome the regulatory practice of allowing potentially valuable land to be kept out of use until its increase in price can be realised – for the benefit of owners who have done nothing to earn that increase. It would also put an end to the "buy-to-leave" practice whereby investors, often from overseas, acquire property in desirable locations, only to keep them unoccupied until the profit from a sale or rental becomes irresistible.

As Mr Halligan notes, the unearned gain that arises as soon as planning consent is granted, if split equally between site owner and the local authority, would dampen speculation and lower prices, while generating funds to meet public needs such as schools and hospitals. Even a modest "land value capture" would phase out these aberrations.

Emile WoolfLondon N14

SIR – One solution to our housing crisis could be building properties with fewer rooms to encourage downsizing.

Currently, many buyers of smaller homes get planning permission for huge extensions or basement developments, thus removing the smaller properties from the market. If planners simply refused to grant permission, smaller properties would still be available for both downsizers and first-time buyers.

Starter homes, as they were called, now appear to be another opportunity for money-making developers.

Carol WhiteNorthwold, Norfolk

SIR – Imagine I receive a substantial inheritance (Letters, May 12). If I choose to do prudent things with it, such as buy a large house, invest and live off the proceeds, then I’m caught by stamp duty, capital gains and income tax.

If I prefer to live a dissolute life buying fast cars, expensive clothes and getting drunk, I am caught by value added tax (VAT) and alcohol duty.

Even without inheritance tax, the Treasury wins every time.

John CooperReydon, Suffolk

SIR – Gillian Tweed (Letters, May 1) need not feel unduly cheated by being unable to take advantage of the "offers" available each week through her My Waitrose card because she lacks a smartphone. My own weekly shop is regularly in excess of £100, and by using my two Waitrose vouchers, the maximum permitted, I save about £1 – assuming I remember to take my smartphone, that is.

Gerry HuntingBerkhamsted, Hertfordshire

SIR – Gillian Tweed can redeem her vouchers by handing the cashier their written codes. The cashier then enters these manually.

Nora AshworthEast Preston, West Sussex

SIR – Out food shopping recently, I was tempted by a four-pack of tinned tuna at the special discounted price of £3.99. It wasn't until I looked more closely that I saw the original price was £4. No wonder all the supermarkets are making such vast profits.

Jennifer WilliamsNorth Newington, Oxfordshire

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James Longman John Conley Dr Alan Hearne David Lawrie Nick Green Harriet Harvey Wood Anthony Connolly Dr P E Pears A R Armitage Emile Woolf Carol White John Cooper Gerry Hunting Nora Ashworth Jennifer Williams