The Glass House Government

Dear Editor,

It is with a heavy sense of irony that I hear in the news recently the plans of David Cameron to "crack down on benefit cheats". Surely this is a case of those in glass houses throwing stones.

Wasn't it just a short time ago that his own colleagues were in fact cheating their own benefits to the tune of millions of pounds?

Wasn't it also just a short time ago that his banker friends were receiving billions of pounds in bonuses while sending the country into recession? And isn't it just typical of a Tory government to start picking on the less well off to clear their own dirty debts?

I rest my case.

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Legalised Mugging At Exeter Airport

Dear Editor,

I am writing today in the hope that you may make fellow readers aware of the perils involved with bringing the so called "recommended limit" goods from EU countries into Exeter Airport, especially if you are a frequent flyer.

I realise that UK Border Control do a valuable and often difficult job. However, on my arrival into Exeter Airport on Tuesday, I was subjected to a humiliating 90 minute detention and subsequent interview which resulted in the confiscation of 3kg of hand rolling tobacco. The reason given for this was that they did not believe the goods to be for my own use. It is my personal opinion that the officers on duty simply wanted a "result", and whatever I said to them would have made no difference whatsoever to the outcome. The fact that I travel frequently in and out of Exeter Airport on business – proof of which I could have provided given the chance – was no doubt a major factor in why I was singled out for investigation.

We are told by HMRC that "You are particularly likely to be asked questions if you have more than 3kg of tobacco". I was well aware of this, so was careful to ensure that I did not go over this limit. Also, even given the fact that I am a heavy smoker, 60 packets would have lasted me for quite some time, so I had no need to exceed this amount.

During my detention the officer constantly made notes on an extremely small notepad and in ineligible writing before asking me to sign to say that what he had written was what I had said. Being unable to read what appeared to me to be some form of shorthand, I declined as he could have written anything. When I asked why the tape recorder above my head was not turned on, he told me that it was because this was "not a criminal investigation". When I asked if I could have a legible statement of what was written, he simply said that I could not have his notebook.

On my release I asked for, and was given a leaflet on how I might appeal against this act of theft against me. However, on reading through the information, I immediately noticed that if my appeal were not successful, I could be liable for upwards of £1,500 in court costs. Given that the tobacco cost less than £300, I am now faced with a difficult decision. Do I stand up for my rights and fight this in what might me a very expensive court case, or leave it and let them think that they were right all along?

Surely something should be done about what amounts to legalised mugging of citizens by the state.

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Stagecoach Attitude

Dear Editor,

Having been a past correspondent to the Echo on the issue of Stagecoach buses, their drivers and the appalling service they provide for the citizens and visitors to Exeter, I have come up with an idea which they might like to consider.

I note from your letters column, and more so through comments left on thisisexeter.co.uk, that many bus users have concerns regarding the manner in which they are treated by certain drivers. Now, please don't get me wrong here, because many of their drivers are of a well mannered and easy going disposition, which cannot be easy given some of the things they have to put up with. However, there are a percentage of drivers who can be sullen, ill mannered and downright abusive, and it is because of them that I am making my proposal to introduce clearly visible identification badges, which could be attached to the top of the ticket vending machines.

Prior to Stagecoach securing the monopoly from Devon General in 1995, all drivers had to be clearly identified by easily visible badges, and I'm sure that the aforementioned salt of the earth type driver would not have a problem with this being reintroduced. I'm sure that Stagecoach drivers do indeed carry identification, but I have to say that if this is the case then I for one have not seen any evidence.

When travelling on their buses we are (quite rightly) reminded that Stagecoach will not tolerate abuse of any kind to their staff, and that they will seek to prosecute such offenders. However, this should surely work both ways don't you think? I have in the past week witnessed abusive behaviour from drivers, especially toward those who travel using concessionary passes. I have it on good authority that it is common knowledge within the Stagecoach organisation that many employees, especially drivers, consider such pass holders to be to blame for high fares and overcrowding. This view is confirmed by comments left on your website by drivers, although I have no way of telling whether they are actual employees or not. I have also heard slang names given to these people, but this is no place for profanity so I'll pass on that one.

Of course it would be somewhat abusive of me to suggest that had these people tried harder at school then they might not have to be ferrying pensioners and the like around to pay the bills, so perhaps I deserve such treatment. I do not however, find it amusing to see the elderly and those who are least able to defend themselves bullied by drivers with a chip on their shoulder.

So, what about it Stagecoach? The next time I see a little old lady falling around the bus because the driver has lurched away from the bus stop before she has had time to find a seat, will I be able to ring you up and report him using his badge number? Okay, I hear you say, we don't need such identification because all you have to do is ring us up and tell us which route and timetabled service you were travelling on. Well, that isn't going to work either is it because I have yet to find a service which runs to time during peak periods, and as all regular bus travellers know there are often no buses for up to an hour and then three come at the same time!

To the drivers who accept their job for what it is, and make it a pleasure travelling with them, I say thank you. To the others who's dubious people skills have been highlighted above, I say if you don't like the job, don't do it. To Stagecoach, I can only say either get your house in order or at least let the travelling public do it for you.

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Some Pigs Are More Equal Than Other Pigs

Dear Editor,

I am a Crediton based website designer, and am appalled by the blatant waste of almost £10k on what one could barely call a fully featured website (Echo, Angela Browning Pig Feature)

Also, there is no mention on her site of who designed it, but in the place where you would expect to see such information there is a statement which reads "Funded from Parliamentary allowances".

I think I'd be on a safe bet to conclude that she did not use the services of a designer in her own constituency, and that whoever did the work is probably living it up in Barbados by now!

Another pig with her nose in the trough, but I doubt the Kirton faithful will vote her out come judgement day as they just love to doff their caps to the local squire down our way.

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Use It Or Lose It!

Dear Editor,

As someone who has more than a passing interest in the fortunes of UK publicans, I would like to speak on their behalf concerning the fact that duty on alcohol will rise by 8 per cent on Monday December 1st.

On hearing the Pre Budget Report, I thought that the government might have thrown a lifeline to hard pushed licensees by reducing VAT by 2.5%, but of course this is largely offset by the aforementioned increase in duty. According to reports published in the wake of this increase, a local pub will close every day for the next two years as a result of tax hikes hidden in Gordon Brown's recession rescue package.

Of course one could argue that perhaps if the pub industry had done more to protest against the smoking ban then the smokers would not have left the pubs in their droves as many have done. Then the pubs could at least have absorbed these tax rises. I have in the past found it difficult to sympathise with publicans for this exact reason. It is a fact that cheap supermarket beer, and the fact that nobody wants to stand in the freezing cold to smoke make a very strong case for deserting your local pub.

However, with recession looming, and January the worst month of the year for the licensed trade, we will surely see even more traditional pubs closing, especially those who do not enjoy the freedom to buy their stock from the cheapest supplier as a result of being tied to their leasing company.

As I see it, in a few years time the only places that will remain open are likely to be the large, faceless pub chains such as J.D Wetherspoon, who have the ability to buy and sell their stock in bulk. Of course there will always be a place in the market for such establishments, but for many drinkers, myself included, they are nothing more than glorified coffee houses.

I would therefore urge your readers to consider these points when choosing where to spend their hard earned cash during the festive season and beyond. If you want to keep the UK pub tradition alive, it's a case of "use it or lose it".

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Bus service lets Exeter down

Dear Editor,

Being a "frequent flyer" to and from Exeter International Airport, I have become increasingly ashamed of the poor bus service afforded to visitors new to the City of Exeter, and would like to voice my concerns through your Points Of View page.

On leaving the arrivals hall at Exeter Airport, visitors who wish to travel into the city centre, or onward for connections to Exeter St Davids train station can easily spot the bus stop for this service. However, despite the rather grandiose sign which advertises a "shuttle/transfer" service (which in itself can easily be interpreted as a dedicated and complimentary service), this service is a complete embarrassment to the City. Aside from anything else, the bus stop itself is situated in an area where no vehicles except the emergency services can access, due to security restrictions.

On my return from Paris yesterday, I noticed a lot of people waiting for the bus into Exeter, and many were voicing disappointment with the frequency of the service (typically every hour). The bus timetables are extremely confusing, and the only "regular" weekday service is the 56A, which in fact is just another country service to and from Exmouth. This service bizarrely also services the entire Met Office workforce who like to travel by bus and so help the environment! Not that I have every seen anyone board at the Met Office on this strange and frankly unnecessary detour. Sundays are catered for by the 379 Sidmouth and Honiton service, which again run every hour (if you are lucky).

One might have assumed that in line with other cities such as Bristol, the "shuttle service" might run every 20 minutes and provide passengers with somewhere to put their luggage; not so in Exeter. The bus we all eventually boarded yesterday arrived 30 minutes late due to a road closure, and was already quite full. The only place for passengers to put their luggage, was a on the floor, but of course the floor space was already taken up with passengers, so it was very uncomfortable for all concerned.

As if it were not bad enough to be waiting for 90 minutes for a bus that was overcrowded, the bus also had it's heating system turned on, on what was already a very warm day! This has happened quite a lot on Stagecoach services recently, but the bus drivers simply say that they can't do anything about it, as it's a problem beyond their control. Maybe this is where Stagecoach are losing money, rather than their lame claims of losing it because of "concessionary fares", but I digress….

If Exeter wants to impress it's visitors, and Exeter Airport continues to press for expansion, perhaps the council should step in and offer visitors a service commensurate with the historic and cultural delights that they continually seek to promote.

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Life Is Cheap

Dear Editor,

So, Jakub Tomczak has been given two life sentences after being convicted of rape and causing grievous bodily harm with intent to his 48-year-old victim in an Exeter street. The Echo reported that Judge Graham Cottle imposed a life sentence for each count and ordered that Tomczak, 24, should serve a minimum term of nine years.

Yet another typical case of British justice, or injustice, when a life sentence comes down to a paltry four and a half years. I'd be willing to bet that if a Brit were convicted on these charges in Tomczak's native Poland he'd not be as fortunate. Come to that, if the defendent in this case were British he'd probably be looking at a minimum of 20 years, but I guess I'm not allowed to voice that opinion in polite circles or British newspapers.

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Bouncing the Pigs

Dear Editor,

I am writing in response to your story "CONCERN AT SMOKING BAN AFFECT DOOR STAFF" (Echo 20th August 2007). Regular readers will be aware that this is not the first time I have sought to voice my opinion on this undemocratic and ridiculously unworkable law, and to this end I will continue to fight to oppose the ban.

This latest installment from Marcel Choules will come as no surprise to most smokers. Indeed, the main consensus among smokers wherever I go, is that smoking will simply be outlawed full stop before long. Anyone who frequents a public house will be well aware that a fair percentage of what is being smoked was not originally bought in this country. Therefore the government are naturally not earning as much tax on it, as it has alread been paid in the country of origin and distributed by the arrestingly named "tobacco barons". But I digress…

Mr Choules (sorry, Councillor Choules) states "One or two smokers get very aggressive and stroppy when I ask them to move away from the doorway or when they are asked not to take drinks outside with them at pubs".

Well, I'm sorry Mr Choules sir, but without condoning unruly behaviour in any way, if someone treats me like a pig for exercising my right to smoke, then I'm quite likely to adopt the manners of said animal. I'm sure you'll argue that you are only doing your job, but the underlying message in this report was that you are simply another fervent anti-smoker, who will happily see others humiliated and scorned to further your own personal agenda.

Landlord Paul Andrew hits the nail on the head in pointing out that ostracising smokers further would be "over-riding Government legislation".

This is the point that the whingers of the anti-smoking brigade should wake up to; you've got your law, now give us all a break and keep your own counsel for a change. Because if you don't, I might just have to blow some more of my horrible smokey bacon views in your pious faces.

Yours angrily…

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