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We can learn lessons from US experience of school bus firm.

I read with great interest your article, "Yellow buses are way ahead" (June 17), regarding proposals to consider setting up a nationwide network of US-style school buses in the United Kingdom.

As FirstGroup is a prominent advocate that UK school authorities follow the example of US school districts that have contracted with private firms, I would urge The Journal to examine the record of FirstGroup's US yellow bus subsidiary, First Student.

While yellow bus schemes have certainly shown promise in the UK of reducing traffic congestion and providing students with an alternate means of getting to and from school, UK transport and education authorities should know that a minority of US school districts choose to contract with private firms. The majority of yellow school buses are still owned and operated by public school districts.

In addition, of those US school districts that have chosen to contract for school bus services, too many have learned the hard way that, unless done with proper care, outsourcing of student transportation can have unexpected impacts on vehicle maintenance standards, staff retention, student health and safety, driving training, route performance and overall costs.

FirstGroup points to its experience in running yellow bus operations in North America as evidence that it is well-qualified to run similar operations in the UK. The company's US record, however, illustrates many of the problems that UK education authorities and transport officials should be aware of as they examine student transportation options.

Operating small-scale yellow bus pilot schemes is one thing ( scaling up to run hundreds or thousands is something else entirely. As First Student has expanded in the United States, it is has experienced a number of disturbing problems, including driver shortages, missed routes, long delays, children not being picked up, lack of disclosure about accidents, contractual disputes, and student-on-student assaults.

I write all of this to you on behalf of Driving Up Standards (www.DrivingUpStandards.org), an international campaign dedicated to raising bus industry standards for service, safety and reliability, in coalition with bus workers, parents, school officials, community leaders and public officials.

It is a joint project of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Transport and General Workers' Union (T&G).

MIKE BLAIN,

Service Employees International Union,

Washington DC, USA.

529 unelected quangos control pounds 80bn of our money

MY sympathies go to the residents of Haydon Bridge, who must now wait for the Government to appoint yet another unelected quango to decide whether or not their long- awaited bypass can proceed.

The need for this project has been strongly supported for many years by democratically elected local councillors who know and appreciate the problems, but Maggie Thatcher's Tory government took the majority of local decision-making and funding away from elected local councillors and appointed members to this lucrative gravy train.

As a result of this central control, local councillors are often maligned for not getting things done locally.

Many of her loyal supporters were appointed to these secretive, unelected bodies that control billions of pounds of public money. This resulted in vastly-inflated wages for very little work to those lucky enough to be appointed. No methods of control were put in place to cover appointments and removals to and from these publicly unaccountable bodies, or to ensure that they were actually doing the functions they were supposedly created to do.

New Labour promised that things would be different when they came to power. Far from the expected abolition of the majority of these quangos, Labour has created even more, and we now have 529 of them controlling about pounds 80bn of taxpayer's money. Many of the Tory faithful have been ousted from their lucrative positions to be replaced by "Tony's cronies", with many sitting on two or even three quangos.

The fact is that local councils and councillors have neither the funding nor the final decision-making powers to do things locally.

Central government, through their control of quangos, the people who are appointed to the quangos, and the funding, are the ones to blame.

It is time to stop this gravy train and return local decision-making, and the funding for it, to publicly-accountable elected councils and councillors.

Is it any wonder voter turnout at local elections is falling when the public can see that local councillors have had their former powers emasculated by central government?

COUN E PETER CHARLETON,

Lib Dem, Ponteland North,

Castle Morpeth Council.

Derelict docks are a grim gateway for the Tyne

THOUSANDS of passengers leave or enter the Tyne on the frequent ferries to Scandinavia or Amsterdam and now the river is becoming a port of call, or embarkation, for cruise ships: about 20 arrivals this year, I believe. What a wretched first, or last, impression of this area these people must receive, as their ships pass the derelict Smiths/A&P dockyard at North Shields.

It is at least seven years since the largest dry-dock, over 700ft long, was last used and twice that since the other five were occupied by a ship. Now the dock gates are broken, docks flooded, quays look rotten and the yard beyond where workshops stood, is desolate and rubbish-strewn.

In contrast, the former Brigham and Cowan, and TDE dockyards at South Shields were cleared and filled in within about four years of closure, and a stylish development of houses and apartments soon built in their place.

I'm sure that the likes of Bellway, Wimpey, or Persimmon would love to transform this south-facing riverside site.

Look what was achieved in changing the Albert Edward dock and its coal and timber-handling estate to the charming Royal Quays marina and housing.

Or was that all due to the energy of the now-defunct Tyne & Wear development corporation? Do we have to wait for the possible excavation of another Tyne Tunnel to provide material to fill in those six docks?

Perhaps the new mayor of North Tyneside and One Northeast could help.

JL RENNER,

The Chair aside, this exhibition is wonderful

I TOOK time off from sunbathing yesterday to visit the National Gallery touring exhibition at the Laing, and would recommend it to everyone as an excellent collection.

Alas, the one disappointment is the `star' of the show, Van Gogh's Chair. If ever an artist was overrated, he is it. But even the modern items have appeal; about to pass the binbag by as Tracey Emin-type twaddle, until discovering it is a clever bronze sculpture.

Then came my moment of truth, as they call it, finest picture ever seen.

It was My Neighbour's House by Frederick Elwell, replacing previous favourite Harvesters Resting (by Stroud) in our own Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead.

Not just a painting this; you feel you're right there in the hall, unnoticed by the lady of this fine picture as she descends, listening for family sounds from adjacent rooms.

It made my day.

DON HENDERSON,

That welcome call which heralds the silly season

IS it the silly season again, or are we all cuckoo? First, sparrowhawks now cuckoos, which are very much alike in size and colour.

Reference to recent letters regarding cuckoos or lack of ( personally I haven't heard one for years, not living in the countryside ( but they are there, make no mistake, going about their nasty business of depositing an egg into the nest of a much smaller bird to hatch and feed this alien.

Nevertheless, their call, "cuckoo, cuckoo", is a welcome sound to hear ( that is of course if you are fortunate enough to hear it.

UNA WILLIAMS,

Without the caterpillars, there's little to shout about

AS per your previous correspondents, I had noted with sadness that I had not heard a cuckoo locally for over five years until I heard one calling on June 3rd this year at Burnside Lane, Matfen.

Mind you as I see far fewer "Hairy Mary's" or "Wooly Bear" caterpillars nowadays upon which the cuckoo feeds, perhaps this is the reason why we see less of the birds, as I still hear them in Eire every year when I fish the Longford area each May.

DAVID HALL,

The times they are a changing in these pages

I HAVE to say how much I'm enjoying the little literary cameos appearing in The Journal concerning the first cuckoo call.

This is what it must have been like to read the letters in The Times of yesteryear. Can the first Journal appearance of "disgusted of Tunbridge Wells" be far behind?

PAUL DIXON,
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jun 25, 2005
Words:1404
Previous Article:In my view.
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