No risk of imminent insolvency for opera company
Dear Editor, As chairman of the board of trustees of Birmingham Opera Company, I am very happy to endorse the final paragraph of Sally Luton's letter - "Arts Council England expects the organisations they support to work within the resources available to them and to deliver the highest standards of work to benefit the widest range of people".

As trustees and directors of the company I, and my fellow trustees, take very seriously indeed our legal responsibility not only for the management and work of the company but also for the public funds we receive.

The current board has skills in the financial, legal, marketing and PR and business development sectors as well as the presence of an internationally acclaimed artist.

I can assure you and your readers that the company was not facing imminent insolvency in 2002 and nor does it in early 2008 following the success of La Traviata.

It is the case that with, or without, the "VAT windfall" to which Ms Luton alludes (in fact, VAT previously paid by the company against which refunds had been claimed in the normal course of business) Birmingham Opera Company would not have been in a state of imminent insolvency as she suggests.

Proper provision had in any case been made in our accounts for any shortfall in refund. When assessing the risk of undertaking a major project such as La Traviata, a number of factors are taken into account by the board.

More than a year before the planned performances in the NIA, expert advice was sought from various individuals and organisations before the project was approved by the trustees.

Bearing in mind the risks involved, a large contingency fund was put in place to mitigate against the risk of shortfalls in fund-raising and any overspending and it was this and not the "VAT windfall" which covered a shortfall on income.

We will, of course, continue to work with Arts Council England West Midlands to assess the viability of project funding as a possible route forwards and the management and board have been working throughout the Christmas and new year holidays to investigate these options.

We will, as we have always done, strive to work within the resources available to deliver the highest standards of work to benefit the widest range of people.
PETER PHILLIPS, Chairman, Birmingham Opera Company

Actions speak louder than words, Liam
Dear Editor, Following on from Andrew Mitchell's call for movement on the setting up of Regional Select Committees, we now read how Daniel Kawecznski is seeking a debate on regional ministers.

These are important issues and both Members of Parliament are correct and justified in seeking accountability for our region.

Regional Ministers were trumpeted as a way of creating cross-departmental co-ordination within government to benefit the regions which make up our country.

The most high-profile of these is our very own Minister, Liam Byrne, who at the time of his appointment, made great play of his ability to "convene, challenge and communicate " on behalf of the West Midlands.

On the August 3, 2007, within the pages of The Birmingham Post, Liam Byrne asked this region to "Be brave, be bold" and set about a "150-day consultation for an action plan". This consultation ended in the last week of December 2007.

On August 6, 2007, a letter was printed within the opinion pages of this paper which stated: "So Liam, if you truly want the best for the West Midlands and (to) be accountable, then I challenge you to convene a meeting in 150 days and communicate your action plan."

Liam Byrne, like so many other Regional Ministers, is consistently failing to be accountable either to MPs like Andrew Mitchell and Daniel Kawecznski or to electors like myself.

So, should Liam Byrne have forgotten his pledge to the electors of the West Midlands, I repeat that challenge again. Fulfilling Mr Byrne's own words of "convene, challenge and communicate", let's see the action plan.

Should Liam Byrne not be in a position to do this then Daniel Kawecznski's call for the minister's resignation, should seriously be considered.
 PAUL BURKE, Sutton Coldfield

Inspiration for all to see in German capital
Dear Editor, I'm delighted to hear that an iconic design is being sought for Birmingham's new station which will replace what has to be the most depressing building in Britain.

Should the designers seek inspiration they need look no further than Berlin's new and extraordinary Hauptbahnhof station (New Street: Back to the drawing board, Post January 7).

Like a crystal palace towering over the German capital, it is a station that combines striking architecture with the capacity to deal with all the long-distance, regional and rapid transit trains that call at 14 platforms on two different levels.

It is the hub of the European rail network, and of Berlin's rapid transit system. It is also a building representing the unified city of Berlin of which the whole of Germany is proud.

I remain to be convinced whether our sad New Street site can ever have the capacity to cope with all the demands of a major regional transport hub, let alone be an iconic building.

Surely if we are looking at a redesign the site for the location should be the now demolished former Royal Mail sheds behind the old and sadly defunct Curzon Street station.

If another £40 million is to be spent, as you report, on top of £550 million already earmarked for a limited design, we have to get this right for the long term.

Curzon Street has to be the site for an iconic design. It would be alongside Millennium Point and in sight of the still amazing Selfridges building.

It would have more track capacity than New Street could ever hope for, with room for expansion of local rail networks, and it could be the hub of a high-speed network to Manchester, London and the Channel Tunnel.

Conceivably it could also have the space for any future underground system that Birmingham, exclusively among its global sister cities, still lacks and desperately cries out for.

Now that would be iconic.
CHARLES BARWELL,  Edgbaston

Understanding and trust will help beat the racial bullies
Dear Editor, The Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, is very brave to speak out about the growing segregation within Britain, although wrong to point the finger only at Muslims.

The truth is the UK is becoming increasingly fragmented, with specific areas which have become no-go zones for whites, others for Asians, some for blacks, others for Muslims, still more for non-Muslims.

It is only by talking about this situation that we can overcome it, and work towards a more inclusive, understanding and peaceful nation.

The pc brigade's elephant-in-the-room approach is never going to work - at best it achieves nothing, at worst it magnifies the situation, leaving some groups feeling excluded, isolated and angry.

This is true of all groups - regardless of their ethnic background or religion. Neither is it possible to turn the clock back, insisting we are a white/Christian country, something that has not been true for many, many decades.

Britain is a melting pot of nationalities, faiths and skin colours, and a rise in Muslim worshippers cannot be blamed for a decline in attendance at Anglican churches.

We should be celebrating our differences and learning from each other's cultures, rather than pretending they don't exist or trying to homogenise the whole country.

We can - and will - learn to live happily with each other, but first we need to build understanding and trust on all sides.

It is true, the Bishop of Rochester should have been more careful with the language he picked to express his views, but - as William Hague pointed out - he has succeeded in underlining one very important point, which is that we need to do much more in Britain to integrate people to make sure that our community and society works well together.

I hope most people will recognise the sentiment behind his statement, rather than using his clumsiness of expression to further fuel the fires of division.

All Britons, however long they have been in the UK, or whatever their first language, should stand up against the bullies and radicals who feed their own egos by creating division, misunderstanding and misery.
 RHONDA KIPLING, By email
 

European Union a drain on UK's cash resources
Dear Editor, Hardly a day goes by without a news item about yet another worthwhile organisation being deprived of Government cash (Company's performers reveal their anguish, Post January 5).

We have recently heard of the plight of the Birmingham Opera Company following the Art Council's decision to withdraw funding, and this is just one of 200 organisations that will suffer in the same way.

In the public sector, the position is just as bad - if not worse.

Police, nurses, the probation service, prisons, etc, etc are all desperately short of money, while the saga about finding cash for improvements to New Street Station goes on and on.

I doubt whether many people would vote for the idea that taxes should be raised to meet all the needed expenditure, so can we look at where our money goes?

As recent correspondents have pointed out, a lot of it is poured into the European Union - up to a staggering total of £60 billion a year, which works out at an average of about £1,000 for every man, woman and child in the country.

That is a large whack out of anyone's paypacket, and an immense amount for a pensioner to find.

As Councillor Hollingsworth recently commented, 70 per cent of our laws are made by the EU's unelected commissioners, and this is completely unacceptable.

We have never been given the chance to have a vote about this, and Gordon Brown should honour Labour's promise to give us one - but will he?

I seriously doubt whether he has the courage, because he must know that he could well lose.
 STANLEY HOLLAND,  Bournville
 

Soldiers treated shamefully
Dear Editor, It is an absolute disgrace that our soldiers returning from Afghanistan for Christmas had to change out of their uniforms on the runway in order to pass through the terminal at Birmingham Airport.

We should be proud of our armed forces. To subject them to this humiliation after a tour of duty is appalling. It is also a great pity that The Birmingham Post only saw fit to include this item in a column rather than give it the space it deserved.

Both the airport and the Post should be ashamed.
 TESSA MILLER,  Sutton Coldfield