I started writing letters to the press a few years ago, an activity borne out of frustration with some of the things I was reading. Here then, are a selection of missives from “Opinionated of East London”, mainly published within the FT because it is The Best Newspaper in the World.
FT 28th May 2021
It would be catastrophic to scrap R&D tax credits
I disagree with the contention in your article that the government’s 20-year-old research and development tax credit policy “could prove a costly failure” (Report, May 26).
Scrapping this would be nothing short of catastrophe for small and medium-sized enterprises driving innovation, manufacturing and employment. Grant funding is increasingly difficult to achieve. My company has submitted two collaborative applications for grants under the Innovate UK programme, achieved over 81 points, which should have led to success, only to be told the programme concerned had “run out of money”.
The need for R&D funding does not go away because of grant rejection, but is sought elsewhere, namely with investment from venture capital, private equity or angel funding. Tax credits return a proportion of the R&D expenditure, which is funnelled back into sales and marketing to realise company ambitions, reward investors and deliver uplift to the economy in various ways — employment, manufacture and export, for example. Private equity and venture capital providers are increasingly risk averse, leaving much SME funding to high-net-worth investors and angel networks.
R&D tax credits amplify the power of investment, while supporting innovation and entrepreneurship, which in turn helps the economy and provides a powerful feeding ground for acquisitive corporates. We should make the most of taxpayers’ money by limiting R&D tax credits to smaller businesses who need it most and who are more likely to provide a return to the taxpayer, the economy and the UK’s reputation for innovation and enterprise.
Vice-President, British Association of Women Entrepreneurs
London NW1, UK
FT, 21st January, 2021
A better way to spend Ineos’ Oxford gift
After reading “Ratcliffe’s Ineos makes £100m Oxford donation to tackle antibiotic resistance” (Report, January 19), my first thought was if half as much money was invested in preventive practice in human primary care and animal welfare, antimicrobial resistance (AMR) would be substantially de-fuelled, giving Ineos, Oxford university and others a much longer runway to get next-generation cures developed, trialled, peer reviewed and commercialised. Around half of the global rise of AMR has a urinary source. Unlike its diagnostic counterpart blood, there is no protocol around specimen collection for point of care urine testing. This creates contamination rates that range from below 1 per cent to over 70 per cent, making prompt safe treatment a national lottery. Guidelines for very common urinary tract infection recommend immediate treatment with a broad spectrum antimicrobial; if this doesn’t work, then culture followed by targeted medicine is advised. This advice is in direct contrast to AMR guidelines, which advise identifying problem bacteria so a targeted antibiotic can be prescribed. When I tried to get a government policy adviser to consider introducing a protocol for urine for reasons noted above, I was told to “go and talk to nurses”. But if those with the power to make such a basic and fundamental change decline to do so, we know we are in trouble. Giovanna Forte Chief Executive, Forte Medical London WC1, UK; Irvine, CA, US
FT, 23rd October 2020
Why pair ubiquitous beige trousers with a blue jacket?
My regular business trips to the US over recent years confirm Robert Armstrong’s observations on the baffling khaki or beige trousers worn by American men (Life & Arts, FT Weekend, October 17). Clothes provide clues to the nature of the wearer, giving a vague idea of who you might be dealing with from the outset — the cut of a suit for instance can imply something of the wearer. In the States, these ubiquitous khaki trousers are more often than not twinned with a boxy, ill-fitting, double-breasted blue jacket and with no clue as to the nature of the wearer there is only one word that rises to the surface: why? Giovanna Forte London E9, UK
FT, 9th October 2020
A vocational path is to be “mistress of your own destiny”
Camilla Cavendish is right about vocational qualifications being important, but this is old news to many of us (Opinion, FT Weekend, October 3). Not everyone is cut out for university and in 1980 I declined to complete my UCCA form (as it then was) but embarked upon a business-led secretarial course instead. This prepared me for the world of work and the launch of my own business at the age of 26. A generation later, my younger daughter was told that her dreams of becoming a pâtisserie chef were unrealistic and she should acquire a degree to “fall back on”. She followed her own judgment and 10 years after earning a top pâtisserie diploma she is the proud owner of her own Vienoisserie in Melbourne. The first born daughter did go to university, leaving with a first-class degree . . . and no work prospects. She took further vocational qualifications and acquired the skills needed to launch her own business too. It seems to me that the vocational path can encourage greater independence of thought and experience, a huge advantage for women in particular. Being mistress of one’s own destiny gives us the scope and freedom to craft the life we want. Who could ask for more?
London E9, UK
FT, 28th April 2020 (my birthday!)
Ventilator challenge has homemade solutions
The well documented problems of the ventilator challenge are compelling in their apparent pointlessness, along with the apparently unnecessary funds spent by Mr Dyson on the design of a new ventilator system that he claims is no longer needed (Report, April 25). Why was the making of existing, proven technology not licensed to appropriate British manufacturers fr the production of machines that are known to work?
With licenses containing protection for the rightful owners of patents and knowhow, things could have happened with greater alacrity and less unnecessary cost on our own doorstep.
Unless I’m missing something, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
FT, 25th October 2019
Achievement and success don’t come with a deadline
Gillian Tett’s “Sex, middle age and the city” (October 19) strikes a chord or few. At 49, after six years of carefree and enjoyable singledom, I met my life-partner; this relationship had to be more carefully weighed than ever before because I had come to appreciate my independence and enjoy my own company. Concurrently I was building my business, something many said I was “too old” to do.
These 50-something life-work shifts made me realise that achievement and success of any sort do not come with a deadline …and can be all the sweeter when enjoyed in mid-life.
I wish I’d known that 30 years ago.
London E9, UK
FT, 9th May 2019
Had I the choice I’d have been a stay-at-home Mum
I was interested and not a little irritated to read your article on female barristers leaving the profession to improve life-work balance (“ ‘Punishing’ hours force female barristers to quit mid-career”, May 4). Yet again, the concept of a clever woman tailoring her career to allow her to bring up her children is given a less than sparkling finish.
If we want the next and future generations to be not just functional but kind, clever, engaging and more, then why not encourage their own parents (mother or father) to bring them up? Having and raising children is one of life’s huge privileges; it is the chance to really influence the future in all ways. Instead of providing benefits to cover childminders and nurseries, why not reward parents for looking after their own children, for at least the most formative months and years? What is more important after all: the business of work . . . or crafting the next generation?
Had I had the choice nearly 30 years ago, I would have been a stay-at-home mum. Alas it didn’t work out, so I set up my own business to avoid being at the behest of any less than sympathetic employer (and have not worked for anyone else since). Not a practical solution for everyone, but if female (or male) barristers find it so, they have my full support.
As the saying goes: we have one life, so live it well.
London E9, UK
The Guardian, 5th October 2019
How frustrating to read this article, with contributions from medics who have failed to highlight the need for accurate midstream urine collection. Every guideline in the world specifies midstream as the most reliable sample for accurate analysis, diagnosis and treatment of UTI. Yet the matter is persistently overlooked because changing this means changing hearts, minds, attitudes and the relevant patient pathway. What a faff for established systems. My company has data from an FOI request to all NHStrusts in 2016; this revealed national urine contamination rates that varied from below 1% to over 70%, with an average 23.5%; that’s over 16m patients a year who will not be properly diagnosed and treated from their urine sample. If this lack of accuracy was endemic in blood analysis there would rightly be a national outcry. Urine, as a waste product, is not given the same respect, despite being a window to our health.
Thanks to a now retired NHS GP, there is a way to get this right: in 2001 Dr Vincent Forte invented an NHS award-winning midstream urine device that now costs the NHS less than 90p; growing evidence confirms that his invention reduces contamination to 1.5% and false positives by up to 70%. These benefits lead to reduced unnecessary prescribing because patients can be treated with targeted antibiotics for the appropriate duration, not the broad spectrum variety believed to encourage antimicrobial resistance (AMR). What does this mean? It means properly treated conditions, healthy patients and huge savings on retests, repeat appointments and more for the NHS itself.
Women must not feel that reduced prescribing due to AMR is preventing their treatment, but understand that until the medical profession gets the basics right, treatment itself will remain unreliable. Fifteen years after Dr Forte invented the British-made Peezy Midstream, after much development, trials and investment it is now being used in some NHS antenatal clinics. But much like the variation in contamination data mentioned above, until it is adopted for all urine collection, successful urine screening will remain a national lottery.
Meanwhile, the only beneficiaries of failed UTI treatment are the pharmaceutical industry and the labs that are compensated (by the NHS) per sample; right-first-time, prompt, targeted treatment is of no interest to either party. Unfortunately their voices are louder than those of patients in pain.
CEO, Forte Medical
The Guardian, 20th April 2016
The revelations (Watchdog steps in after allegations Boots is milking NHS, 18 April) following the Guardian investigation into Boots are symptomatic of the dynamic between the NHS and private business, some of which could arguably be regarded as exploitation. In our case we have identified a conflict of interest around the private laboratories appointed to manage NHS microbiology contracts and the latter’s urgent need to make significant cost savings in all areas of clinical medicine and patient experience.
On approaching one of the largest of these private laboratory groups to promote improved urine specimen collection and dramatically reduce retesting, we were told that this “would knock about £500,000 off our bottom line”. Our entreaty that right-first-time analysis, diagnosis and treatment would benefit patients as well as the NHS on a number of levels was dismissed in favour of shareholder interests.
Those in the NHS responsible for setting up volume-based compensation to private companies have singularly failed to protect their employer from what could arguably be viewed as exploitation. There are some NHS laboratories whose budgets also rely on the volume processing of specimens, without any reward or incentive for reduction in retesting.
This is a more serious issue than many will acknowledge given there are around 65m urine tests delivered to the NHS annually. Our own FOI research points to a national average potential retest rate of about 20% with some trusts showing 50% and in one case over 70%. That’s an awful lot of patients who cannot be accurately diagnosed at first test, which might also suggest a reason behind the wide prescribing of broad-spectrum antibiotics.
Founding director, Forte Medical, London
Daily Telegraph, 19th February 2012
SIR – I’m slightly baffled by the lure of supermarkets, and I wonder at the packed car parks that lie on the fringes of every settlement in Britain.
I admit that it is convenient for Ocado to deliver the boring, bulky stuff, but independent shops offer better shopping. They are also easier on the pocket: though their prices may not compete with supermarkets’, one doesn’t over-buy; you simply get what you went in for. Since abandoning the retail behemoths for my local shops, end-of-week, out-of-date food has all but disappeared from my kitchen and there’s substantially less packaging to recycle.
It is enjoyable to shop from people whose names I know and who know mine, who ask how I am and can chat about what’s going on in the neighbourhood. Local shopping beats the supermarket experience any day and keeps the flame of independent business burning.
FT, 12th February 2011
Life-work balance is less contradictory
From Ms Giovanna Forte
Sir, Why do I keep reading about the work-life balance? (Most recently in Sarah Sands’ diary in Life & Arts, February 5-6.) Intuitively, surely, the expression should be a less contradictory life-work balance (apart from which the latter has correct alphabetical order). I can only assume that whoever came up with the expression doesn’t have it.
London EC2, UK
FT, 30th August, 2010
Help – is there a bank willing to work with us?
From Ms Giovanna Forte
Sir, We are a small privately-funded British manufacturer making a British-designed, award-winning medical device that was approved by the NHS from May 1 this year and which we are starting to export. Our bank, NatWest, has taken some five months to fail to open a Collections account for us. Our relationship manager has neglected to advise us properly; in her absence on holiday, her replacement could assist only by rerouting us to the complaints department which, in turn, was unable to assist except to promise that our branch would be in touch within two working days. It was not.
One of the most serious outcomes of this protracted and unwelcome process is a delay in issuing some substantial invoices resulting in a temporary cash flow issue while more forms are completed and returned to the local business centre.
A request for a short-term overdraft to help resolve this bank-generated problem has been met with the routine lacklustre approach. Is there a bank out there, I wonder, that might be happy to work with a small medical devices manufacturer with the potential to save the NHS millions of pounds?
The Observer, 29th June, 2008
Don’t dress up, cheer up
Wersha Bharadwa (‘Ditched? It’s the best excuse for dressing up’, Comment, last week) has a valid point that the ditched woman’s best armour is to look drop-dead gorgeous. But dealing with the fallout of emotional abuse, duplicity and infidelity requires a major reconstruction of self-esteem. It’s the inside, not the outside that needs the work.
The Guardian, 10th February, 2008
The boon of bringing up baby
I have brought up my children alongside a career and am increasingly less able to understand the insistence of society that women abandon their children in favour of ‘work’. (‘The glass ceiling isn’t broken – in fact, it’s getting thicker’, Business, last week). The role of bringing up the next generation has to be more important than running a successful company. The value attached to the development of balanced, happy, capable, strong adults must be understood to be greater than the value of the workplace. It is a fault of society that the role of the parent has become so demeaned. Business can wait; young lives cannot.
The Guardian, Hugh Muir’s Diary, 20 September 2007
A relieved Brighton will wave them all farewell today, but many of the publicans will feel a certain emptiness. “I can tell you’re not one of those Liberals going to that conference,” a taxi driver told our correspondent Giovanna Forte as she visited the city. “How do you know?” she asked. “You’re not breathing bloody booze all over me,” he said.
The Guardian, 6th May, 2005
A Guardian-reading feminist I may be, but I confess that Cinderella is my favourite story – and film – of all time (Happily never after, G2, May 2). Women across the world toil daily to maintain an equilibrium for their children and, perhaps, their men. It’s a fact of life.
So here’s the rub: girl works butt off for years, triumphs over adversity, by chance meets a man who – on the basis of shoe size – delivers her to a life of leisure and, no doubt, joyfully regular pedicures. And she lived happily ever after. What, exactly, is the problem with that? Did I hear anyone say that fantasy is a terrible thing? I don’t think so.
Bring it on, fairy godmother.