Category Archives: Agriculture
Part 1: economic ramifications, food security and pandemic bonds
Many of the points highlighted in this article are summarised below. It is published in full here.
Alan Simpson opened: “The delusions of neoliberalism stand at the edge of an implosion just waiting to happen. But, as with the emperor’s new clothes, global leaders are too fearful to say that their economic model has been stripped naked”.
The last week has seen that – following the wild weather – coronavirus and tumbling stock markets are ganging up to form an economic “perfect storm.” It will only get worse.
Initially, the industrial world had only a passing interest in the coronavirus outbreak in China: stupid Chinese, eating the wrong stuff it thought — good job that an authoritarian state could turn a city of millions into a quarantine zone.
Then markets began to panic and central banks are having to intervene
But now Italy has followed suit. In a dramatic, middle of the night statement, the Prime Minister announced the quarantining of a whole region of northern Italy, affecting 16 million people around Milan and Venice. Even this may be too late. The ramifications are massive. Start with China.
- Its output accounts for around a quarter of global manufacturing,
- huge quantities of which are currently stored up in containers that cannot get out of Chinese ports.
- accounts for one quarter of global automotive production
- provides 8% of global exports of automotive components for other manufacturers, many of whom rely on just-in-time assembly processes.
- The same applies to steel and plastics, chemicals and high-tech telecoms.
- Tankers arriving now set off before China went into lockdown. The real shortages will start to kick in this month.
The ripple effect of these logjams is running through the entire industrial economy, including a shortage of available containers themselves.
And when goods don’t flow, nor do payments associated with them. First-world firms struggle to work out how to pay bills (and workers) in the same way that China is having to pay workers to stay at home in quarantined areas.
The UK Treasury official who has just advised that agriculture is unimportant to the UK economy could barely have been more mistaken. Real alarm bells should be ringing all around Parliament about the amount of crops that will rot in the ground of waterlogged fields around the land. How are we to feed the public throughout the coronavirus crisis?
Weather related problems, including flood, drought and fire will throw food production systems crisis, with no globalised supply lines to step in as the safety net. But food security is an issue Parliament has barely touched on.
Why are political leaders reluctant to call what we are facing “a pandemic”?
(WHO) definition of a pandemic is relatively clear. It is “an epidemic or actively spreading disease that affects two or more regions worldwide.” This clearly describes today’s geographical spread of the highly contagious novel coronavirus and its significant clusters of cases far from China; principally in Italy and Iran. Countries closer to China, like South Korea, have also experienced an explosion in novel coronavirus infections. And Europe and the US are rapidly catching up.
The World Bank has launched a $12bn fund to help developing nations deal with “the epidemic.” But this is where the politics turns ugly. Behind the scenes, casino spivs stand to lose lots of money if we call this a “pandemic” not an “epidemic.” It all goes back to
In June 2017, the World Bank announced the creation of “specialised bonds” that would fund the previously created Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEFF) in the event of an officially recognised (ie WHO-recognised) pandemic. The high-yield bonds were sold under the premise that those who invested would lose their money if any of six deadly pandemics (including coronavirus) occurred. If a pandemic did not occur before the bonds mature on July 15, 2020, investors would receive what they had originally paid for the bonds along with generous interest and premium payments.
This is why Trump has gone out of his way to pooh-pooh use of the word “pandemic.” If we don’t call it out until after July 15 speculators get paid and it’s the public who then pick up the bills.
The first “pandemic bond” raised $225 million, at an interest rate of around 7%. Payouts are suspended if there is an outbreak of new influenza viruses or coronaviridae (SARS, MERS). The second, riskier bond raised $95 million at an interest rate of more than 11%. This bond keeps investors’ money if there is an outbreak of filovirus, coronavirus, lassa fever, rift valley fever, and/or Crimean Congo haemorrhagic fever. The World Bank also issued $105 million in swap derivatives that work in a similar way.
In 2017, $425 million of these “pandemic bonds” were issued, with sales reportedly 200% oversubscribed. For many, they looked more like “a structured derivative time bomb” — one that could upend financial markets if a pandemic was declared by the WHO.
He adds, “And that’s where we are now. Call it a crisis. Call it an emergency. But whatever you do, don’t use the word “pandemic” because it might kill the market”. Concluding that there is no way to magic this crisis away, he says we must manage our way through it as best we can, adding, “But calling a pandemic a pandemic would at least treat countries and communities as human entities, not just chips in casino capitalism”.
8 March 2020
Farmers For Action (Northern Ireland) earlier this month issued a statement about the recent “leaked” emails in the press from Treasury Advisor Dr Tim Leunig, arguing that the UK food sector is not critically important to the economy and that agriculture and fishery production certainly isn’t. This implies that UK farmers aren’t so important and UK agriculture can be the sacrificial lamb in US crunch post Brexit talks.
In their press release (click to read) they point out that the food that UK farmers produce translates into by far the biggest industry in the UK by tonnage and on top of this accounts for 60%+ of all transported goods throughout the UK
Leunig pointed to the example of Singapore, an island city-state that imports almost all of its food, as a model for Britain; he makes no reference to what happened in the Second World War when the UK almost starved as food importing ships were being sunk – and here we are again with unforeseen circumstances of the coronavirus COVID-19.
The UK produces safe quality food to EU high standards with the Minister for the Environment indicating these will continue and backing up the UK farmers as best his brief will allow him, bar the influence of people like Dominic Cummings and Dr Leunig.
The UK has declared a climate change emergency, therefore there is no justification for importing beef or importing dairy products or chicken or any produce in which we are self-sufficient or buy from our nearest neighbours.
William Taylor (FFA) added that this government must be held to account about the carbon footprint caused by importing food products we don’t need from the US and other countries around the world. Instead all the food produced by UK farmers should be used before importing any shortfall from the nearest neighbour.
The key in all these climate change destructive food swaps is that they benefit profiteering corporate food retailers, corporate food wholesalers, corporate shipping companies and to a lesser extend corporate food processors and not the thousands of farming families or the environment in either food swap country.
In the case of lamb where the UK is self-sufficient, the nonsense of exporting 38% of lamb to France and North Africa only to meet ships coming from Australia and New Zealand loaded with lamb must end!
It is time for Boris Johnson and his government to wake up and realise that climate change is no respecter of majority governments and will only respect change of human activity on a global scale of which we are part = and so far this is not happening.
As climate change tightens its grip, we must not forget all those farming families and others flooded out of their homes and farms across the UK due to the increasing climate change extremes of weather.
FFA conclude by saying that they and all other like-minded farm organisations across these islands pledge from here onward to put an end to the UK government’s propaganda. Let battle commence!
Farmers For Action
56 Cashel Road, Macosquin, Coleraine, N Ireland, BT51 4NU
Tel. 07909744624 Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
PRESS RELEASE 4th March 2020
Most readers will have heard of Dr Li Wenliang who worked at a hospital in Wuhan and alerted the authorities to this infectious new form of the coronavirus and was reprimanded by Chinese police last month for spreading “illegal and false” information about a new form of coronavirus. He later died after contracting the coronavirus from a patient.
But whereas exposure to this zoonotic disease was unforeseen, worldwide people are being affected, before birth and during their lives, by legally permitted substances used in many sectors, including agriculture, industry and transport. In Britain, whistle-blowers – medical practitioners and patients – are also silenced by medical, legal and political authorities. Is this done in order to protect a range of wealthy and powerful companies?
Richard Bruce, Len Lawrence and George Wescott are among millions worldwide who have attempted to raise the alarm after suffering serious damage to health from exposure to chemicals in these sectors.
Message received yesterday; “WE ARE THE DR LI WENLIANG[s] of UK”
Len Lawrence was a fit, experienced pilot who had been working for British Aerospace since 1989 when he experienced and recorded his first ‘fume event’ Read and hear more about the drastic steps taken to silence him here. The BBC reports that five of the UK’s largest airlines are now facing legal action by four pilots, and 47 cabin crew members. It is claimed that pilots and cabin crew are still regularly exposed to toxic fumes during flights. The Unite union has Independent expert evidence that the fumes from the oil used to lubricate the jet engines, contain organophosphates and TCP, and that long-term exposure can damage the nervous system and may lead to chronic irreversible health problems in susceptible individuals.
Such people, often sidelined and mislabelled as having psychological problems, will take heart from the Telegraph’s report that, in December, an official report confirmed that British Airways pilots were forced to wear oxygen masks as a plane suffered five “fume events” in seven weeks.
George Wescott suffered severe health problems after dipping 1,500 sheep in July 1988 with an organophosphate dip, a compulsory process ordered by government. By August 1991 he realised he would never recover sufficiently to continue farming, relinquished tenancy of the farm and set up a National Action Group to make sure fellow farmers were aware of the dangers. His interview during a protest outside the Royal Courts of Justice may be heard on video here. In a 2015 parliamentary debate, his MP said that George (right) had suffered for more than 30 years and recommended the Minister to set up a commission to get to the bottom of the issue.
In June 1992 MAFF abandoned its policy of compulsory dipping
Richard Bruce, a farm manager whose health broke down after exposure to Actellic used in grain stores, says very few realise that farmers and grain store operators have for decades been pouring OPs and other poisons (in pesticides and fungicides) into harvested grains and oilseeds. He now has an extensive knowledge on the effects of organophosphates which are used far more widely in agriculture than just sheep dip – see his comprehensive collection of information at The Organophosphate File. Like Len & George, he has met a range of obstacles and unfair dealing whilst attempting to get official recognition of the dangers of using chemicals such as malathion, pirimiphos methyl, chlorpyrifos methyl, some of which were approved long after the dangers were known.
His verdict: there are none so blind as those who are paid not to see:
“Professionally Induced Nelson’s Eye Syndrome…. They see no evidence – no matter how much there is or even if they published it themselves. All I seek is for the truth to be recognised by those who are trying to hide it in order for the public to understand what has been done to everyone”. He asks:
“Why is it that individuals are prosecuted for deliberately poisoning people but companies who make products that injure and kill thousands worldwide every year, escape blame? Makes no sense at all”.
Will Corbyn/Labour’s industrial strategy guarantee fair production costs for perishable food – or rely on the global market?
“It is simply not right that any worker should have to sell their product for less than it costs them to produce them, and this is acutely felt by dairy farmers.”
Countryfile, reviewing Jeremy Corbyn’s “Rural Renewal” report, continued to quote: “A combination of a small number of very large milk processers operating as suppliers to retailers, supermarkets operating a ‘price war’ forcing down the cost of milk, and milk co-ops losing their power has resulted in thousands of dairy farmers finding it harder and harder to make ends meet, let alone make a profit.”
Corbyn said “we will work with all parties to ensure that customers are offered a price they can afford for their milk, but not at the expense of farmers whose very livelihoods depend on it. This will include investigating regulating supermarkets to prevent below cost selling.”
Factories don’t sell their products at a loss, but those producing perishable food are often required to do so. It’s so easy to put pressure on those producing perishable food: fresh milk, fruit and vegetables, who have to sell quickly – in effect holding them to ransom.
Seven years ago Telegraph View pointed out that some supermarkets pay less for milk than it costs to produce. Nothing has changed! Prices sometimes drop to the 1990s level but all other costs have risen steeply.
Confidence in successive governments continues to fall as the country has become increasingly dependent on imported food – which now even includes tomatoes from Morocco and eggs and poultry from Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.
A Fairtrade Policy Director noted that ‘The unpleasant and aggressive tough love lobby’ which has cut social and healthcare, education and public transport doesn’t spare family farmers
Corbyn on a Cumbrian farm, pledging to do “everything necessary” to stop no-deal Brexit carnage for famrers
No thoughts of love – or natural justice – appeared in the Oxford Farming Conference address of Liz Truss, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who blamed the ‘difficult world market’ for low milk prices and focussed on farming’s ‘huge export potential’, rejoicing that ‘we now grow chillies which we export to Pakistan and Mexico’.
Barbara Crowther (right), by far the best Fairtrade Foundation Director of Policy & Public Affairs (2009-2017), said “There is a very unpleasant and aggressive tough love lobby out there who simply do not understand the importance of locally sourced food and the underlying food security issues which are only going to get worse as the global population grows”. She asked “Could we make our Mark work on milk?”. This link to that (now unwelcome?) reference has been removed.
It’s a fair question and is something that has been looked at, and discussed many times – not least as part of a ‘Local and Fair’ conference a few years ago, bringing Fairtrade and Cumbrian farmers groups together to discuss the issues they hold in common, co-ordinated by Joe Human (see Barbara in video at that conference).
MP Anne McIntosh (below, who chaired the parliamentary Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee, for several years, urged the Government to intervene, after it was reported that 60 dairy farmers went out of business in one month alone. EFRA wanted the Groceries Code which covers suppliers to the big supermarkets and retailers, to be extended to include dairy farmers – but soon afterwards, the estimable Ms McIntosh was deselected. Now in the Lords she is campaigning for the farming interests threatened by Brexit
The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers insists that all supermarkets could pay dairy farmers a price for milk that would meet the cost of production without increasing the price charged to the consumer: they would just need to accept a slightly lower profit on the milk they sell.
Placing the issue third after Angora goats and use of level crossings, the BBC, in a video link no longer working, gave priority to the destructive comments of the establishment economist, Sean Rickard.
Apparently unaware of economic interdependence – the knock-on effect to other industries and the rural economy – Sean Rickard tells farmers that if they can’t manage under these conditions, ‘they should give up making milk and live off the subsidy’.
In fact, as Clitheroe dairy farmer Kathleen Calvert often points out, the whole rural economy is affected as farmers lose income. Each working dairy farm returns a huge amount of money back into the wider economy, supporting many other regional businesses, and therefore helping to provide jobs for many. Each dairy farm that ceases to trade has a knock-on effect on the surrounding community and the economy, due to a loss of income to many other businesses. From press release, link no longer works. Instead see a briefer reference in Lancashire Life.
The key message “We are losing hold of a vital skills base at an alarming rate as dedicated dairy farming families are no longer financially able or prepared to work at a continual loss. We believe that many milk buyers gamble with the continuity and security of the UK milk supply by keeping much of the profit further up the market chain. Despite varying business structures and the importance of food production, most farm gate prices are now lower than production costs. This has a knock on effect on a wide range of other businesses and livelihoods of countless people involved, ultimately leading to pressure on incomes”.
Dairy farmers are compelled to pay a levy to DairyCo/AHDB, a body set up by government, which, consultant Ian Potter (above right) notes, has received – and spent – more than £1 million extra as a result of the increase in production. He asks: “But on what? Cynics say it spends the money on encouraging more production because that generates more levy money for it…and so on!” He continues: “In my opinion we now need a campaign to promote the buying of British dairy products using British milk . . . I have heard one Tesco farmer would prefer to give his levy to Tesco if he could to help it promote British milk. That makes sense to me if DairyCo won’t!”
Meanwhile food imports rise and government ministers advise hardworking farmers to place their ‘commodities’ on the global market so that unproductive internet bound speculators can ‘make a killing’ – nowadays more often crouched over their computer screens.
Over the past few years we’ve seen a trend in which the Labour Party has become Greener and the Green Party has become “Leftier”. I fervently wish for further rapprochement.
While feeling despair at the head-in-sand attitudes and empty rhetoric in much of Westminster, Whitehall and the City – especially the City – I was enthralled by a presentation given in my constituency of Stroud last month by Alan Simpson, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell’s advisor on climate change and sustainable economics. If anyone is unfamiliar with his policy ideas, I urge them to look him up and read these essays.
A future Labour government will do its utmost to adopt Simpson’s plans, which include:
- local renewal energy cooperatives,
- an agricultural policy reset to penalise high greenhouse gas emissions,
- a far more locally-based economy (community wealth building – thriving in many locations and now to be adopted in Stroud),
- a far more integrated, publicly-owned transport system…
- and of course real measures to curb tax “avoidance” by the heavyweight national and global corporations, and tackle our hideous income inequality.
- First and foremost though – greenhouse emissions must be HALVED every ten years.
We should all be taking notice of the wonderful Greta Thunberg’s message
Real change can’t come too soon, and the only way we’re ever going to see real change in the UK is to put a Labour/Green government? into power at the earliest possible opportunity.
I can’t see how diluting the non-Conservative vote at the next general election is going to achieve anything except more Tory-led acceleration to destruction.
I realise some will find their tribal loyalties tested – but the nightmare we’ve created transcends such petty concerns.
He said that a particular threat to farming came from the Agriculture Bill which plans to abandon the Single Farm Payment system as used under the CAP, with nothing to replace it. “There are no ifs and buts, the basic payments scheme will be phased out. Michael Gove’s idea was to replace it with extra environmental schemes but he clearly had not read WTO rules. It is very clear that under WTO rules environmental schemes need to compensate for direct costs only, they cannot provide any income.
“If we have no income support. which this draft bill says. while the Americans are getting it, the Europeans are getting it, pretty well all our competitors are getting it, there is absolutely no way we can make farming pay.
“Emergency funding is within WTO rules – but under the rules you can’t carry on giving emergency funding forever. The Americans are doing this at the moment. Our (Lib Dem) policy keeps a basic payment scheme whether we leave the EU or not. A basic payment scheme is one of the only ways of supporting farm incomes within WTO rules.”
“There is likely to be a lot of land abandonment. Most of the farmland round here, the field sizes are not suitable for agribusiness arable farming and unless the regulations on clearing hedges and cutting trees down are scrapped, I can’t see that changing.”
Former NFU chief economist Sean Rickards, also a panellist at the event, gave a bleak assessment of the effect of the post Brexit trading environment on UK farming: “The government has already made it clear that (after Brexit) they are going to let the rest of the world in without tariffs and large sections of British agriculture couldn’t compete. Beef and sheep sectors will shrink quite severely, horticulture will struggle with labour issues and therefore the only sectors that will continue will be arable farms on an increasing scale to compete.
“The character will change, the size will change and the structure will change. It will be a smaller industry operating on an industrial scale and the remoter parts of the country will see farming almost wiped out.”
The panellists predicted that No Deal due to happen on October 31st would lead to the collapse of the sheep and beef sectors in particular, with prairie style arable agribusiness likely to be the only sector to survive, providing fields were huge without hedgerows. Phil Bennion said: “We export nearly 40% of the lamb we produce, and up to 96% of that goes to the EU. The tariffs under no deal would render this trade non-viable.
“Our lamb, Welsh lamb and English lamb is a premium product eaten fresh over a season, so there has not been a need to cold store it. It is eaten not just here but in France and all over Europe. New Zealand lamb fills our close season. With our lambs coming to market in the autumn it is inevitable that prices will crash if the EU market is closed off. There is nowhere to cold store it to stop this from happening. I believe the trade will collapse, yes, to a fraction of its current size. There will be a lot of mutton around and domestic prices will slump. Farmers won’t be able to get rid of enough of it to stop a price crash.”
After the meeting Phil said it was important to debunk the claims made by the Brexit Party and many Tory MPs that under GATT Article 24 we could just carry on trading with the EU as before.
“This myth keeps being repeated without being challenged. The fact is that the EU cannot choose under WTO rules whether or not to impose tariffs on our exports to ‘punish’ the UK, it has to impose them. It would also be illegal under WTO rules for the UK government to pay the tariffs to bail the farmers out.
“It is a disaster. If Boris does what he is threatening and refuses to go if he loses a vote of no confidence then I think we should walk into Parliament and tell him to go.”
A streamed recording of the whole meeting can be found (temporarily 90 degrees on its side!) here: https://www.facebook.com/stratford4europe/videos/1054525424743135?s=644926487&v=e&sfns=xmo
William Taylor (Farmers for Action, Northern Ireland) draws attention to the next Fairness for Farmers in Europe meeting at which climate change will be the common denominator.
Pictured (l-r) back row Edmond Phelan, Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA) Beef Chairman, Pat McCormack, Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) Deputy President , Michael Clarke, Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association (NIAPA) Chairman and Brian Brumby, Manx NFU President. ‘Front row, Samuel Morrison, Farmer For Action UK NI Steering Committee, William Taylor, Farmers For Action UK NI co-ordinator and FFE co-ordinator, Paul Smyth, Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA) Policy Officer, Susan Atkinson Family Farmers Association (FFA) and Patrick Kent, Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA) President. Missing from photograph but present at the meeting was Chris Mallon, National Beef Association, National Director and Belinda Leach, General Secretary Manx NFU.
On the agenda is Brexit. By and large FFE members would be in favour of either Theresa May’s deal worst case scenario or stay in the Customs Union and single market – if none of these, then they would support another referendum that would promise remain and fight for reform of the EU by the UK Government.
- legislation on farm gate prices for Northern Ireland,
- current trade deals ie Mercosur, CETA,
- the strong possibility of a US Trade deal the day after, if and when we leave the EU.
- and of importing more food produced by methods increasing climate change
Our objections to these must be focused on the hypocrisy of Westminster and the EU – on the one hand admitting to a climate change emergency and being seen to be adhering to their Paris Climate Change commitments – yet being happy to ‘carry more coal to Newcastle’.
The main example is beef, the EU is now 102% self-sufficient, yet we are already importing 99,000 tonne per annum mainly from Brazil where corporate beef and grain farming companies are clearing rainforest for fresh productive land whilst not fertilising the waste land they leave behind. The latest Mercosur deal will allow in a further 99,000 tonnes, disadvantaging European beef farmers and offering no advantage to the average family farmer in Mercusor countries.
We ask why is the UK and Southern Ireland trying to force an agenda of planting more trees, reducing the activities of our farmers, whilst being a party to felling them in Brazil
Simple answer – our old friends the food corporates filling their pockets and couldn’t care less about climate change!
William Taylor will also refer to the 2019 Gosling report: “After reading these stats in favour of reducing climate change congestion on the roads, accidents and the commonsense of transporting heavy bulk goods and other by water, where next day delivery is maybe not an issue, moving more freight to inland waterways would appear to be very much on the table”.
Phil Bennion (below left), a Liberal Democrat West Midlands MEP, who farms an arable farm of 260 acres near Tamworth, spoke out at a ‘Brexitime’ question and answer session with local farmers in Stratford-upon-Avon on Tuesday August 6th and reports that former NFU chief economist Sean Rickards, a panellist at the event, gave a bleak assessment of the effect of the post Brexit trading environment on UK farming:
“The government has already made it clear that (after Brexit) they are going to let the rest of the world in without tariffs and large sections of British agriculture couldn’t compete. Beef and sheep sectors will shrink quite severely, horticulture will struggle with labour issues and therefore the only sectors that will continue will be arable farms on an increasing scale to compete.
“The character will change, the size will change and the structure will change. It will be a smaller industry operating on an industrial scale and the remoter parts of the country will see farming almost wiped out.“
A July press release from Farmers for Action (FFA) says that whilst everyone hopes that a new brush will sweep clean, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s enthusiasm in his maiden speech outside No 10 led him to mention climate change and the relentless pursuit of “Free Trade Deals”.
To FFA NI ‘s steering committee, this indicated that PM Boris Johnson = like 90% of the world’s politicians don’t yet get the fact that we are in a climate change emergency!
Last week saw Paris, London and other places with the highest temperatures ever, plus tinder dry forest fires in the Arctic region started by lightning, all laid bare by the world’s scientists stating, ‘man’s influence on global warming is now indisputable’. This includes the wreckage of lives, animals and crops across the world due to excess heat or flash floods and rising seas levels such as the Marshall Islands.
William Taylor, FFA NI co-ordinator (right), stated:
“The point is that neither the UK Government, the EU, nor any other Government around the world can justify Free Trade Deals where ships, aeroplanes and lorries are ‘carrying coal to Newcastle’, be that lettuce and other from India by air or Brazilian beef to the EU where we are 102% self sufficient.
“The carbon emissions to build these aeroplanes, ships, lorries etc then fossil fuel and repair them merely to carry out food swaps around the world to suit the corporates, cannot be justified!
“Farm organisations around the world must now hold their politicians to account on climate change and the needless moving of food around the world that cuts farm gate prices in the countries importing and exporting, disadvantaging family farm incomes and filling the pockets of corporate food retailers, corporate food wholesalers, corporate shipping, aviation and transport companies..
“Politicians must immediately rename ‘Free Trade Deals’ to ‘Climate Change Sensitive Free Trade Deals’ and act accordingly if their rhetoric of fairness to all and climate change commitments is to have any credibility whatsoever”.
Shining a spotlight on four government agencies: an educational psychologist, a cook, a farmer and an accountant
The relatively powerless are harassed: corporates survive censure unscathed
OFSTED had not inspected more than 1,600 schools that were judged “outstanding” by it for at least six years – and of those, almost 300 had not seen an Ofsted inspector for at least 10 years, according to a report by the National Audit Office – see chart on page 27 of the report.
The case of Waltham Holy Cross is ongoing. Last year the government decreed that Waltham Holy Cross would be handed over to Net, a chain of academy schools in May. As the NAO records, this has already happened to over 7,000 other state schools in England since 2010: public assets built and maintained by generations of taxpayers are being given away. Waltham Holy Cross parents made almost 100 freedom of information requests which revealed errors in the draft Ofsted report and that Net was being sounded out on “their appetite to take on this school” in January, over a month before the Ofsted verdict was published. News of teachers and parents there – and in other parts of the country taking action to prevent this ‘forced academisation’ may be read here.
In an article in the Times Educational Supplement (TES), head teacher Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said “Ofsted and the government are the source of much of the stress and anxiety on staff through an extremely high-pressure accountability system and concluded ‘the accounts above reveal an inspection system that appears in too many cases to be doing great damage. My sense is that it’s time to stop quietly accepting that the way Ofsted is, is the way Ofsted should be”.
This month. four years later, TES readers discussed overhauling Ofsted, a ‘toxic’ system. One letter, whose signatories included Dr Richard House, chartered psychologist, former senior lecturer in education studies, Dr Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury and Sir Tim Brighouse, former schools commissioner for London, was provoked by a recommendation by Ofsted head Amanda Spielman to shut down what she labelled as “failing Steiner schools”. The signatories are founding a campaign to bring about the replacement of Ofsted with a new inspectorate that is ‘empowering, collaborative, and understanding and respectful of pedagogical difference’.
Unthinking adherence to FOOD STANDARDS AGENCY bureaucracy led to the unjust downgrading of a new small business, damagingly reported in local paper
As the public perception is that businesses with a one rating will give customers food poisoning, a cook-manager has criticised the food hygiene inspection system after her business was given a one rating out of five – though hygiene and food storage was rated highly.
At a (requested) pre-opening inspection by the council in March 2018, no reference had been made to the need for a staff manual and staff training procedures but this ‘one-person’ operation was ‘put on a warning’ for not having a staff training manual – though no staff was employed – and was told that a tick paper exercise (officially a ‘documented food safety management system’) is required for all aspects of work.
The work required to maintain cleanliness and produce wholesome food appeared to be discounted and a paper exercise – easily forged – was prioritised. The District Council inspectors were unhelpfully applying the rules of The Food Standards Agency, a non-ministerial government department, to the letter and not the spirit of those regulations.
Solution found and accepted: a whiteboard was put up in the workplace, a photo taken once a week and an online manual was printed.
On several farms which had passed inspections by the ASSURED FOODS STANDARD (Red Tractor) agency in July 2018 serious cases of animal abuses were reported in the media.
A farmer recently wrote an article in the Western Daily Press foreseeing the advent of similar tick-box regulations:
“What I have been pulled up on is the fact that I do not keep written mobility and condition records. These are not yet enforceable under the scheme – but I have reason to suspect they soon may be.
“The only thing that will be achieved by keeping written records will be the creation of more work for the assessor; more forms for him to sit down and read through and check; one more task to help fill his required nine-to-five working day.
“And let’s suppose I decided to cook up a completely bogus set of records. How would he even know?
“When the Red Tractor scheme was launched the president of the NFU (under whose wing it actually operates) was Ben Gill who told us all how vital it was going to be in supplying the nation with safe, wholesome food which consumers could buy with confidence while, equally, bringing more prosperous times for farmers.
“What I see now is an organisation riddled with pointless bureaucracy (I understand another tier of inspectors is in place to check on the assessors).
“I see, equally, an organisation which appears to operate dual standards: one for the soft-target, small producers like me and another for the industrial giants such as Moy Park, over whose portals the Red Tractor flag proudly flies but where recent footage captured undercover at Moy Park showed stinking, squalid poultry houses where chickens will be lucky to survive their miserably short allotted span”. He ended with two pertinent questions:
- if Assured Foods was aware of conditions at this plant why did it not intervene?
- And if it wasn’t aware, why not?
The FINANCIAL REPORTING COUNCIL, the UK’s accounting and auditing regulator, is regrettably funded by the audit profession and its board of directors is appointed by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Its monitoring of out-sourcing firms such as Capita and G4s in several sectors, including health, social, military and prison services has not led to effective disciplinary procedures – in fact they continue to receive lucrative government. The Financial Times reported yesterday that though its auditing of Carillion since 1999 is under investigation by the Financial Reporting Council, the value of new UK public sector contracts awarded to KPMG increased more than fourfold last year. In 2013 seven senior members of the FRC scheduled to investigate KPMG’s role in the collapse of lender HBOS, were current or former employees of KPMG itself.
Prem Sikka, professor of accounting at the University of Sheffield, has posted almost 400 FRC entries on the AABA website (now well hidden by search engines). A recent article adds news of another appointment: Revolving Doors: FRC appoint new member to the Audit and Assurance Council – former PwC and Royal Bank of Scotland exec .
Professor Sikka has said he is worried that the government is rewarding these firms with valuable contracts when they have been undermining the public purse through their involvement in several tax avoidance scandals (FT: 29.7.19).
The ‘soft targets’ are harassed: corporates survive censure unscathed
A call for building strong productive local and regional communities and new trade systems that fulfil human lives without wasting resources and energy
Today the Financial Times (paywall) reports that the number of foreign investment projects has dropped by 14% to 1,782 in the financial year ending March 2019, since the 2016 Brexit referendum. This is the lowest level in six years, according to a report published on Wednesday by the UK’s Department for International Trade.
As multinational profits continue to fly out of the country and taxes are evaded, we return to the valuable 2017 report by Victor Anderson and Rupert Read entitled ‘Brexit and Trade Moving from Globalisation to Self-reliance’, published and launched by Green MEP Molly Scott Cato.
“This report puts on to the political agenda an option for Brexit which goes with the grain of widespread worries about globalisation, and argues for greater local, regional, and national self-sufficiency, reducing international trade and boosting import substitution”.
Colin Hines comments: It details the need for an environmentally sustainable future involving constraints to trade and the rebuilding of local economies. On page 14, the report calls for ‘Progressive Protectionism’:
“Reducing dependence on international trade implies reducing both imports and exports. It is very different from the traditional protectionism of seeking to limit imports whilst expanding exports. It should therefore meet with less hostility from other countries, as it has a very different aim from simply improving the UK’s balance of payments. It could be described as ‘progressive protectionism’, or ‘green protectionism’“.
The report’s recommendations are summarised under three headings: the environment, globalisation and localisation (below):
- Change trade agreements to allow governments to promote greater national, regional, and local resilience.
- Shift taxes, subsidies, and public expenditure on infrastructure, away from unfairly favouring large and global companies, and redirect them to help build up local economies.
- Link banking directly to local and regional economies rather than to the international financial system.
- Boost the number of places for skills training in sectors where UK production can substitute for imports.
- bring in short-term government subsidies to invest in and develop economic sectors where UK production can be expected to substitute for imports as part of the new strategy. These would not necessarily be ‘infant industries’: they might be old sectors being revived and renewed.
- Introduce or increase tariffs on imports of goods and services, especially those where domestic production is a viable and environmentally sustainable option.
- Democratise English sub-regional devolution arrangements and reform local government finance, so as to provide for effective decentralisation of power.
The globalisation of recent decades has been very one-sided. There have been enormous benefits for large business corporations, financial institutions, and the super-rich. As smaller companies have found it difficult to compete, the multinationals have used a worldwide network of tax havens to escape from taxation and regulation.
‘Brexit and Trade’ sets put a new option for Britain. Instead of removing protective regulations against environmental threats it advocates establishing high Green standards and practical localisation measures. It would address the very real social, economic and environmental problems of globalisation, serving present and future generations well.