Category Archives: Conflict of interest
In last week’s Prime Minister’s Question Time there was a fiery intervention by MP Dennis Skinner who told Theresa May about research showing that the High Speed 2 rail line was going out of its way to stop disruption to “leafy suburbs of the south”:
“[In] the leafy suburbs of the south, the first 140 miles, 30% of it has been dedicated to tunnelling to avoid knocking houses down.
“Yet in the north we are now told that the percentage is only 2% for the whole of the north. “And why? Because HS2 says it’s too costly, knock the houses down.
“Will she arrange for a meeting with people from my area in order to avoid another 30 houses being knocked down in Newtown part of Bolsover.
“Isn’t it high time that this government stopped treating our people like second class citizens?”
Theresa May replied by extolling her government’s service to these second class citizens citing resounding names Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engines; the reality?
The north struggles to attract high-calibre teachers . . . Its secondary schools have, on average, funding of £1,300 less per pupil than those in London. In April this year the FT reported research findings that schools with the poorest children face much greater cuts per pupil than those with the most affluent children under the government’s proposed funding formula. (Brian Groom FT)
Knowsley and Liverpool are two of the most deprived areas of the country: council spend per head in these areas has been reduced by £400 and £390 respectively. In Wokingham and Elmbridge, two of the wealthiest parts of the country, the corresponding totals are £2.29 and £8.14.
A scheme to compensate councils for the council tax freeze, for example, is calculated on the value of properties in the area, meaning that the higher the value of local homes, the larger the relief package: Surrey gets a vastly bigger pay-off than Teesside. (Tom Crewe, LRB essay)
The local authorities with the highest levels of deprivation and more reliant on central government grants, were relatively worse off. Cuts to the poorest metropolitan districts averaged 28% compared with more affluent authorities (2010-2015). National reviews painted a stark picture of closures and restrictions to services. (Steve Schofield, Conservative austerity and the future of local government)
Time for change!
Broken Britain 9: ‘populism’ is really ‘anti-elitism’ – a backlash due to economic and political inequality
Stephen Latner, an FT reader, reminds columnist Philip Stephens – and a whole range of commentators – that it would be more accurate to describe “populism” as “anti-elitism” and acknowledge that the backlash is not down purely to economic factors but political as well . . .
Philip Stephens had explained that the explanation for a rising sense of grievance and a collapse of trust in the old political order is to be found in the answers to the opinion poll question asking people if they expect a better life for their children:
“Voters are now more likely to answer no than yes. The march to progress, they assume, has ended . . .The pain is made the more acute when a small minority can indeed pass on great power and wealth to their children . . .”
Latner adds that many voted for Brexit because of the perceived elitism of the EU (“an unelected, non-transparent, central bureaucracy”) and sees that new technology – ‘the digital age’ – is ensuring that elitism will come under fire and more centralisation of political power will be seen as elitist and unacceptable.
Stephens supplies the element missing from Latner’s analysis – the added burden of a political elite allied with the wealthiest corporates:
“At its simplest, establishing trust is about behaviour. Today’s elites should ask themselves just when it became acceptable:
- for politicians to walk straight from public office into the boardroom;
- for central bank chiefs to sell themselves to US investment banks
- and for business leaders to pay themselves whatever they pleased”.
At the moment, due to imports, this country’s food security ratios are high – see map:
But 28,000 farms in England went out of business (132,400 in 2005 to 104,200 in 2015, DEFRA), many due to farmgate prices below production costs.
Meanwhile the AHDB advisers inflicted on them thrive, advertising for Sector Strategy Directors to be paid £62,000 – £76,000 for working 35hrs per week
The farmer drawing attention to this – who works far longer than 35 hours for far less return – comments “How easy it is to spend someone else’s hard earned income. An independent organisation (independent of both commercial industry and of Government)??”
A government website explains that the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board is a non-departmental public body funded by a compulsory levy on British farmers. growers and others in the supply chain.
It “has a role in the processes of national government and operates to a greater or lesser extent at arm’s length from ministers”.
AHDB advisers working half the hours at more than double the average farming income frequently offer sage advice: their mantra: “improve productivity”. The FT quotes reflections by Phil Bicknell, market intelligence director at the AHDB who sees only three options:
- The most desirable: securing a free-trade deal with the EU,
- The least: putting up protectionist barriers or
- opening up trade to low-cost competition from around the world.
Notably absent is any sustained concern about a fair price deal for food producers and the prudence of supplying the home market first before trading any surplus.
Between 2013 and 2015, according to figures from the House of Commons library, smaller producers left the industry and during that period, milk prices fell by about 30%.
The Gosling Report finds that for farmers in Northern Ireland the sale price for the majority of commodities they produce does not even cover the input costs; this applies equally to most other British farmers. Paul Gosling comments:
“Meanwhile, large processors, large corporate food wholesalers and corporate retailers continue to maintain their enormous unsustainable profits”.
Farmers in the rest of Britain in the same position should act with those in Northern Ireland. They require legislation similar to that submitted by Fairness for Farmers in Europe (an association of 30 farm organisations in Britain, Ireland and the EU) to the 2010/11 CAP review. This would state that farmers must be paid a minimum of the cost of production plus a margin inflation linked for their produce; if the ‘free’ market moves up the farmer will get the benefit, however, when it falls the legislation is there to provide the safety net limit of drop.
AHDB please note: as a matter of urgency with Brexit negotiations under way, all farm groups could campaign for legislation on just farmgate prices, stating that a minimum of the cost of production plus a margin inflation linked must be paid at the farmgate for all food produced in Britain.
Readers wishing to know more about NI Farms Groups’ campaign should contact:
56 Cashel Road, Macosquin, Coleraine, BT51 4NU
Tel. 028 703 43419 / 07909744624
The Financial Times reports that Sheffield residents – like many in Mumbai – are protesting against the felling of urban trees. The scene below is similar to the Khar I remembered in 2003, though pavements were constructed and traffic much more dense. The protests were and are against the commercially motivated felling of trees – – some healthy and some neglected by the authorities scheduled to maintain them.
As one Khar resident told me recently, “The rain tree canopy on Khar Danda road used to be so thick that you could walk down the road in the pouring rain and not get wet.” Activist Zoru Bhathena sent ‘before and after’ aerial photos of the now devastated area no longer protected from the summer heat. He took the matter before the Bombay High Court & comments “… magically the problem got solved & no new trees have died! But, the damage is done, and BMC is not enthusiastic to replace the dead trees!”
Earlier this year, the Free Press Journal reported that residents across the city protested about trees being felled on the route of the Metro 7 line being constructed on Mumbai’s Western Express Highway and those who saw six trees were axed last week at the WEH at Malad claimed that the authorities have violated the Bombay High Court’s order which directed the local authority not to cut or destroy any trees on the highway.
Large public protests prevented the contractor from chopping down trees in Sheffield but by then more than 5,000 trees had been felled, to be replaced with saplings. In all, 6,000 trees are to be cut down as part of a 25-year, £2bn highway maintenance scheme.
Some residents blocked contractors by standing inside safety zones put in place around the trees or parking their cars under the branches. On Tuesday, Sheffield council won a High Court injunction to run until July 2018, preventing opponents from taking “unlawful direct action” from breaching barriers around the condemned trees. The latest report from Sheffield may be read here.
Sheffield Tree Action Groups, an umbrella group for protesters, said there were “dangerous flaws” in the contract, and that its members would do “everything we can” to save healthy trees. Bryan Lodge, the Labour councillor in charge of the tree felling programme, said that the council needed to cut down 500 trees by the end of the year or face “catastrophic financial consequences” paying huge sums to Amey (owned by Spanish multinational Ferrovial), if the private finance contract is breached.
‘Urban street trees are loved by the vast majority of people who live alongside them,’ says Oliver Newham of the Woodland Trust, which is about to unveil a scheme supporting those trying to protect local trees:
‘These figures and our email inboxes show an alarming increase in losses. Trees have many benefits in urban areas, such as absorbing pollutants, providing shade and preventing flash flooding. They are essential to a happy and healthy population. Councils need to think twice before taking the axe to them.’
Read more on the valuable role played by trees in a report from the arborist Ian Dalton above left.
Paul Simons adds to many ‘wakeup calls’ – writing about high temperatures, drought and wildfires.
May and June were also phenomenally hot across Portugal, Italy, the Balkans, Greece and Turkey.
Heat and drought have helped to fuel wildfires in Spain and Italy, and wildfires near the seaside resort of Calampiso in Sicily forced the evacuation by boat of about 700 tourists on Wednesday night. In Greece the heatwave led the culture ministry to close archaeological sites around the country, including the Acropolis in Athens.
Together with a long-running drought, the heat has ravaged much of southern Spain, leading to a devastated wheat and barley harvest. If the arid conditions continue, there are also fears for the olive, walnut, almond and grape harvests and the wellbeing of livestock. Rainfall has been desperately low this year, but the country has been suffering from a lack of rain for five years.
Drought threatens to reduce cereal production in Italy and parts of Spain to its lowest level in at least 20 years, and hit other regional crops. Castile and Leon, the largest cereal growing region in Spain, has been particularly badly affected, with crop losses estimated at around 60 to 70%. While the EU is collectively a major wheat exporter, Spain and Italy both rely on imports from countries including France, Britain and Ukraine.
Deadly heatwaves for much of South Asia – yet many of those living there will have contributed little to climate change
The Guardian adds to the news from Europe: India recorded its hottest ever day in 2016 when the temperature in the city of Phalodi, Rajasthan, hit 51C. Another study led by Prof Elfatih Eltahir, at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US, linked the impact of climate change to the suicides of nearly 60,000 Indian farmers.
The analysis, published in the journal PNAS, assesses the impact of climate change on the deadly combination of heat and humidity, measured as the “wet bulb temperature” (WBT). Once this reaches 35C, the human body cannot cool itself by sweating and even fit people sitting in the shade will die within six hours.
Prof Chris Huntingford, at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, said: “If given just one word to describe climate change, then ‘unfairness’ would be a good candidate. Raised levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are expected to cause deadly heatwaves for much of South Asia. Yet many of those living there will have contributed little to climate change.”
Guardian journalists comment sarcastically, “But fear not: by 2040, no new diesel or petrol vehicles will be sold in the UK
This, apparently, is the appropriate timetable for responding to what a parliamentary committee calls a “public health emergency”. A child born today will be 23 by the time this policy matures – by then the damage to the development of her lungs and brain will have been done”.
According to Professor Eltahir’s study, if emissions are reduced roughly in line with the global Paris climate change agreement there would be no 35C WBT heatwaves and the population affected by the 31C WBT events would fall from 75% to 55%. About 15% are exposed today.
A National Geographic article says most people agree that to curb global warming a variety of measures need to be taken. On a personal level, driving and flying less, recycling, and conservation reduces a person’s “carbon footprint”—the amount of carbon dioxide a person is responsible for putting into the atmosphere.
At present, lorries shifting identical goods in opposite directions pass each other on 2,000-mile journeys. Competing parcel companies ply the same routes, in largely empty vans – a theme explored by MP Caroline Lucas and Colin Hines in 2003 – the Great Trade Swap.
It describes airports as deadly too – yet government and opposition alike are ‘apparently hell-bent’ on expanding Heathrow, exploring airport expansion projects elsewhere and seeking post-Brexit trade deals with distant countries.
To reduce the risk of ever more extreme weather, we must reduce the amount of fossil fuel we are burning – and the measures taken will have other desirable consequences as the following cartoon shows:
Parliament must listen to its Committee on Climate Change – chairman John Gummer. As the East Anglian Times reported in June, its annual progress report calls for “urgent” plans to meet legal targets for carbon cuts by 2032 as greenhouse gases from transport and buildings continue to rise.
The committee advocates action to bridge the gap between existing policies and what is needed to achieve required emissions reductions by the mid-2020s – boosting electric vehicles and cutting greenhouse gas emissions from the heating of homes to help to meet UK climate targets.