Category Archives: Devolution

Post-Brexit: moving from globalisation towards resilient self-reliance

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 entitledBrexit and Trade Moving from Globalisation to Self-reliance’, published and launched by Green MEP Molly Scott Cato. 

Although it regrets leaving the EU and wishes we wouldn’t, the report is written as an alternative approach assuming we are outside the EU. Its Executive Summary states:

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.

 

 

 

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Britain, as yet neither mature nor a democracy, appears to need its monarch and its mayors

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The rational case against metro mayors ably set out by Richard Hatcher, George Morran and Steve Beauchampé, has been shattered for the writer by the media-feeding chaotic, emotion-led, vicious, counterproductive squabbling in the Labour & Conservative ranks.

Still, evidently, a tribal people, we appear to need the ‘high-profile leadership’ extolled by Andrew Carter, chief executive of the Centre for Cities , largest funders Gatsby Charitable Foundation (Lord Sainsbury) and  Catapult network, established by Innovate UK, a government agency. (see report cover right)

As yet, the announcements made by the West Midlands metro mayor Andy Street, respected even by most opponents of the post, with a business record seen as a guarantee of efficiency, are provoking little dissension.

Dan Jarvis, who is expected to win the Sheffield election becoming Britain’s seventh metro mayor, intends to continue to sit in the House of Commons to work for a better devolution deal and speak for the whole county. (map, regions in 2017)

His desire to stay in parliament while serving as a mayor is thought, by the author of FT View to reflect a recognition that the real authority and power of these positions is limited:

  • The six mayors have no say on how taxes are raised and spent.
  • Outside Greater Manchester, the mayors have little control over health policy.
  • Major spending decisions on transport policy are still taken by central government.

Days after taking office in Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham’s announcement of a new fund to tackle the region’s homelessness problem was backed by ‘a chunk’ of his own mayoral salary.

Andrew Carter points out that England’s mayors are highly constrained in their control over local tax revenue and how it is spent, compared with their counterparts in other countries.

FT View describes this extra layer of government as yet merely creating cheerleaders, adding:

“Voices alone will not be enough to shift economic and political power to the regions. England’s mayors need more control. If the government is serious about devolution, the mayors need the powers to match that ambition”.

 

Could well-endowed, unsuborned metro mayors out-perform successive corporate-bound national governments?

 

 

 

 

 

Ms May undermines her hero’s work as cuts to council funding reduce the powers of local government

The presenter of this BBC radio programme, Adrian Goldberg, grew up on the Druids Heath council estate in Birmingham, the home of the ‘municipalism’ pioneered by Joseph Chamberlain when he was Mayor of Birmingham – summarised by Walsall MP John McShane in the Commons in 1930:

“A young person today lives in a municipal house, and he washes himself … in municipal water. He rides on a municipal tram or omnibus, and I have no doubt that before long he will be riding in a municipal aeroplane. He walks on a municipal road; he is educated in a municipal school. He reads in a municipal library and he has his sport on a municipal recreation ground. When he is ill he is doctored and nursed in a municipal hospital and when he dies he is buried in a municipal cemetery.”

Adrian is described as being an ideal candidate to judge the changing nature of the local council, because when he and his family moved there the local authority:

  • built properties and
  • collected the rent.
  • Adrian took a council-subsidised bus service to
  • the secondary school run by his local education authority.
  • On the way home he’d drop into his council-run library to pick up some books
  • or take a swim in the council run pool.

He comments, “Today the situation is much more complex”

Adrian considered the effect of austerity on the role of councils today. Birmingham council has almost halved its staff since 2008, from around 24,000 to 12,500. Last year another £28m was cut from Birmingham’s adult care budget of £230m. 2017/18 – the seventh year of cuts – is predicted to be the toughest year yet with expected reductions of £113m to the council’s overall budget, on top of £650m already cut since 2010.

Local government grants and powers have been greatly reduced in several areas, including education and housing. Read more about the following cases here.

  • The fate of the formerly successful council-run Baverstock Secondary School in Druids Heath
  • The group of residents who set up the Friends of Walkers Heath Park in November 2011
  • The volunteers who are helping to run the library
  • Druids Heath’s handsome and historic Bells Farm community centre (below), with its food bank and other services, also kept going by local volunteers.

The link also leads to news of high-rise tower blocks in the area; dilapidation, damp and fire hazards go unremedied, the splendid concierge system was abandoned and full time neighbourhood office advice centres, closed in 2006, were replaced by a private call service which was expensive, often not answering, with staff unable to supply the information needed.

In Birmingham there was a move under John Clancy’s leadership to take back ‘in-house’ the services currently undertaken by profit-making private companies, deciding not to renew one Capita contract and considering the future of refuse collection in the city. This, because the ‘market place’ economy which has developed, privatising refuse collection, road maintenance and ‘back office’ functions in Birmingham, has proved to be more expensive and often less efficient. This hope is fading as Richard Hatcher reports on the new regime: Birmingham Council Children’s Services contracted out, Children’s Centres closed.

The health and safety of council tenants is evidently not a government priority

Inside Housing reports the housing minister’s description of sprinkler systems for high rise blocks as “additional rather than essential” and refusing a council’s request for funding promised after the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Strangely, the conservative Prime Minister expresses admiration for Joseph Chamberlain

Mayor of Birmingham in 1873, city MP in 1876, Joseph Chamberlain directed the construction of good housing for the poorest, libraries, municipal swimming pools and schools. Unlike Ms May and colleagues, he was not in favour of a market economy, arguing for tariffs on goods from countries outside the British Empire. He was also an ‘economic interventionist’ (see Lewis Goodall, Newsnight), described as a “gas and water socialist”. He took profit-making private enterprises into public hands, declaring that “profit was irrelevant”.

In no way is she following the example of her hero.

Ms May’s government continues to implement a series of cuts affecting the lives of the country’s poorest and most disabled with might and main.

Ironically the contemporary politician sharing Chamberlain’s principles is the opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, whose policies she echoes but does not implement.

 

 

 

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Admirable politician 12: Dick Cole

Twenty years ago, at the Mebyon Kernow National Conference on 4th October 1997, Dick Cole was elected the Leader of the Party for Cornwall. Two decades on, Cllr Cole continues to be a prominent public figure who is still at the helm of MK and serving his local parish of St Enoder on the unitary authority. First elected to Restormel Borough Council in 1999, he was re-elected in 2003 and 2007.

During this time, he balanced his civic duties with his work as an archaeologist (Cornwall County Council). When Cornwall Council was created in 2009, Dick stood down from his employment, so that he would be able to stand for the new authority. He was subsequently elected in 2009, 2013 and 2017.

Mebyon Kernow party leader, Dick Cole

In the most recent local election from earlier this year, he polled a vote share of 83%. His majority was the largest achieved by any candidate in Cornwall, and this was his fifth consecutive local election contest in which he polled over 75% of the vote.

Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall – is a modern and progressive left-of-centre political party, campaigning for a better deal for Cornwall and a fairer, more equitable world. It exists to fight for ALL the people of Cornwall, with a political programme that puts Cornwall first and offers an alternative to the London-centred parties.

Speaking on behalf of MK’s ruling National Executive, Deputy Leader Cllr Loveday Jenkin has paid tribute to Dick’s work as Party Leader. She said: “Dick’s long-standing commitment to Cornwall and its people is extraordinary. He has been at the heart of so many campaigns and it is truly remarkable that he has found so much energy to battle for Cornish communities over such a significant period of time.

“It is inspiring how hard he has worked as the leader of Mebyon Kernow and as a proactive local councillor. We are extremely proud of the work that he has done pushing for meaningful devolution to Cornwall, fair funding for Cornwall and its public services, as well as his interventions on a host of planning, housing and other matters. It is disappointing that so much of MK’s pro-Cornwall agenda has not found favour with the other political parties in Cornwall and Westminster, but we are determined to continue to campaign with Dick to secure a better deal for one and all in Cornwall.”

Earlier this year, Dick was listed as No. 3 on the “Cornish List” of the top 50 people who “lead the way in campaigning on Cornish issues” and “flying the black and white flag for Cornwall.”

The list was prepared by the Cornwall Live website, for the Cornish Guardian, Cornishman and West Briton newspapers. He has been at the forefront of numerous campaigns for a better deal for Cornwall, its communities, economy and environment. Read about six of his many achievements here.

Cole addressing MK conference

Extract: Statement on the 2017 General Election

“Over the past few months, the UK Prime Minister made numerous assertions that there would be no snap General Election. She also repeatedly stated that the next General Election would take place in 2020, as specified by the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act. As a consequence, Mebyon Kernow has not been making preparations for parliamentary elections and, in 2017, we have focused our efforts on the elections to the unitary authority and town and parish councils across Cornwall. Our members consider that the Prime Minister and other Westminster politicians have shamefully misled voters on this matter and are extremely angry at the disrespectful way in which the General Election was announced during local elections. General Election campaigning undoubtedly over-shadowed and subverted the elections to Cornwall Council, where the focus was shifted away from important local issues and onto Westminster party politics, to the obvious benefit of the Conservative Party.”

Dick commented on Facebook that it had been hard to generate coverage in the mainstream media for MK. It announced that the party would not be contesting seats at the 2017 General Election. As a consequence, he then had to spend much of the day dealing with the media – a live interview with Radio Cornwall at 7.00, and recorded interviews with both ITV and BBC Spotlight. It seemed strange that there was almost zero coverage of MK’s local election campaign on television and yet when they announced they were we not going to stand they got full coverage.

In his time as a councillor, Dick has been particularly well-known for the active support he has given to local groups in his division.

He has been personally responsible for more than forty successful grant applications, large and small. In all, over £570,000 has been secured for St Enoder Parish Council and other community groups.

These projects have included the construction of new community buildings, improvements to existing village halls, as well as the purchase and installation of new play equipment and skate parks. 

Hopefully one day there will be proportional representation in England, giving Mebyon Kernow and the Green Party the chances that the SNP have in Scotland and Plaid Cymru in Wales.

 2014 meeting with Natalie Bennett, then Green Party leader and Emily McIver of East Devon Green Party

 

 

 

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Monbiot: a ‘dark money network’ is taking power on both sides of the Atlantic

Is that news to anyone?

flagThis site and others have been focussing on this appalling phenomenon corrupting governance for years, so much so that corruption of politicians and supporting media is no longer shocking: it is the norm.

As such, frequent news of revolving doors and rewards for failure has been under-reported on this site of late – despite many significant leads from regular readers – because these items just repeat our view of the state of the nation.

However the ever-eloquent George Monbiot is more persistent

george-monbiot-3He explains: “Dark money is the term used in the US for the undisclosed funding of organisations involved in political advocacy. Few people would see a tobacco company as a credible source on public health, or a coal company as a neutral commentator on climate change. To advance their political interests, such companies must pay others to speak on their behalf”.

Though corporate America was horrified by some of Donald Trump’s positions, especially on trade, once he had secured the nomination, big money began to recognise an unprecedented opportunity.

Monbiot continues: “Trump was prepared not only to promote the cause of corporations in government, but to turn government into a kind of corporation, staffed and run by executives and lobbyists. His incoherence was not a liability but an opening: his agenda could be shaped. And the dark money network that some American corporations had already developed was perfectly positioned to shape it”.

He looks into the historical background:

statue-liberty-covers-eyes“Soon after the Second World War, some of America’s richest people began setting up a network of thinktanks to promote their interests. These purport to offer dispassionate opinions on public affairs. But they are more like corporate lobbyists, working on behalf of those who founded and fund them.

“These are the organisations now running much of the Trump administration”.

He then relates the story of MP Liam Fox

In 1997, Liam Fox founded an organisation called The Atlantic Bridge. Its patron was Margaret Thatcher. On its advisory council sat the future cabinet ministers Michael Gove, George Osborne, William Hague and Chris Grayling. Fox, who became a leading campaigner for Brexit, described the mission of The Atlantic Bridge as “to bring people together who have common interests”. It would defend these interests from “European integrationists who would like to pull Britain away from its relationship with the United States”. The Atlantic Bridge (link no longer informative) was later registered as a charity –  only after it collapsed did the full story of who had funded it emerge.

atlantic-bridge

Read the tedious and depressing details in the Guardian or on this site here.

liam_fox_1246914cHow did Fox achieve this position, after the scandal that brought him down six years ago? Monbiot explains: “The man who ran the UK branch of The Atlantic Bridge was his friend Adam Werrity, who  . . . carried a business card naming him as Fox’s adviser but was never employed by the Ministry of Defence, joined the secretary of state on numerous ministerial visits overseas, and made frequent visits to Fox’s office”.

The Charity Commission investigated The Atlantic Bridge and determined that its work didn’t look very charitable. It had to pay back the tax from which it had been exempted (Hintze picked up the bill) and the trustees shut the organisation down. Monbiot continues; “As the story about Adam Werrity’s unauthorised involvement in the business of government began to grow, Fox made a number of misleading statements. He was left with no choice but to resign”.

As the Financial Times reported, the election of Donald Trump transformed the fortunes of Liam Fox: he is back on the front bench, with a crucial and sensitive portfolio – Secretary of State for International Trade – an indispensable member of Theresa May’s front bench team: “The shadow diplomatic mission he developed through The Atlantic Bridge plugs him straight into the Trump administration”.

Taking back control from Europe means closer integration with the US

president-rooseveltMonbiot adds that European laws protecting the public interest were portrayed by Conservative Eurosceptics as intolerable intrusions on corporate freedom and the transatlantic ‘special relationship’ is a relationship between political and corporate power. He ends with the following warning, sent by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1938 to the US Congress:

“The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism”.

Monbiot adds “It is a warning we would do well to remember”.

 

 

Closer to home: spotlight on combined authorities and elected mayors – democratise!

A reader brought to our attention the recent article on transport by Richard Hatcher. Before we focus on this, we set it in the context of his reflections on combined authorities for thoughtful people in the seven CAs already established and a further seven proposed – read in detail here

Why government – and employers – want a directly-elected mayor

A directly-elected mayor is a presidential form of local government, accountable only in direct elections every four years with no right of removal.  It means the government can deal with a single leader and one not tied to local political parties as a council leader is – an arrangement that suits the private sector too. Directly-elected mayors offer the possibility of a Tory mayor, or at least an independent, being elected in Labour-dominated urban areas. And they are ideally suited to the media’s fondness for reducing politics to personalities.

Democratise the Combined Authorities: London has an elected Assembly – why not the West Midlands?

 

batc

 

Richard Hatcher points out on BATC’s website that there is a precedent, the scrutiny arrangements in London: “There ongoing public accountability of the directly elected mayor and the Greater London Authority is ensured by a directly elected London Assembly.  The London Assembly has 25 elected members. They are not just existing councillors drafted onto a Scrutiny Committee, they are elected by citizens who vote for them specifically because they are going to fight for their interests. And they aren’t just reactive to policy, they act as champions for Londoners proactively investigating concerns through not just one but 15 issue-based committees and raising their findings and their policy demands with the Mayor and with the government itself”.

The Constitution of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) does not exclude the option of an elected Assembly, Hatcher asks “If it’s right for London why isn’t it right for the West Midlands?”. Three principles are laid down and seven positive steps – read on here.

Scrutiny?

His article written earlier this month describes the WMCA Scrutiny Committee as being ‘seriously incapable’ of carrying out that responsibility: “The Scrutiny Committee only has 12 councillor members. It is scheduled to have only four meetings during the year, for two hours each.  It is inconceivable that the Committee can engage with the huge range of activities of the WMCA, select issues to scrutinise and carry out a serious process of scrutiny in that time. (Each set of documentation for the monthly CA Board meetings typically amounts to a hundred pages or more, let alone those from the other dozen or more committees.)”

Be aware of conflicts of interest

The Scrutiny Committee allocates 3 places to representatives of the 3 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), the employer-led bodies representing business interests. Hatcher comments: “This is an extraordinary decision which seems unique among Combined Authorities”. For example, there are no LEP representatives on the Greater Manchester CA Scrutiny Committee. The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report into devolution and Combined Authorities, published in June 2016 said:

“It is alarming that LEPs are not meeting basic standards of governance and transparency, such as disclosing conflicts of interest to the public.

LEPs are led by the private sector, and stakeholders have raised concerns that they are dominated by vested interests that do not properly represent their business communities”.

So far two of the three LEP places have been taken up by named representatives. One is Sarah Windrum, founder and CEO of Warwickshire technology company The Emerald Group, on behalf of the Coventry and Warwickshire LEP. The other is Black Country LEP Board Member Paul Brown, Director of Government Services for Ernst & Young, a global accountancy company.

Ernst and Young serves as auditor and tax adviser to Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon – the businesses which have come under the most fire for avoiding taxes. As its website says, it is closely involved in the formulation and delivery of policy “across a wide range of central Government departments”.  Given the controlling role of government in the WMCA, Hatcher thinks it inevitable that Paul Brown, as Director of Government Services, would be exercising scrutiny on behalf of the CA over policies which his employer, Ernst and Young, would have been involved in formulating and delivering.

Other members of the Black Country LEP have a direct interest in investment in land for construction. The Chair of the BC LEP is Simon Eastwood, Managing Director of Carillion Developments, Carillion Plc. Carillion plc is a British multinational facilities management and construction services company with its headquarters in Wolverhampton. It is one of the largest construction companies operating in the UK. Among its projects in the West Midlands is the redevelopment of Paradise Circus in Birmingham city centre. Read on here.

Hatcher concludes: “In the absence of an elected Assembly, the Scrutiny Committee is the only instrument of public accountability of the WMCA. Its credibility depends on there being no suspicion in the public mind that there are actual or potential conflicts of interest. For that reason we believe there should be no representatives of LEPs on the Scrutiny Committee”.

 

 

 

Democracy dissolving: eight strategies designed to ‘rig’ the electoral system

The upturn noted in the city of Birmingham’s governance is being achieved despite serious funding cuts. It is reported that most of the extra cash set aside to help councils to cope with funding changes – ‘transitional grants’ – are going to Conservative areas.

This move appears to add an eighth strategy designed to ‘rig’ the electoral system to the seven listed by Jeremy Corbyn in his Fabian Society address – all designed to enable the party, with its narrow majority and drastically falling membership, to hold on to power, by weakening opposition inside and outside parliament.

cameron 7 strategiesThe Birmingham Post records a visit by most of the city’s MPs to enlighten Local Government Secretary Greg Clark (Department for Communities and Local Government) about the effect the cuts would have on Birmingham.

Most of the extra cash set aside to help councils cope with funding changes is going to Conservative areas.

Labour MP Steve McCabe (Selly Oak) said: “It’s an outrage that while Birmingham is coping with the biggest cuts in our history the Government has decided to give millions of extra funding to wealthy areas like Buckinghamshire.”

cameron frinton(Left: David Cameron making his East of England pre-election pledge).

Local Government Secretary Greg Clark told MPs the “transitional grant” would be targeted at councils which suffer the “sharpest reductions” in the revenue support grant received from central government, but figures published by the Department for Communities and Local Government show that none of this grant is going to the major towns and cities of the West Midlands, even though they face major cuts to their grant.

Cash from the transitional grant is going to outer London boroughs such as Conservative led Bromley, which receives £4.2 million in transitional funding over two years; Conservative-led Kingston-upon-Thames receives £2.6 million. Havering, where Conservatives are the largest group, receives £2.8 million; Outer-London Sutton, gets £2.6 million; Conservative-led Buckinghamshire receives £9.2 million and Oxfordshire County Council, which covers the Prime Minister’s Witney constituency, will receive an extra £9 million over the next two years.

But Birmingham, Dudley, Walsall, Sandwell, Coventry and Wolverhampton get nothing.

However, the Labour Party membership doubled since the May and has continued to increase. It is seizing the opportunity ‘to breathe life into all sections of the party and draw on the collective wisdom of all’ as Jeremy Corbyn told the Fabian Society audience. His advice:

“Let’s work together to create and deliver a fairer Britain”.

The road to 2020: Compassionate Conservatism city seats initiative

Conservative Home lists urban targets

cameron compassionate

Conservative party membership has fallen from nearly 300,000 to about 150,000 over the last ten years, and it is forecast to decline further in the future as a large proportion of its members are elderly. Mr Cameron wants to reverse that trend by entrenching his party decisively in the centre ground of British politics.

To this end, a review was launched after the general election by Andrew Feldman, Conservative party chairman, a handful of MPs and local/regional party chairs.

Rob Halfon, the new deputy chairman, is said to feel that, to thrive long-term, the Conservative Party must become a mass movement, reaching out beyond its traditional heartland.

Kate Allen, political correspondent of the Times, reports that – according to people familiar with the review’s progress – it is felt that the Conservative party needs to re-establish itself in communities, winning over a new generation of members and activists. The first step taken at last year’s party conference was the announcement of a £250,000 fund to help people on lower incomes run for parliament.

Predicted measures to bring floating voters into contact with prime minister David Cameron’s brand of ‘compassionate Conservatism’ and win them over, include:

  • party activists setting up local community groups to improve the party’s image and attract a wider range of members,
  • groups tackling practical activities such as litter-picking and renovating community facilities,
  • campaigning on local issues such as roads and schools,
  • demonstrating that the party is no longer dominated by elderly, socially conservative members.by supporting measures such as same-sex marriage and continued spending on overseas aid,
  • continuing to target younger voters by mobilising grass roots campaigners through the RoadTrip group – as MP Andrew Mitchell, advised the party’s youth wing: “A greater emphasis on by-election leafleting and a little less on Tatleresque social activities is overdue”,
  • seeking to build on the party’s city seats initiative, which has seen candidates and Conservative associations in urban areas that are not traditionally Tory working closely together to build the party’s vote,
  • considering a membership package akin to that of a members’ club or health club to include free or discounted access to events, reading material and promotional merchandise, and the opportunity to shape party policy,
  • and setting up a new Compassionate Conservative Caucus to focus on social justice, possible members to include Welsh secretary Stephen Crabb and Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson.

Andrew Feldman rallies the party: “We have a golden opportunity to ride the wave and renew our Party – and we must seize it. The road to 2020 starts here”.

Farmgate price: food producers unite to brief politicians before the May election

The next election to the Northern Ireland Assembly will be held on 5th May 2016 and Northern Ireland Farm Groups – Farmers For Action and Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers – have already begun to lobby all the political parties and Independents in the wake of the report by economist Paul Gosling which makes the case for legislation on farm gate prices by Stormont.

The Gosling Report clearly states the prosperity, jobs and welfare savings that legislation on farmgate prices would create for Northern Ireland.

ffa niapa stormont

John McCallister MLA and farmer (below left), who met a delegation from FFA and NIAPA at Stormont (above) earlier this week. Poor returns at the farm gate is a subject very close to Mr McCallister’s heart.

John McCallister MLAHe was intrigued to see the mechanics of the legislation on farm gate prices and how it would work. A detailed discussion was had by all with Mr McCallister insisting that we keep him posted at every turn. He left to fully digest everything he had received and will consider its place in his manifesto.

Michael Clark, Chairman of NIAPA comments: “The legislation proposal, if enacted after the election, would return Northern Ireland’s family farmers a minimum of the cost of production plus a margin inflation linked for their produce across the staples providing a financial safety net with prosperity for all across Northern Ireland as a net result”.

Contact FFA’s William Taylor

56 Cashel Road, Macosquin, Coleraine, BT51 4NU

Tel. 028 703 43419 / 07909744624 Email taylor.w@btconnect.com

 

Corbyn is offering truly democratic politics which take the public seriously

Several readers have commented on public consultations organised by local and national government. The narrow subject parameters and the lack of real information lead some to describe these as a charade.

Many allege that they are ‘managed’ – indeed ‘a sham’. The writer attended DfiD meetings years ago which – by preselecting discussion group leaders and issuing prepared minutes – got the desired result.

A search reveals such allegations: for example over Vauxhall bus station, NHS agency worker price caps, Nuneaton urgent care review, North East Lincolnshire Council future waste management, the M4 relief road and the Ministry of Defence Strategic Defenceand Security Review.

Anna Minton, the 1851 Royal Commission Fellow in the Built Environment, wrote in the FT about consultations dismissed as “a sham” by local communities:

“Consultation is a statutory requirement for councils and developers to which huge resources are devoted, with the rhetoric of community participation at the centre of every development brief. But time and again residents claim that consultations are carried out in name only, with “roadshows” and “exhibitions” by lobbying companies replacing public meetings. ‘You turn up, they tell you what they want to do, you go and they call that consultation’ “. She describes allegations of underhand tactics and dirty tricks subverting democratic processes:

  • there have been planning meetings elsewhere packed with actors,
  • fake letter-writing campaigns from non-existent supporters of controversial schemes
  • and “astro-turfing”: setting up by lobbying companies of apparently grassroots groups in favour of development.
  • The writer recently found out by chance that residents closest to a proposed development were just not informed of the consultation – only a few people from further afield attended.

Lesley Docksey writes of another tactic, “Make the questions so hard to understand that only those elements of business that support the government position will be able to answer them”. She gives a case history:

With just three days to go before the closing date, the Guardian alerted me to a DECC consultation on Feed in Tariffs (FITs) for solar energy. The government wants to reduce subsidies for solar energy by a massive 87%. Let people pay for it themselves while taxpayers’ money goes into nuclear and fracking seems to be their position.

Question 5 asked this:

“Do you agree or disagree that the updated assumptions produced by Parsons Brinckerhoff are reflective of the current costs of deployment for UK projects in your sector? If you disagree, please set out how they differ and provide documented evidence, such as invoices and/or contractual agreements to support this evidence. Please also mark this evidence as commercially sensitive where appropriate.”

My comment:

This and the following questions are aimed solely at industry. Has it escaped your notice that this “econsultation” is taking place on Citizen Space and should therefore take account of the voices of the citizens as well as business? Or are the technical questions there to frighten us off? For 15 of the following questions I answered “Comment as Question 5.”

Then I came to Question 30:

Do you agree or disagree that we should introduce a cap on the amount of overseas generated renewable electricity that can be exempt from the costs of the scheme? Do you agree that the cap for 2016/17 should be calculated based on the number of GoOs recognised in 2013/14, increased by 10% twice to match the cap under the CFD Supplier Obligation?

To “Comment as Question 5” I added “This is sheer gobbledygook for the average person in “Citizen Space”.

Well, could you understand any of it? Or do you, as I did, get the feeling they really don’t want our answers? That would interfere with what they have already decided to do.

The answers MPs and MEPs come up with are even worse. Consider this from Ashley Fox, Conservative MEP for the West Country:

“The regulation regarding all derivative products, including commodities is being driven globally by the G20 objectives to reduce risk through increased transparency and use of central clearing. The EU is implementing these measures via the European Markets Infrastructure Regulation. The future trading of these financial instruments on electronic platforms as opposed to bilateral contracts will be addressed in the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive II and any abusive behaviour by market participants is covered under the Markets Abuse Directive Review. It is important that position limits are used as part of a wider tool box available to market supervisors in order to ensure the proper functioning of the market…” and so on.

Did you understand that? Did the MEPs understand it?

Conservative MEP Julie Girling produced exactly the same reply. The paragraphs were in a different order, and she admitted it had actually been drafted by Kay Swinburn, Conservative MEP for Wales. They needed a standard reply because so very many people had emailed their MEPs about this. Shouldn’t that have told them something?

What we are witnessing is the abject failure of democracy at local level

Anna Minton sets the context: “Building on Conservative thinking about localism and “open source planning”, the coalition agreement pledged to instigate “a fundamental shift of power from Westminster to people”, in order to promote “democratic engagement”. Instead what we are witnessing is the abject failure of democracy at local level”.

Corbyn mode

Lesley Docksey continues, “In contrast, because Corbyn and his team think the public should be consulted, and because I have a rural post code, I was asked to take part in a consultation about rural life. The questions were all about how I perceived the issues and problems in rural areas. In other words, tell us how it is, we will listen and then, with your help, work out the policies needed.

“It is this that Joe Public picks up on. He (or she) may or may not join the Labour Party but… despite the sneering and backstabbing, and the plans to oust Corbyn, the kind of politics he is offering takes the public seriously. Our opinions, the people’s opinions, aims and desires matter. And it really is about time the Parliamentary Labour Party recognised that.

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