Category Archives: Economy

Farm Groups seek legislation: the AHDB quango should note their proposal

At the moment, due to imports, this country’s food security ratios are high – see map:

http://foodsecurityindex.eiu.com/Country

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.

 

 

Independent?

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:

William Taylor

56 Cashel Road, Macosquin, Coleraine, BT51 4NU

Tel. 028 703 43419 / 07909744624 

Email taylor.w@btconnect.com

 

 

 

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Austerity 7: “Governments are balancing budgets on the backs of the poor” (John Grisham)

1. State Pensions

2.6 million women born in the 1950s will ‘lose out’ because of changes to pension law: “while corporations and the richest individuals receive tax breaks”

WASPIs (Women against state pension inequality) protest outside Parliament. Their aim: to achieve fair transitional arrangements for women born in the 1950s, for whom the state pension age is being raised from 60 to 66 by 2020.Photo: WASPI Campaign/Twitter

A Bournville reader draws attention to an article in Welfare Weekly reporting the findings of a new analysis by the Labour Party which reveals that tens of thousands of Theresa May’s constituents will be adversely affected by her decision to bring forward changes to the state pension age. The state pension age for men and women will be equal at 65 at the end of 2018, before rising to 66 in 2020 and then 67 in 2028. This will then rise again to 68 between 2037 and 2039, meaning those born between 1970 and 1978 will be made to wait an extra year before becoming eligible to claim.

Data obtained by Labour from the House of Commons Library finds that nearly 37 million people in total will be affected, including 56,547 people in Theresa May’s constituency of Maidenhead. 61,753 people who are under the age of 47 will be hit by the changes in Chancellor Philip Hammond’s constituency of Runnymede and Weybridge. 59,290 people will also be affected in the Work and Pension Secretary David Gauke’s constituency of South West Hertfordshire.

A BBC video clip showed that an outline given by MP Guy Opperman (right, Work and Pensions) of government measures to assist older people back into work, including apprenticeships and retraining received a mixed reception.

Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Debbie Abrahams, said: “Thanks to the Tories increasing the state pension age, 36.9m people will be forced to work longer, at the same time that evidence indicates life expectancy has stalled in some places and is reducing in others.” She called on Tory MPs to “explain to the tens of thousands of people in their constituencies why the burden of Tory austerity is being pushed on them, while corporations and the richest individuals receive tax breaks.”

Abrahams added: “Theresa May should answer her 56,547 constituents, and the 36.9m people across Britain, whose hard-earned retirements are being postponed because of her Government.”

Labour is to begin a “national state pension tour” to draw attention to how many people will be affected and voice their opposition to the policy.

 

 

 

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Admirable politician – 11: working for the common good, Ketumile Masire,1925-2017

Following our tenth entry: MP Andrew Gwynne, who successfully introduced the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Act and worked long and hard to get justice for those who received contaminated blood through the NHS, we turn to Botswana, after reading an obituary by Emily Langer in the Independent. Her subject was Ketumile Masire – a statesman who described himself as ‘a farmer who has been drawn into politics’. 

A summary with added links and photographs

Masire herded cattle before enrolling in a primary school at 13 and receiving a scholarship to attend a high school in South Africa that trained many leaders of the first government of independent Botswana. When his parents died he supported his siblings, becoming a headmaster. He later earned a Master Farmers Certificate, and having saved enough money to buy a tractor and became a successful farmer.

Botswanan cattle

He served on tribal and regional councils and was a founder and secretary-general of the Botswana Democratic Party, now the country’s leading political party. He once travelled 3,000 miles of the Kalahari Desert to attend two dozen meetings over two weeks.

After serving as minister of finance and development planning and Vice President, Ketumile Masire became President of Botswana (1980-1998): roads and schools were built, healthcare improved, access to clean water expanded, farming techniques advanced and life spans extended.

The discovery of diamond reserves had transformed the country’s prospects and Masire continued to use the revenues for the public good after the death of his predecessor Seretse Khama.  

He became ‘a model leader in a model nation on a continent where poverty, corruption and violence had crushed the hopes of many for stability and prosperity’. 

After leading Botswana through a drought that persisted for much of the 1980s, he shared the Africa Prize for Leadership awarded by the Hunger Project in recognition of the food distribution efforts that helped the country avoid starvation during the crisis.

Though South Africa was Botswana’s major economic partner, Botswana opposed apartheid. “He had to walk a fine line in a really rough neighbourhood,” said Chester Crocker, a former US assistant secretary of state for African affairs. “He had to get along with everybody, without sacrificing his principles.”

After leaving office, in addition to tending the cattle on his ranch, Masire advised other African leaders and chaired an international panel that investigated the Rwandan genocide of 1994. He made important contributions to peace efforts in Congo and, more recently, Mozambique. He established a foundation which seeks to improve agriculture, governance and children’s health in the region.

He once said: “We have a saying in Botswana: A man is never strong until he says what he believes and gives other men the chance to do the same. I am proud to say without a doubt – we are a strong democracy.” 

A more chequered account of his life is given in  Wikipedia..

 

 

 

 

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Broken Britain 5: Martin Wolf annotated. Plus a lesson from Delhi

Extracts with bracketed comments = original text here, may be subject to paywall

In the Financial Times, Wolf asks: “Why has the appeal of populist ideas grown in western countries? Is this a temporary phenomenon?”

He continues: “What, first of all, is a populist?” And answers:

  • The abiding characteristic of populism is its division of the world into a virtuous (powerless) people on the one hand, and corrupt elites . . . on the other.
  • Populists distrust (corrupted) institutions, especially those that constrain the “will of the people”, such as courts, independent media, the bureaucracy and fiscal or monetary rules.
  • Populists reject credentialed experts (funded to serve vested interests). They are also suspicious of free markets and free trade (misnomers – so-called free traders erect tariff barriers whenever they can).
  • Rightwing populists believe certain ethnicities are “the people” and identify foreigners as the enemy. They are economic nationalists (but keen exporters and speculators) and support traditional (discriminatory & inhumane) social values.
  • Populists (left and right) put their trust in charismatic leaders
  • Leftwing populists identify workers as “the people” and (only the uncaring) rich as the enemy. They also believe in state ownership of property (if there were ever to be an honestly run state)

Wolf asks why these sets of ideas have become more potent (because central control, corruption and deprivation is increasing alarmingly). He refers to a Harvard study which considers immigration a cultural shift but argues that it can also be reasonably viewed as an economic one (because it’s cheaper to import subservient low-cost labour than to educate one’s own citizens)

What has changed recently?

“The answer is the financial crisis and consequent economic shocks. These not only had huge costs. They also damaged confidence in — and so the legitimacy of — financial and policymaking elites.

“These emperors turned out to be naked” (Correct).

He thinks that the results of past political follies have still to unfold:

  • The divorce of the UK from the EU remains a process with unfathomable results.
  • So, too, is the election of President Trump. The end of US leadership is a potentially devastating event.
  • Some of the long-term sources of fragility, cultural and economic, including high inequality and low labour force participation of prime-aged workers in the US, are still with us today.
  • The pressures for sustained high immigration continue.
  • The fiscal pressures from ageing are also likely to increase.

Wolf’s remedy the economic anxieties can and must be addressed: we must recognise and address the anger that causes populism. He continues: “populism is an enemy of good government (the status quo) and even of democracy (which has yet to be achieved)”.

Aam Aadmi (the Common Man’s Party) originated in the India Against Corruption (‘anti-graft’) movement. It claimed that the common people of India remain unheard and unseen except when it suits the politicians. It stresses self-governance, community building and decentralisation; advocating government directly accountable to the people instead of higher officials. It was formally launched on 26 November 2012 and won 67 of the 70 seats in the Delhi state assembly elections in 2015.

IMHO, as one correspondent often opens, building a stable democracy will require:

  1. proportional representation in which the votes cast reflect the true support for all participating parties and independent candidates;
  2. the attraction of parliamentary candidates with a track record of public service, offering only the national average wage, supplemented by basic London accommodation where needed and travel/secretarial expenses.
  3. and the clear understanding that after election these MPs (and their families) should acquire no shares or non-executive directorships.

And “self-governance, community building and decentralisation; advocating government directly accountable to the people instead of higher officials”.

 

 

 

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A progressive alliance with progressive policies

Christine Parkinson has drawn attention to an article in the Guardian, in which MPs Clive Lewis and Caroline Lucas  express a profound sense of frustration and dismay about the Conservative victories won by narrow margins in places such as St Ives, Richmond Park and Hastings. They pointed out that if every progressive voter had placed their X tactically, Jeremy Corbyn would now be prime minister with a majority of over 100.

Highlights from their article

The regressive alliance we see forming before our eyes between the Conservatives and the DUP can only be fully countered by a progressive alliance on the opposition benches and if we work together there is nothing progressives can’t achieve. The limits of the old politics are there for everyone to see – the limitlessness of the new we are just starting to explore.

More than 40 electoral alliances, in which people across parties cooperated on tickets including support for proportional representation and the common goal of preventing Conservative candidates winning, were pulled together quickly for the snap election. People from different parties worked together to ‘do politics differently’ and there was a sense that politics has become hopeful and positive again.

We shouldn’t forget the challenges we face:

  • markets that are too free,
  • a state that can be too remote,
  • a democracy that still leaves so many voices unheard
  • and change on a scale our people and our planet can’t cope with.

It is going to take a politics that is social, liberal and green to overcome these challenges. No single party or movement has all the answers. We are going to have to learn to cooperate as well as compete to build the society of which we dream. And we are going to have to recognise that the future is not a two-party system but one in which smaller parties grow – both in influence and in their electoral representation.

Colin Hines adds detail: also advocating a progressive alliance of Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP, Plaid and the Greens he says that they will need to get their ‘policy ducks in a row’ to win it. He continues:“Firstly, these must provide hope, not just for the young, but for every community in the country.

“To do this Jeremy Corbyn must revisit and vigorously shake his people’s QE “money tree”. This could pay for real economic activity on the ground via decentralised infrastructure projects to make the nation’s 30 million buildings energy efficient, ensure a shift to localised renewable energy, and the building of local transport systems.

“Secondly, the divide between young and old must be bridged by policies fostering intergenerational solidarity. Older people with significant saving should be offered “housing bonds”, paying, say, 3% interest to help fund a massive council and affordable homes programme.Tuition fees would be scrapped, but so too must be the threat of having to lose a home to pay for care, or having to scrabble for means-tested benefits such as heating allowances.

“Financed by progressive and fairer wealth and income taxes, and a clampdown on tax dodging, this should have an election-winning appeal to the majority of grandparents, parents and their young relatives”.

 

 

 

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Media 79: mainstream media are not reporting Barclay’s announcement on Third Energy fracking project

Fracking: Five pages were searched and all witnessed to publicity from campaigning groups – a snapshot of the first page may be seen below.

Not ‘commercially viable’? Fracking: environmentally, socially and financially a bad investment

Third Energy, a Barclays subsidiary, which had a licence to frack just south of the North York Moors national park has “not become a profitable investment”. This is due to local opposition, which delays companies’ progress, according to Barclay’s chairman John McFarlane, speaking at the bank’s annual general meeting.

Barclays’ has now announced that it will sell its stake in fracking company Third Energy “in due course”.

Steve Mason of local campaign group Frack Free Ryedale said in a press release: “Clearly fracking is a bad investment environmentally, socially and financially. Where is the long term future of this industry? Why would you put money into an industry that is increasingly rejected by communities and could get banned at anytime?”

 

 

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Crystal ball: if Theresa May wins in June will it be ‘goodbye to the NHS and hello to Kaiser Permanente’?

Online diagnosis a speciality

Kaiser Permanente members annually have more than 100 million encounters with company physicians, 52% of which are now virtual visits, according to Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard Tyson. The transition from physical to virtual visits has been enabled by Kaiser Permanente’s ‘aggressive spending’ on information technology – cheaper to provide, profits rise?

Tom Pride explains that Kaiser Permanente is an American private healthcare organisation based in California. McKinsey extols this company’s work in the US, because it provides a complete model of integrated pre-paid insurance along with healthcare which is supposedly free at the point of need but is:

Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt and other ministers have visited the company at its California headquarters several times.

And Kaiser’s website lists other recent visitors from the UK, including many representing NHS hospitals and NHS trusts as well as HM Treasury and the Ministry of Health itself (click on link above to find and enlarge):

In January the Prime Minister faced repeated questions about how much she was prepared to give away, ahead of her face-to-face talks with President Trump. Jeremy Corbyn urged her to rule out any deal that would give US healthcare giants a toehold in the NHS – after similar concerns over an aborted EU-US agreement – but Theresa May specifically refused to guarantee she would not open up the NHS to US firms in a post-Brexit trade deal across the Atlantic.

Is the lack of action to resolve the worsening NHS crisis likely to make the public support changes to a system that is being deliberately run down?

Will a Conservative government replace NHS England with private US healthcare system Kaiser Permanente aka The Center for Total Health?

 

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Broken Britain 3: ‘strong and stable government’: by the rich, for the rich, at the expense of the rest

Government for Britain’s rich: strong and stable; for its 99%: a crumbling NHS and farming sector, expensive public transport, vanishing libraries and cuts for the young, the poor and the frail .

Those who are ‘just about managing’ live in the only ‘big advanced economy’ in which wages contracted (2007-2015) while the economy expanded, the cost of living rose and multinational profits rocketed.

Pett lists the end goals which would benefit the 99% and the wreckers

As Eisenhower said, we need a humane government which would focus on the well-being of all, not the profits of the few and stop being complicit in slaughter . . .

 

and we should strengthen local/regional economies.

 

Close the global casino and the revolving door between big business and government

and offer all, especially superfluous managers and young commodity traders, socially beneficial work

 

 

 

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Labour, Conservative and Green voices call for a progressive alliance. Will it happen now or later?

An audience seriously considering the proposal

With thanks to the reader working in Uganda who sent the Hitchens link and remembering another who yesterday advocated ABC voting, ‘Anything But Conservative’.

Peter Hitchens insisted, some time ago, that a lot of people feel left out of the recovery we are supposed to be having, and they need a powerful voice in Parliament, adding:

“There is nothing good (or conservative) about low wages, insecure jobs and a mad housing market which offers nothing but cramped rooms and high rents to young families just when they need space, proper houses with gardens, and security . . .

“The truth is that both major parties have been taken over by the same cult, the Clinton-Blair fantasy that globalism, open borders and mass immigration will save the great nations of the West. It hasn’t worked. In the USA it has failed so badly that the infuriated, scorned, impoverished voters of Middle America are on the point of electing a fake-conservative yahoo businessman as President”.

Hitchens concludes that many Labour MPs have more in common with Mrs May than with Mr Corbyn and will ‘snuggle up beside her absurdly misnamed Conservative Party’.

He believes that the British public will at last see clearly that their only response is to form an alliance against the two big parties: “Impossible? Look how quickly this happened in Scotland”.

This Green House pamphlet with contributions from Molly Scott Cato MEP, Victor Anderson, Rupert Read, Jonathan Essex and Sara Parkin was written before the EU referendum and the economic and political turmoil which has followed but the authors believe its analysis and conclusions are still valid.

In her introduction, MEP Molly Scott Cato points out that a route to a more positive future offering hope to the majority of citizens is blocked by our archaic and unrepresentative electoral system which enables one party to control so much power with a minority of the votes cast. She continues:

“Our primary target is our electoral system. In the 2015 general election the Green Party received 1 million votes but only one parliamentary seat. By contrast the Scottish National Party received 1.5 million votes and 56 seats.

“This is the logic of first past the post . . . but as voters move into a multi-party future the system entrenches political stasis and blocks progressive change”. Later she cites Germany as the most striking example of a country that has benefited from Greens in power:

“Its industries are successful because Greens in government encouraged them to move into the new era of low carbon energy production before other European countries. Germany has turned its back on the nuclear age and is rapidly phasing out fossil fuels. Germany is the economy in Europe that is benefiting most from the energy transition that dangerous climate change requires of us. It is Greens in government who enabled this process”.

She, and other Green House members invite everyone who wants to see an alternative to continued Conservative government to join in the discussion about what that alternative can be.

Professor Jeremy Gilbert, in a Compass article, spells out the proposal, advocating a co-ordinated response involving every potentially progressive organisation and party in the country. He asks:

“Do you really think we can stand up to May, Murdoch and the Mail, to the City, the CBI and consumer-industrial complex all alone?

“Labour is never going to be back on 44% in the opinion polls. The electorate is too fragmented for that, and above all Labour’s electoral base is too fractured for it ever to happen again”.

(Ed: we note that the British Labour Party is already one of the parties and organisations from over 90 countries which participate in the International Progressive Alliance network of social-democratic and progressive political parties.)

Gilbert continues: “Would you rather it happen now, while the Left retains the leadership of the party, or in five or ten years time, when the Right is back in control? Would you rather have a Progressive Alliance, or an alliance of revanchist Blairites, (May)ites and ‘Orange Book’ Liberal Democrats? Because if we do not seize the initiative now, then the latter is what we are going to get, soon enough. This is going to happen sooner or later”.

 

 

 

 

North Korea focus? Britain in the dock

As tensions rise over North Korea, Steve Beauchampé writes in the Birmingham Press about the parallels between Britain and North Korea 

Extracts

Generations of an elite have ruled this nation for as long as anyone can remember. Such is their power that if there is dissent it is effectively hidden from us, denied the oxygen of publicity. The Dear Leader and ministers live in numerous large, extravagantly furnished, decorative palaces, enjoying the trappings of vast wealth. Walk the streets of the capital and you will soon see monuments, statues and other references to the Dear Leader, their family and the country’s most heroic military endeavours adorning public squares, streets and buildings.

In recent years the country has taken an increasingly bellicose and belligerent tone, threatening to launch unprovoked attacks on other sovereign states, driving them back into the middle ages and forcing their governments from power in the process. it has been busy developing increasingly sophisticated long range missiles and a nuclear weapons capability designed to strike fear into its enemies and anyone else whom it perceives as a threat, vast military expenditure whilst rising numbers of the population survive in poverty, dependent on daily food handouts to eek out an existence

Its economy is increasingly kept afloat by the economic support of China. The modern high-rise residential blocks that have sprung up throughout the capital may give the impression of a modern, flourishing economy, but look closely and you will see that many are all but empty, whilst homelessness and a reliance on subsistence level housing grows.

Surveillance is at an historic high with spy cameras, and increasingly even microphones, installed in nearly all public places and with the state’s ability to track the population and follow their activities and conversations now at frighteningly sophisticated levels.

Tensions are rising across the border, where the neighbouring government has been pursuing a much more internationalist direction. Indeed, heightened divisions have been evident with most neighbouring countries since last summer, and talk of war with one of them over a territorial dispute briefly surfaced as recently as a fortnight ago.

Yes, welcome to Britain.