Category Archives: Education
Since the coronavirus pandemic took over and some supermarket egg and flour shelves are still bare here – and in parts of America – there has been greater public awareness of the fragility of our food system.
An earlier post said: “After 50 years of unjust returns for perishable produce, the coronavirus is beginning to affect food imports, just as bombing and submarines did during the last war”.
As one article in Prospect magazine commented earlier this month, supermarkets currently dominate the retail sector, with the “Big Four” often lobbying together and using their significant bargaining power to push down prices paid to farmers.
It is widely quoted that in 2016, according to ‘official estimates’, producers on average received 9p for every pound spent in a supermarket, compared with 45-60 per cent of the money consumers spent on food in the 1950s.
Yasemin Craggs Mersinoglu reports that more farms have turned to home delivery services and a YouGov survey has found that three million people are trying box schemes or buying food from a local farm for the first time.
A Share of The Crop, a veg box supplier which sources produce from southeast England, received a year’s worth of additional orders during a single week in March.
Lauren Simpson, a farmer based in West Wales, hopes that this shift to local food will create a fair transition into a more sustainable food system.
She is a member of the Landworkers Alliance which is lobbying for the government to build a shock-resistant food system.
An emergency support fund for small farms during the pandemic, would be followed by provision of grants to new entrants to the industry, citing the need to grow more food in the UK and further assistance to create local supply chains, processing facilities and distribution networks.
To these measures should be added promotion of the Ripple Farm model: good practice which attracts reliable local workers (right):
- holiday pay,
- sick pay
- good protective clothing
- year-round employment five days a week,
- job rotation: a hard stint outdoors in the morning, balanced by a less arduous indoor job in packing and admin in the afternoon.
Security: relying on imports or increasing the supply of home-grown food?
The government has consistently asserted that improving international trade relationships is the route to food security, but, as climate instability and Covid-19 have shown, the UK is vulnerable to global political, economic and public health challenges.
Yasemin concludes that short supply chains, with veg boxes and comparable schemes supplying fresh fruit, dairy and poultry, are not only better for the environment — they also help small producers to get a fair price by enabling smallholder farmers and smaller-scale retailers to sell directly to members of the public. They are then in control, having direct support from their community, no longer harassed by overnight order changes by the big supermarkets.
President Emmanuel Macron’s translated interview with the FT’s new editor and its Paris bureau chief
“In this crisis enter a humanity where everything is fragmenting, where what we thought was worthless, becomes scarce and must be produced in other countries, and where we tell people they can’t even cross the street. It’s a profound change, from which we will all come out different”.
Global trade and the use of container ships increased from the 1960s to the 1990s, followed by the globalisation of finance and the digital economy from 2000 onwards and it’s obvious that it’s starting to overheat, creating three major problems:
Globalisation has created inequalities in developed countries the middle classes and workers are saying “I don’t see myself in this globalisation. I am sacrificed to it.” I can buy cheaper things but I don’t have any work, because there is no more space for me in this society, it’s society for the super-talented, and what I can do is no longer valuable.”
It’s clear that economy is no longer the priority. And when it’s a matter of humanity, women and men but also the ecosystems in which they live, and so CO2, global warming, biodiversity, there is something more important than the economic order.
This problem is being joined by the rise of a power game in which people rediscover the grammar of sovereignty – the idea that the people are not just consumers or producers, they are citizens, and they want to start controlling the choices they make It puts the human back in the middle.
Macron explained: “The basis of sovereignty is that it structures our balance, and you actually see that during shocks, like an epidemic. When you are afraid, you don’t turn towards Amazon, Google, globalisation, you don’t turn towards the secretary-general of the United Nations, the European Commission etc . . . You turn towards your country”.
The third major phenomenon is the matter of climate which goes hand in hand with the health agenda
In 2019, more than 77 leading American medical groups signed a policy agenda calling for climate action
Macron believes the climate agenda must come back to the foreground, because it goes hand in hand with the health agenda: “We will exit this crisis, and people will no longer agree to breathing polluted air. You’ll see something that was already rising in our societies, people will come out and say “I don’t want to breathe this air. I don’t agree to make such choices which will result in me breathing that type of air, where my little baby might catch bronchitis because of it, because choosing that type of society makes it so. And you have accepted the idea of shutting down everything to stop Covid, but now you are ready to let me go on breathing bad air.”
He adds that we will have to rethink production according to a just balance of CO2 emissions and of biodiversity and so of the safekeeping of our ecosystems. By agreeing to re-fragment things in a non-conflictual way, to reduce emissions, we will rethink logistics, in order to avoid importing a component from across the globe, because we will produce it on our territory to reduce its carbon footprint, commenting, “In my opinion that is what we are heading towards”
Last week, Emmanuel Macron said in an interview with the FT that delocalisation (offshoring) had become “unsustainable” and that the EU should regain industrial sovereignty.
He believes this shock we are currently going through will force us to review globalisation, and bring us to rethink society’s terms. The approval of a fluid world where everything is worth the same, produced anywhere, exchanged neutrally, is no longer universal.
In another speech this week he spoke of a new economic model, of the need to rebuild an agricultural, health, industrial and technological independence. “I believe that we are about to exit a world . . . where there was financial hegemony and hegemony of the non-co-operative military powers, and we can enter something which will enable us to reshuffle the cards. When people are scared of death and come back to these deep existential subjects, they co-operate”.
We have seen that we needed to reconsider goods and services we sometimes believed were worthless.
“We thought a mask or a medical overall had no value on a global commercial level. But it has value since it protects caregivers, and we acknowledged it during this crisis. It’s worth only 40 cents, not even a euro, but it becomes immensely valuable when we start running out of them and unable to produce enough”.
Regarding matters of the common good, military, health, technological, industrial, education, ecological, climate and other matters, we must decide what we must relocate, in our own country or region, in order to co-operate with others without being totally dependent on them.
We must become resilient, possessing the ability to say how we can prevent a risk of serious heatwave, another epidemic, a deterioration of our biodiversity which will affect our lives.
Earlier this week, Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, president of the European Council, issued a paper saying there was a “pressing need to produce critical goods in Europe, to invest in strategic value chains and to reduce over-dependency on third countries in these areas”.
Thierry Breton, an EU trade commissioner also suggested earlier this month that “globalisation has gone too far”, not just in medical equipment but all strategic industrial sectors and agriculture. He acknowledged, in Le Figaro, that “the question posed to us by this crisis is that we may have gone too far in globalization and globalisation”. The question, he added, arises not only on health (drugs and medical equipment) but also on “strategic industrial areas” and on agriculture, saying “I am convinced that our relationship to the world after this crisis will be different.”
This crisis will enable us to invent something new for our humanity, as we have been discussing — that’s to say a new balance in interdependence between men and women in order to consider what it means to be in the world and which is built around education, health and environment.
Most of this summary was drawn from these two main sources:
After a climate-friendly Flybe decision, will government respond to Tory challenge on the scandalous North-South funding imbalance?
Due to WordPress malfunction I cannot upload images to this site. They are included in the email alert
The Financial Times casts doubt on the prime minister’s commitment to the regions in two articles today
As Jim Pickard reports, in Flybe collapse puts commitment to regions in doubt, some MPs are voicing concerned about the impact of the bankruptcy on their constituencies. He points out that Boris Johnson’s administration had repeatedly vowed to improve “regional connectivity” and sees the Flybe decision as a failure to uphold this commitment.
The economic case was put by Kelly Tolhurst, the aviation minister: “Unfortunately, in a competitive market, companies do fail, and it is not the role of government to prop them up”.
Snapshot FT reader’s comment: decision is climate friendly
Tory think-tank Onward has found “dramatic” differences in spending to the advantage of London in recent years
In another article, Pickard reports that – in his election manifesto last year – Mr Johnson promised to ramp up the Housing Infrastructure Fund from its current £5.5bn to £10bn to support the delivery of new homes in local authorities “across every English region”
Housing Infrastructure Fund graphic
He refers to a report called “The Challenge”, by the Tory think-tank Onward (May 2019) which has found “dramatic” differences in spending to the advantage of London in recent years.
It argued that government spending has for years been skewed towards the most prosperous parts of the country, in part because of the Treasury’s “Green Book” — which sets spending criteria.
The differences in spending included:
- capital spending on transport in London at £6,600 per head between 2008 and 2019, compared with the English average of £2,400,
- research funding for universities — was nearly twice the UK average in London, at £3,900 per head versus £2,300 per head from 2001 to 2017 and
- London received 47% of Arts Council England spending and central government funding of arts institutions over the same period.
Pickard’s conclusion that such evidence raises questions about the depth of the prime minister’s commitment to the regions is qualified by his FT colleague, Camilla Cavendish: “Boris Johnson’s ‘levelling up’ agenda depends on devolving power”
In 2018, the Times (paywall) reported the verdict of MP Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee: “The apprenticeship levy is not working. It was meant to incentivise large employers to invest more in apprenticeships by requiring them to pay into a central fund from which they can claim back some or all of their training costs.
Instead it has led employers to recoup the cost of existing in-house training schemes by relabelling them as apprenticeships.
She noted that more companies are setting themselves up as training providers and that Ofsted says that it will struggle to keep tabs on these. The following year her report pointed out that too many apprentices were still being trained by sub-standard providers.
Around a third of apprentices covered by Ofsted inspections in 2017/18 were being trained by providers rated as ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’. The poor quality of some contributed to a situation where over 30% of apprentices fail to complete their apprenticeship successfully each year.
A letter to the Times editor added: “The Learndirect scandal serves as a stark case: an organisation was allowed to take on more and more learners (reaching 75,000) when warning signs of inadequate training and poor financial management were already being issued”.
The Financial Times reminded readers that Learndirect was privatised and sold to the private equity arm of Lloyds Bank in 2011 but is still reliant on government funding. When the Public Accounts Committee questioned Learndirect and Ofsted, Ofsted revealed the findings of Learndirect’s “inadequate” performance and the ‘legal shenanigans’ used to prevent earlier revelations. The findings included:
The National Audit office’s 2019 report focussed on the cost of apprenticeships and the low rate of uptake. In its first full year of operation, the apprenticeship levy raised £2.7 billion and this is expected to rise to £3.4 billion by 2023-24. However, there have been repeated warnings in recent months that the funding pot generated by the levy is about to run out
Earlier this month the Financial Times reported on an Education and Skills (EDSK) report, based on official data, which has investigated what is happening with the apprenticeship levy and the apprenticeship system in England more broadly.
It found that 50% of apprenticeships funded by the levy are ‘fake’, citing figures which relate closely to those reported by the Public Accounts Committee, recorded in the FT box above:
- Some £1.2bn of the £2.4bn money raised since the levy was introduced in April 2017 had been spent on “fake” apprenticeships, rebadged MBA courses and low-skilled jobs training,
- £550m of levy funding had been spent on management training courses for experienced employees, which previously would have been funded from professional development budgets.
- Highly qualified academics, many of whom already have PhDs, had been relabelled as apprentices in order to put them through levy-funded professional development courses.
- And £235m had been used to teach people in low-skilled jobs, including working at a shop checkout or serving in a bar, often requiring minimal training, which pay low wages and do not meet any established definition of an apprentice.
Last July Boris Johnson said that, while he will always “defend and extol the advantages of having a degree, there are far too many young people who leave university with huge debts, and no clear sense of how their academic qualification has helped their career.” He has pledged to “elevate practical and technical qualifications” to “recognise their immense value to society and to the individual” and to raise funding for apprenticeships.
As – regrettably – Learndirect has re-emerged in the apprenticeship sector under a new name: Learndirect Apprenticeships Ltd., EDSK reflects that government pays private providers taxpayers’ money to deliver public services but can fail to monitor the results or truly penalise those that do not deliver. It recommends the Department for Education to tighten rules to stop financing of rebadged MBAs and low-skilled training and introduce a new definition of apprenticeship, benchmarked against the world’s best technical education systems.
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
Corbyn smears escalate
Yesterday came a warning: “With a general election possibly afoot, we must all be alert to the orchestrated dirty tricks and the ferocity of the propaganda assault that will inevitably be launched against Jeremy Corbyn and Labour by the terrified establishment”. It was issued by Richard House, after replying to ‘absurd views’ in the Independent alleging that Jeremy Corbyn would usher in ‘a communist government’ of a brutal nature.
Articles in the Murdoch Times today bore these headlines
- MPs launch angry revolt over leaders’ Brexit talks: Breakthrough hopes fade after May meets Corbyn
- Brexit talks: Dark clouds gather as Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn work out what to do next
- The PM, as we must still call her, was numb — perhaps past caring
- Two-party cartel would regret an election now: The electorate is more volatile than ever and many will be looking for a home beyond the Conservatives and Labour.
Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity with Europe’s socialist leaders was highlighted some time ago with a standing ovation noted in the Financial Times:
“UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was given a rapturous reception by his Socialist allies in Brussels on Thursday, as he warned that leaving the EU without a Brexit deal would be “catastrophic” for the UK economy. Mr Corbyn was met with a standing ovation by Europe’s centre-left parties as he addressed delegates at the Europe Together conference, just hours before prime minister Theresa May was scheduled to meet her EU counterparts at a European leaders’ summit”. We omit the description of Ms May’s very cool reception.
Corbyn’s negotiating skills are appreciated by senior EU figures, including Michel Barnier.
EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (R) and British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn walk prior to a meeting on July 13, 2017 in Brussels.
Another perspective: Jeremy Corbyn is a mainstream [Scandinavian] social democrat
“From his style to his policies Mr Corbyn would, in Norway, be an unremarkably mainstream, run-of-the-mill social-democrat. His policy-platform places him squarely in the Norwegian Labour Party from which the last leader is such a widely respected establishment figure that upon resignation he became the current Secretary-General of NATO.
“Yet, here in the United Kingdom a politician who makes similar policy-proposals, indeed those that form the very bedrock of the Nordic-model, is brandished as an extremist of the hard-left and a danger to society”.
British media’s portrayal of Corbyn, and by extent his policies are somewhat exaggerated and verging on the realm of character assassination rather than objective analysis and journalism.
Mr Corbyn’s policy-platform, particularly in regard to his domestic policies are largely identical with the Norwegian Labour Party manifesto. They enjoy near universal support among the Norwegian electorate and, in fact, they are so mainstream that not even the most right-wing of Norwegian political parties would challenge them. They include:
- railway nationalisation,
- partial or full state ownership of key companies or sectors,
- universal healthcare provisions,
- state-funded house-building,
- no tuition fee education,
- education grants and loans
Jonas (right) adds that such policies have been integral to the social-democratic post-war consensus in all the Nordic countries, which. enjoy some of the world’s highest living standards and presumably should be a model to be emulated rather than avoided, and continues:
The whole controversy surrounding Mr Corbyn probably betrays more about Britain’s class divisions and how far the UK’s political spectrum has shifted to the right since the early-1980s, than it does of the practicality of his policy-proposals.
Reflecting this is British media whose ownership is highly concentrated: 70% of national newspapers are owned by just three companies and a third are owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News UK . . . the British media has focused its reporting on the personal characteristics of Mr Corbyn, usually in rather unflattering terms, and shown scant or shallow regard to his policy-agenda.
He notes that a direct comparison of Britain with other similar European states would reveal both the dire condition of British living-standards for populations, particularly outside London and how conventionally social-democratic are Mr Corbyn’s policies.
Jonas Fossli Gjersø ends: “You might agree or disagree with his political position, but it is still far too early to discount Mr Corbyn’s potential success at the next general election – particularly if he manages to mobilise support from the circa 40% of the electorate who regularly fail to cast their ballot in elections…
“(J)ust as few recognised the socio-economic and ideological structural changes which converged to underpin Margaret Thatcher’s meteoric rise in the early-1980s, we cannot exclude the possibility that we are witnessing the social-democratic mirror image of that process today, with a prevailing wind from the left rather than the right”.