Category Archives: Government

Appalled: Jewish people in the UK write to the Board of Deputies of British Jews

This open letter, signed by Craig Berman, Sarah Glynn, Abe Hayeem, Rosamine Hayeem, Yael Kahn, Michael Kalmanovitz, Roisin Kalmanovitz, Agnes Kory, Selma James, Les Levidow. Moshe Machover, Helen Marks, Sam Weinstein and Karl Weiss, was first issued on 10 June 2018.

Source: https://www.facebook.com/groups/FreeSpeechonIsrael/permalink/2057951301092996

We are appalled that the Board of Deputies (BoD) which claims to bethe voice of British Jews,” has once again attempted to justify the massacre of unarmed Palestinian people by the Israeli military. 

You issued a throw-away tweet on 31 March and a full statement on 15 May, followed by a comment opposing the World Health Organisation fact-finding mission into the health needs of the occupied territories on 24 May.

As you know, on 30 March, when Israel began its latest attack, Palestinians were commemorating Land Day. It was the launch of their Great March of Return demanding the right to go back to their homeland and an end to the blockade of Gaza. The March continued until 15 May, the seventieth anniversary of the Nakba, when three-quarters of a million Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their land: hundreds of towns and villages were depopulated and destroyed to make way for the state of Israel.

Since 30 March, 123 Palestinians have been killed, including children, women and medics, and journalists wearing vests marked PRESS, many shot in the back, and 13,600 have been maimed or injured by live ammunition, tear gas and firebombs.  For six weeks the killings continued, day after day, and on 14 May, when the US moved its embassy to Jerusalem, despite overwhelming global opposition, another massacre: 60 people killed, and 2,771 maimed and wounded.  The Israeli use of illegal “dumdum” bullets which expand after entering the body was clearly intended to cause not only greater pain but permanent disabilities.

Your statement justifying this massacre prompted over 500 Jewish Zionists to write to outgoing president Arkush and president-elect Marie van der Zyl protesting that BoD had “deeply misrepresented” their views by relieving Israel of all responsibility for the deaths caused by their snipers.

BoD is doing its best to hide that Jews are divided over Israel’s ongoing repression and slaughter of the Palestinian people, which many of us, like most people everywhere in the world, including a number of Zionists, are outraged by.  So much for BoD “speaking for all Jews”! You are so determined to defend Israel that you have even accused Jewish organisations and individuals of “antisemitism” because they support Palestinian rights, and campaigned for their expulsion from the Labour Party.

This is not the first time the BoD has condoned murder, claiming to speak on behalf of Jewish people in the UK.  The BoD publicly supported pro-Israel rallies during the bombing of Gaza in 2008/9 and 2014 that killed thousands of Palestinian women, children and men.  It has consistently supported a regime that is widely considered guilty of war crimes and the racist crime of apartheid.  You are now saying that opposition to Israel’s actions is antisemitic, thus demanding that Israel should be the only government in the world exempt from criticism.

The BoD in recent years has been uncritical of Israel and pro-Tory, contrary to the great Jewish working-class tradition of struggling for social justice in every situation.   Arkush declared his political allegiance when (on 9 June 2017) he mourned the Tory prime minister’s failure to win an outright majority at the general election as a “loss” for the Jewish community, and described the Tory alliance with the extreme right-wing, homophobicanti-abortion Democratic Unionist Party in the North of Ireland as “positive news” and the DUP as “exceptionally warm and friendly”.  The Tories that Arkush supports are aligned in Europe with right-wing political parties that honour Nazi collaborators and Islamophobes.  Arkush also celebrated the election of Trump undeterred by his racistIslamophobic, and antisemitic campaign.

Your identification with the Israeli government could prove even more frightening. Governments and people around the world fear that the wrecking of the agreement with Iran by Netanyahu and Trump (the heads of two nuclear powers) may start yet another war, repeating the horrors of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.  You may find yourself not only supporting the destruction of Iran, but urging the risk of nuclear war.

As Jewish people we are distraught that the Nazi holocaust has been, and continues to be, used to justify the brutal occupation of another people who played no part in our historic persecution, and to indulge in warmongering.

We reclaim our tradition of struggling for social justice for all by echoing the call by Jamal Juma, coordinator of the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign and the Land Defence Coalition:

“It is time for the world to stop standing in implicit or explicit complicity with Israeli apartheid and to join us in nonviolent action by taking up the Palestinian call for boycotts, divestment and sanctions until Israel respects international law and human rights.”

 

 

 

o

Advertisements

Bad decisions by government 37 – third runway at Heathrow

 

UK aviation policy is primarily predicated on the requirements of airport operators, major airlines and the Treasury – the needs of passengers come last says Steve Beauchampé in The Birmingham Press. 

The governments long-awaited – and unsurprising – decision to proceed with construction of a third runway at London Heathrow is fundamentally flawed, supported with redundant arguments and highly questionable financial assessments. If the UK had a comprehensive and comprehensible national aviation strategy Heathrow would not be operating at anything like 95% of capacity.

That it does so is the result of a system that essentially forces millions of UK passengers per annum to travel long distances, often in arduous and stressful conditions, to use both Heathrow and London’s two other main airports (Gatwick and Stansted) at great cost both to themselves and the environment. rather than utilising their local airports, many of which are working to a fraction of their capability.

Birmingham International Airport handled 12.9m passengers in 2017 but could cope with around double that number. Meanwhile, Nottingham East Midlands welcomed a paltry 4.88m whilst major population centres such as in the North East, South West, South Wales and along the south coast are all but bereft of decent flight choices. This is not only down to the London-centric approach which blights so many activities in the UK, but the failure of successive governments to challenge and take on the vested interests of London airports and the major airlines.

Two key arguments put forward in favour of a third runway at Heathrow are particularly fallacious

The first is that Heathrow must continue developing as a ‘hub’ airport, competing for passengers not with Birmingham, Manchester or even Gatwick, Stansted and Luton, but with Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Dublin and increasingly Dubai!

So a third (and later probably fourth and fifth) runway at Heathrow is essentially required to allow the airport’s operator Heathrow Airport Holdings to attract passengers who will never leave the airport environs but whose visit is solely to transfer from one aeroplane to another, Great news for HAH, who enjoy increased landing fees as a result, and good news for the Treasury, who collect airport tax each time that a passenger takes a flight.

But it is hardly good news for UK travellers who are not being provided with flights from their local airports to the locations that they want and at a time when they want to fly. Indeed the hub strategy encourages those in the north of England, Northern Island and Scotland to take domestic flights to Heathrow and then transfer planes to reach their ultimate destination.

Yet hub airports may soon be an outdated concept, with technological improvements meaning that modern aeroplanes will be able to fly further (and faster) without the need to refuel (its already possible to fly non-stop from London to Sydney). Point-to-point flying seems more likely to be the way ahead. 

The second argument in favour of Heathrow runway expansion is that many airlines do not want to fly out of the UK’s ‘regional’ airports (with the possible exception of Manchester, which handled 27.7m passengers in 2017) and would be unwilling to give up valuable landing slots at Heathrow.

But this argument is unacceptable. We would not tolerate train operators refusing to serve smaller stations nor bus companies running services only on main routes. To combat this attitude the number of slots available at Heathrow needs to be limited rather than endlessly expanded, whilst the national airport strategy that Conservative MP and anti-Heathrow Runway 3 campaigner Justine Greening called for earlier this week should focus on ways to create an environment which encourages airlines to relocate services outside of London and the South East.

This is particularly apposite given that both Birmingham and Manchester airports will be stops on the HS2 network by 2030. And whilst there is a real risk that limiting slots at Heathrow will result in some airlines pulling routes and services out of the UK altogether, the country is a large enough aviation market to offer sufficient paths to profit that most such withdrawals will likely be less than crucial and, in some cases, perhaps temporary.

In agreeing to support Heathrow’s third runway the government have committed to paying £2.6bn in compensation to those communities near to the airport that will be destroyed or significantly affected by the project. To which can be added an estimated £10bn in public funding for the new infrastructure and environmental measures required to support the expansion.

How much better to invest this money throughout the UK to create a national airport infrastructure to meet the needs of the travelling public, and one befitting the worlds fifth largest economy.

 

 

o

Could the Stroud formula could rescue Broken Britain? Or will tribalism rule?

.

For years Stroud District Council has been led by a cooperative alliance of the Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat parties – a ‘rainbow alliance’ (below).

Last May. Gloucestershire County Council’s agenda and minutes post recorded that Cllr Lesley Williams and Cllr Rachel Smith advised that the Labour and Green members had formed a political group called the Labour and Green Cooperative Alliance.  They explained that under the arrangement the Labour and Green members would work cooperatively but would continue to look at issues on an individual basis.

Professor John Curtice summarised the electoral maths: almost half the nation voted for broadly progressive parties in 2015 (49% backed Labour, the LibDems, Greens, SNP or Plaid Cymru, while 51% chose the Tories or Ukip). He considers the impact of a coalition with even one ‘minor party’.

Labour MP Clive Lewis and Green MP Caroline Lucas noted that in the 2017 general election more than 40 local alliances were formed, where almost exclusively Greens put the national interest before that of their party.

It had a huge impact on the vote – more than doubling the average swing away from the Tories.

 

They pointed out 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 climate change on a scale our people and our planet simply can’t cope with. 

Continuing: “It will 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”.

They point out that the millions of young people who voted live in a world of social media in which their identities and allegiances are permanently in flux. They like and they share. They flock to one idea, group or party and then another. A politics that is purposeful but also responsive, open and collaborative is needed.

The case for an alliance between ‘progressive’ parties, has been described by Simon Jenkins (above right) as unanswerable:

“In 2015, 49% of voters went for broadly progressive parties, including Labour, the Lib Dems and nationalists. But at elections they fight each other as rivals. As a result, 40 to 50 seats that might have gone to a single left-wing candidate went Tory.

Then, as now, Westminster tribalism won. Machismo required Labour “to contest every seat in the land”. That is apparently more important than denying the Tories a strong majority – let alone winning elections.

MPs Lewis and Lucas end:

“We are from different parties and different political traditions – and we celebrate that because, while we share so much, we can learn much more from each other. 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.

Information sought:

People on the mailing list of this website are drawn from many areas of Britain and visitors come from several countries (opposite: eleven in May), the overwhelming majority from America.

British readers, expats and other well-informed readers are asked to send, via comments, any other examples of an effective co-operative alliance within councils and parliaments.

 

 

o

 

 

o

Secret State 22: Mega farms – Owners? Directors? Donations?

..

Drone footage and satellite images have recently revealed that thousands of British cattle reared for supermarket beef are being kept at some sites in outdoor pens, known as corrals, sometimes surrounded by walls, fences or straw bales. Although the cattle will have spent time grazing in fields prior to fattening, some will be confined in pens for around a quarter of their lives, until they are slaughtered. Disease spreads easily in such conditions and traces of the medication needed to prevent or treat the animals will be present in the meat offered for human consumption.

Who owns these companies? Who are the directors? Do they donate to party funds?

Why are there no official records held by DEFRA  on how many intensive beef units are in operation?
Government regulations  say that an environmental permit is needed if you operate any of the following:

-an industrial facility,
-manufacturing facility
-or other business that produces potentially harmful substances, eg:
-a landfill site, a large chicken farm, a food factory

Why is government not requiring an environmental permit before their construction – and indeed consulting those in their neighbourhood?

A small section of a group of intensive units photographed by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism/ Guardian

Though environment secretary Michael Gove said, in a parliamentary statement. “I do not want to see, and we will not have, US-style farming in this country”, it’s here.

The Guardian and Bureau last year revealed that 800 poultry and pig “mega farms” have appeared in the British countryside in recent years, some housing more than a million chickens or about 20,000 pigs.

Following the revelations, the environment secretary, Michael Gove, pledged that Brexit would not be allowed to result in the spread of US-style agribusiness.

Readers who want to know the extent of this problem and the location of megafarms for dairy, pigs and poultry, may find this information by looking at the interactive maps produced by  Compassion in World Farming: The snapshots show information about intensive pig rearing in Gloucestershire, where the writer lives.

A Moseley reader draws attention to research by the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism establishing that the UK is now home to a number of industrial-scale fattening units with herds of up to 3,000 cattle at a time. Sites in Kent, Northamptonshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire were identified, the largest farms fattening up to 6,000 cattle a year.

The practice of intensive beef farming in the UK has not previously been widely acknowledged – and these findings raise questions over the future of British farming.

Richard Young, Policy Director at the Sustainable Food Trust, said: “Keeping large number of cattle together in intensive conditions removes all justification for rearing them and for consumers to eat red meat…

“More than two-thirds of UK farmland is under grass for sound environmental reasons and the major justifications for keeping cattle and eating red meat are that they produce high quality protein and healthy fats from land that is not suitable for growing crops.”

 

 

 

o

Broken Britain 18: captured by corporate interests?

.

George Monbiot recently pointed out that the Commons report on the Carillion fiasco is one of the most damning assessments of corporate behaviour parliament has ever published. It trounces the company’s executives and board and laments the weakness of the regulators.

But, as Prem Sikka said in his April article, it scarcely touches the structural causes that make gluttony a perennial feature of corporate life.

Both agree that the problem begins with an issue the report does not once mention: the extreme nature of limited liability. Sikka points out that this system, under which executives are only financially accountable for the value of their investment, has also benefited frauds and led to the self-enrichment of executives at the expense of workers, consumers, creditors, pensioners and citizens.

Monbiot adds that the current model of limited liability allowed the directors and executives of Carillion to rack up a pension deficit of £2.6 billion, leaving the 27,000 members of its schemes to be rescued by the state fund (which is financed by a levy on your pension – if you have one). The owners of the company were permitted to walk away from the £2 billion owed to its suppliers and subcontractors. (Left: the former Carillion chief executive Keith Cochrane in Westminster after appearing before the Commons work and pensions select committee)

Monbiot continues: “There is no way that fossil fuel companies could pay for the climate breakdown they cause. There is no way that car companies could meet the health costs of air pollution. Their business models rely on dumping their costs on other people. Were they not protected by the extreme form of limited liability that prevails today, they would be obliged to switch to clean technologies”.

So what is to be done?

Prem Sikka (right) proposes that the bearers of unlimited risks and liabilities should be given rights to control the day-to-day governance and direction of companies.

He advocates including employees and citizen/consumers on company boards – because both ultimately have to bear the financial, health, social and psychological costs associated with environmental damage, pollution, poor products, industrial accidents, loss of jobs, pensions and savings. Through seats on company boards, they could secure a fairer distribution of income, challenge discrimination, curb asset-stripping and influence investment, training and innovation.

Across the 28 European Union countries (plus Norway), most have a statutory requirement for employee representation on company boards – unlike the UK, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Italy, Latvia, Malta and Romania.

George Monbiot proposes a radical reassessment of limited liability.

He points out that a recent paper by the US law professor Michael Simkovic proposes that companies should pay a fee for this indemnity, calibrated to the level of risk they impose on society. He adds, significantly, that as numerous leaks show, companies tend to be far more aware of the risks they inflict than either governments or the rest of society. Various estimates put the cost that businesses dump on society at somewhere between 4% and 20% of GDP

His own ‘tentative’ and ingenious proposal is that any manager earning more than a certain amount – say £200,000 – would have half their total remuneration placed in an escrow account, which is controlled not by the company but by an external agency. The deferred half of their income would not become payable until the agency judged that the company had met the targets it set on pension provision, workers’ pay, the treatment of suppliers and contractors and wider social and environmental performance. This judgement should draw on mandatory social and environmental reporting, assessed by independent auditors.

If they miss their targets, the executives would lose part or all of the deferred sum. In other words, they would pay for any disasters they impose on others. To ensure it isn’t captured by corporate interests, the agency would be funded by the income it confiscates.

Monbiot then says “I know that, at best, they address only part of the problem” and asks, “Are these the right solutions?

  • support them,
  • oppose them
  • or suggest better ideas.

He ends: “Should corporations in their current form exist at all? Is capitalism compatible with life on earth?”

 

 

 

o

 

Secret State 21: government’s covert military commitments are damaging public trust

o

Mark Shapiro, a reader living in California, draws attention to the work of Emily Knowles, leading the Oxford Research Group’s Remote Warfare Programme.

She reflects that one of the major warnings from the Iraq Inquiry was that public trust in politics had been damaged through misrepresentation of facts by the government.

Yet RWP’s research suggests that there is a rising trend of secretive military commitments in areas where the UK is not considered to be at war.

  • A precedent has been set for the use of armed drones to carry out targeted strikes in regions where parliament has not authorised military engagement.
  • The use of Special Forces to carry out covert operations bypasses the need for parliamentary authorisation or notification.
  • By providing behind-the-scenes support, UK troops can be involved in military combat without the government having to declare engagement in offensive missions.

Relying on such tactics to counter threats allows the government to avoid the usual parliamentary oversight required in the deployment of conventional troops. 

This has resulted in a worrying lack of oversight. Emily (left) adds:

“As modern concepts of warfare continue to evolve, I believe it’s vital that government policy keeps pace and is open to debate.

“That is why my team is working to promote greater transparency around remote warfare and uphold the scrutiny that is so pivotal to a healthy democracy”.

Remote Control’s 2017 report by Emily and Abigail Watson, ‘All quiet on the ISIS front: British secret warfare in an information age’ (Mar 2017), tracks the UK’s secretive but growing military commitments abroad by analysing the rise in the use of drones for targeted killing, the use of Special Forces, and the provision of capabilities such as intelligence and embedded troops to allied forces.

The deniability of these operations brings a flexibility, which can create opportunities when it comes to dealing with fluid and complex security threats.

However, it questions the notion that greater secrecy is always better strategy, in an age when leaks of information are seemingly inevitable, demand for political accountability is high, and trust in politicians and the wider expert community is low.

 

 

o

 

Is Britain sleepwalking into a food crisis?

.

Lawrence Woodward draws attention to Thomas Lines’ article in Open Democracy.

Extracts:

Originally policies were introduced to reduce price volatility and ensure that farmers had secure incomes, enabling citizens to have more reliable supplies of food.

Global concern with food security was reinforced by the big spike in cereal prices in 1972-74. Marketing boards – despite their name – took distribution and pricing essentially out of market hands, with prices negotiated year by year between all sides of the business

On May 8th the government ended its consultation period on a new agricultural policy for England. Revealingly, its policy document – calledHealth and Harmony: The future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit’– has more to say about the environment than either food or farming.

In the eight chapters defining new policies in DEFRA’s paper, more than three times as much space is devoted to environmental issues (including animal health) as the economic ones which affect farmers’ and farmworkers’ own livelihoods.

But now few politicians see agriculture as of much consequence since it accounts for only 0.7 % of UK gross domestic product and 466,000 jobs, or 1.5 % of UK employment in 2016 (of which 302,000 in England). The countryside seems to matter more for its visitor attractions.

However, the state of agricultural prices and farmers’ incomes is worrying

  • From agriculture itself, the average farm lost £700 per year.
  • Even in nominal terms, total income from farming is less than half of what it was in 1995.
  • Farmers’ median age is 59 and one-third are over 65, with only 3 % under 35.

But to survive the end of EU direct payments, DEFRA offers only a pious hope, not a policy: “Removal of Direct Payments may be offset in a number of ways, including farm efficiency improvements and diversification, although this will vary by type and location of farm.”

Average income (£) from agriculture for cereal farmers, 2003-04 to 2016-17

Source: DEFRA, ‘The Future Farming and Environment Evidence Compendium’, p. 26.

However, because of corporate concentration, especially in retailing, the share of those prices received ‘at the farm gate’ is substantially less than it was.

Farmers are price takers, squeezed by powerful businesses on either side of their activity. Not only do they receive less of the traded price for their outputs than in the past, but the real prices of essential inputs for industrial farming, such as fuel, agro-chemicals and fertilisers have gone up sharply. (Table below added by editor)

The wider backlash against neoliberalism has not touched the sanctity of market mechanisms in agriculture, even though the markets that serve it fulfil their purpose of balancing supply and demand through the price system only fitfully.

in Britain, the urgency of the situation is seen in a chronically weak balance of payments, part of which is a deficit in food trade.  In 1984, before the CAP reforms began, the UK had risen to 78 % self-sufficiency in all food and 95 % in ‘indigenous’ foods, based on international prices. Ten years ago this had fallen back to 60 % and 74 % respectively and it has stabilised at around that level. However, when valued at ‘farmgate’ prices – those actually received by farmers – Britain in 2007 produced only half of the food it consumed.

The World Trade Organisation’s rules will not allow any return to measures ensuring food security

Marketing boards – despite their name – took distribution and pricing essentially out of market hands, with prices negotiated year by year between all sides of the business.  They started with the Milk Marketing Board in 1933, when market concentration had enabled dairies to force down the prices they paid to farmers – just as in recent years. The MMB ensured the production, distribution and availability of good-quality milk and dairy products at stable prices for over 60 years. These measures were allied with practical, free technical advice to farmers from a government agency. The economic principles of those interventions were sound, even though they accompanied the shift to industrial farming methods.

How can the higher farm prices and incomes needed for the sake of farmworkers as well as farmers be ensured?

Thomas Lines believes that DEFRA’s current proposals portend a serious crisis in English agriculture, which will be entirely of the country’s own making.  He ends: “If our farmers cannot afford to continue in business, who will feed the rest of us?”

 

 

 

O

 

New Fleet Solid Support ships: cash-strapped MoD should look at the total cost-benefit of building in Britain

.

Jeremy Corbyn is in Glasgow today, where – reversing New Labour policy – he will call for Navy shipbuilding contracts to stay in the UK.

The contract could lead to over 6,500 jobs in the UK, 1,800 of those in shipyards: “Our proposal would both sustain existing shipbuilding and supply chain jobs and create new ones – right here in Scotland and also across the UK.”

The MOD, which is alleged to have ‘lost controls of costs’, hopes for a cheaper option. Its spokesman added: “We are launching a competition for three new Fleet Solid Support ships this year and strongly encourage British yards to take part”.

“Until the new Fleet Solid Support Ships (FSS) arrive, these hardy veterans must stagger on into the mid-2020s” 

STRN points out that the need for these important ships was first stated in 2015 – and it is feared that the first ship will probably not be ready for sea until around 2025.

The three currently supporting ships supply ammunition, food and spares are “antiques built in the late 1970s and saw action in the Falklands War”. Corbyn warns:

“By refusing to help our industry thrive, the Conservatives are continuing their historic trend of hollowing out and closing down British industry. Over the course of the 1980s under the Tories, 75,000 jobs were lost in UK shipyards, leaving just 32,000 remaining.

“Our shipyards used to produce half of all new ships worldwide. Our current market share is now less than half a per cent. The Tories seem hell-bent on accelerating and deepening this industrial decline.”

SNP MSP for Glasgow Anniesland, Bill Kidd, is sceptical, saying: “Workers on the Clyde and people across Scotland haven’t forgotten Labour’s betrayal of the industry in 2014.

 

 

 

o

Broken Britain 17: Government agencies regularly fail to pay farmers for work done

Natural England – sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – is responsible for ensuring that England’s natural environment, including its land, freshwater and marine environments, geology and soils, are protected and improved.

The Farmers Guardian reported that in 2016 Natural England’s payment record was rated even worse than that of the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) as it also failed to deliver the required Countryside Stewardship payments for work already done.

Its performance did not improve in 2016; farmers were kept waiting for their first Countryside Stewardship payment. Though Natural England had pledged to make advance payments to 2016 mid-tier and higher-tier scheme holders between November 2016 and January 2017, with final payments due between January and June 2017, the NFU said exasperated members were calling the union demanding to know why their payments had not arrived. Farmers Weekly understood that ongoing delays in processing payments were because of problems with IT systems and processes at Defra.

A spokeswoman for Natural England declined to comment on the number of 2016 scheme payments already made.

FW added that farmers are yet to receive the first tranche of their 2017 payments for work done. Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee was scathing in its criticism of the RPA’s failure to distribute basic farm subsidies whilst requiring prompt applications from farmers (below left).

The extent of the Rural Payments Agency’s failure to pay farmers in England on time and in full is now clear. The RPA paid only 38% of farmers under the Basic Payment Scheme on 1 December 2015—first day of the payment window—compared with over 90% in previous years.

By the end of January this had risen to 76%, but at the end of March 2016 there were still 14,300 farmers (16%) who had not received any payment.

Government agencies should honour their own injunction: don’t leave it too late.

Over 10,000 farmers who had received a payment had not been paid in full. Two thirds of the additional payments made to these farmers were in excess of €1,000 and were first paid in September 2016, over 9 months after the first payment should have been received.

Farmers Weekly reported in February this year that the RPA boss was ‘blasted’ over farm payment delays and mapping.

At a NFU council meeting on 30th January at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire, farmers took RPA’s chief executive Paul Caldwell to task over BPS payment delays. More than one in 10 farmers are still waiting, according to an NFU survey (see “Survey uncovers extent of delays” right) – although the RPA’s own statistics suggests that figure is nearer to one in five. NFU vice-president Guy Smith said: “When you look at current payment performance and the levels of outstanding issues from previous years you could describe the RPA as ‘just about managing’.

In March 2017, having received what Miles King described as a ‘verbal beating’ (Countryside Stewardship in front of the EFRA committee) Guy Thompson, Chief Operating Officer, left Natural England and now works for Wessex Water.

Natural England announced in the autumn that it would increase first tranche payments, traditionally paid in the autumn, from 50% to 75%, with the remaining 25% following later, reflecting payment reductions or penalties.

Missing payments have reduced cashflow, leading some to take out bank loans

According to farm leaders, many claimants are still waiting for that first payment, with some now being forced to take out bank loans because of their resulting cashflow difficulties. Max Sealy, NFU county delegate for Wiltshire and a consultant with the Farm Consultancy Group, said some farms were waiting for substantial sums of money for work which they had already completed.

“What we need is clarity on the situation and better communication,” he said. But a Natural England spokesperson declined to clarify how many payments were still outstanding and when farmers could expect to see them.

Farmers who have signed up to Countryside Stewardship, or still have an old Higher-Level or Entry-Level Stewardship agreement, have yet to receive the first tranche of their 2017 payments. Farmers Weekly reports that farmers want to know when they can expect to receive their agri-environment scheme payments, with ongoing delays leading to budgeting problems and growing resentment about the way the schemes are being managed.

The Farmers Guardian then reported that Defra is to transfer delivery of the Countryside (agri-environment) Stewardship scheme from Natural England to the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) – more confusion?

NFU Deputy President Guy Smith (right) said:

“The Countryside Stewardship scheme has been plagued by poor delivery from its launch in 2015 and the NFU has been raising these concerns from day one. It seems almost every day we have complaints from members about the muddled application process, wrong maps, moving goalposts, late start dates and delayed payments. All this has undermined farmer confidence in the schemes leading to very poor uptake. Plans to improve delivery have to be welcomed but until we see improved delivery we will withhold judgement.

“I know many farmers will not be reassured that delivery is moving from NE to the RPA, which is notorious among farmers as the organisation which comprehensively screwed up the payment of the as then new Basic Payment Scheme back in 2014. A highly complex new IT system was commissioned to enable farm payments to be moved online. 7 years later the system is still not working properly.

Conservationist Miles King went further, calling for the abolition of the Rural Payments Agency before the introduction of the government’s England Agriculture Policy which is expected to be published this spring: “We need a publicly-funded independent champion for nature (as Natural England was intended to be when it was set up) and a new body which will deliver the public goods for public money”.

 

 

 

 

o

 

Secret State 20: Britain at war with more than 1600 airstrikes in Syria and Iraq

.

Denials wear thin: Britain is at war with more than 1600 airstrikes in Syria and IraqDeborah Haynes, Defence Editor of the Times reports the killing of a civilian by RAF drone in Syria.

The air strike was by a Reaper drone, remotely operated by pilots in the UK or an airbase in the United States.

Gavin Williamson, the defence secretary, has admitted that on March 26th, a British airstrike killed a motorcyclist who rode into its path in Syria by chance. It is the first confirmation of a civilian casualty by UK forces in the fight against Islamic State.

The unintentional death, described by Williamson as “deeply regrettable”, was confirmed during post-strike analyses of drone footage and other imagery.

The official position of the Ministry of Defence until yesterday’s announcement had been that it had seen no evidence of UK airstrikes causing civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria.

A source within the US-led coalition against Isis, however, told the BBC that he had seen evidence that British airstrikes had caused civilian casualties “on several occasions”. “To suggest they have not, as has been done, is nonsense,” the source added.

The coalition has begun an investigation and will issue a report. The airstrike was by a Reaper drone, remotely operated by pilots in the UK or at an airbase in the United States.

The defence secretary admits that RAF jets and drones have conducted more than 1,600 airstrikes in Syria and Iraq and Airwars, a group that has been monitoring civilian casualties, claimed it was likely that between 1,066 and 1,579 civilians had died in the fighting in Mosul. The US and Australia have accepted responsibility for civilian casualties. The coalition has admitted causing just over 350 civilian deaths in Mosul.

The deaths, in particular those of women and children, have helped to turn local populations against coalition forces and fuel insurgencies.

A Wimbledon reader sends news that Amnesty International has cited another civilian death: 68-year-old Mamana Bibi was picking vegetables in the family’s fields with her

grandchildren in Waziristan, northwest Pakistan. ’Out of nowhere’, she was hit during a double drone strike led by the US. Mamana is one of hundreds of civilians accidentally killed by US drone strikes. Strikes that the UK has been playing a crucial part in.

Despite the lack of coverage in many newspapers and on TV bulletins, a petition has been set up, calling for the UK government to launch a full public inquiry into its role in the US’s expanding drones programme:

To join this call for a full public inquiry into Britain’s role in the US’s expanding drones programme, go to https://www.amnesty.org.uk/actions/uk-stop-helping-deadly-and-secret-us-drone-strikes

 

 

 

o