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
A medic alerted PCU to the Times report that DEFRA is earning £10m by selling, for human consumption, cattle slaughtered after testing positive for bovine tuberculosis (bTB). Will MP Owen Paterson (Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – opposite) and the Food Standards Agency be called into No 10 again about this?
The FSA approves this practice and products containing the meat are not labelled as such. At present, relatively few people, including DEFRA and FSA personnel, know where it is going – and one suspects their families are not eating these products.
During the government’s sorry handling of BSE , John Gummer at least had the courage of his convictions, however mistaken. Will DEFRA and FSA personnel demonstrate their faith in this meat by consuming it regularly for a year?
The Farmers Weekly explains: “Where an inspection of a carcass reveals TB lesions in more than one organ or region it is declared unfit for human consumption and destroyed, but if the lymph nodes in one organ or part of the carcass are infected, that area is removed and the rest is considered safe to enter the food chain”.
Another government body, the Food Standards Agency, carries out the inspection process.
The raw meat, from around 28,000 diseased animals a year, is banned by most supermarkets and burger chains, but it is sold to some caterers and food processors who supply schools, hospitals and the military, or put the meat into pies and pasties.
DEFRA says the risk of infection is “extremely low” and sells the meat without anything to warn processors or consumers that it comes from bTB-infected cattle
The Food Standards Agency confirms there are no known cases of humans contracting TB from eating meat.
The medic wrote to a local firm, Ginsters:
”I heard on the Today programme today that DEFRA are selling carcases for human consumption that have previously tested positive for TB. As a doctor, and the grandfather of three girls who eat Ginster’s products, I would like to be assured that your firm does not use such meat”.
The reply from its head of marketing:
“Ginsters takes pride in the fact that we only purchase quality cuts of beef that we prepare ourselves in our on-site bakery. We are committed to sourcing ingredients as locally as possible and building long term partnerships with a small number of British farmers and suppliers who share our quality focus. Since this issue came to the fore, we have contacted all our beef suppliers to stress that at Ginsters we will not accept any meat from the carcasses of TB reactor cattle”.
Readers will come to their own conclusions – is The Times “scaremongering” as DEFRA claimed in The Grocer?
Alastair Driver of the Farmers Guardian reported earlier this month that the Dairy Coalition – NFU, NFU Cymru, NFU Scotland, the Tenant Farmers Association, the Women’s Food and Farming Union and the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers – has asked Farming Minister David Heath to ‘call in’ the 15% of milk buyers failing to implement the voluntary code on milk contracts
NFU chief dairy adviser Robert Newbery said that the greatest resistance was coming from some of ‘big middle ground liquid processors’ who ‘don’t want to know’.
Dairy UK director general Jim Begg said that the approach of the dairy companies had been ‘both responsible and constructive’.
Three days ago Mr Driver showed figures collated by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) indicating that more than 30 farmers quit the industry in April alone in England and Wales. The number of dairy farmers in England and Wales have fallen by more than 40% from more than 18,000 in 2002.
The Kingshay Dairy Manager costings show total purchased feed costs increased by 1.27 pence a litre over the past year, but milk price only went up 0.54ppl.
DairyCo’s recent Farmer Intentions Survey showed that the current average farmgate milk price of around 30-31ppl is lagging behind the AMPE (Actual Milk Price Equivalent) market indicator, currently in excess of 38ppl.
NFU dairy board chairman Mansel Raymond said that if the leaving rate carries on for three months it will be serious: “The milk price has to go higher. The industry now needs that positive signal to move forward to increase production and invest.”
The Independent reports that an announcement on a timetable for plans for a farm in Foston, Derbyshire, stocking 25,000 pigs, is expected later this week. A decision on whether a 1000-cow mega-dairy near Welshpool can go ahead is also expected shortly.
Joyce Watson, Member of the Welsh Assembly for Mid and West Wales, said: “With the full extent of the horsemeat scandal still coming to light, consumers want food they can trace and trust. Industrial-scale farms would be a big step in the wrong direction – bad for cows, bad for farmers, bad for consumers and bad for the environment.”
Government and corporates: time to introduce country-of-origin food labelling to avoid another health scare
A Lancashire farmer has drawn our attention to the call by Farmers for Action (FFA) for major UK retailers to introduce ‘honest’ country of origin labelling as they seek to regain consumer trust in the wake of the horse meat scandal. She asks that this information be added to butter labels as well. Australia does it – see the logo.
In view of the recent horse meat scandal, FFA Chairman David Handley is calling on all CEOs of the retail industry to clearly show country of origin on all purchased cheese.
On Radio West Midlands this Thursday, Food Standards Agency head, Jeff Rooker, personally supported honest labelling, but told interviewer Adrian Goldberg that this issue had been taken out of their hands and was now a matter for DEFRA.
imported cheese cell count levels should meet the standards asked of British farmers
Alistair Driver in the Farmers Guardian adds:
“Mr Handley claimed ‘double standards’ were at play as imported cheese often does not meet the standards asked of British farmers, for example, when it comes to requirements on cell count levels which measure milk quality and bacteria levels . . .
“A Morrisons spokesperson said: “All Morrisons-branded block cheeses are made using milk sourced from British farmers and carry the Red Tractor logo to help customers buy British.”
“The cheese market at the moment is in complete disarray. Cheese is being sucked in from all over the world and the consumer has no knowledge of its origin, or its production methods and for that reason it is imperative that country of origin is clearly shown on all these products.
“A large amount of cheese that is coming into the UK currently being sold under supermarket own brand is not matching the standards required by British dairy farmers but yet is being used as a tool to drive down British milk prices.
“This has to change and if retailers mean what they say, following the latest food scandal, they should address this with utmost urgency.”
The Agricultural Biotechnology Council – a pro-GM body with many members who represent biotech companies – led the criticism
Not beyond reproach, The Guardian reported in 2010 that emails between the Agricultural Biotechnology Council and the Food Standards Agency (Lax oversight and failure to act) showed that the ABC inserted key sentences strengthening the case for GM food that ended up in the final report.
ABC chairman Dr Julian Little – previous experience in Rhone-Poulenc, Aventis and Bayer CropScience says:
“The plant biotechnology industry takes all health concerns regarding biotech food and feed very seriously and is committed to the highest standards of testing and safety for its products”, adding:
“An estimated two trillion meals containing GM ingredients have been eaten around the world over the last 13 years without a single substantiated case of ill-health.”
USA – which grows and eats GM food – at least keeps statistics. Is its record for congestive heart failure, cancers and diabetes a totally unrelated coincidence?
Its government website notes rises in cancer of the kidney and renal pelvis, thyroid, pancreas, liver, intrahepatic bile duct, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, childhood cancer, leukemia, testis, myeloma, and esophageal cancer.
Another government site records: an estimated 23.6 million people in the United States—7.8 percent of the population—have diabetes, a serious, lifelong condition.
The European Food Safety Agency compromised by links with GM industry (see report) said it was aware of the new study:
“We will consider the paper’s relevance, taking into account the available scientific evidence including recent studies assessing, over a sustained period of time, the potential toxicity of foods derived from GM crops,” the body said.
“It is time for the EU to act to protect public health,” said Mute Schimpf, food campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe. “On the basis of this research, national governments and the European Commission should immediately suspend all similar GM foods and halt all further GMO approvals.”