November 7 2004
I wrote this to the
Cumberland & Westmorland Heralda month ago. They didn’t print it of course, it’s far too long.
But, the Agricultural editor came to see me in person and put it in as a feature, omitting a bit of my input but including a few other relevant quotes plus this week’s press release from the NFU using almost unprecedented strong terms. I’ll send them on tomorrow; otherwise I’d risk clogging up your system.
The Effect of Government Policies on the Communities and Economy of Rural Britain.
· Historical Introduction. Those who fail to learn from the lessons of history will be condemned to repeat……..
· Department of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs. Ministers ill-advised leading to Ridiculous Euro-dictated Policies
· The Common Fisheries Policy. Catastrophe caused by politics.
· The “National Scrapie Plan”. Questionable science.
· The double ear tagging of sheep with individual numbers. Ill conceived, expensive and unworkable in practice.
· The on-farm burial of fallen stock. Logically one should also ban the burial of humans.
· NVZ’s. Faulty science, since disproved.
· Abattoir closures and distances travelled by livestock. Unnecessary gold-plating of E.U. regulations
· The Common Agricultural Policy. Not a common subsidy policy.
· “Home-grown” policies equally ill advised. Government reactions to external stimuli for short term political gain.
· The “Environment”. A word frequently over-used with emotional “spin”. Treating the symptoms not the disease. Too many administrators and “one size fits all” rules.
· Regionalisation. Our Deputy Prime Minister claims that this is his brainchild. European “Utopia” by the back door.
· The Countryside and Rights of Way Act. Infringement of Rural Rights of Property.
· The proposed ban on hunting with dogs in England and Wales. Deliberately “class-divisive”. Ignores the “Burns Report”.
· The Six-day movement orders. (Now permanent.)
· Business Rates. It is not widely known, that business rates are a direct tax by central Government. That continually rising rates are NOT the fault of Local Government.
· Transport. 50 years ago we were closer to an integrated transport system than we are today.
Richard Mawdsley. m.r.a.c.
Two hundred years ago the country was at war. The Corn Laws were in force, which encouraged the production of corn but kept grain prices high. Commons were enclosed, by private Acts of Parliament invoked by majorities of interest not majorities of graziers; it was very profitable for those who could afford the investment. For the smallholders who could not afford to fence and drain their “allotments” the only course was to sell out to one who could, thereby putting themselves at the mercy of their employers. Wages fell dramatically causing great hardship, deprivation and even starvation in the countryside. It didn’t matter. Let them go to the growing industrial towns and find employment.
1846. After pressure from the industrial lobby the Corn Laws were repealed. High grain prices meant high bread prices, which in turn had led to high wages in the mills and factories. Cheap grain could now be imported from the Americas. Prices and wages fell. The whole of the Arable Sector of British Agriculture went into serious decline leading to great hardship, deprivation and even starvation in the countryside. It didn’t matter. Let them go to the growing industrial towns and find employment.
In the late 1870’s it was found that meat could be brought across the Atlantic “on ice”, followed a few years later by fully fledged refrigeration. This time the livestock sector followed the arable into sharp decline with the predictable results.
National Policy was “Cheap Food for the Masses”, meaning, of course, “Let’s Keep Industrial Wages Low.” This situation continued until 1914 when we went to war. Then, horror upon horror, our merchant ships, carrying the food we were no longer producing for ourselves, were being sunk. How dare they! It took four years to bring Agriculture back into production. Four years in which the country was nearly starved into submission.
1920, war over, the plug was pulled once more. Agriculture was deliberately pushed into the background in the interests of “Cheap (imported) Food to Feed the (industrial) Masses.
1939 – 1945, with Agriculture barely ticking over, we went to war again. Once more we were very nearly starved into submission. Go to any of our major seaports, look at the memorials and wonder at the numbers of merchant seamen who lost their lives in two wars bringing to our shores, not weapons of war, but the food that we had decided was not worth our while producing.
1946, Clement Attlee’s (Labour) Government brought in a subsidy system to encourage the domestic production of affordable food, yet at a price that enabled the farmer to make a living. Farmers were encouraged, by word, by financial inducement and by the excellent example of the Ministry’s own experimental farms, not only to produce more and more, but to improve quality. They became very good at it. It served us well for the best part of forty years.
1975; A National Referendum was held. We thought we were voting to join a European Common Market.
Yet again, all that has been forgotten. Farmers are now accused of greed, of “farming for subsidies”, of producing unwanted food, of destroying our fragile environment. (Forget Agriculture’s contribution to maintaining our Trade Deficit within reasonable bounds.) Recent, successive Governments have fallen under the spell of the myth, the chimera, of “Cheap Food”. There is no such thing. “Cheap Food” is the product of exploitation, of either the workers, the livestock or the environment. Cheap “imported” food initially destroys the Rural Economy. Ultimately the National Economy follows in its wake.
Department of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs. Notice, there is no mention of agriculture or fisheries. This is the very crux of the matter. A British government may no longer have an agricultural or fisheries policy; they are both dictated from Brussels, in the case of fisheries with catastrophic results. It is also becoming clear that environmental policy is increasingly being dictated to us by the European Commission, highlighted by frequent declarations from English Nature that we are “working to a European Habitats Directive.”
“Policy” therefore can be divided into two sections, that which emanates from Brussels of which the British government is merely the “executive” and that which is “home-grown”. The resulting problems are compounded by culpable ignorance backed by arrogance. There is ample evidence to suggest that government ministers are being ill advised or misinformed by the senior civil servants in their departments who have little or no knowledge of agriculture and it’s inter relationship with the economy and the environment, yet who, in their arrogance, ascribe urban standards to rural affairs.
Perhaps this explains why we have such ridiculous Euro-dictated policies as:
· The Common Fisheries Policy. The immediate victims of this policy are the coastal communities on the watery margins of rural Britain, many of the people looking both ways, farming both land and sea. By this masterstroke we lost control of our coastal waters and the fish stocks therein. Quotas were imposed, any fish caught over quota must be returned to the sea even if they are dead. British fisherman were paid to scrap their fishing boats while the same funds are paying the Spaniards to build super-trawlers which can, of course, fish in our waters. The COD are being fished into extinction. The Danes are allowed to continue “industrial fishing”, a principal catch being sand eels, to be turned into fishmeal. And what is one of the staple foods of the COD? (And don’t forget the Puffin, also in serious decline.) Why, Sand Eels of course! So, with the COD being fished into extinction on the one hand and starved into extinction on the other, there is really very little hope for them. Meanwhile, many British fishermen are out of work and their skills are being lost to the nation.
§ The “National Scrapie Plan”. There is still no incontrovertible proof to link scrapie, B.S.E. and new variant C.J.D., despite the best efforts of certain scientists. There are, however, a lot of hypothetical “what ifs” and “maybes”. Scrapie itself has been recorded for at least 250 years. The meat and brains of those sheep have been eaten over the same period with no ill effects. But now it is decreed that only sheep of two certain gene types may enter the food chain or be used for breeding. The remainder, no matter how good or how healthy, must be incinerated at the taxpayers’ expense. No one can say what perfectly good and useful genes will go up in smoke at the same time. Practical experience from the Netherlands should give us a good idea. Totally unsuitable rams are now being used, simply because they are of the right scrapie resistant gene type but which, for their other attributes, should have been castrated at birth. At a stroke, a hundred years, or more, of careful selective breeding is being thrown away.
· The double ear tagging of sheep with individual numbers. This does not improve in any way the traceability of sheep, but it is expensive, unworkable in practice and time wasting. All that is required is traceability to farm of origin, i.e. the registered flock number, or even the holding number; either is unique. Naturally, the high cost of the tags, the even higher cost of replacement tags, together with the labour costs of the installation, replacement and documentation, falls on the shoulders of the farmer. In many cases estimated to be equal to, or greater than the profit he could derive from those same sheep.
· The on-farm burial of fallen stock. A policy imposed by the E.U. and implemented by our Government before putting in place an alternative method of disposal. One proposal is a “national carcass collection scheme”; part funded by the farmers, on a sliding scale based on acreage, the remainder by the taxpayer. No indication has been given as to how long carcasses will lie around, rotting, before collection. Nor, does much attention appear to have been paid to the bio-security risks involved; wagons driving around the countryside, from farm to farm, collecting potentially diseased bodies to carry an undisclosed distance to an incineration plant. The very risk that the “The Six-day movement order” was intended to counter. Whatever the final solution to the problem, the cost will fall heavily on both the taxpayer and the farmer. There are more communicable diseases buried in churchyards every year, with the ensuing leaching into the groundwater, than in any corner of a farmer’s field.
· NVZ’s. Based on flawed 1990 science, since disproved. Indeed, some of the later research work was part funded by our own government. Fact, Nitrates in our drinking water present no hazard to health, even up to a level where the water tastes foul. Removal of nitrates, on the other hand, can cause serious health problems. Once again, the costs of implementing the regulations fall on the farmer.
· Abattoir closures and distances travelled by livestock. Shortly after coming to power in 1997, this government suggested that livestock should be taken to the nearest practicable auction mart and thence to the nearest practicable slaughterhouse. An idea with which no one could find fault. But, as a result of slavish implementation of E.U. rules, abattoirs were closed down at an increasing rate, at the cost of many jobs. Now, livestock make longer journeys than ever before between points of sale and slaughter. This not only adds to costs but is also a potential welfare problem.
§ The Common Agricultural Policy. Unfortunately, this is not a common subsidy policy. Over the last seven years, it is only in Great Britain that agricultural incomes have fallen. That should tell us something. In every other E.U. country incomes have risen, by as much as fifteen percent. This is because the British Government does not make the “discretionary payments” that are a feature of every other national government policy. This is money of which the rural economy is being starved.
These policies do nothing to increase the health, or wealth, of the nation. Except, of course, for the ever growing army of bureaucrats spawned to implement, enforce and administer the rules. But they do cost us dearly, in tax, in time, in loss of income, frustration and ill health and, as a result, in the destruction of communities.
But, what about the “home-grown” policies? Here we have a problem. There are no logical, clear-cut, well defined, long term policies. This makes forward planning almost impossible. What we do have are Government reactions to external stimuli for short term political gain. The first two examples, Environment and Regionalisation, strictly speaking belong in the previous section. I’ve placed them here because our Government likes to perpetuate the fiction that it still maintains some sort of control over our destinies.
· The “Environment”. A word frequently over-used with emotional “spin”. As you read this, look around, what do you see? Whether it be rolling acres, or a vista of concrete tower blocks, whatever is surrounding you is your environment. Tend it well.
· The hills and valleys, lakes and rivers, cliffs and crags were created by a force beyond the comprehension of most of us, and certainly beyond our control. The fields with their walls and hedges, the woods, the roads and railways, the attractive villages and the far less attractive industrial urban sprawls were all created by man for man. Why get emotional about the removal of a hedge that was only planted 200 years ago as legal boundary when the commons were enclosed. A mosaic of small fields may look very pretty, but a 6 acre field has a certain logic, it took one man with a pair of horses six days to plough it. Today, with modern machinery, it is un-economic. As I pointed out in the introduction, successive governments have encouraged farmers to be more efficient. You can’t have it both ways.
The vast majority of the population lives in the towns and cities. Most of them have become divorced from the realities of food production. It is frightening, rather than amusing, to discover how many people do not realize that milk comes from cows, every day, is 95.5% fat free and can be turned into butter and cheese; that bacon and pork used to be a pig, that wool comes from sheep, every year, and makes anything from carpets to cardigans; and that potatoes grow underground. Their representatives in Parliament and the civil servants who advise our ministers, in the main, come from similar backgrounds.
Lord Haskins, to his credit, has identified a problem, has noticed the complicated web that joins all the different agencies and departments that deal with Agriculture and the Environment. What is more, he is doing something about it. I understand that his report is due in September 2003. At the top is DEFRA with all its various departments, at its head a Minister of State and under him, or her, four junior ministers, one of whom is in the House of Lords. Then we have the quangos, sorry, Government doesn’t use that word. They are Non-Departmental Public Bodies; The Countryside Agency, the Environment Agency, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, English Nature, the Countryside Council for Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage, a similar group for Northern Ireland, the Food Standards Agency and how many more. I cannot establish who is responsible to whom. I can discover neither the full scope of their remit, nor to what extent there is overlapping and duplication of effort. Equally, it is difficult to establish to what degree these agencies are advisory, administrative, executive, or even all three at the same time, nor the extent of their powers. The whole system is so complicated and convoluted that it would be difficult in the extreme to apportion blame to any individual. I imagine it would be equally difficult to untangle the finances. I wish His Lordship every success and the best of luck.
Environmental schemes. Throughout history, during periods of agricultural prosperity, landowners and farmers planted trees and hedges, built walls, and modernized farm buildings and cottages. Just as in the towns and cities in times of commercial prosperity, great mansions, churches and other public buildings were erected at the expense of individuals or merchant guilds. Why? Because, to do so was the right and proper thing. During times of recession it was a case of tighten the belt, make do and mend. Now we are enduring a period of agricultural and industrial recession. People have more leisure time and more money to help them enjoy it. It is becoming readily apparent that all is not well in the countryside. So, Government has come up with various “environmental schemes” to try and improve matters. Unfortunately, it is a case of treating the symptoms and not the disease. But, one must suppose that it is as close as we are likely to get to an admission by Government that something is wrong, that some other policy has failed. The Rural Development Service of DEFRA and English Nature are the chosen agents to operate the schemes. Because large amounts of public money are being spent a disproportionately large number of administrators are involved. Over a period of ten years many of these “schemes” have been shown to provide little or no environmental benefit. This is because the
administrative bureaucracy cannot/will not operate except to the rule of “one size fits all” the length and breadth of the country. Nature doesn’t work like that. The “schemes” that have worked and are working are those which are, quite clearly, tailor made to fit the site.
To give an example; it has been decided, by E. N., that if a piece of moorland contains more than 25 % of heather, which by their definition includes dwarf woody shrubs such as bilberry, then the whole moor is classed as a heather moor with a maximum stocking rate of 1.5 ewes per hectare; whether it be on Bodmin Moor or the Scottish Borders, at sea level or at 3,000ft. Furthermore, the heather is deemed to be in a favourable condition when 33 % of it is seen to be in the late mature to degenerative stage. This benefits no species except the predators, which naturally increase and multiply wiping out the smaller birds and mammals. It also means that 33% of the moor is a severe fire risk. All this is based on some rather dodgy “science”.
One may not challenge any decision made by English Nature. One may only challenge the procedures used to reach that decision. If those procedures require consultation, then so long as they can show that consultation took place they are in the clear. There appears to be no obligation to disclose the nature of the advice given, nor the reasons why it might have been ignored.
Many of us have begun to wonder whether English Nature is motivated by matters relating to conservation, or whether they are simply carrying out the dictates of their political masters. According to some Government departments, well reported by the media, there are still 3,000,000 too many sheep in England, despite FMD. (In a country that is not self-sufficient in sheep meat that takes some believing.) So, get rid of sheep, especially from the hills; It doesn’t matter what sort of socio-economic disaster you create.
What is perfectly clear, however, is that all this tangle of bureaucracy costs a very great deal of money. (c.f. the NHS.) Money, moreover, that is not reaching its intended destination; the communities and the economy of the countryside.
GM Technology. Government set up an “independent” panel to look into GM crops. Luckily the media published a list of the members of the panel and their affiliations. Not very independent was it?
Why? Because the Americans embraced GM technology, wholeheartedly, in the interests of big business. Now they find that they are losing their export markets, because many people in the rest of the world simply don’t want to accept the product. So they are leaning on Governments, ours included, to persuade us to accept that which we do not want.
But, what about the legal implications? If I have the only Hereford bull in the Parish and he escapes and inseminates all the neighbour’s heifers they are quite rightly aggrieved. Nine months later, when the district is alive with little white faced calves, there can be no doubt who the culprit is. I am legally liable. The neighbours can claim compensation.
However, if pollen from my GM crop contaminates someone’s crop, may be five, ten, or twenty miles away, (Maize in Mexico has been contaminated by U.S. pollen from sixty miles away.) how can he prove where it came from? If, as may well be, his crop is unsaleable as a result, how and from whom does he claim redress.
Every Organic Farm in Saskatchewan has lost its organic status in this way. One farmer
tried to sue the bio-tech company and lost his case. They, on the other hand, counter -
-claimed and won. On the grounds that he had been growing a GM crop without a licence from them; comes under the heading of “Trade Related Intellectual Property”. Is that what we want to happen here?
They have opened Pandora’s Box and expect the rest of us to share, without question, the contents.
· Regionalisation. Our Deputy Prime Minister claims that this is his brainchild, an oxymoron. The concept pre-dates the E.U. In fact, town twinning was one of the first attempts to produce "Citizen Europe" in the 1930`s. Because of the obvious worries in all parts of Europe about any unification, it was regarded as a subject to be dealt with by stealth. It started by linking French & German towns and went on (with a short break 1939-45) until 1951 when they were sufficiently organised to found The Council of European Municipalities (CEM) The concept of twinning was -de facto- hi-jacked to be used as the basis for smoothing the path towards the final goal of a Europe of Regions.
Ted Heath, having got himself embroiled in a spot of bother over the terms for British entry into the EEC, tried to use the Regions as a vehicle for getting himself out of trouble. Part of the negotiations towards EEC membership was our concern for the Commonwealth and its trading position vis-à-vis Europe, In June 1970 agreement was reached on NZ dairy products and EEC finance. Britain was going to pay 8.64% in the first year rising to 18.92% after the transition period with a further two years during which the size of the contribution was to be "limited". This placed us at a huge disadvantage because our receipts via the CAP would be limited by the fact that we imported so much of our food. Edward Heath negotiated a “Regions” policy through which compensating funds would be made available to the British regions.
Having hoped that Britain would be a large net recipient of these funds balancing its expenditure on the CAP, Heath’s plans were shelved due to an" unforeseen economic slump and the further retreat from integration"
Heath felt that because other countries were developing their regional structures, we should do the same but this looked like blowing the gaff on the much larger amount of integration with Europe which HE knew about, but WE didn’t.
The boundaries are artificial. They bear no relationship whatsoever to the seven historical English regions, but have more to do with population densities. “Regionalisation” and “Regional Assemblies” are claimed “to bring democracy closer to the people”. What nonsense! With one elected representative to 200,000 – 250,000 people democracy is taken further from the people. These artificial regions will be subdivided into large new unitary authorities, based of course on population densities. Any funds disbursed from Brussels will be swallowed by the urban areas. The voice of rural Britain will never be heard, its culture will be smothered.
For the last four years we have had un-elected Regional Assemblies preparing the infrastructure. Each County and District Council has been sending one or more delegates and about £14,000.of rate-payers money to support the scheme. Unfortunately, they never got around to telling us, the ratepayers. Some councils even forgot to tell their own councillors. Here, I regret to say, I’m not joking. I have spoken to some of the councillors
left in ignorance. In fact, one of them did not even realize that he was the chosen delegate.
Each year your Assembly holds a conference that members of the public can attend if they
wish to apply. As there are a very limited numbers of places, the events are not widely advertised and the price of tickets is set at a level that only those with expense accounts can afford to attend, naturally only the “select” turn up. As you read this, think for a moment or two, do you know where your Regional Assembly office is located? Do you know who your local council sends as a delegate and how much of your money goes with him? You ought to. It is no secret! Do you know that your Regional Office maintains an office in Brussels as well, and why? You should, after all it’s no secret.
So what is the purpose of all this? Well, eventually the dream is that we will have “a Europe of the Regions”. National boundaries will be a thing of the past; one army, one currency, one law. National governments will have little or no power or purpose. The people, not the politicians, should be clamouring to join such a federation. We will all live together happily ever after.* Some “Utopia”! Ruled, not governed, by the unelected, unaccountable commissioners and stifling bureaucracy of an organization whose accounts have not been approved by their auditors for eight years?
* Genesis; XI, 1-9.
· The Countryside and Rights of Way Act. Otherwise known as C. R. O. W. Instigated by the lobbying of a wealthy and vociferous minority and approved as a sop to the left wing. One may not designate one’s right of ways over somebody else’s property to a third party. So how can a Government designate rights that they do not have, over property they do not
own, to an unknown a third party? It is an infringement of Rights of Property, a potential cause of damage to the environment by unrestricted trampling and yet another burden on the Rural Communities who will bear the costs of repair and maintenance.
Please do not misunderstand me. We want the public to come into the countryside. They are our customers. They eat the food we produce, they drink the beer derived from our barley, and with luck, they wear our wool and lie between sheets of our linen. We want them to see what we do, but above all, we want them to understand what we do. But, not on the terms envisaged.
§ The proposed ban on hunting with dogs in England and Wales. After receiving a substantial donation to “party funds” seven years ago, from a vociferous and wealthy animal welfare lobby group, the motivation in this case is financial as well as political. It is bad law, based on emotion and short term gain. It will hardly be enforceable. It is deliberately class divisive. It will not improve the welfare of any fox, the recommendations of the Burns Report having been ignored. And, it will certainly do nothing to improve our standing amongst the international community. But, needless to say, it is only intended to affect the Rural Communities, their Economy and Culture.
§ The Six-day movement orders. (Now permanent.) I asked a Ministry vet why we needed them. He replied,
“To prevent the spread of diseases.”
“What diseases,” I asked.
“F. M.D. and classical swine fever,” he replied.
“Are these diseases endemic in the country?”
“Then, these diseases must be imported?”
“Yes.” He said.
“So the British Farmer has to bear the inconvenience and expense of preventing
the spread of diseases that are allowed into the country because our Government
has no coherent policy on imports or on controls at Ports of Entry”?
Naturally, he could give no satisfactory answer to my last question.
Some examples of how it works in practice:
I own some outlying land a mile and a half down the valley. To walk stock to, or from, that land I have to travel 200yds. through a neighbour’s field. Even if that field is empty it puts both of us under a “Six-day standstill”, despite the fact that for the next mile I am walking my stock through his and other people’s sheep, on the open common. But, that is perfectly legal.
If I take some lambs to the market and don’t like the price I can bring them back home. That puts me on a “Six-day standstill”. Sounds reasonable, after all they have been in contact with other livestock, they may have picked up some disease. However, my next door neighbour could have bought those lambs, fetched them home, and put them in a field next to mine where they would be able to breathe through the fence onto their mothers, or even touch them. That too is perfectly legal, even if it doesn’t make much sense.
In the autumn, if a man buys a ram and takes it home he cannot sell any other livestock for six days. However, there is provision made for a quarantine area on a farm to allow for such situations, if you have the space or suitable buildings. But, the person who tends to the animals in quarantine, although he is a direct contact, can still go to a market to sell livestock from the same farm. That doesn’t make much sense either.
These regulations are likely to cause severe disruption to the normal trading pattern of farmers, especially in the uplands. Autumn is the time when large numbers of surplus lambs, calves, rams and older breeding stock are sold and replacements bought in. Not every farm has the facility to set up an “approved” quarantine accommodation.
The Government is currently considering proposals to raise a levy on the Farmers to cover the costs of the next outbreak of FMD! I spoke to a number of insurance companies; they won’t touch it with a very long barge-pole. Their current estimate, due to Government policies on trade and bio-security, is an outbreak every five to seven years. That does not give them time to build up a fund from which to pay, even with severely enhanced premiums.
· Business Rates. It is not widely known, but nonetheless true, that business rates are a direct tax by central Government. The valuation and rate is assessed, by central Government at national level, at so much per pound of the estimated annual rental value of the property. It is then invoiced and collected by the District Council which is allowed to keep a small percentage to cover their administration costs. The balance is remitted to the Treasury which redistributes on the basis of “need”. Therefore, your district could receive either more or less than the amount originally collected and sent to the treasury. This is fine in theory. But, one can only guess at how much sticks to the furred-up sides of the official channels.
So, if the money is returned to the Districts why do the rates keep going up? The answer is simple. Our government has committed itself to a policy of “not raising taxes”. By that they only mean “income tax”. So, by imposing extra burdens on the districts, or raising the standards of tasks that they already perform, extra cost is involved; so, up go the rates. However, the taxpayer doesn’t have to pay, so that’s all right. It’s the rate payer who has
to shell out and Local Government gets the blame.
The businesses concerned receive no benefit from this charge. The District Councils charge them for refuse collection and there are no concessions for car parking. There is a
perception that if your business is large enough you may be able to negotiate a more favourable rate; that small, locally owned businesses do not have this privilege; that small business is effectively discouraged. This helps to explain why, when you walk down the street of an average provincial town, so many of the names on the shop fronts are of those firms with a nationwide coverage. The result of all this? When the majority of shops along the “High Street” are “national names” that town loses its individuality. With the town’s character diminished so too is the local culture. The “national names” pay wages, the profits return to head office. That is money taken out of the local economy…. But, perhaps that is the whole plan, to reduce us all to a dull, grey, manageable mediocrity.
If, however, you care to relocate your retail business to an out of town site, the situation changes. You are then valued as a “retail warehouse” at a considerably reduced rate, your car park may even be thrown in free. What a temptation to a supermarket/ superstore. What a temptation to develop on “green field” sites, especially as there is no VAT on the purchase price as there is on a “brown field” location. Nor is there the extra cost of clearing and cleaning. The “downside”, and there always is one, is that the land will never again be used for feeding the people, nor can it be enjoyed as a piece of open countryside. In the long run, is it worth the price?
· Transport. 50 years ago we were closer to an integrated transport system than we are today. Many bulk cargoes were carried on the canals; slowly, yes, but with minimal environmental impact; a network which we still have, though virtually unused. If I might give an example; in the mid fifties two men with two canal barges, one of which had a small diesel engine, each carried 60 tons of coal from Wigan, in the South Lancashire coalfield, to the power station in Liverpool. It took most of the day. The same volume of coal would have involved two wagons in four trips each, along the crowded main road and through the City to reach the same destination. Total journey time, most of the day. But, to that must be added the capital cost of the two wagons, the extra fuel, the wear and tear on the roads and the atmospheric pollution; a heavy environmental cost.
The railways still ferried a large amount of freight between local distribution depots to or from which it was either delivered or distributed by short haul Road Transport to its ultimate destination. They pioneered the use of containers. The steady decline in the efficiency of rail freight was exacerbated by Dr.Beeching’s closure of many branch-lines, for what were perhaps, with the benefit of hindsight, short term economic gains. If one has to travel perhaps thirty miles, instead of three, to the nearest railway freight yard, trans-ship to the train and repeat the process 100 miles or so down the line, it makes sense to save time and leave the goods on the wagon for the whole journey, door to door. Thus an even greater weight of goods was forced onto an already overloaded road system beginning the great “motorway building era”.
Today, 50 years on and nothing has changed. The railways, still suffering from lack of investment in the infrastructure, are unable to cope with a potentially growing demand. More traffic is forced onto the roads. Every new road, every road widening scheme, irreversibly engulfs more of our irreplaceable countryside. Public transport in the rural areas is sparse and expensive. It rarely seems to run at times that suit the populace. To live in the countryside now it is almost essential to own a car, thereby adding to the traffic congestion, wear and tear on the road and environmental pollution.
Do Government Policies promote the communities, culture and economy of Rural Britain? No.
An English Nature Conservation Officer in Cumbria has often said, during two years of tortuous negotiations on the future management of our common, that, “…if Public Money is to be spent, then Public Aims must be seen to be achieved….” For two years a neighbour and I have been telling members of the public, who we meet whilst shepherding on the fells, just exactly what is being done in their name. The vast majority are horrified. They can see the stupidity; they don’t need it spelling out, even the C.R.O.W. Act is seen to be an injustice and likely to lead to the trampling and ultimate destruction of the very “environment” that they have come to enjoy.
If we take Public Money to mean Taxpayers money, which it is, then we must ask, “Is the “Public” getting value for its money?” No.
In 1975 we held a National Referendum. We thought we were voting to join a “European Common Market”. We weren’t told the truth, were we? Successive Governments have been determined to drag us into a Federal Europe, none more so than the present administration. Charles de Gaulle was famous for saying, “Non!”, but he did try and warn us too. That perhaps we wouldn’t like it; that perhaps it wasn’t for us; that Europe is and always has been “introvert”, gathering all in from the outside to the centre; that Britain is and always has been “extrovert”, trading with the whole world. More recently M. Giscard d’Estang gave us the same warning.
So do the EU Policies promote the interests of Rural Britain? No,
Every year we send between £9 – £11 billion to the EU. It varies from year to year. We get back roughly 50p for every £1, though that varies too.
Look at it another way. Every year we spend £4.5 – 5.5 billion of our money subsidising our competitors; like helping to build Spanish super-trawlers to destroy the cod stocks in Home Waters as just one example; financing the unaccountable bureaucracy of a corrupt system to think up more and more repressive and useless regulations for another. That in turn leads to an ever increasing number of pen-pushers here who have to refine, implement and enforce the unwanted, and at our expense.
The £4.5 – £5.5 billion grudgingly returned to us cannot be spent as we would like either. (It could be more, but our Government has to match the funds and so far as Rural Britain is concerned the kitty didn’t so much run dry, it never got filled in the first place.) All EU refund money must be spent to further EU aims. There is plenty to promote “Regionalisation”.
What are those aims? As I see it, to reduce us all to a dull, grey, manageable mediocrity. The European Union as it is developing may be a good thing. But, wouldn’t it be nice to be told the truth and then be consulted?
Successive Governments have become obsessed with centralisation, with exercising total control. Blanket regulations stifle. It isn’t the function of a Democratic Government to control the minutiae of people’s lives, rather to create the conditions where all sections of the community can thrive and prosper. The management of Rural Britain should be assigned to those who best understand it. That way we might preserve our communities, our culture our “environment” and our regional differences; the very things that make us what we are, British.