Thursday, 27 June 2013

Ferguson not the only key departure from Manchester United

Ferguson not the only key departure from Manchester United 
The timing of Sir Alex Ferguson’s resignation as Manchester United manager has been described as “surprising” by a football business expert, as it comes at the same time as the departure of two other key management figures at the club.
Ferguson took charge at Old Trafford in 1987. The success he has inspired on the pitch has underpinned the commercial success of the club off it. It is now the third highest revenue earner in world football with £320 million income in 2011/12.
High profile staff
Ferguson’s departure however occurs only weeks before two other high-profile staff members will leave their posts at Old Trafford. Chief executive David Gill is leaving, and property services manager George Johnstone is retiring.
Gill joined Manchester United plc in 1997 as finance director. In 2003 he was promoted
to chief executive, a role he continued to fulfil after the
club became a private limited company in 2005 under the ownership of the Glazier family.
In February, Gill announced he was leaving his post this summer, prompting Ferguson to say: “Him stepping down is a big loss to me. If I could have found a way of persuading him to stay I would love to have done that.”
‘Scale of change’
During his 15 years at the club Johnstone has overseen major redevelopments at the football ground and at Carrington, Manchester United’s training ground to the west of the city. During this period Manchester United has also bought two nearby Trafford Park industrial estates totalling 50 acres.
Tom Cannon, professor of strategic development at the University of Liverpool Management School and an expert on the business of football, said: “It’s very unusual for such a successful organisation as Manchester United to be going through this scale of change.
“Successful organisations like continuity so allowing three key strategic operational people to leave in such a short period of time may be worrying for fans.
“It could be that the Glazier family are going to be a lot more heavy touch in their involvement with the club in the future.”
Gill, who is to be replaced by executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, will remain on the Manchester United board. He is said to be pursuing a place on the European football authority Uefa’s executive committee.

Ambulance workers stand up for patient safety

ACAS will host talks between Unite and Yorkshire Ambulance Service management in a dispute over cuts, staff downgrading, patient safety and union de-recognition. The discussions come after a second successful strike by Unite members at the NHS Trust and as a gesture of goodwill further planned industrial action on Saturday 22 June was withdrawn. Difficult negotiations are anticipated but the hope is that a third day of strike action will not be required. 

Following a 24-hour walkout in April, dedicated Unite Yorkshire Ambulance Service (YAS) staff were hoping their employer would start by re-recognising Unite and then begin re-negotiating their way out of a financial crisis under which management are seeking over the next five years to make £46 million cuts by replacing the paramedics’ trained support technicians with emergency care assistants with just six weeks’ training. The resulting £300 a month wage cuts will hit many workers hard. 

With management refusing to talk to Unite, YAS members were forced to walk out again for 12 hours on June 7.  Paramedic Russell Whittaker from Wakefield Ambulance Station admitted he was:  “Very disappointed. Only once previously in 31 years have I been on strike but I care passionately about the service and helping people on what is the first stage of their recovery. But the standard of care at emergencies will get worse as people without the same level of skills as in the past are replacing technicians. 

Paramedics don’t work in controlled environments and I don’t want to constantly explain myself to a working colleague - who I must stress I am not personally blaming - but I need to concentrate  on a patient and not whether my colleague has had the right level of training. 

It’s terrible that management can derecognise Unite just for speaking up and representing the concerns of ambulance workers.”

Desperate bosses meantime sought to undermine the strike by allowing staff they had previously sacked - for refusing to attend the scene of an emergency - to be employed by a private ambulance company increasingly being used to attend emergencies and ferry patients to hospitals. The use of private ambulance providers using less qualified staff is up nationally and has increased massively in Yorkshire this year. And yet similar attempts by NHS trusts in the West Midlands and London to replace technicians with emergency care assistants have failed to save money and have been abandoned.

According to Debbie Wilkinson, Unite YAS branch secretary, this “makes it urgent that YAS start to discuss with Unite our alternative money saving proposals. It is good news that talks are to be held in early July.” 

Unite regional officer Terry Cunliffe anticipates, “difficult negotiations ahead. I don’t think we would have got them without taking industrial action, for which we got a considerable amount of public support. We hope to get an agreement, which must include re-recognition, but if we don’t we will ballot for further action.” 

LETTUCE WARS - Ten years of work and struggle in the fields of California

Ten years of work and struggle in the fields of California 
Bruce Neuburger
This is a highly readable book about the author’s life from 1971 to 1979 as a young Californian farmworker and member of the United Farm Workers union (UFW). And even though the story is more than three decades old it’s worth reading as it has parallels with today’s era of global capitalism when more than ever workers are all ‘casual labour.’
Californian agriculture is an example of factories in the fields and for generations workers toiled without the basic protection of a trade union with growers able to ruthlessly exploit a large immigrant workforce composed mainly of Mexicans. 
Things started to change when under the leadership of Cesar Chavez a grape strike was initiated in 1965 and the union then brought into the dispute thousands more lettuce and vegetable workers. On 29 July 1970 a three year recognition agreement was signed between the union and growers, who immediately began to try and undercut pay and conditions by developing relationships with the Teamster trade union such that workers were no longer employed direct but by contractors.
UFW members were sent into fields to organise walk outs and strikes and were met with brutality from employers, Teamster hired thugs and the police. There were mass arrests, and even some killings, of strikers as the fight continued for proper union recognition and was boosted by support from other unions as well as progressive and revolutionary forces. Wherever elections were held amongst workers they demonstrated their support for the UFW’s militancy by voting in large numbers to be represented by the union rather than the Teamsters. 
Neuburger was a keen UFW participant during this exciting time. This helps him really  bring alive the farmworker’s personalities, their lives and motivations during a period in the USA when the high-points of anti-colonial struggle and political rebellion had passed. 
In its wake Chavez began to turn away from revolt to reform. So whilst the passing of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975 gave farmworkers potential legal remedies over things such as unfair dismissals it also took the struggles away from the workplace. Neuberger’s criticism led to him being harassed and eventually attacked by union goons who drove him out of farming in 1979, two years after Chavez had invited to the UFW convention a representative of the Philippines President Marcos regime that regularly murdered trade unionists.  
The right-wing moves meant that even though the UFW rank and file were able to win a famous wages victory in 1979 by organising widespread strike action without the backing of Chavez it wasn’t long before the growers fought back. 
In 1983, after having carefully weeded out union activists, growers cancelled union contracts and then shut down their own companies. When they re-opened days later under new names the same employees found themselves employed by contractors paying rates less than half they had earned before. There was no union response. Today the annual wage of a Californian agricultural worker is around $19,000 (£17,000) and few are union members.  

Gun licences paid for by taxpayer

Much higher licence fees for gun owners are needed to cover the costs of maintaining gun control in the UK.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has estimated that administering the current firearms licensing scheme costs £196 for each firearm owner, who since 2001 has paid just £50 for a licence. The £19 million funding gap is currently covered by the public purse.
ACPO has proposed to the Home Office an initial fee increase to £94. Further, as
yet unspecified, increases are proposed once a new online database has been set up through which applicants can track applications, pay online and see the date of home visits by officers from the licensing departments in the UK’s 52 police forces.
Support for the increases has come from Yvette Cooper, Labour’s shadow home secretary. The Normanton MP views it “as part of the need to toughen Britain’s gun laws that should also include legislation preventing domestic violence abusers from owning firearms and clearer guidelines on issues related to alcohol, drugs and mental health”.
Animal rights organisation Animal Aid has campaigned for higher gun licence fees in the hope that it will reduce the numbers going shooting for pleasure. In 2010, when Animal Aid reported to the Parliamentary Home Affairs Committee that shooters were enjoying a public subsidy, it also suggested licensing should be organised by a government licensing agency along similar lines as the DVLA and the Valuation Office Agency.
A spokesperson for Animal Aid said: “The proposed fee increase should be alongside changes introducing the issuing nationally of firearms licenses. This isn’t really police work and this would remove the discretion that chief constables have over the issuing or withdrawal of firearms certificates. It would lead to greater consistency. It’s wrong that in some locations a convicted person can keep their weapons and in another have them removed.”
Currently just 0.2 per cent of firearms renewals are refused and this has had tragic consequences. Michael Atherton, who despite a history of domestic abuse legally owned weapons, shot his partner Susan McGoldrick, Alison Turnbull and Tanya Turnbull dead in County Durham in 2012. Cooper is not certain a national agency would have prevented the killings but said she “was willing to look at the idea”.
ACPO’s proposals have drawn criticism from the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, whose director of firearms, Bill Harriman, said: “Service delivery is inconsistent. Certificate holders should pay a fair price for a fair service – neither they nor the taxpayer should have to pay for inefficiency. We are talking to the police and government on this.”

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The 1913 China Clay Strike in Cornwall

The 1913 China Clay Strike 
The story of Cornwall’s most turbulent industrial dispute
Nigel Costley 

The South West TUC regional secretary Nigel Costley has written a fascinating pamphlet on a successful strike that helped established trade unions in mid Cornwall and laid the ground for Unite’s continuing presence there today. 

One hundred years ago this summer there occurred one of the most important industrial disputes ever in Cornwall. 5,000 china clay workers defied their employers, poverty and the South Wales police, who were sent to attack them, to strike for ten weeks. There actions paved the way for better pay and union recognition that continues today at Imerys UK china clay operations, where Unite speaks out for its members at one of the most important employers in the South West.

The china clay industry was one of many developed across Britain during the early years of the industrial revolution. Based in Cornwall and Devon, production was approaching in 1910 a million tonnes a year, 75% of which was exported to the North American and European paper industries with a smaller amount going to UK pottery factories. 

It was better-paid employment than agricultural work but below that enjoyed by coal and tin miners. The hours were long and the work was highly physical, especially for the workers who dug the top layers of soil to get at the good clay.

Disputes in 1875 and 1876 had restored wage cuts but a five-week strike by 2,000 workers was lost after Cornish miners reputation as strike breakers in other parts of the country resulted in little outside aid being raised. Starving workers were forced back to work and mass emigration took miners all around the world to work in the following decades.

In 1911 clay workers in Cornwall began to be recruited by the Workers’ Union, which was formed in 1898 by one of the heroes of the great London dock strike of 1889, Tom Mann.

In December 1912 a 2,500 strong petition was presented to the small number of clay employers that dominated the industry asking for an increase of 5 shillings (25 pence today) a week to take pay up to 25 shillings. (£1.25) 

Flying pickets

When this was rejected local organisers were given the powers to call a strike and on Monday 21 July 1913 thirty men at Carne Stents near St Austell walked off the job and immediately appealed to workers at other pits to join them in solidarity. By the following week 1,000 were on strike and numbers continued to grow as strikers sent pickets from pit to pit. 

With the aid of Julie Varley, sent by the union to support the families of the strikers, large demonstrations were held and the numbers on strike had risen to almost 5,000 in the second week of August. The union was able to pay 10 shillings (50 p) a week strike pay and local tradesman distributed food vouchers. 

Vicious police attacks 

The employers hit back when following a meeting with the police a contingent of 100 from South Wales were drafted in to support the local force. South Wales police had experience of breaking picket lines and strikers were informed that ‘unlawful assemblies’ were to be much more rigorously enforced. 

When pickets formed up 300 strong on 1 September 1913 they were met by a detachment of Glamorgan police who baton charged the crowd hitting anyone that got in their way. Strikers were chased into nearby fields and further brutalised. There was widespread indignation throughout the whole area at the violence with the local Cornish Guardian condemning the police, with shops refusing to serve them and landladies evicting them. The TUC sent its deepest regret to those who had been attacked.

By October the long strike was sapping even the most militant worker and on the 12th it was agreed to return to work rather than prolong the suffering. The strikers marched back to work with their heads held high and aware that many more workers had joined the union and been educated in the need for organisation. 

Union recognition and better pay

Despite having failed to win their demands, confidence in the union remained high and on January 12 1914 the largest clay company agreed to recognise the union. Then in February wage increases, that brought pay up to a minimum of 22s 6d (£1.13) with additions for clay working, established pay rates roughly that which the workers had taken action for the previous year. Other clay firms had little option but to follow suit and the workers had won what they had asked for.

The Workers’ Union was to continue to represent clay workers until it merged in 1929 with the Transport and General Workers’ Union, which itself merged with AMICUS in 2007 to form Unite. Britain’s largest union continues to represent workers in the clay industry that are employed in Cornwall by Imerys, a world leader in mining natural resources and which employs around 1,000 people in the county.

Ministers change for the meter has campaigners smarting.

Ministers change for the meter has campaigners smarting. 

A group that seeks to reverse the UK’s smart meter programme on health grounds has accused the government of reneging on commitments that their nationwide installation will be voluntary.
A smart meter, which can only be installed in the UK’s 30 million households by energy companies, regularly records consumption of gas and electricity. It then transmits that information back to the companies for monitoring and billing purposes
The massive project, which will cost consumers a total of around £11 billion on their bills, is considered vital in attempts to cut energy use.
Switching suppliers
The hope is that customers will shift energy use to periods when they are charged less and turn off appliances. The government estimates the average customer will save £23 a year by 2020.
According to energy secretary Ed Davey: “Smart meters will put customers in control, allowing them to adopt energy efficiency measures that can help save money on their bills, offset price increases and reduce carbon emissions.”
Ministers have promised the scheme will be voluntary but Davey’s undersecretary, Baroness Verma, recently told the Lords that customers switching energy suppliers “cannot replace a smart meter with a dumb meter”.
With five million people switching energy suppliers each year, Elizabeth Evans, one of the founders of campaigning group Stop Smart Meters, said: “This is a sneaky way of trying to bring in mandatory smart metering by default and we strongly oppose this move. Customers should have the choice of an analogue alternative to a smart meter.”
Evans fears that the radio- frequency levels of radiation employed to keep smart meters running constantly will be toohigh. Her group estimates the devices pulse 43,000 times a day.
Evans claims that in the US, Canada and Australia, where smart meters are already widely employed, “thousands of people are complaining of debilitating symptoms such as severe insomnia, sometimes to the point where they can no longer live in their house or neighbourhood”. The American Academy for Environmental Medicine has become so concerned that last year it called for a moratorium on new installations until more research could be undertaken.
Evans believes installing smart meters would mean ignoring “emerging evidence that radio- frequency radiation (RF) is dangerous to users of mobile phones, as we have already seen a dramatic 50 per cent rise in frontal and temporal brain tumours from 1999 to 2009”.
She added: “Countries all around the world are reporting large rises in thyroid and salivary gland tumours where mobile phone radiation is highest.”
In May 2011, the World Health Organisation said RF radiation is a “possible human carcinogen”.
The former Director at the New York State Department of Health Dr David O Carpenter has said: “there is evidence that exposure to RF at elevated levels increases the risk of cancer and damage to the nervous system.”

The Department of Energy and Climate Change disagrees with Evans. A DECC pokesperson said: “The proposals by the Baroness are about ensuring customers continue to receive more accurate bills when they switch suppliers. 

‘No risk’

“The radio waves used by smart meters are very common in the environment and are used in radio and tv broadcasts, radar and cordless phones. The Health Protection Agency has advised us that the evidence to date suggests they do not pose a risk to health.”

Others who believe smart meters do not damage health include Dr John Swanson of the Biological Effects Policy Advisory Group and Dr Jill Meara of Public Health England, both of who recently gave evidence alongside Evans to the Energy and Climate Change Committee that is examining concerns being raised by the smart meter roll-out.

Will the government act on advisers' pesticide recommendations?

No decision has been taken by the government on its scientific advisers’ recommendations to tighten public health laws on crop spraying with pesticides.
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) ministers requested a policy review four years ago after campaigner Georgina Downs mounted a legal challenge against the government.
She has battled for 12 years against what she argues is a “policy and approvals system that fundamentally fails to protect people in the countryside from pesticides, particularly rural residents”.
Her struggle started after she was regularly exposed to pesticides sprayed in crop fields adjoining her Sussex home. She has since advised thousands of people in rural areas who are also suffering adverse health following exposure to crop pesticides.
The new recommendations from the advisory committee on pesticides (ACP) include that farmers give residents notification before spraying commences and give information on pesticides used.
The current risk assessment under the existing policy assumes people only have occasional exposure to a single pesticide for a brief time.
Downs has always disputed this. “Exposure for rural residents is long-term, chronic, cumulative, and is due to many mixtures of pesticides used on crops,” she said.
Currently it is also assumed that an individual would not be any closer than eight metres from a crop sprayer. The ACP has now recommended that a distance of two metres should be assumed between the sprayer and a resident or bystander in acute and chronic risk assessments.
Although pleased to see an acknowledgement that the existing policy approach has been inadequate, Downs said: “The ACP should have recommended prohibiting crop spraying and the use of pesticides near residents’ homes, schools, children’s playgrounds, etc.
“There has been no UK assessment to date of the risks to health for residents and others exposed over the long term. Therefore under EU law pesticides should never have been approved in the first place for spraying in the locality of such areas.”
The National Farmers Union (NFU) supports the use of pesticides. Don Prendegast, its plant health adviser, said: “I believe the government would support voluntary approaches to providing information such as the Good Neighbour Initiative, developed by the NFU.
“Mandatory prior notification would be difficult to implement effectively, extremely complex and burdensome for farmers.”
A spokesperson for DEFRA said: “Ministers will be responding soon to the recommendations.”

Tuesday, 11 June 2013


The grand opening of a Unite/National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) community centre in Barnsley last Friday was marked with a big turnout and glorious weather. However, grim times ahead meant the celebrations were muted as plenty of Barnsley folk are going to require the welfare advice services it will provide.
The NUM has provided the building and Unite the staff, courtesy of community volunteer activists, including life-long trade unionist and retired professional benefits adviser Richard Vivian who said: “I am happy to help local people and Unite in these difficult times. We are already receiving referrals from advice organisations locally.”
Centre users will also be able to access the Unite Learn computer training courses, starting from online basics through to ICT level 3. Professional advice will provide valuable back up. Unite’s mobile learning units are additionally looking to offer community groups literacy and numeracy courses.
By reconnecting the community with trade unions the centre will also give users a chance to collectively resist government attacks on such as the NHS, as well as welfare benefits cuts that include the bedroom tax and DLA. “How to build a campaign, design publicity, speak publicly and media work are part of our community activist training aimed at building solidarity between those in and out of work,” said Joe Rollin, Unite’s community coordinator for the north east.
NUM Headquarters, 2 Huddersfield Road, Barnsley S70 2LS
Opening times: 10am to 3pm Wednesdays and Thursdays  

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Book of the month launched by Unite education department

Tutors on Unite education courses often get asked what books they would recommend reading. As a result we have decided to  launch a book - or books - of the month service for Unite members. The subjects chosen will be very varied and will include politics, sport, social and labour history and economics. There will be a review of each book and details of how readers can obtain copies.

Unite education is also going to be publishing some of its own books on famous figures and successful struggles from the union’s past including Jack Jones, Tom Jones, the birth of the NHS and the dock strikes of 1889 and 1972.

Unite members who would like to see a particular book reviewed - or would like to do a review - should get in touch. If you are a Unite member who has had a book published please also get in touch.

More details from author and journalist Mark Metcalf on 07952 801783 or at

Frank Swift flies high in new book about top goalie - Blackpool Gazette

Blackpool Gazette

Below are comments from Halifax Courier of 24 July 2013.

England has produced a string of fine goalkeepers over the years - Gordon Banks, Peter Shilton and David Seaman arguably the most notable.
However, Calderdale author Mark Metcalf has turned the spotlight on a true legend of the game during the 1930s and 40s.
Frank Swift played all his league football with Manchester City and represented England on 33 occasions between 1941 and 1949.
Prolific sports writer Metcalf has chronicled the life and career of this popular figure who went onto become a respected  journalist with the News of the World before becoming one of eight journalists who lost their lives in the Munich air disaster in February 1958.
Metcalf charts Swift’s humble beginnings in Blackpool, and the start of his football career with Fleetwood Town Reserves to his glory years at Maine Road where he helped City to First and Second Division titles as well as victories in the FA Cup and Charity Shield.
Drawing on a number of sources, Metcalf tells Swift’s remarkable story in meticulous detail. The book also chronicles Swift’s record as an England international from his debut during the war years and the moment he was appointed the first ‘keeper to captain his country in the professional era during a 4-0 win over Italy in Turin in 1948.
Metcalf’s research paints a vivid picture of a well-loved character both on and off the field, and the shock of his untimely death on that fateful night in Munich.
Running to 185 pages, ‘Frank Swift - Manchester City and England Legend’ is a welcome addition to the library of footballing greats of the past.
The book contains a small selection of photographs - both personal and professional - and would be a welcome addition to the bookshelves of any true football fans.
in 1998 Frank Swift was one of four City players named in the  Football League 100 legends list, celebrating a century of league football.
Metcalf has done his career and his memory proud.
‘Frank Swift - Manchester City and England Legend’ by Mark Metcalf is published by DB Publishing and priced at £14.99.

Shame of the Lib Dem Lords

From the Landworker magazine of Unite. 

Liberal Democrat peers have blown an opportunity to show they support rural workers by agreeing to scrap the Agricultural Wages Board. (AWB) 

Fifty-five of them had the power on Wednesday March 6 in the House of Lords to defeat government plans to finish off the AWB. They refused to exercise it and consequently a vote to retain the AWB was lost by 29 votes, with peers voting 163 to 192. Only one Lib Dem peer voted for retention with all the rest voting with the Tories. 

The result means the fight to retain the AWB will move back to the Commons; where it is hoped  MPs will take note that almost 2/3rds of respondents to a government consultation were against its abolition.

On March 6 there were impassioned pleas from Labour Lords, bishops and the Lib Dem peer, Lord Greaves of Pendle. Labour peer, Lord Whitty pointed out that for most the last century the AWB has ensured that farm workers have received annual pay rises, recognition for advancing their skills, overtime pay, holidays and protection in their tied homes. Under their plans the government was admitting it expected the 150,000 agricultural workers covered by the AWB to be robbed of £247 million in the next decade. Lord Greaves argued the only beneficiaries were likely to be the major supermarkets, horticultural giants and major landowners.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford quoted Winston Churchill from 1909, when a radical Liberal government founded the first wages councils, and Churchill said: “It is a serious national evil that any class of his Majesty’s subjects should receive less than a living wage in return for their utmost exertions” 

The Bishop pointed out: “When other wages councils were abolished in the 1980s, the government chose to keep the AWB on the grounds that the industry required some central oversight to prevent wages being driven down unacceptably……the progress made during the past 30 years means we need to retain and further develop, and update, the AWB, not abolish it.”

None of which mattered to Nick Clegg’s lot who preferred to agree with those who spoke in favour of ending the AWB. James Graham was one to do so. As the Duke of Montrose, he enjoys a special status in the aristocratic ranks and the 75-year-old’s other titles include Viscount Dundaff and Lord Aberuthven, Mugdock and Fintrie. The dukedom was awarded for supporting the Act of Union in 1707. With ownership of around 8,800 acres the current Duke is a millionaire.

As is also the case with Lord Cavendish, who told his fellow peers: “Low pay among agricultural workers is manifestly a myth.” No, that really is a quote! The Conservative politician owns Holker Hall, and its 17,000 acre estate, that overlooks Morecambe Bay in Cumbria. The estate has belonged to the Cavendish family since 1756. Lord Cavendish was created a life peer by Margaret Thatcher in 1990 and is third in line to the dukedom of Devonshire, who is one of Britain’s largest landowners with 65,000 acres in the UK and a further 8,000 in Ireland.

Despite the removal in 1999 by Tony Blair of hereditary peers from the Lords the second chamber is still packed with large landowners who are part of just 189,000 families (0.28% of the population) that own 88% of the land in Britain. This is the most imbalanced land ownership pattern in the world and yet incredibly this tiny elite also enjoys subsidies totalling over £10 billion through the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy.

The Marquess of Lothian voted to scrap the AWB. He is better known as former Tory MP Michael Ancram and became a life peer in 2010. As owner of 18,000 acres of land the former deputy leader of David Cameron’s party is worth around £60 million. Ancram is married to Lady Jane Fitzalan-Howard, the youngest daughter of the 16th Duke of Norfolk, who can trace the family tree back to Plantagenet crown dynasty from 1189 and is worth at least £100 million.

Lord Astor of Hever also voted to impoverish agricultural workers. He is a relative of David Cameron, whose wife’s stepfather is Viscount Astor, the owner of 2,000 acres of land in Oxfordshire and 19,500 on the island of Jura, off the west coast of Scotland. The Viscount registers his Scottish estate in the Bahamas and thus avoids paying stamp duty and capital gains tax.

The richest member of Cameron and Nick Clegg’s cabinet – which contains 18 millionaires – was until January the leader of the House of Lords. Lord Strathclyde, another peer appointed by Margaret Thatcher, is worth an estimated £9.5 million. He is the majority shareholder in the family estate management company Auchendrane Estates.

Previously, Lord Strathclyde  was a non-executive director on the board of Galena Asset Management. This is the hedge-fund arm of Trafigura, the  Dutch multi-national commodity trading company  at the centre of a major health crisis in the Ivory Coast in 2006 when a ship charted by the company offloaded toxic waste in the West African country. Trafigura ended up paying the Ivorian government £100 million to clean up the waste and an additional £32 million to people who had suffered from toxic poisoning.

Lord Strathclyde was another Tory peer who voted with the proposal to end the AWB. No Labour peers agreed and so all it would have taken was for just 30 Lib Dem peers to have abstained and it would have been defeated. Far play to Lord Greaves, but this move by Nick Clegg’s crew is the latest example of a party that cares more for the limousines and the trappings of power than the ordinary working person of this country. There was nothing about ending the AWB in the Lib Dems 2010 election manifesto and it failed to feature in the coalition agreement. Clearly, the Tories have talked round Clegg into supporting their plans. 

As Janet Royall, Labour’s leader in the Lords said: “What will the Lib Dems say to agricultural workers having voted in favour of the abolition of the AWB. I am furious and frustrated that we lost the vote on the AWB. The interests of supermarkets and landowners have prevailed over the needs of agricultural workers.” 

Woodland workers' future still unsure

From the Landworker magazine of Unite 

They have dropped plans to sell them off. Yet the final outcome of what will happen to England’s publicly owned forests remains uncertain after the government moved to cut its connection to the Forestry Commission. (FC) It’s the latest blow to staff at the organisation, which since the coalition came to power has seen seven regional offices closed and hundreds of redundancies.

As a result the FC is struggling to maintain its high-quality services to the public, half a million of who signed an online petition when the government announced in 2010 it intended disposing of 1,000 publicly owned forests covering an estimated 258,000 hectares.

Forced into a humiliating climbdown the government established the Independent Panel on Forestry (IPF), which in July last year issued its report.  In January the government backed its proposals not to sell off England’s public forest estate. (PFE) 

But, environment secretary Owen Paterson also confirmed that: “a new body will be created to hold the Estate in trust for the nation. It will have greater independence from Government and greater freedom to manage its resources and maximise its income.”

Paterson gave few further details on the proposed body. Edwin Rowlands, Unite workplace and safety rep for the Forest of Dean branch, has worked for the FC for over 50 years. He believes there is no need to change, “a structure that has served the public and staff so well. As the IPF report made clear we are highly efficient and the public benefits far exceed the costs to the taxpayer. Tourism is also boosted by our work. “

For an annual cost of 38 pence per person the FC provides harvest timber for domestic industry, the regeneration of Brownfield sites, access to some of the country’s most spectacular landscapes and the provision of recreational, educational and welfare facilities. And whereas only 18 percent of England’s woods are publicly owned they account for 44 per cent of those that are accessible.

“I believe the Forest Campaigns Network (FCN) alliance of grass-roots campaigns and forest user groups are therefore right to join Unite in being disappointed at the news the government intends setting up a new body to run the PFE.  

My fear is that the motive for a new body could be profit driven and lead to reduced terms and conditions for employees, fewer services to the public and some forests being sold,” said Edwin, who after starting work as a forestry craftsman in 1962 is now employed as a tree safety officer. 

The FCN has also expressed its disappointment that the government has reduced the IPF’s recommendation to increase England’s woodland cover to 15 per cent to 12 per cent by 2060. This is a long way behind the European average of 30%. 

FCN is additionally concerned that: ‘The money the Government has committed falls a long way short of the £22 million a year recommended by the IPF to run the PFE. The cuts and their impact on the ground in our public forests are evident across the country. We see very little in the government statement to reassure us that the public forest will not deteriorate further.’ 

Save rural schools

Government funding reforms are threatening to close many rural small schools.

That’s the warning from the National Association of Small Schools (NASS), which for 36 years has promoted the work of schools with 100 or fewer pupils. Many of these are in rural communities and in a fight to protect their long-term future; NASS has launched a ‘Fair Funding for Small Schools’ campaign that includes supporting an e-petition started by one of its members.

Last year, the government proposed that - under the school revenue funding system - local authorities should allocate a maximum lump sum of £150,000 to all schools in their areas.  With most school funding coming from a fixed sum per pupil (the figure for which varies across the country) then this money is especially important to small schools and needs to be sufficient to cover their fixed costs.

Amidst concerns about the potential impact on smaller schools, NASS successful lobbied MPs to force up this figure for 2013-2014 to £200,000.

However there was no guarantee on what sums will be allocated in the future and no minimum threshold was established. So whilst schools in Hampshire have a lump sum of £190,000 the figure falls to just £42,000 in Worcestershire in what NASS argues is a ‘postcode lottery that puts every small school in the country at risk.’

Schools from Cornwall to Northumberland, with hundreds in-between, have contacted NASS to raise their concerns. NASS claims that one Warwickshire headteacher has been told by his local authority that schools with less than 100 pupils are no longer viable.  Adding to small schools concerns is also the fact that from April all schools will be required to meet the first £6,000 of any additional interventions to meet a child’s special educational needs.

According to Richard Maudsley, an education officer for the diocese of Exeter and who works with 131 Church of England schools in Devon: “Many rural small schools are being forced to use up their reserves to stay open. They have made savings over the last few years, but you need a certain amount of money to run a school regardless of how many pupils are in it and rural schools are more expensive to keep open.

Closing rural schools will take the heart out of many communities and is not likely to save too much money if the alternative is to put five-year olds on buses for lengthy journey’s to far away schools. Devon is a large County. I believe the government needs to recognise that rural schools are special cases and ensure they are adequately funded now and into the future.”

At Gembling Primary School, which is situated between the small villages of Gembling, Kelk and Foston on the Wolds near Driffield in east Yorkshire, there is a real possibility that the decision by East Riding Council to restrict funding to £130,000 will see it closed in the summer. Another £35,000 is needed or else 26 children, including six travellers children, will need to find an alternative school. Parent and school governor Jacquie Stedman believes: “That would be a tragedy as the school is an important part of local rural life.”  

According to NASS secretary Barbara Taylor: “Small schools are the focal point of many rural communities. Research has shown rural schools often excel in their standards of education and achieve standards of equal and higher than their larger counterparts.

“There are great partnerships between schools and parents, many of who move to a specific location because there is a school there. This provides a more balanced community age-wise and helps create work opportunities for those already living in the countryside.”

These points and more are made succinctly in an e-petition, initiated by Larl Phillips, against the closure of rural village schools to the Department of Education. This cites the revised national funding formula as a cause for concern, believes there is a need for County Councils to be given more flexibility to retain rural schools and believes the ‘government has a duty to act and protect small schools in rural areas and support their education services.’

Readers can sign the e-petition at