May 25: Speaking up for British farming

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it IS now clear that Europe will be one of this Parliament’s defining issues – even Labour has recognised, belatedly, the democratic right of British voters to have their say on Britain’s future relationship with the EU.

Yet, as David Cameron begins complex negotiations with his counterparts, he would be advised to use this country’s beleaguered dairy industry as evidence of why this country needs a more favourable deal from Brussels in order to appease public opinion.

For, as Liz Truss, the Leeds-educated Environment Secretary, makes clear today, it is European Union-imposed rules which are preventing the UK Government from introducing clearer labelling for dairy produce in order to help those British milk producers who are fighting for their futures, not least because of the preponderance of cheap imports and pricing policies of the major supermarkets.

It should not be like this. As this newspaper demonstrated with its Clearly British campaign which paved the way for beef, and now other meat products, to be clearly labelled, shoppers have a right to know the source of food on supermarket shelves – and where it was produced.

In the meantime, it is reassuring that Defra is headed by a politician who is a passionate advocate of local produce and the importance of the agricultural industry to the issue of food security.

This is important – a strong rural economy can only be beneficial to the future finances of Great Britain plc, and it is encouraging that the Government might subsidise the rolling out of high-speed broadband to those remote areas that do not enjoy internet access. For, while agriculture is an industry traditionally associated with the outdoors, farm businesses do now depend on the access to the very latest technology in order to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

The apprentices

IT is indicative of the state of the economy that apprenticeships are no longer the preserve of school leavers; older people are applying in increasing numbers for these roles according to the Local Government Association with 42 per cent of vacancies handed to applicants aged over 25.

However, while this places an even greater onus on David Cameron to deliver his pre-election promise to create three million new roles for trainees, it should be a source of encouragement that the over-25s are applying to become apprentices. They realise they cannot spend the rest of their lives on benefits – or in menial jobs.

This competition for vacancies is also good for the future of the economy. It should serve as a reminder to youngsters, especially those who leave school after their GCSE exams, that there are no guarantees in life and they will have to earn the right to be taken on for an apprenticeship – whether it be obtaining the necessary exam passes or impressing a potential employer during an interview.

Nevertheless, Peter Box, the leader of Wakefield Council and the LGA’s spokesman on the economy, makes a key point when he says that training should be devolved from Whitehall to individual areas so councils, schools, colleges and employers can develop tailor-made packages which respond to the specific needs of their communities. This framework is already being put in place with the devolution deals for Leeds and Sheffield, but Ministers need to ensure that this approach applies to the whole country so no one – regardless of age – misses out on the chance to learn those skills that will enable them to prosper in later life.

Another insult from Thomas Cook

NEARLY NINE years after the angelic youngsters Bobby and Christi Shepherd died from carbon monoxide poisoning when a family holiday to Corfu ended in tragedy, Thomas Cook’s cavalier attitude remains contemptible, despite chief executive Peter Fankhauser’s apology.

There are disturbing reports that Mr Fankhauser’s predecessor Harriet Green – the woman who presided over the travel firm’s obfuscation of the legal process that finally culminated with an inquest verdict of unlawful killing– could receive a severance package worth up to £10.5m. And Thomas Cook will only honour its pledge to demolish the fateful bungalow at the end of the current holiday system, yet another example of the tactless company putting profit first. Perhaps Ms Green could spend the Bank Holiday searching her own conscience in between posting pictures on Twitter of her canal trip – this, after all, is something that Bobby and Christi will never be able to enjoy.