Archive Article: 1998/06/12

12 June 1998


ONE of Britains oldest traditions died last month. The Oxfordshire town of Banbury has had a market since the time of William the Conqueror.

But Banbury Stockyard closed because planning approval for a new market was called in by the secretary of state John Prescott. That left its operators Midland Marts with no alternative but to close. If planning approval had not been called in we would have absorbed the losses and recouped them through low operating costs and efficiency savings at the new site.

Apart from the tragedy of many loyal staff losing their jobs, the loss of Banbury Stockyard has serious consequences for transporters, farm suppliers and local businesses.

They will be even more severe for the many farmers, wholesale butchers and breed societies who rely on Banbury to buy and sell stock.

What is happening to British agriculture? And why did Mr Prescott call in the planning approval?

New Labour could not give a damn about farmers or anyone connected with them. It does not understand country life and does not want to know.

Farm minister Jack Cunningham has consistently denied farmers the support they are entitled to. The paperwork demanded from producers is ridiculous.

Government is obsessed with the interests of consumers. The obsession with meat hygiene and traceability has become an industry; a tax on meat.

The government would like to see the end of livestock markets.The auction system is plain and simple, nothing happens behind closed doors and it reacts with lightning speed to price changes and customer demands.

For many months livestock producers have been losing money. Returns have diminished by up to 50% but producers are still paying the same MLC levies.

That is not right. If theres a hit to be taken, those who live on the backs of producers should not be immune. The future looks particularly bleak for cattle and pig producers and many will not survive.

Meanwhile supermarkets are ripping off the public through the price they charge for meat by adding value with fancy labels and packaging.

They promise farmers a golden future if they join producer clubs and sell direct to them. Yet a few months ago, Tesco informed its producer clubs that it would source supplies in Ireland as supplies of the right quality could not be found in England. The fact is that they were cheaper in Ireland. So much for loyalty to producers.

Many desperate producers are flocking like lemmings to join producer clubs. But it will end badly. They will be forced to accept wages just like the supermarkets other suppliers; vegetable packers in Zimbabwe who are paid 20p/hour or £40/month.

In blocking a new market for Banbury, Mr Prescott had an unlikely ally. Former junior farm minister Tim Boswell MP wrote to the environment department suggesting the application be called in. As Mr Boswell is a farmer who uses Banbury market, I find it hard to understand his reasoning. As an MP, he has an income denied to other producers.

Farmers and countrypeople are the backbone of Britain. It is time that New Labour and Great Britain gave farmers and all their allied industries a fair crack of the whip and the credit they deserve for maintaining this lovely island of ours.

But for planning

approval problems, it

would have been

business as usual at

Banbury in a

new site, says mart

chairman Jim Watson

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