25 August 2000
Farmers fury at ‘unemployable’ slur
By David Green
FARMERS have hit back at one of Britains biggest industrial bosses who branded them a social problem because they are “unskilled and unemployable”.
The remark was made by Digby Jones, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) during an interview with the Cambridge Evening News.
Mr Jones told the paper: “Cambridge is one of the world centres of excellence.
As a brand it is first class, but it has a doughnut around it, depopulating by the minute, and they are called farmers.
There is a huge, huge social problem. They are unskilled, unemployable and the situation is going to get worse.”
Local National Farmers Union chairman Peter Howes said the comment displayed a worrying ignorance about the wide range of skills farmers possess.
“Many farmers will be angered by the comments,” he said. “We hope Mr Jones will find time to come out into the countryside and see the true picture for himself.”
Mr Howes said he had written to Mr Jones inviting him to visit to local farms and see the “true picture”.
He wrote: “You appear to be totally unaware of the tremendous strides farming has taken in recent years and the diverse and complex nature of the businesses farmers now run.”
Yorks farmer Henry Fell, a former chairman of the Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) said: “Its pretty easy for Mr Jones to say what he has said but frankly it is a bit facile.
However, that is not to deny that there is a problem out there.”
Mr Fell has called for leaders of the NFU, TFA and Country Landowners Association (CLA) to set up a Confederation of British Agriculture along CBI lines
CLA spokeswoman Lindy Margach said: “Farmers may not have conventional qualifications but to describe them as unskilled and unemployable is an appalling slur on a highly capable, intelligent, clear thinking and professional group of people.
They have innate entrepreneurial skills which British industry chooses to ignore at its peril.”
NFU representative Bob Holdsworthy is a member of Business Wales which itself is a member of the CBI.
He said: “I think farmers have got their own skills, though they may be different from skills in general business.
Many have proved they can diversify into other businesses and then become CBI members.”
A spokeswoman for the CBI said the accuracy of the newspaper report was not being challenged.
But she said Mr Jones may have awkwardly expressed his views on the re-skilling of the agricultural sector and the remark was then taken slightly out of context.