World Youth Skills Day 2018

World Youth Skills Day 2018

John says: Today’s blog is by Izzy Hollingsworth, who recently completed a work experience placement with my UK Office. The team thank her for her efforts and this contribution.

Guest Blog by Izzy Hollingsworth

This Sunday marks World Youth Skills Day, #skillsforall celebrated each July 15th, which is one of the new United Nations International Days of observance and started in 2015.

First proposed by Sri Lanka, the day was created to highlight the need for youth skills development on a global level to fight youth unemployment and under-employment. Whilst the day was designed to raise awareness of the challenges young people face in the developing world which the UK and the EU will be supporting, countries in Europe are facing high levels of youth unemployment too. Greece and Spain have the highest levels, and the UK has a youth unemployment rate of 11.5% against an overall unemployment rate of 4.1%. 

Part of the reason for higher youth unemployment is that older workers are carrying on working for longer as the pensionable age rises, and the inevitable lack of experience that younger people have compared to those who have been of working age for longer.  The UK’s Tory programme of spending cuts has also seen funding to training and development programmes reduced.

One of the key benefits for young people in the EU is being able freely to move around to take advantage of those countries with the lowest unemployment rate such as Germany, Denmark and Holland.

Brexit will curtail those opportunities, as well as risk the economic growth of our country, which is vital for helping companies to invest and grow. When companies are investing and growing they tend to employ more young people and invert in the training they need.      

World Skills UK will be marking the day with events.

Hear John supporting EU funding to fight youth unemployment here.

Posted by John Howarth
England at World Cups – usually pretty average

England at World Cups – usually pretty average

So England aren’t rubbish after all and are going to win the World Cup.

There are some who started saying this as soon as they scraped past Tunisia and others who felt it was certain after they trashed Panama. Doubt crept in after the scratch team struggled against Belgium’s scratch team and grew when Columbia minus James Rodriguez failed to provide a walk-over but were banished after the penalty shoot-out. Having deservedly beaten a dated and ponderous Sweden (who had nonetheless somehow beat Italy and France along the way) the big prize is back on and even for a cynic like me, undeniably a possibility once in the last four.

In football, you can only beat the opposition that are in front of you. In may well be that England have had their share of luck with the draw and the order of group matches but how often have England supporters been able to decry their luck in tournaments? So let’s no begrudge them their breaks. They are, after all, still there when former winners Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Germany and Uruguay have caught their planes and Italy didn’t even make the departure lounge.

So for once England aren’t rubbish at the World Cup - because that’s become the notion that is peddled. In fact at the outset of the tournament it was being reported that England hadn’t won their opening game for ever so long and hadn’t won a knockout match for ages. So obviously they have been rubbish, haven’t they?

I was having a conversation in my office about all this. My young Derby supporting researcher put it nicely “the other big European countries win it - we don’t, we’ve not done anything in my lifetime”.

Because I like to challenge conventional wisdom, I thought I would at least try to look at England’s tournament performances objectively.

What should England expect in a World Cup?

Despite the ‘World’ bit, the tournament is, at the business end, a still contest between the football powers of Europe and South America. England is in Europe and is one of the ‘big’ European nations. Fair comparisons are with the other ‘big’ European nations: France, Germany, Italy and Spain. Those five big nations, plus the two big South American nations - Brazil and Argentina should usually expect to make up seven of the last eight places at a World Cup. In other words, a quarter final place is an acceptable tournament, to go one step beyond that is to do well.
We should measure expectations against this. The trouble is in England, expectations are measured against that first fully televised World Cup and a June afternoon at Wembley - even if it happened before you were born.
So I looked at the last 14 World Cups - that is since that tournament in 1966 when it really became ‘a thing’. It was also The first (including qualification) since modern professional football happened, with a decent interval since the abolition of the ‘maximum wage’. Arbitrary, yes, but I think fair enough.

Are England poor starters?

No. A quick comparison of opening games over the past 14 tournaments based on three points for a win shows England’s record is far from bad.

England played in 11 of those tournaments and lost their opening game twice. England average 1.7 points from their first game. Better than France who have lost four of their opens from 10 and average 1.4 points and Spain who have six defeats from 12, only two wins and average a mere 0.8 points. Italy, win eight wins and one defeat from 13 openers average 2.3 points while Germany with ten wins and two defeats from 14 averaging 2.3 points. Some of this is self-fulfilling. Germany and Italy as multiple winners have benefitted from top seedings - but, even so, the conventional wisdom of England as poor starters doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny.

But England go out earlier don’t they?

Well, again, not so much. In England’s 11 tournaments only once have they flown home after the group stage - in Brazil 2014. Meanwhile both Italy and France have gone out four times at the first hurdle while Spain have failed to make the knockout on six occasions. Germany, of course, had never failed to get out of the group until the ‘cruse of the holders’ hit this time round.

So how do England compare?

The thing is England have been average at the World Cup since 1966 (this bit excludes the current beano). Score the stage which the teams achieved with 1 for the winner, 2 for runner up, 3 for the semis, 4 for the quarters and so on. Eleven tournaments in which England played produce an average of 4.1 - a quarter final place. The rest of the European big five: Spain 4.4, France 3.9, Italy 3.7 and Germany way out in front with 2.7.

I pointed this out to my Derby supporting staffer and his response said it all, “Yes, but wouldn’t you swap going out at the group stage for a couple of wins and a final or two?”.

Because that’s what football supporters want - the dream of the trophy, or at least of being there and there abouts.

England are even worse at the European Championships, aren’t they?

I had always thought so, but I thought I would check out my own prejudices on the same scoring system. Even allowing for the different way in which the ‘Nations’ Cup’, as we used to call it, was played. It is still reasonable to use the same means of scoring.

So having looked at the tournaments from 1968 to 2016 you end up with this: Germany lead with the exact same 2.7, followed by France 3.1, Italy 3.3, Spain 3.4 and England 4.0. But hang on a minute. In this case England’s expectations should reasonably be higher?

Shouldn’t they expect to be in the last four more often, given that it’s just Europe we’re talking about? The answer is an undeniable ‘yes’. However, it is reasonable to argue that the European Championships have been, historically, a tougher tournament than the World Cup. Until 1996 only eight teams made the finals, meaning that the group stages were seriously tough. Even when the World Cup was a 16 team tournament nine or ten European countries qualified. Soft games against the likes of Panama just didn’t happen in the nations cup and qualification was tougher than the World Cup (France failed to make the last eight on four occasions, Italy, Spain and England three times each and even Germany missed out once). Nonetheless, here it is objectively true that England have tended to underperform on the European stage.

So what does all this mean?

Absolutely nothing really. Maybe as well as a tendency to overstate failings the England supporter tends to over-expect from the team. There always seems to be a feeling that ‘we should do better’. But why?

England’s failure, if it is one, at World Cups past is to rise above the average and produce the ‘I was there’ moments for which football supporters yearn.

Here’s a final thought. This England team, a little like that team in 1966, may have benefitted from nobody expecting too much and may also have benefitted from the absence of divas, prodigy’s and a manager with a big reputation. Whatever they achieve from here on in, they deserve credit for exceeding expectations. Enjoy the rest of it.

For the nerds - how all this is worked out

From 1966 to 1978 16 teams qualified for the World Cup finals 9/10 UEFA nations qualified. That rose to 24 from 1982 to 1994 with 13/14 UEFA qualifies. Since 1998, 32 teams have qualified but UEFA qualification has remained at 13/14.

The European Nations’ Cup had a four team final stage and a two-leg last eight until 1980 when the eight team format was introduced. Only in 1996 with 16 teams did qualification for the Euro Finals become slightly easier than World Cup qualification. Euro 2016 hosted 24 teams making qualification considerably easier allowing teams like, er, Iceland to make to the finals for the first time.

The scoring averages are therefore based on: Winner - 1, Runner-up - 2, Semi Final exit - 3, Quarter Final - 4, Round of 16 - 5, Group stage 6. In 16 team tournaments the group stage scored 5.

The third/fourth place play offs are ignored - they are games in which people don’t want to play. I had contemplated giving an extra 0.5 for an exit on penalties - it is arbitrary, but those results are counted as draws in official football records. Arguably, the entertainment/excitement could be recognised, but in the end the differences would be marginal.

I’ll get my coat now.

Posted by John Howarth
70 Years of the NHS – #NHS70

70 Years of the NHS – #NHS70

My parents, who grew up through the 1920s and 30s, were at pains to tell me of the real fear that went with getting ill before the NHS came into being 70 years ago today. It wasn’t a fear of illness itself but of the cost of having to see the doctor.

For my parents’ generation the NHS was freedom from fear of illness. For my generation the NHS was about public health policies that eradicated Small Pox and Polio and provided effective mass healthcare that gave us, quite simply, longer lives. 

70 years on, despite all the difficulties and challenges, the NHS is still delivering for the many. From 1997 onward the Labour governments pumped resources into the NHS increasing the budget of the service in real terms year on year and reversing the decline in wages and conditions of the staff on which the NHS depends. Labour’s clear objectives of improving critical care outcomes, reducing waiting lists, A&E waiting times and creating service standards for GP appointments produced real, measurable improvements in the experience of the vast majority of NHS patients. Importantly, patients were also given influence over how and where they are treated. Within a couple of years of Labour coming to office the term ‘winter crisis’ was no longer heard on the news. When Labour came to office the basis of the service was in question, when we left office the central principle was untouchable - Mr Cameron had no option but to borrow Labour words of commitment to the NHS.

In these days where, since the disastrous Health and Social Care Act of the Tory-Liberal coalition government and Mr Osborne’s funding squeeze we have the staff of the NHS to thank for keeping the service delivering for its patients. The NHS still delivers some of the best acute care you can find anywhere but cuts have undoubtedly damaged the service - longer waiting lists, a crisis in A&E and the difficulty of getting to see a GP are the most obvious outward signs.

But the challenges for the NHS go well beyond that and some of them would exist whoever was in power - though at least with better funding they would be of a lesser degree. The founders of the NHS could never have imagined the mind-blowing advances in clinical care and medical technology that benefit patients in modern hospitals. Neither could they have conceived of the cost. Accordingly, the budget of the acute sector can only head in one direction - its demands are infinite as the possibilities of care technology continue to confound the imagination. Over my time as MEP it has been a genuine privilege to be able to see some of these scientific advances first hand - but very little of it is cheap and every step forward presents a funding challenge - at least at the outset. These are problems of success for the NHS.

Other challenges include the impact of the lifestyles of modern society on public health. While huge positive strands have been made (remember when the NHS kicked off Big Tobacco was still telling people smoking was a healthy thing to do) other problems have arisen. The plague of obesity, increases in diabetes and dementia, the need to treat addiction to name but a few more problems of success. Why success? Simply, the fact is a society in which incomes are, despite increasing inequalities, generally higher than in the 40s, 50s and 60s and the changing profile of work patterns and consumer pricing of processed vs fresh food has an effect on health. Also, and importantly, increasing life expectancy is a great result - but the side effect is that illnesses of aging become more common problems while the changing profile of the tax base affects our ability to fund the NHS and social care. Did I mention mental health services? And there is so much more. 

Then there is Brexit - which will damage medical research, hurt reciprocal care, have a dramatic effect on NHS staffing and potentially create a brain drain of the best and the brightest. You can read about all these things elsewhere on this blog. As Labour MEPs we are constantly raising the issues that will hit the NHS and seeking to limit the damage. We’ve done some good, but a no-deal Brexit will have a drastic impact and negate those small steps of progress

If the NHS is to make it through its first century as the sort of service that can continue to deliver for the many as it has to date then it will require money. But the challenges go beyond money, progressive politicians to do more than simply promise to promise resources and grasp the reality that the negative experiences of patients in non-acute areas of the service require different thinking, that personal responsibility for personal health is a tough nut that’s never been cracked. This is a task for progressives, social democrats and democratic socialists because to leave it to others will see the NHS and its founding principles undermined. It remains at 70, Labour’s greatest lasting achievement.

Posted by John Howarth
The EU Copyright Directive

The EU Copyright Directive

Above: John with songwriters Jim Duguid (Speedway, Paul Nutini, Alex Clare) and Tom Gray (Gomez)

Copyright legislation in the European Union is badly in need of reform. Prevailing copyright legislation is woefully inadequate for modern commerce in the age of the internet. That is one of the few things that everyone, well almost everyone, in the European Parliament and the Commission can agree upon.

The debate over copyright reform is complex, but the current situation is serving the interests of very few other than those of the large internet platforms. This is not in any way a sustainable situation and change is clearly needed. I have received many hundreds of (fairly obviously) robotically generated emails on the changes embodied in Articles 11 and 13 of the proposed Copyright Directive legislation*. In my view that change must address two particular problems and must ensure that several key principles are protected:

It is right that artists and creators are rewarded for their work. This is both a principle and a practical problem with the way the internet has destroyed value in a number of industries. Recording artists in particular but also other creatives have been severely impacted by a ‘sharing economy’ which essentially rips-off their work. In this case the recording companies are also badly affected and the winners are the likes of YouTube. Of course there are also contradictions - recording artists benefit in terms of profile and exposure but ‘profile’ alone does not pay the bills. These concerns are shared by written word publishers and those in other creative fields, though it is also fair to say that I have also had representations taking a different view.

Above: John with Irish singer/songwriter Imelda May at the European Parliament.

Journalism and a free press has to be paid for. Professional journalism, on which a free press depends, is not ‘free’. The decline of newspaper circulation, the changes facing broadcasting organisations and the emergence of news aggregators and search have rendered unviable the business model on which pre-internet media was based. The contradiction is that more people than ever see newspapers in their on-line form, yet again it is the platforms and search organisations that benefit in terms of advertising revenue. If professional journalism is to survive in a sufficiently diverse form to feed a free press (with all its failings) then news organisations need to be able to benefit from their readership. Article 11 would appear to help this situation somewhat.

Free academic enquiry is essential. Academic enquiry necessarily involves the citation of other works. I would be unhappy with any proposition that constrained the ability of academics and researchers to publish and share works and references. Changes have gone some way to assure me that the proposals would not threaten this area, however, their ‘over implementation’ conceivably could. I am concerned that we could exchange one inadequate situation for something even worse.

I have reservations about the notion of policing the internet through the application of algorithm and crude content recognition. Visual content recognition software is flawed and far from perfect, however, it will improve as all other software has done. I would also be unhappy with the notion of ‘link taxes’ applied indiscriminately.

These are the principles around which I will make a judgement, however, it is fair to say that there are a whole range of other issues that impinge upon the digital economy that cut across the debate on modernising copyright law. The interests of consumers are also important, looking after local cultures and languages have depended upon a localised broadcasting framework matter to many people. The current legislation cannot be reduced to a simple choice.

Within this debate there has been a great deal of exaggeration and hyperbole to no particular end. I have worked within the creative and software industries, I have been involved all my life with music and, in the design business, have had to take legal action to protect intellectual property and creative copyright. That experience inevitably colours my view. I do not share the view that the sky will fall if the current legislation is carried - but I do hope it can be improved during its passage through the institutions.

* It is very hard to see how anyone could believe that incessant spamming of my inbox with identical content from email addresses that are clearly not real will persuade me of their case, but no matter, people do what they do.

Posted by John Howarth
Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir

Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir

Conflict within the Indian-administered areas of Kashmir and Jammu between India and Pakistan has been a long standing concern of many constituents in South East England. 

Three or four wars between India and Pakistan have resulted from the long-running dispute. The conflict has now been going, off and on, for over 70 years. A ceasefire brokered in 2003 was in force for around ten years and was broken in 2014. 

Over the past two years the situation has deteriorated further. In 2017, there were 451 killings. 80 journalists were beaten up. There have been bans on internet use and social media. Incidences of torture have been reported. There have also been increasing incidences of the relatively new phenomenon of braid and hair chopping - attacks by unidentified assailants on women, often knocking them unconscious and then chopping off their hair, there are also reports of systematic rapes. 

There is now a whole generation of people who have no other civil experience other than war. Indian diplomats and civil servants of good intent despair of the situation. Any notion of winning the hearts and minds of the Kashmiri people to Indian rule were abandoned to a strategy of meeting terror with terror. Yet both terrorism and state sponsored violence have failed to produce a lasting peace nor the acquiescence of the population, particularly in the Kashmir valley.     

At the root of the problem remains the basis of the original decision by the British when withdrawing their colonial presence to place the future of Kashmir into the gift of the local maharaja rather than placing faith in the people. Now 70 years on, while it remains a UN mandate, the notion of a popular vote being allowed to determine the future of the region any time soon is fanciful. The publication, however, of a report by the UN Human Rights Commissioner on 14 June 2018 provides a focus and an opportunity to make progress. Speaking at the UN in Geneva shortly afterwards John Howarth MEP called for the central proposal, of an independent commission of inquiry to be accepted and for systematic abuse of human rights to end.

John has raised the issue of human rights abuse in Kashmir by the Indian security forces in the European Parliament. He also attend a seminar organised by his European Parliamentary Labour Party colleague, Wajid Khan, to raise awareness and hear about the experiences of Mrs Shameem Shawl, the Chair of the Kashmir Women’s Forum, and a representative of the International Muslim Women’s Union at the UN Human Rights Council. The seminar discussed the violations of international human rights standards through the rampant use of pellet guns by the Indian army and the state police (a report by Amnesty International outlined the cases of 88 people whose eyesight was damaged, some temporarily, some permanently by metal pellets between 2014 and 2017), and the horrific circumstances of the Asifa Bano case. 

What is different now to previous escalations of violence is that smartphones and social media have provided evidence of human rights abuses. A settlement is badly needed and until the situation changes it will continue to damage the reputation of India. If the Indian security services have nothing to hide they have nothing to fear from the independent commission of inquiry the June 2014 proposes. This should be followed by international observer access. Agreement between India and Pakistan is essential, but enabling Kashmiris to reach a position where they can effectively govern themselves should be the eventual aim. This area of extreme natural beauty is at the centre of a geopolitical region where there is much to be gained from enabling trade and normality to develop and where the threat of conflict between nuclear armed powers should not be ignored.

If there is a power capable of acting as intermediary it is potentially the EU as it doesn’t carry historic baggage in the region and it seeks to develop trade agreements with a human rights element. John. Is working with the Friends of Kashmir group in the European Parliament to raise awareness of these horrific crimes and abuses of human rights, to deliver an up-to-date position of the Parliament and to represent the concerns of the 5 million Kashmiris in Europe including the many in South East England.

Posted by John Howarth
Brexit and horse racing in Ascot week

Brexit and horse racing in Ascot week

Aside from all of the twaddle about hats and over-privileged characters in fancy dress, there is top quality horse racing at Ascot this week too. I could be wrong but I fully expect that in years to come the top meetings like Ascot and Cheltenham will carry on unaffected by the UK’s intended exit from the EU. So it will be in elite sport. Brexit, however, is posing a huge day-to-day challenge affecting the horse racing and bloodstock industries. 

The free movement of racehorses between the UK, Ireland and France is governed by the Tripartite Agreement, between the countries on behalf of each national Horse Racing authority. The agreement pre-dated Britain and Ireland’s membership of the EU, but was ‘absorbed’ into EU law and will come to an end when Britain leaves the European Union or at the end of any transition period assuming one is finally signed off.

After that if no special arrangements are agreed for racehorses they the animals simply become ‘livestock’ and will be treat as such with cross-border movements in future requiring veterinary health checks and temporary-admission documentation. Race horses are currently regarded as ‘highly healthy animals’ are exempt from routinely applied checks. These checks are likely to affect the health and welfare of the horse and will impose additional costs on trainers. This along with potential customs delays represent a major logistical problem for the industry.

Horse racing is big business for the South East, especially in Newbury. Recent figures show that more than 3,700 racehorses can be found in the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Horse racing and associated industries make a significant contribution to the local economy, providing over 1,370 full time jobs, and the home of 10% of Britain’s trainers. It is also worth mentioning in passing that EU agriculture funding can also have a bearing on racing stables which have land permanently to pasture with likely changes to the subsidy regime.

In November last year, I met with the British Horse Racing Authority and the National Trainers Federation at Stan Moore’s Yard in Lambourn to discuss the movement of thoroughbred horses between the UK, Ireland and France.  In the week of 9 July representatives of the British Horse Racing industry will be visiting the European Parliament to meet MEPs from the UK, Ireland and France to make the case for new post-Brexit arrangements. Arriving at a solution is as much in the interest of French and Irish trainers and their owners as of those in the UK. Hopefully we can make some progress in developing an alliance to protect the best interests of horse racing.

You might have thought that, with all the establishment connections of the racing industry, somebody might have had a word in the Government’s ear. If they did it seems not to have got onto the desk of anyone doing any actual negotiation. They certainly haven’t given any thought to the detail nor made any serious proposals to deal with the problem.

A hard Brexit would be disastrous for the economy in the South East - in this field as well as many others. Nobody voted for a Brexit that damages the much-loved pursuits that are part of our national life.

 

Posted by John Howarth
Why I’m backing the march for a People’s Vote

Why I’m backing the march for a People’s Vote

On Saturday I will go to London with MEP colleagues of all parties and people of all walks of life to join the March for a People’s Vote on the terms reached for the UK’s intended exit for the European Union. 

I’m not a great fan of demonstrations and it takes a lot to drag me to one but this time I’m making an exception.

First and foremost it is increasingly clear that leaving the European Union is a leap into the dark where the damage is clear but the gains can’t be quantified, and mostly can’t even be named - not even by those who favour leaving. I don’t believe it is my role, as someone who’s politics have been informed by socialism, to back an outcome that will make the people I was elected to represent poorer.

But while the increasingly apparent economic reality that the poorest will be the hardest hit is certainly enough, it’s not the only reason for being in London. Everything that has happened since the referendum two years ago has shown the process to be fundamentally flawed and the Brexit that was promised undeliverable.

Promises made by the leave campaigners have been repeatedly exposed as untrue, impossible or simply at odds with how the world works in the 21st century.

The Conservative Government has made a complete mess of the negotiation process, starting from the insult to our collective intelligence of “having our cake and eating it” and culminating on their surrenders on point after point which will mean Britain having sovereignty in name only while our European neighbours make the rules in which we will have no say - whatever our future relationship with the EU that will now be the reality of even the hardest of Brexits.

However my reasons for supporting the People’s Vote extend to the fundamentals of our democratic process. The referendum of 2016 was fundamentally flawed:

We should probably set aside the fact that the Leave campaigns blatantly broke both the rules and the law; flouting the spending limits, abusing personal data, peddling false claims and seemingly colluding with a hostile power. What I can never, however, ignore is the exclusion of three million taxpaying citizens and a million British-born people living and working elsewhere in the EU. Britain has a bad history where taxation without representation is concerned - it lost George III his American colonies.  

Neither can I accept the removal from all of our people many of their legal rights we now have as citizens. It is and always was too big a step to take by a single vote and a narrow margin and to remove the dreams of young and old alike to seek a different life is a step to far in constraining individual liberty. 

I’m tired of hearing this narrow decision described as, for all time, the ‘will of the people’ - it was an expression of view and, rightly, the Government has had the opportunity to deliver what was promised. Now they have failed it is time for Parliament to do its job and act in the national interest. 

By the time this is being read Parliament will have decided whether it shall exercise its right to hold the Government to account, to act as the representatives of the country through its meaningful vote, or perhaps the narrow interests of the Conservative Party will prevail over those of the future of the country. But whatever decision Parliament takes it is my view that what was done by direct democracy can only be undone by direct democracy. 

For my part I was elected on a proportional mandate - six of the ten MEPs elected for South East England one way or another support Brexit at any cost, four of us favour remaining in the EU - the result in the region was the same as in the country as a whole. Those who believe the UK should at least think again deserve representation. When my Party lost elections my job was to hold those who won to account and to battle for those who elected me to minimise the damage to people and communities. It was not to give up and say ‘it’s OK, because people voted for it’. In democracies we get to speak truth to power and hold those who make promises to account, otherwise democracy withers. Those who voted in good faith and have been let down and betrayed by the Brexiteers and Theresa May’s inept and duplicitous Government deserve the chance to hold them to account. 

For all those reasons I’m going to walk around London on Saturday. 

Posted by John Howarth
National Beer Day 2018

National Beer Day 2018

A good, sadly long passed, friend once said to me while buying me a pint, “beer - it’s an acquired taste - but I spent so much time acquiring it that it seems a shame to stop”.

What strikes me looking back is how much beer has improved since the big brewers lost their iron grip on their pub chains and smaller brewers got us away from chemical vats of mass produced beer, much of which had little taste to acquire. Now you can’t move for ‘craft beers’ of one sort or another and, just in case there weren’t enough of these things around, today it is National Beer Day.

South East England has a long tradition of brewing beer. The region can boast of 192 breweries and contributes towards 140,033 jobs within the beer and pub sector. Micro breweries have become a means of giving a pub a way of competing in harder times. For example, The Flower Pots Inn at Cheriton in Hampshire brews its beer onsite – a 10 brewer’s barrel plant and has been extended recently to allow for increased capacity. 

One brewery that never lost the plot is Shepherd Neame brewery - Britain’s oldest brewer based in Faversham, Kent. Shepherd Neame produces over 60 million pints annually and exports to 35 countries and enjoy Protected Geographical Indicator (PGI) status afforded by the European Union to Kentish Ales - meaning that they must be produced in Kent. Hops, East Kent Goldings, used in the brewing process, also have Protected Designation of Origin (PDO).

Does it help? It protects from fake products, it tells the consumer that their beer really is beer brewed by a traditional method and it is a quality mark that assists with export. In the UK we’ve been really slow to make the most of these protections and, while German beer had its Reinheitsgebot purity law, French Wine had its AOC designation and so on, in the UK Government’s of all stripes simply let big commercial interests serve anything they could get away with. 

What happens if and when the UK leaves the EU? Who knows? It’s just something else nobody seems to have thought through. 63% of the UK’s total beer exports go to the EU, but withdrawing from the Single Market and Customs Union will make serving that market harder and, despite all the waffle about ‘global Britain’ it won’t make it any easier to sell anything anywhere else either. So until someone comes up with some bright ideas it will remain tough for UK producers. 

People in business have a way of shrugging and ‘just getting on with it’ but the UK could do a great deal better to support its food and drink economy. Just think about this - the UK has zero VAT on takeaway food but has the highest rate of VAT in Europe on restaurant and pub meals - nothing to do with the EU, everything to do with a hangover from the days when eating out in the UK was taxed as a ‘luxury’.

Anyway, today is a good excuse to support your local brewery and have a pint in your local. 

In the photo with John (and now in the empties) are Shepherd Neame’s Spitfire (Kent), The Hog’s Back Brewery’s Farnham White (Surrey) and Good Old Boy from the Yattendon-based West Berkshire Brewery.

Posted by John Howarth
Football and Brexit – never mind the World Cup

Football and Brexit – never mind the World Cup

Never mind the World Cup. Like a lot, my guess is actually most of the people who follow football, my first loyalty is to club rather than country. What happens to Newcastle United matters to me - rather too much. What happens to Reading FC matters to me a fair bit. What happens to England or Scotland - rather less so, I’m afraid. The national team is something football supporters care about for a month every couple of years, they care about their club the other 23 months.

So the big event this week is the publication of the fixtures for next season. I should confess at this point that I’m really hoping that my Son’s wedding doesn’t clash with a home game! 

For some people the fixtures drive their lives but for Premier League supporters it is now just an outline. The TV schedules mean games are changed and travel planning becomes more difficult. For the teams at the top the European schedules mean that games are switched even more regularly. Saturday at 3pm is a routine reserved for the lower leagues - mostly.

I’m asked sometimes how I think Brexit would affect football. To be honest, I’m not sure, but there are several possibilities that could go either way. These are some of the issues affecting football in the near and not so near future:

For as long as I can remember somebody or other has been predicting some kind of apocalyptic event likely to hit the game but history should teach us that very little happens overnight. The Bosman ruling was a decision of the European Court of Justice in 1995. It essentially just confirmed that slavery really had been abolished and so once a player had reached the end of their contract they had the right to move without a fee being played to their former club. At the time it was the end of the world - except it wasn’t. 

Under the Withdrawal Bill the Bosman ruling will still apply to UK clubs - and, given that there have been advantages and disadvantages but that wages have generally risen, it’s hard to see the PFA agreeing to any change. 

TV rights, the biggest single source of income at the top level, are awarded on the basis of national territories. This might change at some stage depending on what happen to EU law in the media sector and the digital single market. With the UK outside the EU territorial rights will still apply to the UK, however if EU law changes then the Premier League it may change the way rights can be sold in the EU which may affect the price.

What will certainly affect TV income, however is whether or not the Premier League can position itself as the ‘best league in the world’. That was always debatable - but the fact is it is the most competitive top league and worldwide audiences seem to like the product, which is faster and in many ways more interesting than more aesthetically skilful leagues. The quality of the product depends on the quality of the players.

The essence of Bosman was that professional footballers are just people at work. So they have rights, including freedom of movement. If freedom of movement is ended EU players will require work permits. This has enabled the Premier League to become ‘the best league’ by hiring overseas, which has often meant less expensive players. It also meant that the football authorities could not enforce requirements for a minimum number of ‘home’ players to be fielded and this especially affected the Premier League as all EU players are ‘home’ players. Players from outside the EU need to meet competitive standards to qualify for competition. Analysis of squads, conducted by BBC Sport, have found that in the first two tiers in England and the Scottish Premiership, a total of 332 players would fail to meet current standards, more than 100 Premier League players would be affected.

With the UK outside the EU players from the EU27 would have to abide by current FA international player rules. The current rules, on international players from outside the EU state that a player from a top 10 ranked FIFA country, has had to have played in 30% of their games in the two years prior to the date of application to be granted a work permit. A player from a nation ranked 11-20 must have played in 45% of international games and this percentage rises to 60% for the next 10 countries, then 75% for nations ranked 31-50. If these current rules are applied to the EU-27, then we are looking at a considerable drain of talent and loss of competitiveness to the Premier League. There has been substantial pressure from UK clubs on the Home Office and FA to make the necessary concessions to allow future recruitment and the retention of current players as simple as possible.

While the Premier League frets about its future revenues others, notably the FA, see the potential opportunity of bringing more UK-born players into top flight football thus potentially improving the chances of the England international team. A cynic like myself however, would point out that pre-Bosman the England team did not set the world alight. More significant for football in the UK may be the consequences for teams further down the leagues. There is little doubt that the product at every level of the game is at a higher standard than in the past. Bosman brought a new variety and new ideas into all the leagues. Attendances remain, despite everything, at historic highs and the Championship is a highly competitive league, in many ways more entertaining than the top division.

Another issue relates to FIFA’s Article 19 on the Status and Transfer of Players. Under this Article, international transfers are only permitted for players over the age of 18. However, one of these exceptions is that if the transfer takes place within the EU or EEA, then the age criteria is reduced to 16. This may not appear a big problem, but it means that when the UK leaves the EU, we will lose the ability to utilise the exception in Article 19, and therefore be prevented from signing players at other EU Clubs between the ages of 16-18. In recent years, hundreds of players under the age of 18 have been transferred to UK clubs under the EU/EEA exemption to Article 19 such as Hector Bellerin, Nathan Ake and Andreas Christensen to name but a few.

What will happen? Nobody knows for sure, but the US experience tell us that elite sport usually wins. The biggest clubs are now international brands and TV franchises. The issues are all going to rumble along and will, like so much else, remain unresolved for a while yet, money will talk. The Premier League will get its way, or find a limited compromise on EU-based players. However, the greater threat to the structures of English football as we know it will come from the changing shape of the European elite. A reformed Champions’ League or newly structured European club competition may effectively remove half a dozen teams from the domestic league altogether and they will simply no longer be governed by the jurisdiction of the FA. The main threat to the integrity of the sport will come from the preponderance of gambling interests surrounding the world game. It has always been true that where gambling leads corruption follows.

Meanwhile the game will in essence remain beautiful and the World Cup will remain a contest of two halves which Germany tends to win.

Posted by John Howarth
The Fat Man of Europe

The Fat Man of Europe

This week (11-18 June) is Diabetes Awareness Week, a health issue that is an increasing problem. The number of people diagnosed with diabetes in Britain has more than doubled in the last twenty years. 

According to Diabetes UK, approximately 4.6 million people are living with diabetes in the UK. The NHS currently spends 10% of its £100 billion budget on diabetes care. Type II diabetes, as many people know, is linked directly to obesity and in this field the UK leads – not so much the sick man of Europe as the fat man of Europe. In many cases diabetes is a preventable condition. All the while UK politicians have made excuses for a food taxation regime that leaves takeaway food untaxed obesity and diabetes and the care bill have been increasing. However diabetes care depends on the NHS and so Brexit will do further harm to an already strained system. 

European funded research projects remain at risk and membership of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), though the UK has signalled a desire to participate, remains under a large question mark.

The continuing REDDSTAR project involves scientists from the UK, Portugal, Germany, the USA, Denmark and the Netherlands. REDDSTAR, or the Repair of Diabetic Damage by Stromal Cell Administration, is a project spread over the course of three years and if successful, would provide therapeutic options to control the complications of diabetes. Ideally, nothing should imperil this project. And on Planet Sensible, nothing would.  However, we’re not on Planet Sensible, we’re on Planet Brexit. 

The EMA will relocate from London to Amsterdam. If and when the UK leaves the EU, our membership of the EMA will in any case diminish. Unless we can successfully persuade the EU27 otherwise the UK will be relegated to a country with tier 2 market status. The most probable outcome are delays for NHS patients to receive new drugs. Switzerland, a country outside the EU, takes on average 157 days longer for access to EMA medicines. Indeed, over 45% of applications for medicines submitted by pharmaceutical companies are not submitted to Switzerland, with patients missing out on often vital drugs. 

And I haven’t even got onto the dwindling numbers of health care professionals in the NHS, the NHS’ reliance on EU national staff – 11% of the NHS’s staff were born outside the UK –  immigration restrictions on tier 2 visas, the healthcare gap left by removing the EHIC agreement, and likely increases in food prices affecting diets. 

It’s hard to blame the EU for the state in which the UK finds itself. The modern history of the rise of Diabetes is a truly depressing tale and one with consequences that are consistently forcing the costs of the NHS higher. 

If you would like more information on Diabetes Week 2018, and diabetes in general, visit: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/get_involved/diabetes-week  

Posted by John Howarth