COMMON GROUND

Crisis in Great Britian

Program 0135 August 28, 2001


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(This text has been professionally transcribed, However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)

MAX EASTERMAN: A large red sign says "Foot and mouth. This moorland is closed. Do not leave the road." And of course, for many of the tourists who would come here, if you canít leave the road there is no point in coming.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, coping with crisis in Great Britain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE STUDENT: You come out of here. Youíve got debts and you were looking to buy a house, looking to settle down. You never get out of debt. The question is, whatís the point? You come to university to try and get a better life for yourself and you just end up in a trap.

KEITH PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. Itís produced by the Stanley Foundation. Iím Keith Porter.

MCHUGH: And Iím Kristin McHugh. Earlier this year an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease spread like wildfire through parts of Europe. By far, Great Britain has been hardest hit since the outbreak began. Nearly 2,000 cases have been reported and millions of sheep and cattle killed-many of them healthy-in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease.

PORTER: Hot weather normally kills the virus, but itís continuing to spread, especially in northern England. And while the media focus has been on the agriculture industry, the epidemic is having a far deeper impact. Common Ground Correspondent Max Easterman traveled to Yorkshire Dales National Park to learn how one community is coping in the aftermath of foot-and-mouth disease.

[sound of a man herding sheep with his sheep dog, followed by the sound of sheep bleating in the background]

MAX EASTERMAN: Much of England hasnít been touched by foot and mouth. But the areas affected by the outbreak are mainstays of tourism: Devon, Cumbria, and here, in the heart of Yorkshire, the Dales National Park. And once the disease is diagnosed itís as if a prison door has slammed shut. As you can hear, there are still sheep on this farm near Yockenthwaite, in upper Wharfdale. Foot and mouth hasnít reached David Pearson yet. Heís lucky. Or maybe, not so lucky. You see, he has too many sheep now. Heís surrounded by infected farms. Theyíve all been culled. The farmers have been well compensated for their losses. But Mr. Pearson is locked in. He canít sell any of his stock or move them onto fresh pasture, in case they get infected.

DAVID PEARSON: Here at HDP(?) Farm, we are carrying far too much stock over from last summer and therefore thereís not enough grass to go around. Another month of this situation weíre really going to be in trouble if something isnít done.

EASTERMAN: Whatís this mean for your cash flow?

PEARSON: Itís nonexistent at the moment. The last time I sold any sheep was the, I think about the 16th of February.

EASTERMAN: You get any compensation for being locked in?

PEARSON: No. No, thereís no compensation whatsoever. There are so many questions that thereís no answers to at the moment.

[sound of bleating sheep stops; the sound of chirping birds begins]

EASTERMAN: Itís up here on the fells that you really come up against the reality of foot-and-mouth disease. This is a stunningly beautiful spot. There are acres of wild moorland spread out all around me. I can hear curlewís calling over to my left, and in front of me in the afternoon sunshine lies Malhamdale. Up to my right Rye Loaf Fell. And I can see just one small herd of cattle grazing in a field, underneath the fell peak. But of the many hundreds and thousands of sheep youíd expect to see up here on a normal summerís day, not a single one. And right beside me, a large red sign says "Foot and mouth. This moorland is closed. Do not leave the road." And of course, for many of the tourists who would come here-walkers, hikers, mountain climbers-if you canít leave the road there is no point in coming. And so the tourist industry that lives off them is in steep decline.

[sound of traffic]

EASTERMAN: This is the main street of the market town of Hawes, at the top end of Wensleydale. Wensleydale is one of Yorkshireís prime agriculture areas. Just around the corner from here thereís a creamery where you can go, and taste, and buy the world famous Wensleydale cheese. The first case of foot and mouth in Wensleydale was in March and almost immediately the tourist industry began to suffer. This street is lined with hotels, but outside all of them there are signs, like here at the Fountain: vacancies. And thatís at the end of July when this place should be full to overflowing. With me is Kate Empsall, whoís from the Upper Wensleydale Business and Tourist Association. Kate, just how badly has the whole local economy been affected by the foot-and-mouth epidemic?

KATE EMPSALL: Disastrously, since the beginning of March. Because most of the people coming at the moment are day trippers. And they might spend a pound or two, whereas if youíve got somebody who comes overnight theyíve probably got £20 bed and breakfast and then probably another £10 for an evening meal and a coffee and a postcard. The tourist office last June had 6,900 people through its doors; this June theyíve had 2,300 people through its doors.

Weíve a chemists shop down here. They laid off their staff within the first week or two to half time. Thereís a gift shop there. Theyíve been down about 30, 40 percent. The cafť is down even more. Camp sites this last month have been down 70 percent, when youíd expect June, lovely long days, but we canít walk past at the moment, and thatís a stumbling block of getting the visitors really to come back. If you want evidence go over to see Bob Tunstall, the accountant across the road, because he has farmers on his books and he has businesses on his books. Heís seen the whole perspective of this.

BOB TUNSTALL: My name is Bob Tunstall. Iím an accountant and back for approximately 500, 600 businesses directly involved in tourism. Possibly 10 percent of those are in a desperate situation. Long-term business operators in the Dales, running good businesses, employing large numbers of people and generally speaking, making reasonable profits. But whatís happening now is that they just donít have the reserves. And, you know, will not survive through the winter.

CHRIS SIDDLE: Iím Chris Siddle. Normally Iím a printer but have been laid off because of the foot and mouth. What looked like being a new career just finished.

[sound of running printing presses]

EASTERMAN: Chris Siddle used to work here at the Wensleydale Press, just outside Hawes. Itís run by Liz Lawson, who spent 20 years building up the business. Her present plight is a stark example of how dependent everyone in this area is on the two main sources of work, agriculture and tourism. When foot and mouth was diagnosed in Wensleydale, almost no one could escape the consequences.

LIZ LAWSON: Basically, when it first broke out beginning of March, it was as if someone had blocked up my door. Customers just disappeared. And so Iíve had to lay off my printer. And we struggled on but it got to the stage where there just wasnít any work. Weíve been in business here for 21 years and Iím back to 20 years ago. And, yeah, I donít like it.

EASTERMAN: [speaking from inside a moving car]

Cumbria was one of the first and worst-affected regions for foot and mouth. Hundreds of farms have been wiped out. And this has had a terrible effect not just on the farmers but also particularly on their families and the young people, the next generation of farmers. So Iím now driving over into Cumbria through a steadily worsening rainstorm to find out how foot and mouth has changed their lives.

ALLISON RIDLEY: Iím Allison Whitely and Iím a student. When foot and mouth was at its peak we stayed off school for four weeks.

EASTERMAN: And you were revising, for exams, for your important public exams?

RIDLEY: For my GCSEís, yeah. Universities look at them for entry, really. So itís quite important.

EASTERMAN: Were there some subjects then where you think you really havenít done as well as you want to have done?

RIDLEY: I think in like math and English, I havenít done as well as what I was hoping. Iím not sure really whatís going to happen.

EASTERMAN: The future is a bit uncertain?

RIDLEY: Very. Very uncertain.

EASTERMAN: [speaking while walking] Iím back in Yorkshire, in the White Scar Cave, the biggest cave system open to the public in England. Normally, it would be open to the public in England. Normally, it would be thronged, especially with school children who come here on field trips. But itís eerily silent. So far this year over a hundred schools have canceled visits because the children canít get out into countryside to do their other field studies.

[sound of someone shoveling]

EASTERMAN: Chris Hall owns Town End Farm in Malhamdale. Heís busy cleaning up and disinfecting. The sheep and cattle were culled when the next door farm got foot and mouth. He was compensated for all the animals he lost, and he hopes to restock and be back on his feet by early next year. Tourist businesses canít afford to wait that long. They donít get compensation and thereís only one way out for them: thatís to get the tourists back. But that means opening up the footpaths in the moors. The farmers donít want that. Theyíre convinced that walkers will spread foot and mouth even though thereís no evidence at all that that would happen. Be that as it may, Chris Hall says it would be madness to let the tourists back onto the Fells.

CHRIS HALL: Well, there could be other outbreaks of foot and mouth, if that starts, Iím sure. You can understand that the tourism industry is being hit. But these people should not be allowed back into the area onto footpaths.

EASTERMAN: You donít want them at the moment?

HALL: No. Sorry, no. Iím very sorry, but if they were to come back now it could be another six, 12 months before foot and mouth is properly stamped out.

EASTERMAN: So the tourism industry is just gonna have to live with this?

HALL: Exactly, yes.

EASTERMAN: [speaking to Jane Collyer] Do you think that there is a divide, a schism, between tourism and the farming community?

JANE COLLYER: Definitely. Itís causing such a terribly bad feeling up here at the moment.

EASTERMAN: Jane Collyer runs a cafť and caving shop in Ingleton, a village on the edge of the national park.

COLLYER: Weíve had many farmers coming out with lines such as, "We donít want cavers and walkers here," or crag rats, or whatever else they call us. "We never have done, we donít want them back." So, what can we say. This is their attitude towards us. Thereís going to be a lot of bad feeling for years to come. There always has been a certain amount of it.

EASTERMAN: The government told local council six weeks ago that they should reopen footpaths and access to the countryside by July 20. North Yorkshire County Council and the Dales National Park Authority successfully lobbied for Wensleydale and the southern part of the national park, which includes Malhamdale, to remain closed because theyíre still foot and mouth hot spots. Stuart Pudney is North Yorkshireís head of trading standards, the department responsible for access to the countryside. He is sympathetic to the problems of the tourist industry, but he says the farmers must come first.

STUART PUDNEY: We know there are businesses in North Yorkshire are losing over a million pounds a day. Itís not something weíre not aware of. Bramblers, walkers, countryside users, walking across fields of livestock, in areas where there is foot and mouth, is not acceptable. And, in fact, someoneís going to get shot if they start doing it. So there has to be an acceptance that we must keep certain areas closed.

EASTERMAN: So the outlook not just for the farmers but for the tourist industry as well is still bleak?

PUDNEY: It is. You canít ignore the need for the countryside to be managed by the farmers, putting aside the employment issue, putting aside economies. The two have to coexist. Neither can exist without the other.

EASTERMAN: There are lessons to be learned from these tales of doom and woe. Just about everybody I met outside agriculture made the point that farming has to change. The practice of transporting live animals all over the country for export or for slaughter may make economic sense, but Stewart Pubney believes it was quite wrong to allow it to continue once foot and mouth had been diagnosed. It made it impossible, he says, to maintain effective disease control.

PUDNEY: The amounts of animal transportation throughout the UK is colossal. People donít use the local slaughterhouses. And weíre seeing transportation many hundreds of miles for pure commercial reasons. Now, itís been said that animal transportation has been more necessary now because of the closing of the number of local abortoirs, because of over-regulation. That just isnít true. In North Yorkshire we have well over 20 abortoirs in existence and yet weíre still licensing movements all over the UK.

EASTERMAN: And thereís nothing you can do to stop that?

PUDNEY: Absolutely not. Itís perfectly legal.

EASTERMAN: Are you still licensing people to move cattle and sheep out of North Yorkshire, from foot and mouth areas, to other parts of the country?

PUDNEY: Absolutely. AndÖ

EASTERMAN: And you canít stop that?

PUDNEY: Not at all. In fact, in the early days of the disease when North Yorkshire was free from foot and mouth we were seeing licensed movements from areas that werenít free into North Yorkshire and through North Yorkshire, and that gave us concern at the time anyway. And certainly during the crisis we felt there was no reason apart from pure economics not to keep movements very local. And we think in the future this must be looked at.

EASTERMAN: The key reason these practices go on is that British farming is based on subsidy. Subsidies have rewarded farmers for raising stock intensively and selling on for quick profit. So British farmers have been very slow to develop value added on their farms. Making their own cheese, for example, rather than just selling milk to the huge industrial creameries that dominate the cheese industry. Tim Palmer, the National Farmers Union secretary in the local market town of Skipton, does want to see his members become much more entrepreneurial. But it will mean radically changing attitudes.

TIM PALMER: Since the war, government has said weíve got to produce more food, which is tied in most of the farmers into doing just that.

EASTERMAN: Producing the primary product.

PALMER: Exactly. And not really having to look any further. Itís only really been in the last, maybe 10 years that weíve seen a gradual change, to this added value type approach. The trouble is, weíve got an average age of farmer in this country whose in his late fifties, and as we all get older we get a little bit less inclined to start diversifying into new, new opportunities. And so these changes do take quite some time. We should be pushing this industry forward. We want to start being a bit more self critical of our people within the industry and pull the whole thing up. Because if we can provide a better service then weíll provide better returns and better profits.

EASTERMAN: That will be a refreshing change of view for the many people I met who attacked farmers for their stick-in-the-mud attitudes. But it does leave one big point unresolved: that farmers are handsomely compensated for their losses whilst other businesses have been left to get through as best they can. Nationwide, English tourism has lost nearly $8 billion in the past six months. But Alan Britten, the Chairman of the English Tourism Council, rejects the siren calls for compensation. That, he says, is encouraging people to look backwards.

ALAN BRITTEN: That is not the kind of culture that I think we should be promoting in the tourism industry, for cultural subsidies. Compensation is extremely easy to agree in principle and very, very hard to administer. Where do you draw the line between somebody who needs compensation and somebody who doesnít? We have 125,000 businesses. Life being what it is, a fairly substantial proportion of those will go bankrupt any year anyway. I donít want to be harsh about it, but that is the way life is. We ought to be concentrating on those who are successful businesses, those who have invested through the winter and now find themselves in difficulty advertising for next year. Those are the people we want to help. But the only enduring relief for the tourism businesses is more tourists.

EASTERMAN: How long before the industry gets back to where it was last year?

BRITTEN: If Iím honest Iíd say not less than two years.

[sound of bleating sheep]

EASTERMAN: The government says the foot and mouth outbreak is tailing off. As weíve heard, many people feel the government hasnít done enough to mitigate its effects and many farmers feel itís, in fact, out of control. Late last month another pool of infection was found in Wales, on the same day that the prime minister was heckled in Cumbria, when he said tourism was bouncing back and people should stop worrying. Then the government had to announce a major cull in North Yorkshire to stop the disease spreading into the pig farming areas to the south. Requests from this program for a minister to answer peopleís concerns and criticisms were eventually turned down. One thing though is certain: weíll know by fall whoís right. If foot and mouth comes roaring back, the government is going to find it a lot harder to fend off the difficult questions. For Common Ground, this is Max Easterman in the Yorkshire Dales, northern England.

MCHUGH: Britainís university funding crisis, next on Common Ground.

TIM BOATSWAIN: Weíre not in a position to fund subject areas where we have very small numbers of students.

MCHUGH: Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details, or visit our Web site at commongroundradio.org. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.

PORTER: Ten years ago the British government changed its approach to higher education. In essence the elite, traditional universities and the vocationally oriented technical schools were merged into one system. The aim was twofold: to create a much larger pool of qualified people for the information technology age, and get more young people back into full-time education.

MCHUGH: But the effort was almost too successful. So many students decided to go to college that Britain could no longer continue its long-standing grant system, which paid all student tuition fees. Two years ago the government phased out the grants and told students they would have to pay their own way. Today, student debt is skyrocketing, university recruitment is down, and more and more young people think a job without a degree is preferable to debt. Common Ground Correspondent Max Easterman examines how students and universities are coping with the high cost of higher education.

EASTERMAN: [speaking from inside a moving vehicle] Luton is a town of 200,000 people about 30 miles northwest of London. Itís home to a General Motors factory, a big medical research laboratory, and a thriving international airport. It also has one of the best, academically best, of the new universities. Luton University scored an "excellent" in all its last six quality assessments. And yet just a few weeks ago it announced it was going to close its School of Humanities and make 55 teaching staff redundant. So whatís gone wrong? Well, Iím on my way to Luton University now to find out?

EASTERMAN: [now reporting from the campus] Unemployment is so low in Britain that students are concluding that a job now is a better bet than a larger debt at the end of a university course. University recruitment is static. So here at Luton, theyíve begun whatís called "repositioning": dropping academic courses, expanding vocational ones. Computing, sports science, and media will expand rapidly. English, history, politics will close. Itís responding to market forces, says, Tim Boatswain, the Provost Chancellor.

TIM BOATSWAIN: The problem is that our funding is really based on the number of students that come into the institution on a head count. And if we under-recruit we clearly lose that money and that money is taken off us for the next year as well. So though we might be able to survive an under-recruitment for one year, we canít survive the loss of that money for the next year. And what weíve had to do is look at those areas and reduce our staffing in those areas. So as I speak now there are colleagues under risk of redundancy.

EASTERMAN: How many?

BOATSWAIN: Fifty-five.

EASTERMAN: [Again reporting from a moving vehicle] Luton isnít alone in having to make these hard decisions. As well as humanities, pure science, and engineering are becoming less and less popular. All in all 1,200 university teachers are going to lose their jobs this year across Britain. Their union, the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, isnít convinced repositioning is a good thing. Itís not only the job losses itís worried about; it thinks that closing down whole departments is bad in the longer term. Its chairman here is Tony Dennis. Iím on my way to meet him now.

TONY DENNIS: The prediction student demand for particular subjects is always an inexact science. You never quite know whatís going to happen from one year to another. And it seems to us that departments are being closed down when itís at least feasible that in a number of cases demand will rise again within the next few years. But of course the demand wonít be directed at Luton University because theyíll be no departments for students to enter. Now, it seems a particularly cruel blow that the university that had been built up with a great deal of effort is now being thrust back to being effectively a local technical college, in our view.

EASTERMAN: The problem at Luten and at many other universities in Britain is that the university cannot fund those departments. The Provost Chancellor, Tim Boatswain, says that if it hadnít acted now thereíd have been even more jobs lost.

BOATSWAIN: The funding mechanism is a short-term mechanism which depends on the number of students that come to your institution. Thatís fine as long as there is growth in the market and there are plenty of students. Whatís happened this year is that the under-recruitment has been on such a scale that next year we would have had a serious deficit in funding if weíd not taken action.

EASTERMAN: Youíd have been insolvent?

BOATSWAIN: We would have had difficulty in balancing our books. Weíre not in a position to fund subject areas where we have very small numbers of students. The problem is that students, I think, are quite concerned about going into higher education when they could end up with a serious debt.

[sound of students talking in the background]

EASTERMAN: Debt is now a huge problem for British students. Many were unprepared for the amounts theyíd have to borrow to cover their maintenance costs: on average £15,000-thatís $20,000, plus tuition fees of over $4,000. The culture in Britain is only slowly adjusting to this new situation where poorer students need to get well paying jobs to see themselves through. Employers are often wary of taking on people who need time free to study and sit exams. So many students then have serious difficulties. And the proof of that is here on the notice board in the student restaurant. Over 200 are threatened with exclusion for not paying their fees.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE STUDENT: I think itís pretty much accepted that thatís what happens now. That you just get in debt.

EASTERMAN: How much debt are you running up?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE STUDENT: Well, with my student loan Iím looking for about £12-13,000.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE STUDENT: I donít think I, I know any student who hasnít taken out a student loan. I think most people when they leave will owe at least £10,000.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE STUDENT: It will be very difficult to see your way clear, even just living at a very frugal existence, if you were to just live off the loan. So I mean you really and truly, youíre forced into a situation where you have to take at least part-time work. Most people are working 20 to 30 hours. And theyíre trying to fit their studies in as well, and itís obviously not an ideal situation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE STUDENT: Youíd definitely be working more than youíd be studying. Thatís what Iíve found. And I think even if I wasnít working Iíd spend more time on my studying and probably do a lot better than I am at the moment.

EASTERMAN: Do you feel itís fair that you should have to work as well as study?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE STUDENT: No, no. I think if Iím in full-time education then thatís all I should be doing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE STUDENT: I know people older than me whoíve been to university and they got a grant. And their three years were the best three years of their life and they just concentrated on their studies and finding out who they were. Coming to university really sort of develops who you are. And I think if youíre working and youíre worrying about money some of that is taken away from you, I think.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE STUDENT: In a strange sort of way itís creating a debt culture for the future. You come out of here. Youíve got debts and you were looking to buy a house, looking to settle down. You never get out of debt. The question is, whatís the point? You come to university to try and get a better life for yourself and you just end up in a trap.

EASTERMAN: Students who canít pay their fees add to the universityís cash flow problems. This year at Luten to the tune of several million dollars. But the specter of students being thrown out for not paying fees damages the universityís image. Steve Kendall, Lutenís Director of Student Recruitment, says it also damages their ability to fulfill the governmentís policy of recruiting students from social groups not traditionally involved in higher education.

STEVE KENDALL: There are traditions among working class people which are against getting into debt unless you are very clear about how itís going to be settled. Within certain Asian communities debt would be seen as a, as a failure of self reliance.

EASTERMAN: There are going to be other problems of adjustment at the academic level as universities reposition themselves to be more vocational in what they teach. Professor Alan Smithers runs the Center for Educational and Employment Research at Liverpool University. Government, says Professor Smithers, must change the funding mechanism so that it reflects the countryís long-term needs, not what students or universities or a particular industry happens to want now.

ALAN SMITHERS: We have to look at the situation in the United States, which operates a very successful mass higher education system. That means, I think, allowing universities to price their courses in relation to their particular demand. And then I think the state support for higher education will have to come in terms of buying a certain proportion of those places for subjects that it wants represented for particular groups of students, that it wants to see in the higher education system. But I think ultimately the higher education has be freed up so that it can attract its own income.

EASTERMAN: [Reporting from inside a vehicle] The Director of Recruitment at Luton, Steve Kendall, agrees that the funding mechanisms canít go on in their present form. Nor, he says, can the academic timetable. If Britain is to shift nearer to the US model than universities have to think seriously about how and when they teach so that students can balance the needs of studying and earning a living.

STEVE KENDALL: Weíve gone through a rapid transition from a situation where higher education is effectively free at the point of use to one where it is a paid for and consumed service. And whereas in the past I think we might have been able to say in a rather lordly way, "We come first." I think realistically we know now that we are one of two equally compelling imperatives on the student and that we are not going to be able to sustain the student with us unless the student can keep body and soul together through working. And I think that challenges the kinds of academic structures which the universities have in place. And one effect of this will be to move us away from the three-year, full-time undergraduate program, to something which looks more like the North American experience.

EASTERMAN: That is certainly what the government wants: a more flexible, self-financing system. Whether it will get it, is another matter. The new federal structure in Britain could undermine the project. The Scottish Parliament has scrapped tuition fees and the Welsh Assembly is set to follow suit. This has created the impossible situation that Scottish students at English universities get their fees paid, while English students at Scottish universities donít. The government is now beginning to acknowledge that the whole student loan system is deeply unpopular. But to scrap it, and tuition fees, will be hugely expensive. Not to do so will further undermine the policy of getting more students from deprived backgrounds into higher education. A rock and a hard place. For Common Ground, this is Max Easterman at the University of Luton.

MCHUGH:. Cassettes and transcripts of this program are available. The transcripts are free. Cassettes cost $5.00. To place an order or to share your thoughts about the program, write to us at: The Stanley Foundation, 209 Iowa Avenue, Muscatine, Iowa 52761. Please refer to Program Number 0135; thatís Program Number 0135. To order by credit card you can call us at 563-264-1500. Thatís 563-264-1500.

PORTER: Transcripts are also available on our Web site, commongroundradio.org. Commongroundradio is all one word. Our e-mail address is commonground@stanleyfdn.org. For Common Ground, Iím Keith Porter.

MCHUGH: And Iím Kristin McHugh. B.J. Liederman created our theme music. Common Ground is produced and funded by The Stanley Foundation.

© 2000 by The Stanley Foundation

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