Friday, 19 November 2010

Too much to fit in a title

What began as a debate has grown into a mission. On Tuesday, Mission Milk, the WI's conference and debate hosted jointly with the NFU, took place in central London. Attendees came from every sector of the dairy industry including the WI member whose resolution back in 2006 set the nation's mind on the low and unfair prices that dairy farmers were receiving for their milk, as well as a dairy farming WI member who had been able to leave the milking to others that morning to make sure they could attend!

Over 100 Great Milk Debates, organised by WI members, took place across the country in 2007, with representatives from the whole of the industry including the retailers and processors of milk, as well as dairy farmers themselves. At the time, the situation did improve somewhat, but three years on, WI members again realised that although some dairy farmers are now receiving higher prices per litre for their milk through dedicated supply chain contracts with some retailers, many thousand more were not - discrepancies again! So the NFWI decided it was time to revisit the milk campaign and raise awareness once again of the difficult and unfair situation the dairy industry is still facing.

There was the odd contented voice among the crowd, which was great news, but as custodians of the countryside, the dairy industry along with all other farmers is hugely influential in the way our countryside looks and is managed, and as such, deserves the country’s support.

The panel of Peter Kendal, NFU President; Mike Coupe, Sainsbury's Group Commercial Director; Neil Kennedy, Milk Link Chief Executive; Andrew George MP for St Ives and the Isles of Scilly and myself each spoke from their perspective which raised questions and comments from the audience.

Recent evidence would suggest that the supply chain is not functioning properly and many farmers are missing out on their share of pounds in additional earned revenue to milk buyers. Perhaps it is time that the retailers change the way in which they buy dairy products by moving away from short-term tendering to long-term contracts, with greater partnerships with processors and farmers - would this not give a stronger foundation for a more stable and transparent supply chain?

We all need to work together.

Two days with the WI can seem like a week – especially when they are as busy as Tuesday and Wednesday were! On Tuesday we were on Mission Milk, and on Wednesday, the WI found itself in a whirlwind!

The first thing on Wednesday was a “keynote address on equality” given by Theresa May, Minister for Women and Equalities AND Home Secretary - how does she manage both roles??

I think of that meeting with a wry smile for as people were being allowed in with “photographic identification and prior registration only” cemented with a tick next to those registered names, women with babies and toddlers in pushchairs were being sent in the same direction for what I presume was a playgroup session, while others asked where the NCT class was to be held.

Once the Minister began her address there was anticipation on my part to hear of engagement and representation, the question of what would be put into place for the women’s sector. This is most important with the Commission on the Status of Women coming up at the UN in the spring of 2011. Regrettably, no information on this was forthcoming but we did hear about the scrapping of laws made by the previous government and that from now on the Equalities Policy would be to work with the ‘grain of human nature’. Flexibility and fairness were much quoted when mention was made of working hours, parental leave, retirement and may other causes of inequality. Many areas still need more work, especially changing the opinion of people who still see there is equality for others but not for them. Equality of opportunity is there for all, and fairness should always run alongside equality.

So from Coin Street Neighbourhood Centre to Clarence House and lunch with the Prince of Wales or, more accurately, with the past and future partners of His Royal Highness’ initiative - Start. This is a programme of simple steps that everyone can take to make better use of our natural resources. Millions of people confused by percentages, targets, science and conflicting advice want to do more to live sustainably and Start aims to make that sustainability simple, positive and inspirational. And all in a language the public understands.

It would seem that quite a lot of initiatives have already taken place this year and one event we know of was the Garden Party held in Clarence House’s garden when The Harmonies gave their first public performance.

The starting points are easy to understand and do something about: Start thinking, Start eating seasonally, Start insulating, Start doing it smarter, Start energy saving at home, Start recycling clothes, Start knowing your food and Start using your water wisely.
Now those of you reading this and knowing the WI will say, I hope, this is what the WI has been advocating and doing for years and years. So who better to get on board the Start bus than the WI?
Prince Charles told me, indeed, who better than the WI to take this on board at local level and he would be very pleased if we were to become part of Start. We have yet to discern if and where and how we might be involved but many thousands of WI members might think to quietly call it Start II.

So from Clarence House to BBC TV Centre in Wood Lane to take part in the Alan Titchmarsh Show along with The Harmonies and to talk about the WI’s Jam Festival at Denman College this coming weekend – 20th and 21st November. A six minute slot had a couple of sentences from me on the ‘history’ of the WI, followed by a further few sentences on jam and the festival from Anne Harrison, Denman’s Chair, a piece on flowers and flower arranging and then The Harmonies sang their own new version of Jerusalem, live, for the first time. There was the added bonus of seeing Westlife perform their new single and briefly meeting Ainsley Harriot before he recorded a piece for the next day’s programme.

Quite a day!

And please, don’t forget to download The Harmonies single on 12th December - a number 1 with a difference perhaps.