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Calon Cymru — the Heart of Wales — suffers from a lack of economic activity and from an exodus of young people and an inflow of retired folk. Calon Cymru Network, a community interest company set up to foster low-impact development in the region, sees horticulture — producing fruit and vegetables — as an essential part of regeneration. Wales produces hardly any fruit or vegetables, but could do so in the corridor of the Heart of Wales railway. There is big potential, as AMBER WHEELER suggests below.
Present population of the corridor is 35,000, with potential to double in 10 years to 70,000.
35,000 people’s fruit and vegetable needs (at 5 a day excluding potatoes), and including 35% food waste from farm to fork (a typical level, which should be much lower) = 0.2 tonnes/per person/per year = 7,000 tonnes per year, rising to 14,000 tonnes in 10 years time for a population twice as large.
Achievable yields in Wales = at least 10 tonnes/hectare average for mixed fruit and vegetable cropping.
10 tonnes per hectare/per year from 700 hectares could yield 7,000 tonnes, and from 1,400 hectares, 14,000 tonnes.
Calon Cymru Network is concerned with a 130 km length of the corridor, 4 km wide, containing about 36,400 hectares of undeveloped rural land of all types.
To be able to grow 100% of the corridor’s current fruit and veg needs would require 2% of the rural land, rising to 4% if the population doubled. Hardly any land is used for these purposes at present.
Obviously this is a simplification, but the Heart of Wales corridor could support a larger population and produce much more of those people’s food needs.
And this is one of Calon Cymru Network’s ambitions.
Transition Tywi Trawsnewid, a ‘transition town’ group in Carmarthenshire, put on a film about fracking last night. Fracking is a dead-end technology but — one possible glimmer on a dark horizon — the economics are unstable.
Since the extract below was written, the oil price has slid further to $45-$50 a barrel. At this level, fracking is too costly to be ‘profitable’ (at least, in nations where there is any meaningful regulation).
From Solving the Grim Equation pps 86-87:
“The USA’s much-publicised ‘energy revival’, dependent on hydraulic fracturing – fracking — of oil-bearing shale rocks, has been over-magnified, yielding mainly debts and serious pollution….
…..Frackers are running out of cash. Bloomberg News analysed 61 fracking companies in 2014 and found that their debts had nearly doubled in four years, but their revenues rose just 5.6%. Possibly, if the crude oil price rose to $150 a barrel or more, some frackers would be able to repay their loans a little more easily, but an oil price at least 50% higher than the level current in September 2014 would slash demand and force societies to adopt less energy-intensive economies. The sliding oil price in the closing months of 2014 and into 2015 made fracking even less viable economically.
Bloomberg found that the 61 companies had debts of $164.6 billion by the first quarter of 2014. In several, interest payments ate over 20% of revenues. At one, Quicksilver, interest payments almost reached 45% of revenue.
“Drillers are caught in a bind,” said Bloomberg. “They must keep borrowing to pay for exploration needed to offset the steep production declines typical of shale wells.
“For companies that can’t afford to keep drilling, less oil coming out means less money coming in, accelerating the financial tailspin.”
If easier oil were to be found, no one would be fracking.
But the easy oil has gone.”
Cambria Books published my book Solving the Grim Equation in summer 2015
The self-employed form a dark corner of the UK economy into which the Conservative government chooses not to peer closely.
The impact of tax credit cuts on the self-employed is a matter on which ministers have largely remained silent.
At the latest count, between June and August 2015, 4.497 million people were self-employed and 26.427 million were employees. One person was self-employed for every five to six employees.
All the rhetoric about coming increases in the minimum wage is irrelevant to the self-employed because they have to find their own wages. And it’s pretty likely that some employers will be encouraging employees to go off into self-employment, to lessen the impact on business profits of both auto-enrolment in workplace pensions (with compulsory employer contributions) and of the coming introduction of the ‘national living wage’.
If you are self-employed, the ‘national living wage’, starting in April 2016 at £7.20 for workers aged 25+, means nothing – and could even depress self-employment incomes if employers shed over-25s, increasing the numbers competing in the world of self-employment, which too often means casual shifts or short-term contracts.
The government includes the self-employed in its ‘jobs’ figures (creating a rosy image of plentiful job creation) but excludes them from workforce earnings figures (because they would depress those figures and prompt observers to ask how real the UK’s ‘economic revival’ really is).
The latest figures from HMRC for self-employment earnings are for 2012-13, and they show 897,000 cases of zero income, because the business made a loss, or its profits are offset by capital allowances or by losses suffered in previous years. Of the 5.76 million instances of self-employment – individuals in most cases – 1.99 million achieved annual income of less than £3,000, and the incomes of another 2.49 million were between £3,000 and £14,999.
At the other extreme, in 91,000 cases, annual income exceeded £100,000, and for this select group averaged £261,538.
The chart opposite shows clearly that the great majority of incomes from self-employment were very low in 2012-13, while a few, the 91,000, had earnings ranging from very comfortable to astronomical. The picture in 2015-16 is unlikely to be much different.
The self-employed are already poor relations in the world of welfare. No holiday pay, sick pay, statutory maternity or paternity pay, no entitlement to industrial injuries disablement benefit. No employer to make pension contributions on their behalf.
Many of the 4.497 million individuals who are nothing but self-employed — they do not also have a full-time or part-time job as an employee — have been able to survive only because of tax credits. The government’s argument that a higher personal tax allowance will help does not wash with those, probably over 3.5 million, whose total income is unlikely to reach the giddy heights of £11,000, the personal allowance from April 2016.
Some of the self-employed have pension incomes: nearly half a million are aged 65-plus, and most of these are likely to receive pension payments. That still leaves around four million self-employed individuals who are under 65 and in the main on very modest incomes. Yes, there will be under-reporting — cash-in-hand jobs, some illegal earnings — but the big picture is a dark one of an under-rewarded, reserve labour force for whom the national living wage will be a total irrelevance because they do not have an employer. Tax credits, on the other hand, are their lifeline.
‘Self-employed workers in the UK 2014’, Office for National Statistics, August 20th 2014
‘Self employment income assessable to tax 2012-13’, Survey of Personal Incomes from HMRC, updated January 2015
‘Social security provision and the self-employed’, Social Security Advisory Committee, occasional paper no.13, September 2014
‘Summary of Labour Market Statistics’ table 3, full-time, part-time and temporary workers, October 14th 2015
Working tax credits are paid to working people aged 16-24 if they have a child or one of a range of disabilities, and to people in work who are aged 25-plus, whether they have children or not. Child tax credits are paid to parents, according to their income.
Upper thresholds for working tax credit are £14,000 for single people without children, £19,000 for couples without children, and £40,000 for families with children. The Daily Mirror has published a concise guide to the proposed tax credit cuts wanted by George Osborne, the Chancellor, but on which the House of Lords forced a rethink this week.
TTIP — Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership — sounds innocent enough, but its range is frightening. And this trade deal being negotiated between the EU and the USA is SECRET. Even members of the European Parliament can read the draft documents only under supervision,and they are not allowed to take phones, tablets, computers or pens into the locked room where the documents are kept. It’s all about protecting commercial interests, you see.
We do know that about 3.2 million people have signed an anti-TTIP petition to the European Commission, and that if the treaty comes into force, open competition in the supply of goods and services — health, education, media and more — will favour powerful multinationals over small local businesses and community not-for-profit enterprises.
TTIP is profoundly, alarmingly anti-democratic. From what is known so far, it would give businesses power over governments. If a corporation believes a government law or regulation would reduce its profits, it could take that government to court. As it stands, a secret court.
More in ‘Solving the Grim Equation‘, pages 191-194
Local planning authorities can present a huge barrier to social and ecological advancement when elected councillors on planning committees scour planning policies to find ‘reasons’ for rejecting sustainable living ventures.
This is an example from Carmarthenshire, Wales:
Since 2009 the Wales Government has had a pioneer ‘One Planet’ policy to encourage rural enterprises which have ultra-low impact on the Earth’s non-renewable resources, but conservative (small c) councillors often struggle to appreciate the reasons for it — and that’s if they have heard about it at all!
Pioneers of low-impact communities need to be resistant — especially to suspicion and hostility from their longer-established neighbours. This was the case in Carmarthenshire’s Tipi Valley, which the local authority tried to quash, but failed. The settlement now has a much wider impact, as this short extract from my book ‘Solving the Grim Equation‘ indicates:
Tipi Valley is not paradise – too cool and rainy – but people can live there quietly and with very little money. Tipi Valley is a Carmarthenshire low-impact village, founded in 1974 with no permission at all, and the subject of protracted battles with the planning authority, Carmarthenshire County Council. The community describes itself thus, on the alternative communities ‘Diggers and Dreamers’ website:
‘To be honest, we’re a bunch of hippies, some of us ‘originals’. Tipi Valley is high in the Welsh hills, on 200 acres that we have bought bit by bit over 35 years. Our oldest land has already reverted to temperate rainforest. The idea is that we are part of nature, living within nature. Thus all our homes are low-impact dwellings such as tipis, yurts, domes and thatched or turf-roofed round houses. We are a village, not a commune, and everyone is responsible for their own economy. We do not have regular business meetings, and we never vote. It works by consensus and personal relationships.”
Forty years on, Tipi Valley is no longer ‘separate’. Children who grew up in the valley often live more energy-intensive lives than their parents, but possess practical skills which set them apart from children who were raised in houses and who received a conventional, book-based education. They can also support themselves and their families in unpromising surroundings because they have experience of getting by on very little.
These Tipi Valley ‘graduates’ frequently live in houses themselves, but like to stay close to the valley. They are electricians, carpenters, plumbers, plasterers, growers, therapists, often more than one at a time. They socialise and they help each other out, and they are also a bridge between the valley and the surrounding communities. Their parents were much more often English middle-class rebels than Welsh country folk, but several now have a foot in both groups. The original ‘back to Nature’ purpose of Tipi Valley’s founders no longer guides many in the second and third generations, at least not so strongly, but as they integrate into other communities, they bring a rich range of different perspectives. If the founders had not battled for permission to stay, and had meekly left, the story of their experiences, including the capability to adapt to the environment, would be missing.