The European Commission has finally unveiled its long awaited "health check" of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Contrary to popular opinion, this was scheduled for nearly five years after being mandated as part of the 2003/2004 Reforms of the CAP and is not a response to the recent food price hike. In my opinion, rather than a health check, the CAP needs emergency surgery. This could have been an opportunity for radical and lasting reform and although the proposals will help somewhat, they are nowhere near as strong as they could have been.

The abolition of set aside is welcome, we cannot justify keeping 10 per cent of arable land out of production while food prices are going through the roof and when farm payments are decoupled from production. There were substantial environmental benefits of set aside, such as enhanced hedgerows however these can be maintained by the proposed six meter protection zones.

I am also pleased to see the planned abolition of milk quotas and further moves to bring in full decoupling, thus finally breaking the link between production and subsidy. The increase in compulsory modulation is also good news. This is the movement of funds from the Single Farm Payment (Pillar 1) to rural development schemes (Pillar 2) and will amount to 8 per cent over the next four years.

This will help farmers in the West Midlands because it will start to level the playing field. This is due to the fact that it will come off the extra 14 per cent that the British government hacked off our farmers payments two years ago. Other European countries didn't do this, nor did Scotland or Wales.

These are the positive elements of the health check. on the negative side we have proposals for applying higher modulation rates for bigger farms. These may encourage larger farms to split up and seem illogical when we are moving towards an area payment system where a farmer is compensated for the environmental protection he provides over an area of land. Surely every hectare is as valuable as every other hectare from an environmental perspective?

The proposals also claim to offer a reduction in bureaucracy and the burden of cross compliance regulations. This is a positive move, although the reductions need to be delivered. As many local farmers are all too aware there is always talk of this, yet such promises don't always become reality.

For me the biggest negative is the missed opportunity. We have high prices for agricultural goods throughout the world and unprecedented demand for exports, yet the Commission's response is a moderate move towards a more market based system. It can not be described as opening up the CAP. We could have used this opportunity to truly free our farmers from the constraints of bureaucracy, regulation and subsidy and instead allowed them to make the most of the high market price and great market conditions. We have a responsibility to produce food. The poorest people in both the developing world and at home are being badly hurt by the current food crisis and the EU must react to ease the burden. It is a great shame that this reform will not give us the opportunity to do it.


Conservative European Parliamentary Candidate for the West Midlands


A few anecdotes of a mayor doing asterling job in office

Dear Editor, I've just read Simon Brew s heartfelt account in The Birmingham Post, of his dad's, Coun Randal Brew's, year as Birmingham first citizen and I wanted to add my own tribute by sharing a few personal anecdotes of his time as Lord Mayor.

I was responsible for creating the Birmingham Walk of Stars and was delighted when the Lord Mayor agreed to present the first star to rock legend Ozzy Osbourne.

The Lord Mayor was a little nervous of meeting Ozzy, but not as nervous as the so called "Prince of Darkness" was of meeting the towering Lord Mayor. So overwhelmed in fact, that despite having his acceptance speech written down, Ozzy forgot Lord Mayor's official title and in typical Hollywood style thanked "Mayor Brew" - much to our Lord Mayor s amusement.

The diary of Birmingham s first citizen is in great demand. When plans were made for Jasper Carrott's award, the Lord Mayor was already pre-booked on a dinner appointment. However the lovely Lady Mayoress Sandra Brew swiftly amended his busy schedule to fit in both events with the comment "he's not missing Jasper, he's one of his biggest fans".

At the presentation, an emotional Jasper delighted the 10,000 strong crowd by wearing the Lord Mayor's pirate hat on stage. The suits behind the scenes were concerned about official protocol, but they needn't have worried - to make

Jasper s day even more special, just before going on stage, the Lord Mayor quickly tied a blues scarf around his wrist even though he was already in his full ceremonial outfit.

The third star was presented at Christmas to Noddy Holder, during the Canal Boat Light Parade. The Lord Mayor, at well over 6ft tall, could barely fit into the canal boat, much to the amusement of the ex-Slade lead singer. Admiring the Lord Mayor's official regalia and pointing to the impressive official chain of office around his neck Noddy asked, in his trademark accent "How owlds that?"

Quick as a flash the Lady Mayoress quipped "he's 64!" Noddy couldn't stop laughing.

Finally, last month, when the Lord Mayor was preparing to officially greet The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall at the re-opening of the Town Hall - just before their arrival he was spotted walking off on his own, towards Colmore Row. "Where's he going, it's not in the schedule?" concerned officials were heard saying.

Turns out he was off to personally welcome the 500 plus Birmingham school children who had just arrived on their school coaches. Says it all.

Well done Lord Mayor Councillor Randal Brew and Lady Mayoress Sandra, you did your city proud!

Steve Hewlett

by email


Gratitude for 25 years of success

Dear editor, As The Prince's Trust celebrates the 25th anniversary of its Business Programme, I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to our volunteer business mentors, staff, supporters and donors who have made it possible for thousands of disadvantaged young people to launch businesses and boost the West Midland's economy.

Selly Oak MP Lynne Jones signed an early day motion in The House of Commons on 15 May to congratulate The Prince's Trust on reaching the 25th anniversary of the Business Programme.

In the last five years alone, The Prince's Trust Business Programme has helped more than 2,500 young people from across the region to set up in business through low-interest loans, grants and mentoring for up to three years with access to a new Business Club launched last week.

Fifty-eight per cent of Prince's Trust businesses are still trading into their third year, which compares favourably to the national average. This is despite the fact that the young people we help have struggled at school, have been in care, are long-term unemployed or have been in trouble with the law.

However, national funding for the Programme has never been more uncertain. Last year, we supported 40% fewer young entrepreneurs into business than in 1999 and less than any other year for over a decade.

Nationally, the Programme costs £1 million per month but each pound invested in the loan generates over two pounds in return which directly benefits the region's economy.

I am appealing to the region's best business brains to pass on their experience to the next generation or help towards offering start-up finance to some of the West Midland's brightest young minds. By working together to invest in our young people, we can add real value to the communities we live in and to our region's economy.


The Prince's Trust regional director for the West Midlands