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News Comment
a personal view of the week's news from Erithacus

As the first quarter of 2001 draws to an end, stock market investors and traders are hoping they have seen the worst. The huge drop last Friday (23rd) which saw £64 billion wiped off the share value of British companies and which was the largest one-day drop for the FTSE100 index since 1992, was followed this week by something of a recovery. The closing value of the FTSE100 yesterday (Friday 30th) at 5633.7 was a rise on the week of 231.4 points, despite uncertainty during the week and indications at one point that the financial markets were again going into freefall. Movement on the quarter, however, was a loss of 9.5% for the FTSE100 while the TechMARK had lost a quarter of its value. These losses mirrored the U.S. indices almost exactly, with the Dow Jones index down 9% on the quarter, and the Nasdaq down 26%.

As the foot-and-mouth crisis continues, the economic effect on businesses outside the farming industry is also mounting. Already hit hard, the leisure and tourist industries are suffering seriously as potential visitors from abroad are cancelling trips to Britain. Advertising by the food industry has also been cut substantially, with Waitrose cancelling its latest campaign and the Meat and Livestock commission withdrawing television advertisements for beef and shelving plans for promoting lamb this Easter. A spokesman for McDonalds, however, refused to confirm reports that its own £5m television advertising campaign for burgers had also been cancelled.
The situation is not being helped by inaccurate and misleading reports and, in some cases, deliberate mis-information in other parts of the world. Spanish television this week reportedly informed viewers that British milk and all British meat was unsafe for human consumption. In the USA, a survey conducted among prospective tourists who had cancelled flights to Britain revealed that the majority believed that they would not be able to eat any British food safely, that they could contract foot-and-mouth themselves, and a few believed that a severe case of foot-and-mouth disease would cause their hands and feet to fall off. Tourism minister for Northern Ireland, Sir Reg Empey, confirmed that tourism there has also been severely hit. He blamed bulletins from CNN News in particular, and said that America sees the UK as a "diseased country".

With a General election likely in the next few months even if a decision is made to delay it even further because of the foot-and-mouth crisis, Tony Blair’s government is facing a series of blistering attacks from the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. John Prescott’s plans for privatisation of London Underground have been met with the threat of legal action from London’s Transport Commissioner, Bob Kiley, whose actions have been wholeheartedly supported by Mr Livingstone. Thursday’s strike by workers on London Underground in protest at the privatisation left only three lines running and also apparently had the tacit support of Ken Livingstone, although he himself was forced to walk to work and the Corporation of London reported that the strike had cost the City at least £100 million.

As the London Underground battle grows, we also hear that Ken Livingstone has taken the unusual step of allowing cartoonist and satirist Martin Rowson unlimited access to the Greater London Authority and the Mayor’s Office itself. Although this is an "official appointment", it seems that Mr Livingstone cannot, on this occasion, be accused of wasting too much taxpayers’ money. Martin Rowson will receive payment in the form of one pint of London Pride per year for his labours.

We hear of a major problem that will be facing residents of Broxburn, near Edinburgh, from tomorrow 1st April. According to Edinburgh city surveyors, many residents will be forced to leave their homes while a seismic survey takes place. The survey, measuring the echoes produced by explosive charges to be detonated in the centre of most streets, will establish whether caves beneath the town pose a risk to buildings in the area. The caves, known to scientists for over 50 years, are thought to have been created at least a hundred million years ago by burrowing dinosaurs who may have dug them in an effort to escape the spreading polar icecap. "Local residents should not be too concerned," said Andrew McCon, from the city surveyor’s department, "It is highly unlikely that the caves will be a danger to residents. We are just being cautious." He added that the seismic charges could cause damage to some buildings in the areas where larger charges would be needed to enable an effective reading, but stressed that he believed the only streets to be seriously affected would be Galloway Crescent and those directly connected.
Simply Info have set up an e-mail help-line for anyone particularly concerned: aprilfirst@simply-info.com, and any enquiries should be sent to this address.

31st March 2001                        


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