The food industry or the supermarket: who decides what we eat?

The food industry is becoming ever more powerful. Is it not us who decide what we eat, it are the large companies like Coca-Cola and Unilever. It is an often heard view, but the facts do not coincide. De Volkskrant research shows that the food industry is a laboriously slogging group of large corporations that have huge difficulty to keep their largest clients, the supermarkets, of their back.

The most powerful brands are faring pretty well. Some, like CocaCola, are doing really good even. But the smaller brands are having a hard time. They have to settle for less space in the supermarketshelves and that space is only to become smaller. The supermarkets are claiming more and more of the shelves for their own products.

Research by de Volkskrant shows that already one third of all the space in the shelves – not even taking the fruits, vegetables and meat-department into account – is filled with the supermarkts’ own products.

The supermarketshelves: who decides on our diet? Click to enlarge
The supermarketshelves: who decides on our diet? Click to enlarge

This makes the supermarkets housebrand (or: neutral brand) easily the largest brand in the supermarket. It is no longer the food industry that decides what you eat, it is the supermarket itself that decides. For the supermarkets these house brands are great. The supermarkets themselves decide what the requirements are for the products. Only the cheapest producer gets the order. Often this producer gets little more than the cost price.

The bigger the supermarket chain, the bigger the housebrand. That is why the Swiss buy a lot of housebrands, says housebrand expert Koen de Jong. “In Switserland there are basically only two supermarkets that matter, the Migros and the Coöp.” This means that they can produce their housebrands in large quantities. The same goes for the United Kingdom, which has strong, national concerns like Tesco and Sainsbury’s. If they order cookes to be made, the order is for a lot of cookies. The producers compete for these large orders.

The same effect is visible in the Netherlands. Not taking Aldi and Lidl into account, that only sell housebrands, the housebrand of Albert Heijn (AHOLD) is the strongest. About 34% of the products is housebrand. For competitor Jumbo the percentage is 32. The smaller supermarkets (ssuch as Dirk van de Broek en Dekamarkt) don’t make it to the 20 percent.

In the United States the situation is different. De Jong: “Americans are much more loyal to their brands.” Moreover, there are few national supermarket chains. This gives the brandproducers an advantage: they can still produce the larger volumes of a product.

Does this mean that brandproducers are in for a hard time? In the Netherlands, yes. In Europe, also. But for the big brands the world remains large enough. They mostly grow in emerging markets. These markets hardly have any large supermarketchains.

Dangerous junctions left untouched for too long

The most dangerous junction in the Netherlands is a slight bend in the road from Boekel to Veghel, in Noord-Brabant. In five years time four people have died here. This is shown in an analysis conducted by de Volkskrant, which looked into all 4.405 fatal accidents in the Netherlands in the period between 2006 and 2012. Only after the fourth death did the municipality of Veghel place a warning sign at the start of the bend.

Veghel is no exception, the research shows. Also in other places where three or four people died in the last years, it took local governments long to respond. Because of a lack of information, a lack of corporation and sluggish reactions these dangerous traffic places can endure for a long time.

 

In Groesbeek, Apeldoorn, where at one place three different people died in three different car-crashes, the regional government has not taken any action.

This inertia is caused because of the fact that multiple governments are involved. Sometimes a dangerous crossing is the shared responsibility of the local municipality and the regional government. In case of a railway crossing the responsibility lies both by the railway manager ProRail and the local government.

 

Lack of information is an important reason for the slow reactions. For example, the municipality of Utrecht was not aware there was a dangerous crossing on the Biltsestraatweg. The municipality is proactively at work to make the thirty most dangerous places in the municipality safer, but was not informed by the regional government. After the third deadly accident, the regional government placed warning signs and made changes to the road.

 

Governments point out that many accidents have to do with reckless and dangerous driving. In 90 percent of the deadly accidents road users do not obey the rules or did not keep attention, a spokesperson of Utrecht says. The government of Utrecht therefore invests in education and awareness campaigns.

 

It takes precision to deal with unsafe places on the road. If a road user is warned too often or has to wait too long, the measures backfire. In the three fatal accidents on the railway crossing on Nassaustraat in Venlo two riders that crashed ignored the red signal. In response to these accidents, railway manager ProRail has lowered the waiting time at the red sign from two and a half minute to one minute. ProRail is currently busy with a national research concerning the waiting times at railway crossings. Many accidents have to do with impatience, says a spokesperson.

How dangerous are your commutes? Look it up.

Where Spiderman and Bono avoid paying their taxes

The letter box companies of multinationals are concentrated around Amsterdam. The sector that enables tax avoidance provides with jobs and income for the Netherlands, but that won’t silence the criticism.

Tax Avoidance, where does it happen and who benefits? Click to enlarge
Tax Avoidance, where does it happen and who benefits? Click to enlarge

Forget about the neighborhood Forst Hills in Queens, New York. Forget the decor containing the skyscrapers and bridges of Manhattan. Superhero Spiderman does not live in the United States, nor does live in a reserve for all creations made by Marvel Comics – the American company that has invented, and produced cartoons and movies about, many of the worlds superheroes.

Spiderman lives, together with other characters, heroes and foes out of the series, in room 2.03 on he second floor of a business complex near Schiphol, under the fumes of the Amsterdam airport.

There, on one of the company terrains surrounding Schiphol, since December 23rd of 2008, settled the cooperation SM (Spider Man) Characters UA – one of the many corporations in Marvels international Christmas tree which is in the end all part of The Walt Disney Company.

Where Spiderman usually displays the biggest acts of heroism, the activities are of the cooperation named after him are modest. The cooperation SM is, according to the annual accounts, mostly simply a parking lot and transfer for funds. In 2011, the last year for which an annual account was presented, in excess of 2 billion euros flowed through the Spiderman cooperation.

Spiderman is certainly not the only one keeping office at the Beechavenue at Schiphol. Research done by de Volkskant shows that there are another 159 companies holding office in the building owned by Corporate Services Amsterdam.

159 companies makes Corporate Services Amsterdam one of the smaller on the Dutch map containing all the addresses of international companies. Intertrust, located at Prins Bernhardplein Amsterdam, has 2198 resident companies, including companies such as fashion warehouse Marks & Spencer, food concern Danone and weapon manufacturer Lockheed Martin.

Closeby, at Fred Roeskestraat in Amsterdam, the company ATC provides ‘offices’ for amongst others, financial power Goldman Sachs, and telecom giant Vodafone.

The Volkskrant research shows that the letter box companies of multinationals are concentrated in and around Amsterdam. Historically, Amsterdam has the most services providers, lawyers and advisers that can help creating and administrating fiscal routes. Furthermore, Schiphol is close by, in the case old-fashioned autographs need to be signed or meetings need to be organized to keep the flow of money and corresponding structures up-to-date.

For years advisers, trust agencies and banks could, undisturbed, continue to add to the impressive system of Dutch postal box firms. The Ministry of Finance, accountants and the business sector: everybody seemed to love Amsterdams junction in the international highway of funds. It brought high quality, even green, employment with it. Moreover: if the Netherlands wouldn’t do it,some other country such as Ireland, Luxemburg or Cyprus certainly would.

However, it is 2013, and in the light of the economic crisis it is no longer self-evident that multinationals try to pay as little in tax as possible. All the more so now that the costs of the crisis are felt by governments and individual taxpayers.

According to trust agency TMF director Jaap van Burg there are competitors in the horizon. One of the countries trying hard to take over the position of the Netherlands is the United Kingdom. It even goes so far that the English tax agency is organizing roadshows across to the United states to lure companies to the British islands.

According to the last report there are 2.200 people working in the trust sector. According to André Nagelmaker of ANT Trust & Corporate Services N.V. the number is currently much higher. The revenues, estimated at 1.5 billion euros, is also a very low estimate according to Nagelmaker.

In short, the trustsector and the structure of tax treaties surrounding it, is profitable for the Netherlands. It supplies with jobs and funds. Whomever that would want to tinker with it is playing with fire and billions – money from almost all large companies of the world. So the implicit message to politicians, journalists and activists: stop discussing it.

One point of discussion, however, could be the employment the sector provides for. The de Volkskrant investigation shows there aren’t huge amounts of jobs concerned with the sector. For example intertrust only needs 186 employees to provide for the tax desires of 2.198 multinationals. One employee for every ten companies. ANT trust needs 110 employees for 558 companies. One employee for every five companies.

In total there are 1508 people working at the addresses with the 25 highest amount of companies at one address. They provide the needs for 10.332 companies. All in all, every employee for every seven companies. Is that really a lot? The same could be asked for the tax income coming from the sector. This could range from 1.5 billion to more. Is that really a lot, or a mere palliative?

An additional problem is that the income should be put into context with the international losses, such as the erosion of the tax income in African countries and the unfair competition between small and middle sized companies that still pay full fare in taxes.

Spidermans most famous foe is the Green Goblin, an alter ego of the ruthless Norman Osborn. Where Spiderman fights for the good, Osborn fights for world domination and the destruction of Superman.

Good or evil: for the fiscal spaghetti of founder Marvel Comics it doesn’t really matter. At coöperation SM Characters UA the dollars that are earned by the Green Goblin are brotherly parked next to that of Superman, both outside the reach of the American tax authorities.

Professor at the VU University of Amsterdam plagiarized himself. A lot.

De VU University of Amsterdam is starting an investigation of plagiarism for the whole oeuvre of top economist and VU professor Peter Nijkamp. A research conducted by de Volkskrant shows that nearly 60% of Nijkamps articles contain copies of entire portions of text out of other articles, without a proper mention. Furthermore, the names of co-authors were often emitted by not making a reference when copying earlier texts. According to scientific norms this is considered plagiarism.

Nijkamp: just how much did he copy from earlier work? CLICK TO ENLARGE
Nijkamp: just how much did he copy from earlier work? CLICK TO ENLARGE

Tuesday the VU announced to research the work of professor of spatial economics Nijkamp. The motivation is a research report on a dissertation that Nijkamp supervised, that has been made public. This report recently appeared on the website of VSNU, a university association. The report was completely anonymised.

The report shows there were accounts of plagiarism in the work both of the PhD student and Nijkamp himself. Nijkamp is a leading scientist, he is on top of the list in global rankings as a scientist that produces a relatively very high amount of articles. For seven years he was the head of the government organization that provides money for research, the NWO.

The analysis conducted by de Volkskrant shows that out of 115 articles that Nijkamp produced in the last years, he frequently plagiarized himself. Often these accounts of self-plagiarism were relatively harmless, for example copying explanations or summaries. However, regularly the professor copied entire pieces that were presented as authentic research.

More than half (68 out of 115) of the articles de Volkskrant analysed contained multiple paragraphs that were copied from earlier work. In some accounts the self-plagiarism continued for ten paragraphs or even longer.

Municipalities face a tough decentralization task, and they are unsure if they can handle it

Municipalities are unsure if they are adequately funded for the largest decentralization in recent history: the decentralization of the care for the handicapped, the care for the elderly, the care for the youth and facilities for the unemployed. Furthermore, the decentralization hits the weakest municipalities the hardest, shows research by de Volkskrant.

The challenge differs per municipality. CLICK TO ENLARGE
The challenge differs per municipality. CLICK TO ENLARGE

The poorest municipalities already have to deal with an excessive demand for care. Furthermore, this demand will rise quicker then in other municipalities because most of these municipalities are ‘greyed’ on a much higher level then average: a lot of the inhabitants are pensioners. The municipalities fear they will be confronted with large problems since they are, in their eyes, not adequately compensated for the demand for care.

 

Furthermore, a survey conducted amongst 161 of the 403 municipalities in the Netherlands, shows that more than half of the municipalities are not sure they can still help all children in youthcare with the money that the government has promised. One fifth of the municipalities bluntly state that they are sure they will not be able to provide all children with the care needed.

 

The situation for the eldery care and the handicapped is also alarming. Forty percent of the municipalities say that they will not be able to provide the care for the eldery and physically challenged with the budget that the government has promised. Many municipalities are also still unsure how they will deal with the cuts while still providing with the same care. The decentralization and corresponding cuts will take effect Januari first 2015.

 

De Volkskrant hast looked into the number of inhabitants that make use of services that are to be decentralized, the financial position of the governments and the relative number of pensioners in the municipalities.

 

The municipalities that are confronted with the highest accumulation of problems – many new tasks, an aged population and a bad financial position – are mostly located on the edges of the Netherlands: the north and east of the Netherlands and the far south. The economic powerhouse of the Netherlands, de Randstad, runs relatively little risk due to a good financial position and a younger population.

 

A statistical analysis shows that the amount of people that will make use of decentralized care and the financial state of the municipality correlate strongly. The same goes for the percentage of pensioners in a municipality. There are about fifty municipalities that are financially very weak and will have to deal with a relative high level of decentralization. The decentralizations will be heavier in future years when the people age. For abour thirty municipalities this will become a large problem: they are already very aged and deal with a high level of decentralization.

 

According to the plans of the national government municipalities will have three new and very large tasks. municipalities will have to provide with the care for elderly in need. Moreover, municipalities will have to provide for ‘the bottom of the labor market’ by taking care of welfare, subsidized workplaces and arrangements for youthcare. The government is dead set on making these decentralizations happen, since they are already budgetted in. Many municipalities fear the results.

The liberal party and social-democratic party make the strongest mark on municipalities

The influence of political parties on expenditure. CLICK TO ENLARGE
The influence of political parties on expenditure. CLICK TO ENLARGE

Do political parties fulfill the promises they make for municipalities? de Volkskrant analysed the numbers for 400 municipalities and concludes: The liberal party (VVD) and social-democratic party (PVDA) make a clear mark on the financial choices of municipalities. The Christian-democratic party (CDA) and the Greens (GroenLinks) do not.

 

Municipalities with VVD and D66 (the social-liberal party) in power clearly raise the taxes a lot less strong then other municipalities. PvdA and D66 parties cut less in the arts. Moreover, PvdA cuts less on libraries.

 

This is made apparent from an analysis done by de Volkskrant which looks into the correlation between the parties in power and the expenditure and income changes in local governments.

 

On some themes parties succeed in making different choices. City councils with VVD and D66 in power have also increased local taxes, but not nearly as much as other municipalities. In municipalities with VVD in government the average increase in local taxes has been about 11,5% between 2010 and 2013. For municipilaties without VVD in the government the tax increase was 17,3%.

 

Muncipalities with PvdA or D66 councillors (or also translated to: aldermen) have invested in stead of cut in arts. Municipalities with D66 councillors have invested 5,5% more in the Arts, while the other municipalities have made an average cut of 5,6% in the Arts.

 

With CDA-, VVD- en D66-Councillors the municipality cut more on social services – such as services for the physically challenged, social welfare and guidance to employment. When the PvdA is part of the government a council cuts more in its administrative apparatus that municipalities without the PvdA in power.

 

These examples mostly coincide with the political views of these parties. However, not always is a political focal point visible in the decisions municipalities have made. For example, D66, with Councillors in 84 of the 400 municipalities, has made education its number one priority. However, municipalities with D66 in power do not invest more in education then other municipalities.

 

GroenLinks, which is in power in 14% of the municipalities, seems hardly able to define the choices municipalties make. Even when in power. Municipalities with Groenlinks Councillors cut more in social services, and cut in low income services while other municipalities invest in them.

 

However, GroenLinks municipalities come from a different starting point: these municipalities still invest much more in these two fields, even if the cuts were higher. According to Rik Grashoff, front man of GroenLinks, we should take notice of these higher spending averages. It shows, he says, that there still is relatively generous policy in municipalities where GroenLinks has power. GroenLinks is also the party that invests most in childcare, which is one of their national focal points.

 

The CDA signature is also less visible in the municipal budgets. City councils with CDA in power cut more on infrastructure, spend more on the administrative support for the Councillors, and cut more on the administrative support for the rest of the local trias politica.

 

Although most political parties made a point of the environment four years ago, following the high level of attention to the environment in that year, CDA and VVD made significant cuts on the care for the local environment. In municipalities with VVD in power the average cuts were 10%, against 2% for the rest of the municipalities.

 

Another noticeable outcome of the statistics de Volkskrant gathered is that local parties mostly form coalitions with rightwing parties. In 82% they are part of a coalition with VVD and/or D66. Only 38% of the coalitions with local parties include a leftist party.

How much does a municipality spend on you? And what has changed?

 

What does a municipality actually spend on you? Click to enlarge
What does a municipality actually spend on you? CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

Muncipalities invest in safety, cut in culture and municipal services

Two thirds of the muncipalities have invested more in law and order and safety in the last period. In, amongst others, culture, municipal services and public administration, there have been significant cuts.

 

Mostly the average and smaller sized muncipilaties have invested in for example video surveillance, city watch and street coaches. The four largest cities have made significant cuts in these fields.

 

These are the findings of a de Volkskrant research on the yearly expenditure and income data of muncipalities. These numbers have not been publically analysed before. The income and expenditure data have been compared for 399 out of the 408 muncipalities in the Netherlands, for the period of 2010 to 2013. With this data we are able to map the the choices that city councils have made during the last council period.

 

The more than fourhundred muncipalities have together made billions of cuts in this last period. The muncipilaties spend a whopping €412 less per citizen then they did in 2010.

 

One thirds of the muncipalities have invested more in the arts. Broadly there have been major cuts on culture, libraries, sports, public greens, recreational services and municipal services. Furthermore, the muncipalities have made major cuts on its municipal apparatus.

 

Almost all of the municipalities have increased the local taxes to fill financial gaps. A citizen paid an average of €32 more in local taxes than in 2010, as well as a similar amount more due to payments for muncipal services. Muncipalites earned close to 4.5 billion euros due to the increase in taxes.

 

There are huge differences in expenditure and cuts between muncipalities. Howcome?

 

Only about ten percent of a muncipalities income is due to local taxes. Ninety percent of the budget comes directly from the national government. And that gives significantly more money to the largest cities and mudflats than other muncipalities.

 

Based on more than sixty factors the decision is made on how to devide the total of almost 30 billion euros that is given to muncipalities. Not only the the number of inhabitants and acreage of the muncipality matters. Amsterdam has a centrum position which it receives extra funding for. Other communities have more tasks to fulfill for the region, for example the sheltering of homeless, which they receive extra money for.

 

Muncipalities on peatland receive more funding than those on sand due to sagging of roads and sewerage. Mudflats receive more money due to the low amount of inhabitants. They are islands so they have to maintain a full level of services – inhabitants can’t simply drive to the next muncipality – for which they get more money.

 

Next year the national government will define a new means of allocating the money. “Nobody yet kows that this will mean for muncipalities” professor of the economics of decentralised government Maarten Allers says.

 

Many muncipalities have to deal with significant cuts. However, some more than others. One of the reasons is the declining population in provincial muncipalities. Promising inhabitants leave the muncipality, the population is relatively older and for example houses have to be demolished.

 

Other communities already have a huge deficit due to expensive landpositions that, due to the crisis, are not marketable anymore. The building sector is no longer investing in this time of crisis. This has bankrupted a few muncipalities.

 

According to Allers the real cuts are still to come: “this is only the beginning.” Due to the large decentralisations of care services, that start january first 2015, the muncipalities have billions less to spend on elderly care, youth care services and the provision of work and income. Muncipalities are asked to provide the same care, with significant cuts of up to 40% of the current means.

 

Allers: “The coming cuts will be very painfull. Muncipalities will have to say to the elderly and others in need: find your own help. The big question is if they will succeed in that task. Furthermore, the government still has not been clear about the exact budgets that muncipalities will receive. Postponement is out of the question, the cuts have already been calculated into the budget for next year”