Hinterland - 02 October 2018

Its hard to find generally interesting rural stories this week with the political winds blowing around the party conference season. Apologies if some of this shows through in the articles I have selected. Housing, Education and field sports are my key themes this week. Read on.....

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Brexit costing Britain £500m a week and rising, says report

Local Government concentrates on local issues, many of which, as this issue of Hinterland demonstrates are being run down and neglected, whilst the economy continues to suffer from the national uncertainty we currently face. This story tells us:

Brexit is already costing the public purse £500m a week, new research has found – a stark contrast to the £350m “dividend” promised by the Leave campaign. The Centre for European Reform’s analysis also suggests that the government’s austerity drive would be on the way to completion had Britain voted to stay in the European Union.

It shows that the UK economy is already 2.5% smaller than it would have been had Remain won the referendum. Public finances have been dented by £26bn a year, more than half of the defence budget. This translates to a penalty of £500m a week, a figure that is growing.

The stark finding comes as the Tory conference begins in Birmingham, with Theresa May’s premiership under severe strain. The prime minister faces competing proposals from cabinet ministers over how she should resolve the Brexit impasse with the EU.

The febrile conference coincides with explosive claims that the boss of one UK-based carmaker has been flown by private jet to meet President Emmanuel Macron, in an attempt to persuade the company to move manufacturing to France after Brexit.

Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, told the Observer this development was a sign of the economic damage Britain faces from the wrong Brexit deal.

While some cabinet ministers are pushing for a loose, Canada-style trade deal, support is growing in May’s ministerial team and on her backbenches for a deal under which Britain would stay closely tied to the EU for a limited period


England has more than 200,000 empty homes. How to revive them?

A brilliant scheme equally applicable to rural settings (Devon RCC are moving forward with a similar initiative) which should be applauded!

Ask most people about England’s epidemic of empty homes and they are likely to think of lavish vacant mansions in London owned by absent foreign billionaires.

In fact, the majority of empty properties are in post-industrial areas, where poverty rates are high and house prices languish well below their pre-crash levels. Such a place is Stockton-on-Tees, near Middlesbrough, where Martyn Jones lives.

Two years ago Jones, 23, was homeless and relying on friends to let him sleep on their couches while he struggled to find work. Today, he is painting a wall in a gutted home on a quiet street, part of a group tasked with refurbishing some of the area’s many vacant, derelict homes.

Last week, Theresa May pledged an extra £2bn for housing associations to fund large-scale developments. But with new house building not providing enough affordable homes for more than 1 million people on waiting lists in England, social enterprises and councils are trying to bring empty homes, which number well over 200,000 and are worth almost £50bn, back into occupancy.

One of them is Community Campus 87, which buys such properties in Stockton-on-Tees, refurbishes them and offers them to previously homeless tenants at rents below the going rate for social housing. In the process, it provides jobs and skills training for people such as Jones.


Help to Buy scheme is not working as it should, housing minister admits

Everything in my “gut” resiles against this scheme. I have noted other imperfections in it previously and I would applaud the principle of ensuring it only concentrates on first time buyers who wouldn’t otherwise be able to buy a house and not on the basis of leasehold arrangements in terms of the land they sit on.

The Government's flagship scheme to help people onto the housing ladder is being used for purchases ministers do not wish to fund, the Housing Secretary has admitted.

James Brokenshire said Help to Buy equity loans were financing the acquisition of leasehold properties, which can see householders saddled with large annual "ground rent" payments.

In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Brokenshire said the Government was "reflecting carefully" on the scheme and would make an announcement soon on "the next steps".

He said ministers were identifying "where there are practices that we would not support" and also hinted that the policy could be overhauled to focus more on first time buyers....


Wildlife Trust chief faces calls to quit over hunting and shooting sponsorships

I find the picture associated with this story very upsetting. Nonetheless I eat meat. I also recognize the contribution of field sports to the rural economy. Trying to weigh up the pros and cons of the issues surfaced in this article is like sitting on a razor blade…

The head of a conservation charity is facing increasing pressure to step down because of his firm’s sponsorship of hunts and game bird shoots.

Critics say Michael Bax’s position as chairman of the Kent Wildlife Trust is at odds with his support for activities that involve loss of wildlife.

More than 200,000 people have signed a petition calling for the trust to sever its links with Mr Bax, who served as huntsman and joint master for a hare-hunting group, supports other hunts and allows pheasant shooting on his farm


Head teachers' polite protest over funding in England

There was much controversy when the education funding formula recognized some of the additional costs of providing education in rural areas. This very “British” protest demonstrates that the funding formula still has many imperfections, the greatest being it doesn’t provide any school with enough cash to do its job.

Relentlessly reasonable" is an unusual rally cry - but this was no ordinary demonstration.

Hundreds of head teachers - the men in smart suits, the women in business wear - came to Westminster to make their point about school funding in England.

Ripples of applause filled Parliament Square - their meeting point and the scene of many a demonstration over the decades.

"Don't be chaining yourselves to the railings now ladies," someone joked.

It was clear that these protesters, passionate though they may be, would not have dreamt of it.

The gathering had more of an air of a collegiate conference than a demonstration.

"We're all a long way out of our comfort zone," one head teacher said.

"We asked each other on the bus if anyone had ever been to a protest before and nobody had," another added a little sheepishly.

The participants may have felt cheerful, and maybe little awkward, but the mood was nonetheless serious.


And Finally...
Man takes his horse into Bilston pub

Have you heard the one about a horse walking into a bar?

It sounds like the opening of a joke, but it was a reality for pubgoers in the West Midlands as this horse found its way into a local Wetherspoons.

The horse was taken into the Sir Henry Newbolt in Bilston on Friday, as customers enjoyed an afternoon drink.

A video posted on Facebook by Kerry Ashfield has since been shared thousands of times.

'It's an 'oss'

During the clip the horse can be seen inside the pub as his owner is asked by a member of staff to "take the horse out".

And in Black Country dialect, another staff member can be heard saying "it's an 'oss [horse] in the pub, take it out".

Ms Ashfield, 40, said: "He [the owner] drinks in there and he just came in with his horse.

"It's not something you see every day, it was just really funny, everybody was trying to film it."

The pub declined to comment. The BBC has contacted J.D. Wetherspoon for comment


About the author:
Hinterland is written for the Rural Services Network by Ivan Annibal, of rural economic practitioners Rose Regeneration.


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