Hinterland - 09 September 2019

In Hinterland this week - a review of special education needs costs, a grim funding future for Local Government, failing hospitals, growers glimpse hope in the prospect of migrant workers being able to stay (at least for now!), the RSN (yes that’s us!!!) renew the call for a rural strategy off the back of the conference and life in a castle. Read on...

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Williamson promises review of special needs education in England

I have previously explained how the changes to special education needs entitlements have put intolerable financial pressure on local government. This affects many RSN members. This article suggests some recognition of those challenges is emerging. It  tells us:

The government is to review the provision and funding of special needs education for children in England, after the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, admitted that many families faced struggles as a result of the government’s reforms.

The introduction of education, health and care plans (EHCPs) in 2014 was followed by a steep increase in the number of children and young people with special needs and disabilities (Send) in England, with local authorities and schools complaining of funding shortages, and families of long delays in receiving diagnoses and support.

 “Our reforms in 2014 gave vital support to more children but we know there have been problems in delivering the changes that we all want to see. So it’s the right time to take stock of our system and make sure the excellence we want to see as a result of our changes is the norm for every child and their families,” Williamson said in announcing the review.

Last week the government said that special needs education in England would receive an extra £700m from next year, which Williamson said was “to make sure these children can access the education that is right for them”. 

The Department for Education (DfE) said the review would look at how support had “evolved” since 2014, and tackle the lottery of provision that sees children in one area receiving less than children with the same needs in another area. It will also look at balancing provision across mainstream and specialist schools, and how support is linked across health, care and education services.

About 1.3 million school-age pupils in England are classed as having special educational needs – 15% of the pupil population, according to DfE figures – while the number with EHCPs has risen from 271,000 to more than 350,000 this year.


Local government will have £25bn funding gap, report warns

It would seem that notwithstanding a bevvy of election giveaways the fundamental malaise in terms of local government funding is set to remain. This story tells us:

Local government will face a £25bn funding gap in the coming years as reforms mean grants are being cut to “almost zero”, a new report has warned.

A few ring-fenced grants will account for less than a tenth of local authority expenditure by 2025, said the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and New Economics Foundation (NEF).

Councils will keep a higher proportion of business rates, but the report said there are major problems with the funding reforms, including greater exposure to the economic harm from a no-deal Brexit.

The report said around half of local-government funding came from central government in 2010, but by 2024-25 this will have been cut to zero, apart from a small amount of ring-fenced funding.

The funding gap will continue to increase, especially as demand for services will grow as people live longer


Seven in 10 hospital trusts failing to meet safety standards

We know that one of the biggest and most fundamental challenges facing rural hospitals is staffing. That’s why the most remote 7 hospitals in England account for almost a quarter of all the debt in the hospital sector. This article tells us:

Patient safety is frequently at risk in NHS hospital trusts in England, with 70% of them failing to meet national safety standards, according to an Observer analysis of inspection reports, with staff shortages the biggest problem.

Reports by the regulator the Care Quality Commission (CQC) reveal that managers at one trust failed to act on staff reports of abuse and violence, while a shortage of critical beds at another trust led to three serious incidents resulting in patient harm.

Of 148 acute and general hospital trusts, safety standards at 96 are rated as “requires improvement” by the CQC; six are rated inadequate, the lowest category. The others are rated good, with none outstanding.

Of the 14 inspection reports published since the start of June, half raised concerns over inadequate staffing levels. One trust, Imperial College Healthcare in London, “did not always have enough staff with the right qualifications, skills, training and experience to keep people safe from avoidable harm and abuse and to provide the right care and treatment”.

Shrewsbury and Telford hospital trust was rated inadequate for safety last year. The number of nurses in its urgent and emergency services was “not sufficient to manage the department safely”, and the inspectors “saw these low staffing levels directly impact on patients’ safe care and treatment”. Nurses who had not received the right support or training had to co-ordinate the department for two months before the inspection because of staff shortages. A trust spokesman told the Observer improvements were being made.


Growers relieved after Home Office revises immigration rules

The ever moving drama that surrounds Brexit is causing ongoing, unhelpful uncertainty for horticulture businesses. In that context this article suggests at least a ray of light! It tells us:

EU nationals will be allowed to live and work in the UK after 31 October even under a no-deal Brexit, the government has announced.

The Home Office announcement contradicts previous Brexit position statements which said the EU freedom of movement policy would end immediately after 31 October under a no-deal.

That position would have meant EU citizens could only enter Britain from November onwards on short-term visits, sparking concern over farm labour supplies.

However, the Home Office’s latest announcement sets out a range of measures termed ‘leave to remain’ that will replace the EU freedom of movement policy.

Leave to remain proposal

The policy will allow EU and Swiss workers, along with close family members, to enter Britain, even if they have not applied for settled or pre-settled status.

This initial free movement will only be possible for a transition period of 14 months until 31 December 2020.

After this date, any worker wishing to remain in the UK must have applied to stay under a new temporary leave to remain scheme.



We had perhaps the best of the 6 annual conferences since the RSN picked up the baton from the LGA when the Rural Commission was discontinued. Numbers were up, sponsors were up and the debate was rich, varied and uplifting. This press release issued by the RSN after the conference captures the essence of the discussions. It tells us

The Rural Services Network Annual National Rural Conference, comprising over 120 representatives of rural local authorities and other rural service providers and countryside groups voted unanimously at its meeting today to strengthen calls for a rural strategy.

Encouraged by Key Note Speaker and Chair of the Lords Select Committee on the Rural Economy Lord Don Foster – who suggested that the government had a blind spot as far as rural areas were concerned, conference delegates came out 100% in favour of asking Government to think again about its reticence over taking action on behalf of rural communities.

At the heart of the discussions was a shared conviction that “No-one should be disadvantaged by where they live.”

Rural disadvantage comes in many forms and delegates heard:

Northern Ireland has a bigger adjustment in cash terms to cover the additional rural costs of providing health services than England as whole.

A typical rural affordable housing scheme in Cornwall had some 27 applicants for every available unit.

Public transport is on its knees with services virtually non-existent in many deep rural areas.

Protected landscapes are increasingly becoming places to visit with little thought in public policy about the challenges of living and working in them.

An uneven pattern of economic development has left broad swathes of rural England with no prospect of providing work or house ownership options for the young.

Loneliness and its corrosive effects in terms of health and well-being is one increasing symptom of this cocktail of factors mitigating against the sustainability of many rural communities.

Delegates also heard about positive options going forward based on a 10-year vision for the future arising from the thinking of key speakers such as Professor Janet Dwyer from University of Gloucestershire and Dr Gary Bosworth from the University of Lincoln. The increasing use of digital and wider technological solutions underpins much of the positive future for rural communities – ranging from health to public transport.

It is clear however that the antidote to many of the issues discussed will only work if individual policy strands are joined up around a cohesive pattern of coordinated actions. The glue that offers to bind this together is a rural strategy.


And Finally…

What's it like to live in a castle?

This is all about life at Bamburgh Castle. If things continue as they are I fancy seeing if I will be allowed to retreat behind its walls….The article tells us of Mr Watson – Armstrong:

He was 22 when he took over running the castle with his mother, becoming sole custodian after her death in 1999. He moved to a nearby farm in 2001 but the castle is still a home with 12 lived-in apartments. It is also a tourist attraction receiving 160,000 visitors a year, as well as a wedding venue.

Maintenance is a full-time job for a team of five and, "much like the Forth Bridge", work will never be finished. But Mr Watson-Armstrong is keen to keep the castle in his family. "I'm determined to never let it fall into public body hands," he says.

"It costs hundreds of thousands of pounds a year to maintain and run it, but I would rather meddle in the affairs of the castle myself than have someone who has not lived there, or does not know it, in charge." His son William, 29, is taking on more responsibility for the castle with the hope of increasing visitor numbers and improving the experience.


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


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