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Hinterland - 12 August 2019

In Hinterland this week - a bevvy of crime stories, a depressing undertow of austerity and underfunding, some wonder at the conjuring of “new” NHS money in Boston (and other places) and the rise of the beard...

Read on...

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Farm theft claims at 'seven-year high'

In the increasingly unequal and punitive society we live in, its no surprise to me that theft is percolating ever deeper into rural areas. This article tells us:

Britain's rolling green pastures and country lanes have witnessed a spike in criminals targeting farms, new data shows.

Losses to British farmers from theft hit a seven-year high of £50m in 2018, according to rural insurer NFU Mutual.

A 26% rise in claims for stolen farm vehicles, such as tractors and quad-bikes, to £7.4m last year, was behind the overall increase.

Animal theft claims rose 3.7% to £2.5m in 2018, the company said.

As a result of the crimes, farmers are reporting increased levels of anxiety and isolation to NFU Mutual agents.

Tim Price, from the NFU Mutual, said: "Farmers and country people are suffering from high levels of anxiety due to repeated thefts by gangs who take advantage of farms' isolated locations to steal machinery, raid tool stores and even butcher sheep in the fields.

"In a single generation, country people have seen rural crime change from the opportunist theft of a single lamb, to brazen heists of tractors worth over £100,000 and rustlers stealing hundreds of sheep," Mr Price added.


'If I hadn't come to a community farm, I'd probably be in a jail cell'

And here is an interesting article about the therapeutic and decriminalising impact of rural life and skills – which in many settings in rural England is under funding threat.  This story is also notable for the mention of the well-being of future generations act which is an example of Welsh best practice we could well do with this side of the border (even if in this particular case it has been hard to enforce). This story tells us:

City and community farms across the country are being threatened with closure due to local authority cuts and increased competition for funding, leading to reduced opening hours and scaled back services. However, for many troubled teenagers the farms provide a vital lifeline.

“These places give kids an opportunity in life,” says Ryan Clements, an 18-year-old apprentice at Greenmeadow community farm in Cwmbran, south Wales. “If I hadn’t come here then I’d probably be sat in a jail cell somewhere. I would start fights with people at school for no apparent reason.”

Despite the important work it does, Greenmeadow is facing a £200,000 subsidy cut – just under a third of its budget – from Torfaen county borough council, which funds the farm. “Everybody knows the value the farm has to the community,” says a council spokesman. “No one wants it to close by any means. We’re not under any illusions about the challenge this service faces.”

The council’s budget has been cut by £60m since 2010 and it has to save an additional £25m before 2023. It is encouraging the farm to generate more income from the resources it has, but acknowledges that one of the farm’s main sources of income, school courses, are no longer in demand – due to education funding reductions – and there are no block bookings yet for next year. “It’s a vicious cycle,” the council spokesman concedes.

The Well-being of Future Generations Act came into force across Wales in 2016, putting the onus on public organisations to account for the impact their decisions have on economic, social, environmental and cultural wellbeing in their area. However, deep funding cuts have hampered attempts to uphold those principles.


River Frome tributary turns bright blue in suspected ‘pollution incident’

This is an amazing and scary story which raises the question as to whether our regulatory bodies, be it in tackling crime in general or the specific crime of pollution are any longer sufficiently well funded to keep us safe in rural areas. It tells us:

The government is monitoring a river in Somerset after it turned a bright, electric blue.

The Environment Agency said the drastic colour change affecting a tributary of the River Frome was a “pollution incident”.

There are no reports of wildlife in distress or dead, a spokesperson for the agency’s southwest contingent said on Friday. 

Government experts will continue to monitor the stream over the weekend and samples have been taken for testing.

Residents have previously feared for the state of the river.

The mysterious event creates something of a pattern in Somerset, after thousands of dead fish washed up in the River Sheppey one week earlier.

A pollution spill was blamed for the deaths of around 6,000 trout, bullheads and other species.

The Environment Agency sprayed the river with hydrogen peroxide in order to boost oxygen levels in the water.


Almost 50,000 children endure ‘shameful’ council care

This headline is over hyped but it does point to the ongoing and debilitating challenges facing local government, exacerbated in rural councils by sparsity, of providing social care for young people. It tells us:

In the latest sign of the cash crisis that continues to plague local authorities, the research suggests there has been an increase in the number of children in councils whose services are classed as either inadequate or requiring improvement.

The findings, in a study by the Social Market Foundation thinktank, were condemned by Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, who said people would be shocked by the figures.

The SMF said it was “shameful” that 48,723 children were currently being looked after in local authorities whose services are deemed to be falling short.

In 2018, there were 47,085 “looked-after children” in such councils.

However, council leaders said it was unfair to suggest councils whose services require improvement were failing.

Longfield said: “The government has to put this right. These most vulnerable kids have had the toughest start in life and rely on the state for nearly every aspect of their life.

“We might imagine from the news that potholes, street lights and bin collections are what councils are for, but looking after these vulnerable children properly is one of their most important roles, and government must make sure councils make it the best experience they possibly can, part of which is funding them properly to do so. At the moment they aren’t, and too often it isn’t.”

The SMF is calling on ministers to establish a “charter for looked-after children”, designed to raise the standards of care and close the gap in outcomes between children who have been in care and those who have not. The number of looked-after children in England has been rising for several years. In 2013, there were 68,070, and by 2018 75,420.

The SMF found that 65% of all looked-after children in England were in council areas where services needed to improve.

Its report also reveals that nearly 40% of care leavers in England aged 19-21 were out of education, employment or training. And only 17.5% of pupils in care achieved A*-C in both English and maths GCSE. This compares with almost 60% of children who were not in care. Some 42% of children in young offender institutions were in care.


20 NHS building projects given green light

People are quietly pleased in my home county of Lincolnshire about this cash allocation. I do wonder if there is any particular reason why Boston as the capital of Brexit might have been chosen for this level of investment. Whatever the reason its very welcome. The story tells us:

Boris Johnson has given the green light to 20 new building and infrastructure projects in the NHS in England.

The £850m package will pay for new wards, intensive care units and diagnostic centres as well as refurbishing some existing facilities over the next five years.

Mr Johnson also said there would be an extra £1bn this year to improve and maintain existing buildings.

But doubts have been raised over whether the money really is new.

Mr Johnson said the £1bn for this year was extra - and would mean "more beds, new wards, and extra life-saving equipment".

It will bring spending to £7bn during 2019-20.

The prime minister announced the funding package on a visit to Pilgrim Hospital in Boston, Lincolnshire, which is receiving a £21.3m share of the money to improve its A&E department.

Andrew Morgan, chief executive of United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the hospital, told Radio 4's WATO programme that it was "a small step, but a very positive one". 

"We have a huge backlog maintenance bill here," he said.

Mr Morgan explained that staffing was still his top priority. 

But some hospitals, such as Liverpool Women's Hospital, missed out on funding. Its interim medical director Andrew Loughney said they needed £100m to rebuild the hospital, which he called "a clinical priority".

"Perhaps if we were in a marginal constituency, we would have been allocated the money," he said.


And Finally….

RAF to allow beards for the first time

Most RAF bases are in rural settings. In Lincolnshire they have a very powerful impact in helping to sustain the economy. I think the new policy departure (as a hirsuite individual myself) profiled in this article will ensure such places remain economically hairborne into the future. Hooray…

Royal Air Force personnel will be allowed to grow beards under new rules aiming to promote inclusivity.

The hair-raising move, which comes into force on 1 September, will allow serving members to wear "a smart, neatly-trimmed, full set beard".

The RAF has insisted members will still have to maintain "high standards of appearance".

Airmen are already allowed moustaches, but the relaxed rules will bring the RAF into line with the Royal Navy.

"Scraggly or patchy beards will not be accepted," a Ministry of Defence spokesman said.

The RAF says: "This move will help broaden the recruitment pool, promote inclusivity and help us retain our highly-skilled personnel." 

Beards were originally banned in the RAF for historical and practical reasons - hair makes it harder for gas masks and other breathing apparatus to form an airtight seal around a person's face, according to the spokesman.

The new rules, which will cover both regular and reserve personnel, will be confirmed in a routine internal notice.

There are no plans to revise the rules for facial hair in the Army, where only moustaches are allowed.

Under current rules, navy personnel hoping to grow a beard have to get approval from their commanding officer.

They are then allowed a certain amount of time to grow their facial hair, before having to present their beards for inspection, a government spokesperson said.

It's yet to be confirmed whether beard-growing in the RAF will operate in the same way.


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


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