Hinterland - 13 September 2021

In Hinterland this week - Brexit driven shortages of labour in rural England, youth services cuts, levelling up and its background, the need to dispel a planning myth about rural dwellers and finally the piles of coins which desperately need to be spent...

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UK worker shortage: Farmers give fruit and veg away for free

Professor Tony Travers once said at a meeting I was at people would only truly understand the consequences of Brexit once the “rubber hit the road.” For some reason this story led me back to that fateful view. It tells us:

Farmers hit by a shortage of seasonal workers have resorted to giving produce away for free rather than seeing it left to rot.

York-based raspberry grower Richard Morritt threw his gates open to the public after failing to attract staff.

Others have done the same, and the National Farmers Union (NFU) has repeated calls for government help.

A government spokesperson said it was looking at ways to help the sector recruit more domestic labour.

Mr Morritt said in previous years the majority of his pickers came from eastern Europe.

In 2020, he had relied on furloughed workers and university students but this year he said "the shortage of labour has made it unviable".

To stop the fruit going to waste he allowed members of the public to pick it for free.


Councils hit by bin collection delays due to driver shortage

And here we go with the second Brexit fuelled labour shortage story. This article tells us of the impact of a shortage of drivers on a number of rural authorities tasked with emptying the bins! It tells us:

At least 18 councils across the UK confirmed on Thursday that they are experiencing ongoing disruptions to their bin collection services. 

It is due to staff self-isolating and a lack of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers for bin lorries.

The Local Government Association (LGA) told the BBC that the delays were primarily affecting garden waste.

However, some councils are also delaying recycling collections in order to prioritise general waste. 

It comes as three councils in Devon wrote to Home Secretary Priti Patel on Thursday, asking for the government to grant temporary visas for trained European HGV drivers to ease the shortage.

"At the time of writing, North Devon Council are attempting to fill seven [bin lorry driver] vacancies, Torbay Council eight vacancies, and Teignbridge Council 10 vacancies," wrote councillors Steve Darling, David Worden and Alistair Dewhirst. 

"This equates to approximately 20% of the HGV workforce in driver vacancies and it is proving very challenging to fill this resourcing gap given the dynamics of this labour market." 

The UK currently has a shortfall of about 100,000 HGV drivers, after many EU workers returned home following Brexit and during the pandemic. 

Ministers say UK employers should hire locally to fill the gap, but the councils said it would take time to train the next generation of drivers.


Service cuts may expose rural youth to county lines

A super serious issue but paper thin causality to justify the assertion about the county lines element at the heart of this story methinks…The issues around mental health and life chances which it introduces, in terms of unthought about pressures facing you people in rural settings are very important however.

A lack of funding for rural youth work in England is leaving young people exposed to the dangers of county lines drug-dealing gangs, it is claimed.

The amount spent per head on youth work for 11- to 19-year-olds in rural England, £47, is 25% less than in urban areas, and half the level a decade ago.

The National Youth Agency said rural employment prospects and mental-health support access were also a concern.

The government said it had given youth-work charities £100m over the pandemic.

But the National Youth Agency is calling for it to implement a long-term spending plan.

'Increasing trend'

County-lines gangs often use vulnerable children to help them bring illegal drugs into areas across the UK - and move money out.

The National Youth Agency said it had seen an "increasing trend" for young people in county towns and rural areas to be targeted.

Youth workers were vital in protecting those at risk by providing a known and trusted adult, chief executive Leigh Middleton told BBC News.

But, he added: "As local authority budgets have shrunk, [resources have] gone to our towns and cities."


PM's levelling up plan at risk of failure, warns ex-No 10 adviser

There is a definite rural dimension to this levelling up agenda which has brought many rural towns in the context of initiatives such as the Towns Fund to the attention of regeneration funders who were previously completely uninclined to be interested in them. This article revealing a bit more about the dynamics underpinning the whole process is really interesting. It tells us:

Mr Tanner, a former adviser to Theresa May, has become an influential voice in Conservative circles after his Onward think tank identified the red wall seats in the run up to the last election.

They were the once rock-solid Labour seats which fell into Conservative hands at the 2019 general election.

In a report shortly before the election, Mr Tanner described "Workington Man" - from the West Cumbrian constituency - as the sort of lifelong Labour voter who would switch to the Conservatives. 

This voter was pro-Brexit, sceptical of globalisation and wanted a government that would protect cherished local institutions such as pubs and post offices from closing.

In an interview with Newsnight ahead of the publication of his new report, Mr Tanner says: "Absolutely we came up with the Workington Man concept at the last election. We identified that as the archetypal voter that swung towards the Conservative party and delivered all those seats in the north of England - like Workington, like Walsall, like Warrington - those seats that the Conservative party had often never held before.

"It is precisely those seats that would benefit from a more localised approach, a bottom-up approach where communities take control of local assets like libraries and sports clubs and community hubs. Using them as the lynchpin for regeneration is likely to be successful in regenerating those local areas." 

Newsnight visited Workington to gauge opinion about the government's "levelling up" agenda. Some shoppers thought the government was too focused on larger metropolitan areas.

But Mike Johnson, the Conservative leader of the local Allerdale Borough Council, did not recognise the criticisms in the report.


Ministers ‘to ditch overhaul of planning laws’ after criticism

People in rural areas are not universally opposed to new housing development. I think that is pretty important context in relation to this story! Which tells us:

The government is reportedly backpedalling on its commitment to overhaul planning laws in order to accelerate infrastructure projects with a target of building 300,000 homes a year in England.

Part of the government’s “Project Speed”, the new planning laws were announced in the Queen’s speech with the target of modernising and simplifying the system and increasing the number of homes being planned by more than a third.

The planning reforms have been met with criticism from countryside campaigners, who said the changes would lead to the “suburbanisation” of green areas without delivering much-needed affordable housing.

News that the plans could be scrapped follows the Conservatives’ shock defeat in the Chesham & Amersham byelection to the Liberal Democrats in June, which was blamed by some Tory MPs on the new laws. In the run-up to the vote, the Lib Dem leader, Ed Davey, said that if his party gained the Buckinghamshire constituency, which had formerly been a safe seat for the Conservatives, it would be “a massive mandate for those of us who were campaigning against the planning reforms”.


And Finally…

Coin hoarding at home leads to charity plea

Now here’s a fascinating side effect of the pandemic and one which merits some innovative thinking in terms of the resourcing of rural charities. This article tells us:

UK residents are hoarding an estimated £50m in loose change, with little sign of it all being spent as Covid restrictions ease.

Nearly six in 10 people are holding coins at home, according to a survey by banking trade body UK Finance.

People tend to hold on to 1p, 2p, 5p and 10p coins.

The findings have prompted pleas for this money to be given to charity, as cash donations dropped during the Covid crisis.

UK Finance data suggests that people have been holding on to cash three times longer than they used to owing, in part, to the coronavirus lockdowns.


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


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