Hinterland - 17 December 2018

In Hinterland this week - As we move through the festive build up I bring you tales of: rural homelessness; hospitals under pressure; energy costs; fracking challenges; dynamic bridge crossings and a few Christmas hints for men….Read on.....

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Down and out in Chippenham: Britain's hidden rural homeless

This story of Patrick Button should make us all reflect on the fact that homelessness is not purely an urban phenomenon. It tells us:

Button worked as a carer and shared a two-bedroom home with a long-term partner. When she died suddenly, he lost the house, and within weeks he found himself shifting a rotting badger’s carcass to make room for his tent on the outskirts of the Wiltshire town. He cooked food over an open fire with a boot scraper improvised for a grill. He quickly learned of the hostility homeless people can face. He came back one day to find his tent and possessions, including a picture of his late partner, burnt to ashes, apparently on purpose.

The prosperous town, 10 miles from Bath, is in a county that claims to have only 22 rough sleepers, down from 33 last year. These figures will be sent to central government and used to help determine homelessness policy, but they may well underestimate the scale of the problem. In London and Manchester tents fill shop doorways, but in the countryside the homeless are elusive, sleeping, like Button, in woods, or in vans, bin sheds and on river banks. They are hard to count.

Wiltshire, like other councils, tallies its rough sleepers once a year. The latest snapshot was taken last month and in Chippenham they found three. Since May, Chippenham’s homeless hostel, Unity House, said it had looked after 46 at-risk or current rough sleepers.

The county trumpeted its figures as evidence it was getting on top of the problem. Richard Clewer, a cabinet member for housing, said it was “such good news”. But people in Chippenham who have been living the cold, fitful, anxious life of the rough sleeper were sceptical.


Hospitals 'in red zone' with record numbers of A&E patients

A recent report commissioned by the National Centre for Rural Health and Care suggests “unavoidably small” NHS trusts are series underperformers and therefore some of the most acute challenges linked to this area will be in rural England.  This story tells us:

Hospitals are very busy and dangerously full, even though the weather has been mild and flu is not a major problem, NHS figures show.

Record numbers of people in England sought help at A&E, had to be admitted to hospital or waited longer than the maximum 18 weeks for a planned operation in November, according to data released on Thursday.

The intense pressures on NHS services prompted warnings that this winter could prove even tougher than last year, when it experienced its worst ever winter crisis.

“Despite the extensive preparations by trusts, today’s figures make it very clear that the NHS is on course for a very difficult winter,” said Miriam Deakin, the director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts.

The latest performance statistics show that hospitals missed a host of waiting-time targets as they treated unusually high numbers of patients for the time of year:

  • 87.6% of patients arriving at A&E were treated within four hours, far off the 95% target and the lowest proportion ever for November.
  • 94.2% of hospital beds were full last week, well above the 85% figure that evidence shows is the safe limit for bed occupancy.
  • A&E units had to divert patients to another hospital 25 times last week, of which 11 occurred at the troubled Worcestershire acute hospitals trust.
  • 10,675 patients had to spend at least 30 minutes with ambulance crews before being handed over to A&E staff, in breach of NHS rules which say that should never happen.
  • Almost 55,000 patients spent at least four hours on a trolley while they waited to get a hospital bed.
  • 405 urgent operations were cancelled in October, 42% more than the 287 cancellations a year before.

The NHS is already “operating in the red zone”, the King’s Fund said.


UK households pick up £80m bill left over from failed energy firms

In rural communities where energy is proportionately more expensive this is a depressing story, it tells us:

British households face an £80m bill to cover the costs of transferring more than half a million customers from bust energy firms, raising questions over whether the regulatory regime is fit for purpose.

Eight suppliers have ceased trading this year amid rising wholesale prices, forcing energy regulator Ofgem to step in and appoint new suppliers. Four have collapsed in the past two months alone, including One Select on Monday.

Each of the UK’s 28m homes could have an average of £1.75 added to their energy bills to compensate the new suppliers, according to a Guardian analysis.

Ovo, ScottishPower and other suppliers who have taken on customers of failed firms can recoup some costs through a mechanism known as “Supplier of Last Resort”, ultimately paid for by all consumers via their bills.

Those claims will take months to settle, but there are historical figures that provide a guide to the bill awaiting consumers.

Co-Operative Energy successfully claimed £14m for taking on the 160,000 customers of GB Energy when it went bust in 2016, implying the cost for rehoming 551,500 residential customers in 2018 would be £48.2m.

Industry experts said the number was credible, and could be higher still depending on the credit balances held by the collapsed firms. An initial application for compensation by one supplier this year would indicate a bill more like £76m.

Even taking the more conservative figure, the amount all households are liable for looks likely to be about £80m, or nearly £3 for each annual energy bill, once renewable energy subsidies left unpaid by failed firms are counted.


Fracking halted in Lancashire again after second earthquake in three days

I think this fracking stuff is of relatively limited value and seems to pose an ongoing threat to our geological integrity. This story tells us:

Fracking has been paused at a site in Lancashire after the second earthquake in the space of three days.

A series of small tremors were detected at the Preston New Road site, peaking at a magnitude of 0.9 which meant operations had to stop.

Readings above 0.5 are ranked “red” on the traffic light system used to monitor these events, and mean fracking must be suspended immediately.

Fossil fuel exploration company Cuadrilla began pumping again at the site this week for the first time since October, when small tremors meant activity had to be repeatedly paused.

Within days of starting again, a minor earthquake of 1.5 magnitude struck – the largest to hit the site since shale gas exploration began this year.

A spokesperson from Cuadrilla said: “A series of micro seismic events in Blackpool have been recorded on the British Geological Survey (BGS) website today 14 December.” 

“The largest recorded was 0.9ML (local magnitude) at about 2pm. This occurred whilst we were hydraulically fracturing at the Preston New Road exploration site.


 ‘After half a century, a drive to Wales no longer takes its toll on motorists’

I live close to the Humber Bridge and I think the huge reduction of tolls there several years ago transformed the dynamism of the rural economy in our neck of the woods. I therefore assume this development will have a positive impact on the local economy as predicted below. This story tells us

On Monday the booths will be completely removed, with drivers crossing both Severn bridges no longer liable for the toll, which is £5.60 for cars and £16.70 for lorries.

Moore understands why regular commuters paying over £1,000 a year will be celebrating but he – along with up to 100 other toll collectors and support staff – is losing a varied job, with many happy memories. “It is the end of an era. My main concern is my friends – one doesn’t have a job to go to,” he says.

The tolls, which have been in place for 52 years, have long been seen as a tax on entering Wales, since motorists don’t pay to cross into England. A private consortium, including Barclays and John Laing, took over the original bridge in 1992 and opened the second bridge in 1996. The consortium collected more than £1bn from the public before transferring the bridges to the Highways Agency in January.

The Welsh government says the removal of the tolls, announced last year, will boost the Welsh economy by £100m a year; Welsh secretary Alun Cairns has said it will create “a growth corridor” from Cardiff, through Newport to Bristol.


And Finally…

Christmas mistakes every man has made

Here’s  a list of useful hints for our male readers at Christmas. It tells us:

A cautionary list you can use to sail smartly through the festive season

The jumper

This is usually a mistake that a man will make only once when he believes that he can pull off Christmas knitwear and tread that fine line between hilarious and tacky. Then you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and realise that Christmas jumpers, any Christmas jumpers, should be left to students and Americans.  

The Christmas haircut

This is a hectic time and it’s easy to keep putting off your Christmas haircut as you concentrate on other more important things – like rating every supermarket mince pie out of 10. Then, before you know it, it’s 4pm on Christmas Eve and you realise that your barber has shut up shop and gone to the pub.  So… could you do it yourself? Why not?

“A lot of the time it’s just the edges of the haircut that make it look untidy rather than it being long,” advises Dan Gregory, Braun’s grooming ambassador. “Use the multi grooming tool such as the one in the Braun Multi Grooming kit MGK3085, and go with one of the longer lengths on the clipper combs to give a fresher finish to your existing haircut by trimming around the back and sides.” Job done.

The pre-lunch punch

What better way to kick off proceedings on the big day than with a festive punch for all your lunch guests? Unfortunately, you unleashed your inner mixologist and ended up free-pouring the ingredients – and although the result is delicious, it’s also absolutely lethal. This has resulted in grandma slurring her words and uncle Fred taking off down the street on the skateboard you bought for the kids’ Christmas. Better get the coffee on, quick.

The Xmas beard

Putting on a bit of Yuletide timber is as inevitable as your tree lights shorting the house electrics. So you try to cover up the effect of the extra calories by growing a beard and then deciding you don’t need to maintain it because you’re not back at work until the New Year this means you could end up looking like a Christmas castaway.


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


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