Hinterland - 18 November 2019

In Hinterland this week - lots of NHS but not enough NHS rural, A call for flood resources for Local Government, some turtle doves in the build up to Christmas, stressed Whitehall staff and finally a penny farthing. Read on...

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General election 2019: Labour vows to outspend Tories on the NHS

In all the “political footballing” already starting in the context of the NHS (see below) I notice no mention to date of anything rural….

Labour is promising to spend more on the NHS in England than the Tories if it wins the general election.

The NHS budget would rise to £155bn by 2023-24 - £6bn more than the government promised the front-line budget would reach by that stage when it set out its five-year plan last year.

Labour said the money would cut waiting times and boost mental health services.

But the Tories said Labour's plan for a shorter working week would eat into the funding due to the need for more staff.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the working hours policy, announced at Labour's annual conference in September, would "cripple our economy and cost the NHS billions every year".

But Labour said a 32-hour working-week would be phased in over 10 years so would not have the impact on NHS budgets claimed by the Tories, and it would also be offset by gains in productivity.


Hospital waiting times at worst-ever level

I suspect those rural hospitals (affectionately known in the NHS as “unavoidably small due to the challenge of remoteness”) will be at the forefront of this challenge – this story tells us:

Hospital performance in England is at its worst level on record, data shows.

Key targets for cancer, hospital care and A&E have been missed for over three years - with delays for hospital care and in A&E hitting their highest levels since both targets were introduced.

The monthly figures - the last before the election - prompted Labour and the Liberal Democrats to attack the Tories' record on the NHS.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson said "huge demand" was to blame.

He said only the Tories could be trusted to have a "strong, dynamic economy" to ensure the rises in the NHS budget being planned could be made.

"I'm afraid when I look at the rival proposals and the economic disaster that Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party would cause, that will make it impossible for us in the long term to fund the NHS."

But Labour leader Mr Corbyn said the performance figures were "disgusting" and a lack of staff and funding was to blame.

And Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Luciana Berger said the Tories had a "shameful" record.


Council leaders demand huge funding rise after floods

I have to say, and yes, I am biased, because of my proximity to these heartlands, that I think the Government should answer this call. I have seen the impact of this closely at first hand and whilst I know other areas have suffered before that does nothing to invalidate the call for resources (mainly for rural settlements) in North Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire, set out below:

Leaders of councils across northern England have called for “massive” increases in funding to deal with major incidents, as the Guardian learned that around 1,800 homes and businesses have been badly flooded in the region.

Dozens of weather warnings remain in place around the country, from Oxfordshire to Yorkshire and across the West Midlands, where more than 100 schools were forced to close on Thursday.

The mayor of the Sheffield city region, Dan Jarvis, described the flood-stricken village of Fishlake, near Doncaster, as having “the feel of a disaster movie”.

As flood-affected families braced for further downpours, the leaders of six councils demanded immediate and long-term financial support to recover from the devastation.

The leaders of councils in Doncaster, Rotherham, Sheffield, Barnsley, Bassetlaw and Kirklees warned of “considerable and lasting damage on a wide scale”, including to power plants and transport infrastructure, and called for funding increases to help them cope with future floods.

In the absence of detailed official figures, the Guardian contacted local authorities in all flood-affected areas and found that at least 1,758 properties had been flooded across Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire.

The figure is more than double the official Environment Agency estimate of 830 properties flooded.


Farmers who help turtle doves should be rewarded with government cash, RSPB says

Its good to see the RSPB getting alongside farmers in the context of this story which tells us:

Farmers who set up reserves to help at risk turtle doves should be given government subsidies, the RSPB has said.

The birds, which were once abundant in the UK, are now hurtling towards extinction as their numbers have halved in five years. There are barely 1,000 breeding pairs left in the UK, a 98 per cent decline since 1970, making it Britain's most endangered bird.

The decline of the turtle dove is largely due to agricultural changes including the loss of mixed farming, high production focused arable and livestock management, increased effectiveness of herbicides and weed removal from crops. 

These have all led to huge reductions in annual plants (usually called ‘weeds’) on our farmland – the seeds of which were turtle doves main food during the summer. 

One farm, backed by the RSPB,  has set up a reserve specifically for the embattled bird, and it is thought to be the biggest dedicated farmland space for turtle doves in the country.

The arable farm in Cambridgeshire is run by the G's Fresh growers association, and farmers have planted turtle dove friendly seeds and given them space to roost.

Over the last two years, the farmers have dedicated over 10 hectares of land – roughly 10 football pitches – to helping turtle doves by providing the food, water and nesting habitat they need.

While they had not had any turtle dove pairs land in years, since they planted seeds and strew bird feed in the land dedicated for the birds, some have made the habitat their home.


Stressed Whitehall staff at ‘breaking point’ over Brexit

I have mixed views about this story and about how much sympathy I think should be extended to “Whitehall staff” – I will keep my thoughts (reflecting on those who are at the butt end of policies planned and implemented in Government, likely to lose their livelihoods through some of the changes which are around the corner) to myself on this one. I don’t like the idea of anyone suffering however and therefore I do have some sympathy with the staff at the heart of this story, which tells us:

Rates of work-related stress, depression and anxiety among civil servants has risen drastically in the past year to the highest level for decades, amid warnings that Whitehall will reach “breaking point”.

The proportion of civil servants who say they are experiencing stress has increased by 45%, according to official data. Increasing workloads, looming deadlines, departures of senior staff and the pressures around delivering Brexit are all being blamed for the spike.

It appears to be the highest rate recorded for any industry since the Health and Safety Executive began collecting these statistics 20 years ago. About 3,230 cases of stress, depression and anxiety per 100,000 workers were recorded for the sector and related jobs, the highest rate of any sector in the UK and around 77% higher than the all-industry average.

Unions blamed the figures on increasing workloads, years of pay restraint and the added pressures created by Brexit and political gridlock. Mike Clancy, general secretary of the Prospect union, said: “No other industry has experienced anything like this annual jump, and it is impossible to escape the conclusion that it is because of the sheer level of pressure being heaped on civil servants as a result of Brexit.

“No government in peace time has ever been as reliant on its civil service, keeping the country running and preparing for Brexit, while parliament remains effectively deadlocked. Pay is still lagging behind the private sector, departmental cuts continue to bite, and senior politicians never seem to miss an opportunity to attack civil servants – it’s no wonder they are feeling the strain.

'The government urgently needs to address this problem or it will soon discover that even our fantastic civil service has a breaking point.”


And Finally

Cyclist Richard Thoday breaks penny farthing record

A marvellous achievement, however sad that GP Mills (who I think merits more investigation as a now forgotten record breaking figure) has been displaced. This story tells us:

A cyclist who rode a penny farthing bike from Land's End to John O'Groats in four days and 12 hours has been told he has broken a 133-year-old record.

Richard Thoday, of Matlock, Derbyshire, completed the 874-mile challenge in July but had to wait for confirmation from Guinness World Records.

The previous record was set in 1886 by celebrated cyclist GP Mills, who did the journey in five days and one hour.

Mr Thoday said the wait was "nerve-racking" but he felt "very relieved".

"I gave Guinness World Records all the evidence I could provide so if they said 'no' there was nothing else I could do," he said.

"I certainly wouldn't be doing it again anyway.

"It was just so hard."          

The 55-year-old's record attempt helped to raise £10,000 for Children in Need.


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


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