Hinterland - 19 July 2021

In Hinterland this week – we profile the release of the National Food Strategy and the Environmental Justice Commission report. We also think about the gulf in political appointment culture and practice between local and national government and we look at the impact of covid-driven waiting lists with a reflection of rural populations and we finish with a reflection in and finally of the relationship between roads and wild water swimmers. Read on...

*         *          *

Prince Charles' warning over survival of small farms

Two stories this week which look at the backwash from the new National Food Strategy which has generated little direct interest – sadly. Prince Charles argues for family farms and less intensive agriculture. The report itself is more nuanced. Prince Charles identifies:

Letting small family farms go to the wall will "break the backbone of Britain's rural communities", Prince Charles has said.

The focus on producing plentiful and cheap food threatens the survival of the country's smaller farms, he says.

If they go it will "rip the heart out of the British countryside", he warns.

The government says it wants to support all farmers and "the choices that they take on their own holdings".

It comes ahead of the publication of the National Food Strategy, the first major review of Britain's food system in more than 70 years.

The strategy was commissioned by the government and is headed by Henry Dimbleby, the founder of the Leon restaurant chain.

Thursday's report will explore the links between food production and environmental degradation including climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution and the sustainable use of resources.

It will include recommendations for the government, which has promised to respond with a White Paper within six months.

The first part of the strategy was published in July last year and highlighted the connection between obesity, poverty and the UK's high Covid-19 death toll.

The Prince of Wales has been concerned with food and the environment for most of his adult life.

His latest intervention comes in the form of an essay for Radio 4's Today programme.

In it, he condemns the super-efficient intensive agricultural system that produces much of the food we eat as a "dead end".


Food strategy for England calls for big cut in meat consumption

The second of or features on the National Food strategy delves more deeply into the work, with some really interesting statistics which tell us some interesting things about the relationship between land use and calories.

The new food strategy for England, commissioned by the government, lays out in stark detail the damage the current food and farming system wreaks on the environment, as well as our health. It is the biggest destroyer of nature and a major source of climate warming, it says.

The report takes aim at overconsumption of meat. “Our current appetite for meat is unsustainable,” it says. “85% of farmland is used to feed livestock [and] we need some of that land back.”

That 85% of land provides only 32% of the calories we eat, it says: “By contrast, the 15% of farmland that is used to grow plant crops for human consumption provides 68% of our calories.” The report also tackles the myth that grass-fed livestock are greener, saying: “The more intensively you rear some animals, the more carbon-efficient they tend to be.”


One in five Whitehall non-executive directors have links to political parties

Just imagine if we appointed paid political advisers in Local Government. This story tells us…….

A fifth of Whitehall’s non-executive directors appointed to oversee the work of government departments have “significant political experience or party alignment”, according to new evidence that ministers are using the posts to bolster their own support.

It comes as demands grow for a complete overhaul of the appointment of Whitehall’s army of non-executive directors (Neds), who have come in for greater scrutiny since Matt Hancock, the former health secretary, was found to have appointed his aide and lover, Gina Coladangelo, to the role at the Department of Health and Social Care last year.

Coladangelo has since left the post following the public exposure of their affair. However, Hancock’s decision to appoint her highlighted the fact that ministers across Whitehall have appointed figures known to be close to them personally. Neds are meant to scrutinise both ministers and their department as part of the role, but there are concerns that they are increasingly being used to bolster ministers and effectively act as special advisers.

About 20% of the 94 non-executive directors currently in post have political experience or allegiances, according to a new analysis by the Institute for Government (IfG) thinktank. It called for a complete overhaul of how they are appointed. Under current rules, their appointments are not regulated in the same way as other senior Whitehall posts, “making it impossible to know whether candidates are genuinely being appointed on merit, or if advantage is being given on grounds of political affiliation”.

Of the 19 Neds identified as having significant political experience or ties, the analysis found 15 exclusively supported the Conservatives, while two – Tory donor Ben Goldsmith and former Conservative and Ukip MP Douglas Carswell – have campaigned for the Conservatives alongside other parties, and one, Gisela Stuart, worked with Conservative politicians on the Leave campaign.


Covid: NHS backlog in England could reach 13 million, says Sajid Javid

In rural settings, where accessing treatment for many of the conditioned referenced here is more complicated, this represents a huge backlog and challenge. The story tells us:

NHS waiting lists in England could more than double in the coming months, the health secretary has said.

Currently, some 5.3 million people are waiting for routine operations and procedures in England.

Sajid Javid told the Sunday Telegraph he was "shocked" when officials warned him that the backlog could reach 13 million patients.

But he added he was confident most remaining curbs would be lifted in England on 19 July.

Mr Javid, who became health secretary two weeks ago after his predecessor Matt Hancock resigned following an apology for breaking social-distancing rules, said waiting lists were his priority.

He told the Sunday Telegraph: "What shocked me the most is when I was told that the waiting list is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

"It's gone up from 3.5 million to 5.3 million as of today, and I said to the officials, so what do you mean 'a lot worse', thinking maybe it goes from 5.3 million to six million, seven million. They said no, it's going to go up by millions... it could go as high as 13 million.

"Hearing that figure of 13 million, it has absolutely focused my mind, and it's going to be one of my top priorities to deal with because we can't have that."

Among the solutions, Mr Javid said, would be to pay private healthcare providers to continue to treat NHS patients, and keeping virtual doctors' appointments.


UK public should get ‘people’s dividend’ in drive to hit green targets

In a week of largely un-discussed highly significant reports this major work with implications for the UK countryside tells us:

The British public should be given a “people’s dividend” worth billions of pounds as part of the national drive to hit targets for net zero carbon emissions and the restoration of nature, according to the most detailed blueprint to date for a green transition.

Free public transport, more green spaces and money for improving homes are at the core of a landmark report that proposes one of the greatest advances in the fairness agenda since the creation of the NHS.

The 70,000-word manifesto by the cross-party environmental justice commission says levelling up must be at the heart of efforts to decarbonise the UK economy to ensure policies have broad public support.

The authors – MPs, citizen’s juries, business executives, union leaders and members of the Institute for Public Policy Research – say they have learned from the gilets jaunes (yellow vest) protests in France that fuel tax increases will bring a backlash if they are perceived as unfair. Instead, they cite Canada as an example of redistributing carbon tax revenues among citizens. In the UK’s case, they say this should be done in the form of grants and support for better wellbeing.

Caroline Lucas, a Green party MP and one of the co-chairs of the commission, saw parallels with the creation of the NHS in terms of the possible social impact.

After 18 months of deliberation by policymakers and citizens across areas of the UK likely to be most affected by the transition – Tees Valley and County Durham Aberdeenshire, south Wales Valleys and Thurrock in Essex – the final report says the UK is currently failing to ensure that the costs and benefits of the transition to net zero will be fairly shared.


And Finally

Call for action over road run-off pollution hitting English rivers

Wild water swimming is the new trend. This report highlights how the often negative correlation between roads and rivers impacts on the agenda. It tells us:

Action is needed to stop pollution of English rivers by road run-off, an environmental campaigner warned.

The call came as more people have started swimming in rivers during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Jo Bradley, who worked at the Environment Agency for 20 years, said more funding was needed for measures to prevent contamination of waterways.

A government spokeswoman said it was working on a "range of interventions to tackle the sources of pollution".

In 2016, when Environment Agency figures were last published, only 16% of rivers, lakes and streams were classed as good.

Ms Bradley, of the Stormwater Shepherds group, said tiny bits of tyre rubber, metals from brake pads and a group of hydrocarbons from emissions wash off the tarmac and into rivers.

She added that as well as hitting wildlife some hydrocarbons, such as benzo[a]pyrene, may cause cancer, and she said more needed to be done, such as introducing roadside filter drains, grit separators and storm-water filters.

"We need a funding mechanism to allow local authorities and highways authorities to introduce treatment systems," she said.

"There are a number of recognised and proven treatment devices to capture a proportion of the pollution in road run-off.

"So government should set meaningful targets for Highways England to install these devices at polluting outfalls more quickly.

She said the money could be raised by putting a levy on tyre sales or an extra charge on council tax.


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



Sign up to our newsletter to receive all the latest news and updates.