Hinterland - 2 December 2019

In Hinterland this week - the political football games have reached digital and mobile proportions, the search for nurses and in the future for a mobile GP and ongoing farming uncertainty. All leavened with an interesting and missing road sign…..

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Boris Johnson's 'new' Tory manifesto plan for mobile phone blackspots was actually agreed in last parliament

I am pleased to see that mobile and digital connectivity have found a bit of space in the election. This first article tells us:

Boris Johnson is under fire for hailing a “new” £1bn plan to end poor mobile phone signals after it emerged the deal was struck in the last parliament.

Countryside areas would no longer be dogged by so-called ‘not spots’ through a plan for companies to use each other's masts to create a “shared rural network” by 2025, the prime minister said.

But, in a difficult BBC interview, it was pointed out that the agreement with the mobile phone firms had been reached last month.

The Conservatives had also “watered down” Mr Johnson’s pledge, when he won the Tory leadership election, to deliver full-fibre broadband to every home.

On the phones deal, Mishal Husain, the Radio 4 interviewer, told Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary: “All of this was announced back in October.”


Rural business association slams parties’ lack of plans to address ‘appalling’ connectivity

And here is our second article on the same theme, reinforcing the fact that there is a big job to be done here whichever party ends up running the country.

Even though the Conservative Party and Labour Party have published manifesto pledges to expand broadband coverage to rural areas, and the Liberal Democrats have pledged to invest in mobile data infrastructure and expand it to cover all homes, rural diversification consultancy Rural Solutions, an advisory business for UK landowners and land-based businesses, said any future UK government will not be able to fix what it calls “appalling” levels of mobile connectivity in rural areas without a more radical policy for siting communications masts.

The criticism comes even after the government in October set out its plans to make radical improvements to mobile phone coverage across the country. Working in conjunction with the four leading UK operators, the £1.3bn scheme, the Shared Rural Network (SRN), proposes to wipe not-spots from the map, giving what the government claims will be “high-quality” 4G coverage to 95% of the country by 2025.

But speaking just before the launch of the Conservative manifesto, which also promises to provide greater mobile coverage across the UK, Joanne Halton, head of planning at Rural Solutions, said rural areas were still blighted by poor connectivity in many places, with designated zones for siting network masts being the missing solution.

She dismissed what the major parties were offering, emphasising that none of their plans and pledges would successfully address the problem of “appalling” mobile 4G and 5G coverage in rural areas.

At the heart of the issue was a lack of regard for planning applications, said Halton. “We won’t get the connectivity levels that political parties say they aspire to achieve without a further relaxation of planning regulations,” she said. “If any government is serious about rural connectivity, it needs to urgently modify its regulation of mast locations and heights in designated scenic and historic areas, which encompass much of rural Britain. 


General election 2019: Can the NHS boost nurse numbers by 50,000?

The problem with this pledge and all parties have the same structural challenge in relation to their health claims, is that the workers required just don’t currently exist. We have also made ourselves a far less welcoming environment for foreign workers (who we shouldn’t be seeking to poach in many cases anyway) – so this leaves us with a real challenge….Nonetheless this article tells us:

The Conservative manifesto pledges to add 50,000 nurses to the workforce in England by 2024-25.

How realistic is this target, particularly given that nurse numbers have gone up by only about 5,000 since 2010?

Workforce is one of the main concerns for the NHS in England right now. Health employers talk of difficulties filling rotas and worries about how future staff can be recruited at a time of rising patient demand.

In an attempt to address that, the Conservatives have said that if re-elected they would take action to address the problem.

This will be achieved, according to the party, by training more staff, international recruitment and better retention of existing nurses.


GPs vote to reduce patient home visits

If this change is implemented I have no doubt it will have a major impact on rural dwellers who are old, isolated and vulnerable. The article tells us:

GPs have voted to reduce visits to patients' homes, saying they "no longer have the capacity" to offer them.

Doctors supported the proposal at a meeting of English local medical committees in London on Friday.

It means British Medical Association (BMA) representatives will lobby NHS England to stop home visits being a contractual obligation.

However, the plans face opposition from Health Secretary Matt Hancock and the Royal College of GPs (RCGP).

Mr Hancock said taking home visits out of GPs' contracts is a "complete non-starter".

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said home visits should be used wiselybut insisted they are a "core part" of general practice.

An NHS spokeswoman said GPs would still visit patients at home where there was a clinical need to do so.

According to NHS Digital, in one month in 2018, GPs in England made 238,579 home visits out of a total of 27,084,027 appointments.


Farmers blame market uncertainty for lack of growth

More proof if any were needed of the troubled state of the farming sector. This article tells us:

The number of farmers who say market uncertainty has prevented them from investing has increased sharply in the past six months.

Survey figures show that almost a third (31%) of businesses blamed the questionable outlook as the biggest reason for a lack of investment.

The survey of 1,200 farmers carried out in October by YouGov for lenders Hitachi Capital Business Finance (HCBF) and compares with a figure of just 19% citing the same reason in May this year.

The results also revealed that 78% of farmers felt external factors beyond their control hampered the development of their businesses.

HCBF director Gavin Wraith-Carter explained: “We wanted to uncover which issues are proving to be the big obstacles to growth and to see which, if any, are having a bigger impact now in the run-up to Christmas compared to the summertime.

“As expected, the picture is very different. Market uncertainty continues to be a barrier to growth for small business leaders in the agricultural sector, along with volatile cash flow, which is often a reflection of an uncertain market.”


And Finally

Theft of Northamptonshire village Bell End sign 'pathetic'

If someone gives you a novelty street name for Christmas you might want to read this article….!!!

Villagers have described the theft of a "cheeky" street sign as "pathetic" and a "sad state of affairs".

Residents said the sign for Bell End in Wollaston, Northamptonshire, is regularly taken, with the latest theft happening on Tuesday afternoon.

The road, along with its namesake in the West Midlands, often features in top 10 lists of rude street names.

Resident Christine Thurland, 80, said: "I don't understand why would anyone want to do something so silly."

She said it was "pathetic" the sign had been stolen.

Villager Neil Balderson, 39, said: "It has been a well-known feature in the village and there is a cheeky side to it.

"We regularly have people stop for photos and it's not unknown for people leave their mark with stickers and suchlike.

"The sign being taken is really quite a sad state of affairs."


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


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