Hinterland - 24 September 2019

In Hinterland this week - slow rural broadband, climate change and the food supply, shrinking ATM coverage, private care homes, National Parks and 100 years of forests. Read on...

*         *          *

Slow digital services are marginalising rural areas, MPs warn

 This story needs no additional commentary. It tells us:

Rural inhabitants risk becoming “second-class” citizens in the digital revolution as urban dwellers benefit from next-generation broadband and 5G mobile, MPs have said.

The report by the Commons environment, food and rural affairs select committee said that the government has failed to grasp the extent of the digital divide in the provision of broadband and mobile services.

 Almost 600,000 “forgotten homes” in rural areas across the UK are still unable to get sufficiently fast broadband to meet a typical family’s needs – from watching Netflix to browsing YouTube.

 In England and Wales 6.6% of premises do not receive the 10Mbps internet service the government has mandated as the bare minimum to cover a family’s modern digital needs, compared with just 0.7% in cities and towns. In Scotland, 19% of homes in rural areas don’t get decent internet while in Northern Ireland the figure stands at about 15%.

“Digital connectivity is now regarded by many as an essential utility, with many in rural areas struggling to live a modern lifestyle without it,” said Neil Parish, the chairman of the committee. “Poor broadband and mobile data services continue to marginalise rural communities, particularly those in hard to reach areas.”

The report said that the government’s target of a 10Mbps internet service as a bare minimum to cover modern digital needs lets down rural families as new technologies and demand for internet services makes such a speed inadequate and obsolete.


A fifth of UK fresh food imports from areas at risk of climate chaos, MPs warn

 Thoughtful and scary stuff this story tells us:

 About a fifth of the fresh food the UK imports comes from areas threatened with climate chaos, putting people’s health and diets at risk, MPs have found.

 The environmental audit committee called on ministers to set out a clear plan for how the UK’s food supplies could be protected from the climate emergency and to publish information on how food may be affected by Brexit.

 Currently, 40% of the UK’s food is imported, according to the report published on Tuesday. In the very near future, people would be at risk from sudden lurches in food prices if a no-deal Brexit resulted in trouble with imports, including higher costs, delays and shortages.

Mary Creagh, the chair of the committee, said: “We are facing a food security crisis, exacerbated by uncertainty over the UK’s future trading position with the EU and the rest of the world. Ministers must now publish all the information they hold from Operation Yellowhammer on food security and likely costs in the event of a no-deal Brexit.”

Beyond the immediate effects of Brexit, the climate emergency and changing trade relationships may put the British diet in jeopardy. The MPs called for a national food council that would cover food production, nutrition and public health issues, and for stringent annual targets to reduce the UK’s high levels of food waste.

Water consumption across the UK should be set at 100 litres (22 gallons) per person per day, the MPs found. This would require changes to water availability and potentially to metering. Sustainable cities should also be made more resilient to the effects of the climate crisis, and town planners should be more involved in improving the design of cities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, for instance through more efficient transport networks.


Poorest UK areas have lost more free ATMs than richer ones, Which? report finds

Not only poor areas but also rural ones and therefore lets not get too side-lined into looking just at the city experience in terms of this story, which tells us:

Free-to-use cash machines are vanishing more quickly in deprived areas than in affluent ones, new research shows.

 Which? said its analysis shows nearly one in 10 free cashpoints across the country had closed or switched to fee-paying during a 17-month period after changes to how the network is funded were set out.

Reductions to the fees card issuers pay to ATM operators have sparked fears that "cash deserts" could be created, with bank branches also closing.

Looking just at the numbers of free ATMs which had been converted from free to fee-charging, Which? found that the most deprived areas across the UK had seen a reduction of 979 free-to-use machines - equivalent to 5.7 per cent of their ATM network.


84% of care home beds in England owned by private firms

 Very thought provoking article in relation to an issue of great significance for rural settings. It tells us:

More than eight out of 10 care home beds are provided by profit-driven companies, including more than 50,000 by large operators owned by private equity firms, research reveals.

Private companies now own and run 84% of beds in care homes in England used by older people, as local councils have almost totally withdrawn from a key area of social care they used to dominate.

The disclosure of the private sector’s huge market share has raised concerns because some of the biggest operators have large debts, are alleged to use tax avoidance schemes and drive down staff pay. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) watchdog has said inadequate staffing levels at care homes can lead to elderly residents receiving poor-quality care.

For-profit companies own 381,524 (83.6%) of England’s 456,545 care home beds, research by the IPPR thinktank (in partnership with Future Care Capital) has found, based on analysis of data from the CQC and Companies House, an increase on the 82% in 2015.

“The state has abdicated its responsibility for providing care over recent decades. The private sector may have filled this gap but it consistently puts profits before people,” said Harry Quilter-Pinner, a senior research fellow at the IPPR and co-author of the report.


Night in national park 'for every schoolchild'

I have to say there is much about the bizarre governance arrangements of national parks that this review needs to address. Notwithstanding that some interesting ideas are previewed in this article, which tells us:

Every schoolchild in England should get the opportunity to "spend a night under the stars" in an idyllic landscape, an independent review has suggested.

Helping pupils connect with nature through visits would ensure protected areas such as national parks are "open to everyone", the review's author said.

Julian Glover was asked to review England's 70-year-old national park system and areas of outstanding natural beauty by the environment secretary.  He says they need to be "re-ignited".

Mr Glover's review says challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss and a trend towards increased urban living mean fresh ideas are needed to give England's protect landscapes new purpose.

Among his recommendations are a National Landscapes Service to act as a unified body for the country's 10 national parks and 34 areas of outstanding natural beauty, and a 1,000-strong "ranger service" to help engage the public.


And Finally
History of Britain’s forests and woodlands: 100 years of the Forestry Commission

Excellent, informative and inspiring – a celebration of the trees – follow the hyperlink to read on….

Founded in September 1919, the Forestry Commission began essential work to restore England’s forests and woodlands that had been lost during the First World War. Celebrating its centenary year in 2019, our guide looks at the history of the UK’s forests and woodlands, wildlife to spot and the best forests to visit.


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.