Hinterland - 28 January 2019

In Hinterland this week - This week a bevvy of stories (with no Brexit references!) – rural isolation, elderly drivers, rural volunteers, holes in the road, dwindling libraries and English Champagne!!! Read on...

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Why rural communities are becoming more isolated

We know all this but this is a really great summary of the key issues which underpin our movement. It tells us

What is the problem?

Key services for many rural communities – from local policing to public transport and ATMs – have been cut relentlessly over the past eight years. Village shops, pubs and rural town high streets are also struggling to survive in the face of online competition and out-of-town superstores. The employment picture is no more optimistic, with fewer agricultural jobs available as the farming sector continues to switch to automation.

Public transport

Local authority bus budgets in England and Wales were cut by £20.5m in 2017/2018 and the number of bus journeys has dropped by 10% since 2008, according to Campaign for Better Transport. More than 3,300 bus routes in England and Wales have been reduced or withdrawn since 2010. “The lack of affordable public transport…stops people getting access to training and jobs,” says Stephen Joseph, former chief executive for Campaign for Better Transport. “It makes access to healthy food in shops more difficult. Cuts in bus services add to poverty and social exclusion, and to isolation and loneliness.”


Up to 50% of rural homes – around 1.5 million properties – are unable to get broadband speeds of 10 megabits per second (mbps) or higher, according to Ofcom. Government data shows average rural broadband speeds are around 5mbps, compared with 25mbps or higher in most cities.


As reported in our January issue, rural crime is at an all-time high. Almost 70% of farmers and rural-specific business owners have been victims of crime in the past 12 months. Rural crime cost the UK £44.5m in 2017 – an increase of 13.4% on the previous year.

Bank and ATM closures

Analysis by Which? shows almost two-thirds of bank  branches have closed over the past 30 years; 19% of people live almost two miles from their nearest bank. In January 2019, Royal Bank of Scotland began closing 216 branches across the UK, with the loss of 1,050 jobs. Also, 300 free-to-use cash machines are closing every month. Independent operators, who manage ATMs in many rural stores, say cashpoints are increasingly unprofitable.

Automation of agriculture

Agriculture is one of the sectors most likely to be affected by automation, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. UK agriculture currently supports around 400,000 direct jobs – from farmers to seasonal crop pickers and landscape management – but this number is dropping as robotic systems increasingly harvest crops and fruits. Driverless tractors are being developed that can plant and gather crops, while precision spraying by drones and robots is another area where human labour is set to be replaced.

Shop closures

Around 400 commercial village shops close each year, according to the Plunkett Foundation, which supports rural businesses. The internet has both positive and negative aspects for the rural economy. Businesses desperately require fast broadband to compete and operate routine tasks, while rural residents can now go online to easily buy goods not available locally. At the same time, village shops and high streets are undercut by online services with lower overheads.

House prices

The lack of new affordable housing is driving young families and working-age people out of rural areas, according to the National Housing Federation (NHF). The cheapest rural homes are 8.3 times the income of typical first-time buyers, much higher than in urban areas. The NHF says this reinforces the trend for diminishing village populations and services: almost half of households in rural areas are predicted to be aged 65 or over by 2039.


Prince Philip apologises to woman injured in car crash

This sad story is only noteworthy in terms of Hinterland because it raises the broader issue of the challenge of many older rural dwellers driving on rural roads. It tells us….

A “very contrite” Duke of Edinburgh has personally apologised for his part in a car crash to a woman who was left with a broken wrist.

In a letter to Emma Fairweather, Prince Philip, 97, suggested glare from the winter sun may have been to blame for the incident as he pulled out from a side road on to the A149 near the Sandringham estate in Norfolk on 17 January.

His apology emerged following widespread criticism of him and Buckingham Palace over the handling of the incident. Fairweather called the duke “highly insensitive and inconsiderate” after he was photographed less than 48 hours later at the wheel of a replacement car without a seatbelt on. She joined calls for him to be prosecuted if found to be at fault over the collision.

In a typed letter to Fairweather, seen by the Sunday Mirror, Philip wrote: “I would like you to know how very sorry I am for my part in the accident at the Babingley crossroads. I have been across that crossing any number of times and I know very well the amount of traffic that uses that main road.


The new 'big society': 4 in 10 Britons volunteer, survey reveals

With the extra social capital which we know exists in rural areas I suspect this is a more potent phenomenon in rural than urban places.  I also suspect over the next couple of years we are going to need to rely more and more on this resource in rural areas. This story tells us:

Almost four in 10 Britons volunteer, with the vast majority saying it benefits their mental health and acts as an antidote to loneliness, according to a survey of more than 10,000 people.

The survey, conducted by YouGov on behalf of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), involved 10,103 people aged over 18, the largest poll on the subject in more than a decade.

Of the respondents 77% said volunteering had improved their mental health, with just over half (53%) saying it had improved their physical health.

Young people were most likely to say volunteering had helped combat isolation, with 77% of 18- to 24-year-olds agreeing with this, compared with 68% of all ages and 76% of 25– to 34-year-olds.

 “There is an emerging body of evidence that suggests volunteering can improve your mental health and the language I have read is that it can help with depression, life satisfaction and wellbeing,” said Karl Wilding, NCVO’s policy and volunteering director.

“Broadly speaking, it helps as it is a social activity, and when you are doing things with others and groups that conviviality and connectedness is important,” he said, adding that it was most beneficial to people who didn’t have a partner or a job.

2017 study into Wildlife Trust volunteers found more than half those who started out with low mental health had improved after 12 weeks.

The NCVO survey found that 69% of respondents had volunteered at some point in their life, 38% having done so in the past year. Extrapolated over the entire adult population, this means more than 20 million people had given of their time at some point in the year.


Council funds for libraries, museums and galleries cut by nearly £400m over eight years, figures reveal

Sorry folks, I know how true all this will ring and reporting it feels a bit like rubbing it in, but it is important to keep track of just how far funding for the important discretionary aspects of local authority spending has fallen, particularly in rural areas. This story tells us:

Libraries, museums and art galleries across England have had their funding slashed by nearly £400m in the past eight years, forcing hundreds to close, The Independent can reveal.

Leaders of county councils, which are mainly Conservative-run, say spending cuts have been made to the arts and education to ensure there is enough funding to provide care for the elderly and the vulnerable.

It comes as Essex County Council plans to close a third of its 74 libraries, while Birmingham City Council is looking to reduce its grants to arts and cultural organisations by nearly 50 per cent.  

Councils will be forced to make even more cuts to cultural services unless more funding is awarded to local authorities for care services in the spending review, county council leaders warn.

Figures reveal that council spending on museums, galleries, libraries, and local arts support has already reduced by more than £390m since 2011.


Reality Check: Is our pothole problem getting worse?

The jury appears to be out in terms of whether our roads are deteriorating or not in terms of stats. In terms of my experience I feel 10 years of underinvestment in rural roads tells the truth under the tyres of my car.! I’m sure you’ll have views….

freedom-of-information request by the RAC to Highways England found there were 528 successful claims relating to vehicle damage caused by potholes in 2017/18. This was more than double the 212 recorded in 2016/17 and the 187 in 2015/16.

The government says the "Beast from the East" - the unusually cold spell early last year - was at least partly to blame for the spike.

When it comes to minor roads, though, English and Welsh councils are fixing fewer potholes. The AIA's own annual Local Authority Road Maintenance survey found the average number filled in by each local authority in England in 2012-13 was 16,041. By 2016/17 this fell to 13,468. In Wales, the number declined from 7,082 to 6,410.

Nicholas Thom, assistant professor of engineering at Nottingham University, says that just because fewer potholes are being fixed by councils, it doesn't mean roads are improving.

"The situation's definitely worse than it was a few years ago", he says. "There's no denying that fewer are being fixed, so it's more than likely the backlog of repairs is increasing."

The Insurance Emporium company put in a freedom of information request to councils in England, Scotland and Wales about the number of potholes recorded year-by-year. 

In 2015, the total figure was 946,125, rising to 1,088,965 in 2016 and falling back to 986,956 in 2017.

The number given for 2018 was 789,902, but this only went up to the end of April, when the inquiry was made. So the number for that year could well be higher than for previous years.


And Finally

English sparkling wine to go global after record grape harvest as vineyard eyes Asian markets                                     

This is a really interesting article about the development of an important new and significantly growing rural sector and one to raise a glass to! It tells us

It has already been beating French Champagne in taste tests.

Now thanks to climate change and the south of England’s chalky soils, English sparkling wine is set to go global following a record grape harvest last year.

Nyetimber, the UK’s leading producer, has announced plans to expand to Asia and India this autumn.

It follows a 400 per cent rise in sales following growing demand from Europe and America for home-made fizz, with England set to become one of the world’s leading producers of wine by 2100.

Last year’s record harvest of 14 million bunches of grapes produced more than a million bottles


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


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