Hinterland - 29 August 2018

Business rates and bailiffs are having a really negative impact on the reputation of local councils. We are trapped in a perverse cycle of closing independent town centre businesses in the same small towns ,which are often important service centres. In the meantime warehousing continues to grow apace on the fringe of our motorways.  Stories about food and tourism in Hinterland this week also provide limited scope for rural cheer. After all this you’ll need a coffee delivered by a drone. Read on.....

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Bailiffs sent to 81,000 UK firms struggling to pay business rates

This is a very troubling article. Local authorities seem to have a stronger inclination to bring in the bailiffs than many other creditors (something which does us no favours reputationally). We are also locked into an increasing dependence on business rates at the same time that many of our key towns are becoming hollowed out by online shopping. In many cases business rates are cited as the culprit by the hard pressed independent traders we seek to promote.  You couldn’t make it up….. This story tells us:

Bailiffs have been sent in to more than 81,000 companies that have struggled to pay business rates in the first year since a controversial overhaul of the system, according to new figures.

An investigation by ratings adviser Altus Group found that bailiffs were sent to 222 premises across England every day in 2017-18, with the power to enter properties, seize goods and subsequently sell them at auction in order to balance a business’s debts.

A freedom of information request by Altus came back with details on how many business premises were referred to bailiffs from 264 English councils covering 1.6 million properties of the 1.9 million liable for rates.

Using the data provided, it found that 6.53 per cent of firms liable for rates – nearly one in every 15 commercial properties with a bill – faced having their goods seized, up from 6 per cent the year before.

The rates revaluation in April 2017 left millions of businesses facing crippling tax hikes and forced many retailers and pubs out of business, as it saw properties revalued for the first time in seven years.

With councils strapped for cash due to austerity measures, and business rates making up an increasing chunk of income – along with the effect the rise in rates had on the running costs of businesses – the increase in instructions to bailiffs is of little surprise to experts.  

Robert Hayton, head of UK business rates at Altus, said: "Councils are taking enforcement action much earlier since their finances became more aligned to business rates income."


Online shopping drives demand for warehousing space

And just to prove that the trend around online shopping is set to continue, this article demonstrates how whilst small towns continue to decline bland industrial estates near major road arteries are seeing a proliferation in their warehouse capacity. It tells us:

The popularity of online shopping has contributed to a near doubling in demand for warehouse space over the past 10 years, according to figures from property research firm CBRE.

About 235 million sq ft of warehouse space was leased or purchased between 2007 and March 2018 - equivalent to more than 3,000 Wembley Stadiums.

That figure is up from about 130 million sq ft in the previous decade.

About 60% of the space is now used by retailers, according to CBRE.

Ten years ago, retailers accounted for about a third of the space.

"Demand has been unprecedented," said Andrew Marston, who researches UK industrial and logistics property at CBRE, which compiled the figures for the BBC.

"Growth has come from online retailers, a number of which have been rapidly expanding their distribution networks." 

Discount grocery chains such as Lidl and Aldi have also played their part, he said. 

In addition, warehousing space for advanced and automated manufacturing - particularly in the automotive supply chain - has taken up space.

One region cashing in on the opportunity is the East Midlands. The arteries of major motorways and rail connections run through Northamptonshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire. As a result, it's rebranding itself the "Golden Triangle" of logistics. 

The region has mass appeal because goods can reach 90% of the population in England and Wales within four hours. 

Marks and Spencer sounded the starting pistol for the area in 2014 with its £200m fulfilment centre at Castle Donington. A little further south, Magna Park near Lutterworth is home to Disney and Asda. Tesco has a huge operation at Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal (Dirft).


Extreme weather could force food prices up 5% in UK, report says

This article prompted me to reflect on the skewed nature of food economics.  Whilst we might see a modest short term increase in the price we pay for staples as a result of this weather, the devastating impact, will be felt principally by people who grow the food. This is because our system puts all the pressure on the producer and very little on the consumer. The article tells us:

British consumers are facing a hike in food prices of at least 5% as a result of extreme weather this year, economists warn.

Extended spells of frigid and baking weather seen during the winter and summer will likely increase household food bills by an estimated £7.15 a month, the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) says.

The cold snap brought on by the Beast from the East has already been blamed for a slump in the economy at the start of the year, while some industries were adversely affected by heatwave conditions over the summer.

The Cebr said domestic food production has been hit by weather extremes that have put “particular stress on farming costs and yields”.

Between March and July, the wholesale “farm gate” prices of some staples rocketed by up to 80%.

The price of wheat for bread rose by a fifth, strawberries by 28%, carrots by 41% and lettuce by 61%.

The farm gate price of carrots rose by 80%, according to European Commission figures used by the economists.

The Cebr said: “Summer 2018 has been one of the warmest in living memory, with above average temperatures recorded since April and dry spells lasting more than 50 days in parts of the country.


Battle of Bosworth Field: historians fight to stop construction of test-track where Richard III died

I love the visitor centre at the mis-identified site of the Battle of Bosworth. This article makes me cross because whilst there has been no real attempt to interpret the actual site of the battle for visitors, when it suits a business to impinge on one of the most important landscapes in our island story access and intrusion seem to be a different matter. This story tells us:

Richard III has already suffered the indignity of being buried under a car park in Leicester, but now his final battleground could also be tarmacked over, under controversial new proposals.

A ferocious battle has commenced at Bosworth Field over plans to turn part of the historic site into a 155mph test-track for driverless cars.

The Battle of Bosworth in August 1485 was the deciding skirmish in the Wars of the Roses, which saw the death of England’s last Plantagenet king and brought the Tudor dynasty to throne.

But part of the site belongs to Japanese-owned automotive specialistsHoriba Mira Ltd, who have applied to Hinkley and Bosworth Borough Council to build a £26 million 1.2 million square foot track to test autonomous vehicles.

The area is part Historic England’s registered battle zone, and historians claim that if the track is approved on Tuesday, it will destroy an important area, as well as blocking the view from where Henry Tudor first saw the army of Richard III.


Cruise ship rescues three men after fishing boat sinks as coastguard searches for two more

Fishing is a staple of some rural communities. This story helps remind us that it is 7 times more dangerous than the next most dangerous profession. It tells us:

Passengers on a cruise ship applauded when three fishermen were rescued from a life raft drifting off England's east coast, while the coastguard searches for two more.

The Pacific Princess turned around to rescue the men, whose boat sank about 25 miles north east of Great Yarmouth four hours prior, after spotting a distress flare in the North Sea.

A passenger on the Pacific Princess reported "Because we all at the time thought there was only three of them, and everybody clapped when they came on the ship.

"But we didn't know until a while later, when the captain announced that there was actually two more and we were still searching for them."


And Finally....
Coffee Delivery Drone that can predict whey you’re tired is patented by IBM

Milk and two sugars please…

Coffee fans, brace yourselves: your favourite caffeinated beverage could be about to get a whole lot more sci-fi.

In developments that are bound to thrill coffee-drinkers and technophiles alike, IBM has patented a coffee-delivering drone that will be able to detect when people are tired and respond by bringing them a warm cup of Joe.

While the technology company has not yet revealed whether it intends to actually produce the drone, the news has sparked global titillation, as the idea of coffee on-demand becomes a closer reality.


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


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