Hinterland - 29 June 2020

In Hinterland this week – the coronavirus and local government expenditure, councils on the front foot over climate change, a call for greater devolution of powers to tackle the virus, farm diversification and the rural economy, managing a second wave (should it come) and overall no going back to before.

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Coronavirus: UK councils fear bankruptcy amid Covid-19 costs

The challenges inherent in this story speak for themselves – with a number of particularly rural first tier authorities potentially high on the list.

Nearly 150 authorities have forecast a combined budget shortfall of at least £3.2bn, the BBC found.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said the government "has got to recognise" the financial situation facing councils.

The government said it was working on a "comprehensive plan" for councils.

A BBC investigation found across the UK:

  • At least five English councils warned they may meet the criteria to issue a section 114 notice at some point without more government support, declaring themselves effectively bankrupt
  • They include some of the UK's largest unitary authorities - Leeds, Wiltshire, Trafford, Tameside and Barnet
  • Of 173 local authorities who responded to the BBC's questions, 148 predicted a budget shortfall

At least 20 local authorities plan to hold an emergency or in-year budget

Lost business rates, council tax holidays and emergency payments for families whose incomes have disappeared have all hit upper tier councils' income, at the same time as rising costs of adult care and providing protective equipment (PPE) for carers.

Some of those councils would also typically depend on tourism for large chunks of income, such as dividends from airports they own or parking fees from visitors.


Rural councils join forces to tackle climate change

In all this doom and gloom a positive storyline with local authorities leading from the front. This story tells us

A coalition of 21 rural councils, in partnership with UK100, have launched the Countryside Climate Network this week.

The Network aims to ensure rural communities play an active role in helping meet the ambition of net zero by 2050.

Chair of the Countryside Climate Network and leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, cllr Steve Count, said: 'Cambridgeshire may be low-lying and vulnerable to sea level rise, yet far from a rural backwater, it has the highest ratio of entrepreneurs nationally, many focussed on advanced cleantech.

'It can be hard to meet our sustainable ambitions when unlike urban areas we have additional pressures of needing to fund essential bus services to remote communities or invest in broadband because the market doesn’t reach isolated areas. These examples of typical rural disadvantage combined with a funding gap in rural areas twice that of our urban counterparts, diminshes our stretched resources further.'


Hand health powers to elected mayors, says report

In view of some of the major challenges arising from the last four months I’m not sure local council leaders will want a number of the powers proposed here, particularly those areas with limited appetite (mainly rural) for elected mayors. This article tells us

Health powers should be handed to elected mayors as part of a ‘rejuvenated and fortified wave of devolution,’ a think-tank report has suggested.

The report by Respublica said the move would provide ‘regional democratic legitimacy’ to devolved health and care systems.

Respublica previously proposed a 'path to reform' involving 'transformative devolution to the counties' and 'complete reorganisation in the form of single-tier unitary councils'.

It also suggested that adult and children’s social care departments of local authorities should be merged as part of a plan to integrate health and social care into one unitary system as a ‘first step towards full devolution’.

The report said ‘full place-based devolution of power and authority for health delivery from Whitehall and Westminster to local health and care economies’ was key.

The report read: ‘Devolution to the locality is an inspirational ambition that will mobilise the health and care workforce, reversing its increasingly dispirited outlook.

'It will replace the current jumble of confused jurisdictions and unclear responsibilities, both within the NHS and between the NHS and local authorities.’ On Devo Manc, the report said it had ‘not lived up to initial aspirations,’ adding:

‘Devolution that looked good on paper has not been followed through with the type of delegated executive authority, driven by competent management, over the still-disordered patchwork of local authorities, commissioners, primary care, community-based care and hospital providers.

'In conclusion, a rejuvenated and fortified wave of devolution needs to be launched.’


Coronavirus: Diversified farms to kickstart rural recovery

I am sure those farms, which have diversified effectively have a key role to play in kick starting local economies in rural settings and this article gives me some positive cause for optimism. It tells us:

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) said the news would be a “sigh of relief” for rural tourism businesses.

CLA president Mark Bridgeman said: “Now that restrictions are being lifted, we are encouraging everyone to book their self-catering family holiday in the beauty and safety of the British landscape.

“There is nowhere better for a holiday than the great British countryside.”

Poultry farmer Susie MacMillan said on Facebook that she was “beyond happy” to be told she could reopen the farm’s campsite business in Ditchling, East Sussex, on 4 July.

Somerset farmers Michael and Jenny Churches were finalists in the diversification category for the 2019 Farmers Weekly Awards for their Glastonbury Wedding and Events venue.

Their beautiful, deconsecrated church in Godney last hosted an event on 18 March – five days before the country entered lockdown.


Health leaders urge review of UK's readiness for Covid-19 second wave

This is serious stuff and gives pause for thought. My gut reaction is in favour of local lockdowns if a second wave arises. In my county we have one coronavirus infection for closer to 1000 than 500 people and could potentially have stayed far more economically robust with more local determination (through local government of course) on how we managed our approach. This story tells us

The UK’s top health leaders have written to all political parties asking them to work together to ensure the country is ready to contain a second phase of coronavirus as Brexit approaches.

The experts – who include presidents of the Royal College of Physicians, Surgeons, GPs and Nursing, and the chair of the British Medical Association – ask for a review of the first stage of the pandemic to learn lessons including why black, Asian, and minority ethnic communities have borne a “disproportionate burden”.

They also ask for better parliamentary scrutiny and involvement of regional and local leaders and more international collaboration, “especially to mitigate any new difficulties in pandemic management due to Brexit”.

In an open letter published on the British Medical Journal website, the leaders warn that “local flareups are increasingly likely and a second wave a real risk”. They say “substantial challenges remain” despite many elements of the infrastructure needed to contain the virus “beginning” to be put in place.

The job now is not only to deal urgently with the wide ranging impacts of the first phase of the pandemic, but to ensure the country is adequately prepared to contain a second phase, they suggest.


And Finally

Just 6% of UK public 'want a return to pre-pandemic economy

This week a thoughtful sign off note that some things may have changed for the better. This article explains:

Only 6% of the public want to return to the same type of economy as before the coronavirus pandemic, according to new polling, as trade unions, business groups and religious and civic leaders unite in calling for a fairer financial recovery.

The former head of the civil service Bob Kerslake, the former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the heads of the Trades Union Congress, Confederation of British Industry and the British Chambers of Commerce are among 350 influential figures wanting a “fairer and greener” economic rebuilding, and believe there is no going back to the past.

Their call comes as a YouGov poll shows that 31% of people want to see big changes in the way the economy is run coming out of the crisis, with a further 28% wanting to see moderate changes and only 6% of people wanting to see no changes.

It also showed 44% of people were pessimistic when they thought about the future of the economy, while only 27% were optimistic. Forty-nine percent thought the crisis had made inequality worse.

Labour peer Lord Kerslake said: “As the country begins to emerge from the crisis, it is becoming clear that people want a better future, not simply to return to where we were before. As with big crises in the past – from wars to the Great Depression – it was universally agreed that there was no going back.

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


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