Hinterland - 6 March 2023

In this edition of Hinterland a bevvy of food stories, horses, trains and finally an update on our former Queen’s corgis…                                                                                  

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UK ministers consider worker health checks to tackle labour shortages

This article provides some interesting insights into the crazy world of labour shortages at the moment. How can we have almost 50% economic inactivity in some of our coastal settlements alongside the need to engage overseas workers???

Ministers are looking at bringing in annual health checks for workers and allowing more hospitality staff to come from abroad in an effort to deal with labour shortages.

The plans could involve giving companies subsidies for occupational health services to prevent workers going off long-term sick, as part of the government’s review of the workforce to be unveiled alongside the budget this month.

Ministers have also asked the Migration Advisory Committee for advice on whether the hospitality, construction and retail industries should be on the list of sectors where there is a shortage of workers, helping them to recruit from overseas.

It is thought hospitality workers are the most likely to be put on the list, which makes it easier for staff to get jobs from abroad.

Jeremy Hunt ordered the workforce review amid concerns the economy is being held back by shortages of workers that have emerged since the pandemic and Brexit.

The health check plans, first reported by the Sunday Times, would form part of the workforce review conducted by the Department for Work and Pensions with input from the Department of Health and Social Care.

It was launched in an attempt to understand why there are about 600,000 more “economically inactive” people of working age than before the pandemic.


Taken for a ride: Forestry England urged to scrap paid-for horse permits

The value of the equine economy is something which has a major impact in rural settings and this article reminds us of some of the challenges those engaged in it face. It tells us:

George Orwell’s “four legs good, two legs better” has long been the case when it comes to access to England’s forests, the British Horse Society contends. But “equality” may now be in sight. For decades, those wishing to ride horses on some of the country’s most beautiful off-road routes have had to seek a permit, a bit of paperwork that neither pedestrians nor cyclists need.

Forestry England, which oversees that system, maintains that such paid-for permits are important in sensitive sites to avoid damage to the environment or clashes between horse riders and those enjoying a ramble or bike ride through the countryside.

The word in equestrian circles in recent days, however, is that despite some suspected reverse snobbery over the perceived high-born status of riders, the “discrimination” of the past may now be coming to an end.

A new consultation on the system of permits launched by the forestry agency in recent days and ending on 9 April has given some hope of a more equitable future to Mark Weston, director for access at the British Horse Society (BHS), and the 3 million riders he represents at the charity.

“Horse riders should have free access as walkers and cyclists have free access,” he said. “It is discrimination.”

“In a lot of forests there aren’t permits at all, which just demonstrates to us that they are not really needed,” he added. “Forestry England’s justification is that the cost of the permits is reinvested into the routes but our view is that it doesn’t really happen and if it does happen, well, walkers and cyclists are benefiting from that investment at the cost of equestrians.”

The BHS argues that there is a strong safety argument for better access: in 2022 alone, 68 horses were killed on Britain’s roads and 139 people were injured.


Food shortages due to 'supermarket culture', says Leon co-founder

Im having a food theme (at least in part this week) and I think Henry Dimbleby’s article here is really revealing in terms of the current facing those in horticulture. It tells us:

The government's food tsar has blamed Britain's "weird supermarket culture" for shortages of certain vegetables.

Henry Dimbleby said "fixed-price contracts" between supermarkets and suppliers meant that when food is scarce, some producers sell less to the UK and more elsewhere in Europe.

But the body that represents supermarkets denied that business was hampered by such contracts.

Several supermarkets have limited sales of fresh produce in recent weeks.

Tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers are among those vegetables in scarce supply, largely because of extreme weather affecting harvests in Spain and North Africa.

Shortages are said to have been compounded by high energy prices impacting UK growers, as well as issues with supply chains.

They also come as households are being hit by rising prices, with food inflation at a 45-year high.

As an example of "market failure", Mr Dimbleby, who advises the government on food strategy in England, said UK lettuce prices in supermarkets were kept stable, regardless of whether there was a shortage or over supply.


Train tickets go up in England and Wales by 5.9%

A slight relief for those in rural settings who need to use rail transport on a regular basis, this story tells us:

Regulated rail fares in England and Wales are increasing by up to 5.9% as campaigners call for reforms due to unreliable services.

The increase is above last year's 4.8% hike but far below the rate of inflation.

The government said that it did not want to add to pressures on households.

However, some groups said that after months of poor services and strikes, passengers are not getting value for money.

About 45% of fares are regulated - they are directly influenced by the government. These include most season tickets, travelcards, and some off-peak returns.

Train operators said fares needed to be set at an appropriate level for the rail industry and its customers.


Midlands growers warn salad shortage could last weeks

This article tells the salutary story of those seeking to provide core elements of our food offer in the teeth of massive increases in energy costs.

Paul Drew, of Drews of Worcester, says his energy costs have risen from 15p per kilowatt to 62p per kilowatt.

To speed up growth he has the option to artificially heat and light his crops, but fears the rising cost will make it unprofitable.

The tomato grower said: "You'd like to think you can plan for it, but I really don't know how we will survive this year."

Across the county, some farmers have told the BBC that they have switched off heating and lights earlier this winter - either delaying or cancelling planting.

At its conference in Birmingham last month, the National Farmers Union (NFU) revealed domestic production of salad crops will reach its lowest levels since records began this year.

Speaking on Politics Midlands, Ms Gideon said: "I know the NFU have asked for horticulture to be included in the energy intensive industries.

"We need to be producing more in this country in order to guarantee our own food supply, we need to be helping farmers to do that."

While supermarket shelves in Worcestershire appear to be sparse, independent grocers remain plentiful with stocks of imported fruit and vegetables sold a higher price.

Jim Thompson, of Three Counties Produce, explained: "A box of tomatoes that we would normally pay £6 for, we are now paying £16.

"We're paying a premium price but if the supermarkets decided to sell the product at the price it should be, then they would have them on the shelves."


And Finally

The Duchess of York on adopting the Queen’s corgis following her death

Just in case you wondered what had happened to the Queen’s corgis…..

The Duchess of York said she “spoils” the corgis she and the Duke of York adopted following the death of the Queen in September.

Elizabeth II owned more than 30 corgis during her reign and was known for her love of the breed.

The late monarch received the two dogs, Muick and Sandy, as gifts from Andrew and have now been taken on by her son and his ex-wife Sarah.

“I am their favourite but everybody always says it’s just because I feed them gravy bones. I love everything about them and I spoil them the most.”

In early 2021, the Queen was given two new puppies, one dorgi and one corgi, as a gift by Andrew while staying at Windsor during lockdown.

The puppies kept the monarch entertained while the Duke of Edinburgh was in hospital – and Buckingham Palace and the royals were dealing with the fallout from the Sussexes’ Oprah interview.

The Queen named the dorgi Fergus after her uncle – who was killed in action during the First World War, and the corgi Muick, pronounced Mick, after Loch Muick on the Balmoral estate.

But the monarch was devastated when five-month-old Fergus died just weeks later, in the aftermath of Philip’s death.

He was later replaced with a new corgi puppy, from Andrew and princesses Beatrice and Eugenie for her official 95th birthday, who the Queen named Sandy.


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


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