Hinterland - Friday, 11 May, 2018

In Hinterland: adult social care costs – we are running an evidence call so watch this space, a softer option for rural developers on the need to provide affordable homes, more evidence of poor rural broadband, council reform and two forms of de-forestation by beavers and Network Rail.
Finally, there is just time to put your name forward for the RSN event in Durham on Rural Economic Development. For details and to reserve your space, email events@sparse.gov.uk – we have now well over 20 delegates and it promises to be a good session.

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Social care on its knees and government must act on funding and staff this year, MPs warn

RSN is planning a call for evidence on the issues set out in this article if you have views about what needs to be done in rural settings to make Adult Social Care both fair and sustainable we’d be very keen to hear from you….

The government must announce and implement a credible solution to address the long-term underfunding of adult social care by the end of 2018, MPs have said.

A green paper from the Department of Health and Social Care, expected in summer, also risks underestimating the challenges in resolving the crisis, particularly in retaining underpaid, poorly motivated staff after Brexit.

In a report released today, the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) found little evidence that the existing, lightly regulated private care market is helping to deliver care in an affordable manner.

The PAC found worrying evidence that care is being prioritised to people needing the most support and care packages for people with moderate needs, such as an older person at risk of falls or becoming malnourished, is taking longer.

This could become more costly in the long run if patients are hospitalised and need a hip operation from a bad fall, or develop more serious infections or disease because they’re not looking after their health.

Age UK has warned that 1.2 million older people in the UK have unmet social care needs.


Overhaul of planning rules ‘threatens to reduce supply of affordable housing’

On the face of it, bearing in mind the lack of affordable housing in rural settings this could be bad news…

Ministers have been warned that an overhaul of planning rules could cut the amount of affordable housing even further, despite Theresa May’s pledge to take “personal charge” of solving the housing crisis.

Serious concerns have emerged that an updated version of the government’s planning laws appears to alter the definition of what counts as “affordable housing” in a way that could make it less affordable.

The updated draft National Planning Policy Framework contains a new definition that has removed any direct reference to the most affordable type of property, known as social rented housing. However, it does include types of housing, such as shared ownership and starter homes, that cost far more.

Social rented housing is owned by local authorities and private registered providers and is let out to those most in need. Rents are on average about half the market value.

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Housing charity Shelter is raising the concerns in an official submission to the government’s consultation on the updated document. It also fears it will increase the use of “viability assessments”, which allow developers to limit contributions to infrastructure and affordable housing.

It comes amid growing evidence of an unaffordable housing market for many. Last week official figures showed workers faced paying 7.8 times their annual earnings to buy a home last year, up 2.4% since 2016.


Revealed: Network Rail’s new £800m scheme to remove all ‘leaf fall’ trees

Big organisations often seem to plan things like this when their organizational introspection “trumps” a wider view. This article tells us:

Network Rail is to target all “leaf fall” trees for removal alongside its tracks in a new £800m five-year programme of “enhanced clearance”, according to an internal document seen by the Guardian.

The policy document for 2019-24 emerged as the environment secretary, Michael Gove, summoned the chief executive of Network Rail for talks over their approach to environmental management following revelations about tree felling across the country by the Guardian.

After discussions with Network Rail, Jo Johnson, the rail minister, set up a review into vegetation management . He called for all tree felling to be suspended during the current nesting season – March to August.

Johnson said: “This review will look at all aspects of this issue, including, for instance, whether Network Rail has the capacity and capability to control vegetation in a way that minimises harm to wildlife, and whether staff need more training to help with tree identification and identifying approaches that would be better than felling.”

The leaked document seen by the Guardian sets out a new programme which appears to go further than any current environmental management. It involves an “enhanced level of clearance” of trees and vegetation from the railway banks along 20,000 miles of lines in the UK, in an attempt to deal with costly delays to services.

The document says Network Rail has to manage the risk from 13 million trees within falling distance of its tracks. If they removed 2% of the trees a year over the five-year period, more than 1 million trees could be felled.


Putting leaders in place to deliver Wiltshire council’s 10-year vision

Whilst this is ostensibly a paid for “advertorial” it does give me a sense of some exciting thinking at a rural council. Don’t worry Wiltshire, I’m not so personally enthused that you’ll be hearing from me!!

Wiltshire council is recruiting a number of new senior management in roles created following the realignment of its senior management structure, as a result of its new 10-year business plan.

With an ambitious programme of work outlined in the 2017-2027 business plan, an increasing number of exceptional leaders are needed to deliver the council’s vision. This vision is based around three key priorities – growing the economy, building stronger communities and protecting the vulnerable. Delivery of these priorities is dependent on having a talented and committed workforce.

The council is currently looking to fill three director posts – education and skills, adult care operations (learning disability and mental health), and finance and procurement. It is also seeking a commercial manager to develop traded services to schools, which is a new and exciting area with opportunities for commercial development.

Terence Herbert, corporate director and the council’s statutory director of children’s services, outlined that the council is looking for someone to fill the post of director of education and skills, who “understands the synergies between education and employment.


UK broadband speeds leap ahead, according to Ofcom study

Just before you get excited please note I included this article because of the caveats to the headline in terms of rural areas – not because this increase in speed is universal in rural areas….

There has been a marked improvement in home broadband, according to an annual survey by the UK’s communications watchdog Ofcom.

It said that average fixed-line download speeds rose by 28% over the year to 46.2 megabits per second, while uploads gained by 44% to 6.2 Mbps.

It added that the typical household now consumed 190 gigabytes of data a month, in large part due to the use of Netflix and other streamed TV services.

But rural consumers still lag behind.

Ofcom said:

  • in urban areas, 59% of connections delivered average speeds topping 30 Mbps over the 20:00-22:00 peak-time period – meeting the watchdog’s definition of “superfast” – while 17% were under 10 Mbps.
  • but in rural areas, only 23% of connections surpassed 30 Mbps over the same hours, while 53% were under 10 Mbps.

The regulator said the primary reasons for the discrepancy were less availability and reduced take-up of cable and fibre services in the countryside.

Later this month, internet service providers will be obliged to quote average peak-time speeds in their adverts and other promotional materials, rather than the “up to” figures that have been more common.


Beavers reduce river pollution by building dams, study shows

Anyone who has read “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” knows just how great beavers are – as confirmed by this article which tells us:

Beavers should be reintroduced into the wild to help clean up polluted rivers and stem the loss of valuable soils from farms, new research suggests.

The study,  by scientists at the University of Exeter, found that a single family of beavers removed high levels of sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus from water that flowed through a 2.5 hectare enclosure in Devon.

The group of beavers, which have lived in fenced-off site at a secret location in West Devon since 2011, have built 13 dams, slowing the flow of water and creating a series of deep ponds along the course of what was once a small stream.

Researchers measured the amount of sediment, phosphorus and nitrogen in water running into the site and then compared this to water as it ran out of the site after it had passed through the beavers’ ponds and dams system.

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