Hinterland - Friday, 2 February, 2018

This week: a couple of housing stories about MoD disposals and the falling stock of affordable houses, the threat of a decline in the number of secondary school teachers, the potential loss of ATMs, broadband in the news again and weather slang at the Met Office.

Put 12 Feb in your diary, come to Stafford and join our first Regional Meeting for a free set of interesting health insights from Tom Bell of UCLAN speaking about digital health and Public Health England demonstrating how to profile health data at the level of small neighbourhoods.
To book, contact events@sparse.gov.uk.

 
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MoD loses billions of pounds after selling military housing, NAO finds

I admit it. It was my experience of the bit of this deal in terms of RAF Scampton that in part led me to prepare the note on the need for a rural sovereign wealth fund.  I hope in the light of this story you might read it again and help me build interest in a better way forward – you can access it here.

This story itself tells us:

Had the MoD retained the housing stock, due to the property price boom, it would have stood to gain between £2.2 billion and £4.2 billion, the watchdog concluded in a report out today.

The MoD sold the homes, used to house members of the armed forces, to Annington Property Limited, in a deal worth £1.6 billion in 1996.

Since then, the MoD has been renting the homes back from Annington in a deal that is set to be renegotiated in 2021.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said today: “The department carried out a sale and leaseback deal almost twenty years ago, based upon pessimistic views of the future growth in property values, but with the mitigating feature that the rents charged to the military families who lived there were restricted for the first twenty years.

“This has cost the public sector a great deal in capital growth, and it has been a great deal for the landlord.”

When the current agreement ends in 2021 Annington Homes is expected to demand a huge increase in rent.

Currently, the MoD pays £178m a year in rent, with a discount rate of 58%, but this could rise by £250m a year when the current deal ends.


Superfast broadband reaches 95%, but rural areas left behind

Well here’s a familiar old theme, but nonetheless important. This story tells us:

An estimated 95% of UK homes and businesses now have access to superfast broadband, according to the government.

Landowners’ organisation the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) said achieving 95% coverage was an “important milestone” – but more work is needed to end the “digital divide” between towns and rural locations.

Figures published by www.thinkbroadband.com confirmed more than 19 out of 20 UK homes and businesses now have the opportunity to upgrade their internet connections to superfast speeds of 24Mps.

This figure is more than double what broadband watchdog Ofcom advise is required by a typical family home.

The government intends to introduce a universal service obligation (USO), which will give people the right to request a broadband speed of at least 10Mps by 2020.

But the latest announcement will be of little comfort to the “forgotten 5%” and “final 2%” who still cannot access superfast broadband – a figure which includes thousands of farms across the UK.

CLA president Tim Breitmeyer said: “This [announcement] still leaves significant areas devoid of a fast connection, critical for many rural businesses.

“Getting connections to rural homes and businesses is complex and expensive but it is essential and a crucial part of establishing fairness and balance in the economy. That is why the USO of 10Mbps that we fought so hard for, is important not only to rural areas but to the whole country.”

He added: “It is not just imperative to get rural homes and businesses connected in the first place but also to ensure the service they receive keeps pace with demand and technological change.

“The USO must be enacted in law without delay. Once it is in force, we will press for it to be constantly updated to end the digital divide that has held back our economy for too long.”


UK could lose 30,000 free cash machines in five years amid fees shake-up

Does anyone believe the guarantee of rural protection set out in this depressing story???  We had an interesting contact from a company called note machine in advance of this news breaking profiling their new rural friendly cash machine. I can send it to you if you email me for more information. The story tells us:

Up to 30,000 free-to-use cash machines – 45% of the UK total – are on course to disappear over the next five years amid cuts in fees received by operators, it is being claimed.

According to the ATM Industry Association (ATMIA), changes to the so-called interchange fees – charges paid to operators by banks per withdrawal – being imposed by the LINK network will cut access to cash at a time when banks are shutting more branches.

LINK has previously argued that the cost of running its network is unsustainable at a time when more people are banking online and using contactless card payments.

It announced on Tuesday that it was bringing forward a series of measures that it said would safeguard access to free cash.

It said a new fee structure would “shift incentives from deploying ATMs in city centres to rural and less-affluent communities” to secure free-to-use machines for the whole of the country.

According to LINK, the changes would mean free ATMs that are more than 1,000m from the next free machine are exempt from cuts to fees – and those in rural communities would get an enhanced subsidy to incentivise continued provision.

The majority of machines – mostly in major towns and cities – would see a phased reduction in the interchange fee.


Government must focus on affordability to fix broken housing market, says CIH

This is very bad news for our rural communities….

England will have lost 230,000 social homes by 2020, the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) has predicted.

In just five years, over 150,000 of the most affordable rented homes have already been lost across the country, an analysis by the institute has revealed.

The CIH is arguing that if it is to fix the country’s broken housing market, the government must focus on affordability as well as building more homes.

According to the institute, funding for social rent, which is usually around 30-40% cheaper than market rents, was cut by the coalition government in 2010, instead targeting funding towards “affordable rent” homes, which can be up to 80% of market rents.

Most of the losses have been due to homes being converted to “affordable rent” or sold through the Right to Buy scheme, with some being demolished, the analysis claims.

Terrie Alafat, chief executive of the CIH, explained that for those on lower incomes, the only affordable option is often social rent: “It is simply unacceptable that we are losing so many of our most affordable homes at a time when more and more people are in need.”


‘Crisis brewing’ in secondary education MPs warn

This will bite hard in rural communities….

The number of secondary school teachers has been falling rapidly since 2010, it has been revealed.

A report by the public accounts committee has shown that since 2012 more teachers have been leaving the profession for reasons other than retirement.

Although the overall number of teachers has risen, the number of secondary school teachers fell by 4.9% between 2010 and 2016.

Many teachers have said that their heavy workload is the reason for exiting the profession.

This, combined with rising pupil numbers and pressures for schools to make significant savings has led to a “growing sense of crisis” for schools in England as they struggle to retain and develop their teachers.

The report claims that the Department for Education has given “insufficient priority” to teacher retention, arguing that the current situation could have been predicted and that action should have been taken to address it.

Spending on training new teachers has been 15 times greater than spending on supporting the existing workforce, and the report argues that the department’s “disparate collection of small-scale interventions” are “inadequate to address the underlying issues.”

The report also criticises the department’s lack of understanding of the various challenges faced by schools in different regions.

Chair of the public accounts committee, Meg Hillier, said that a “crisis is brewing,” and called government action: “sluggish and incoherent.”


Raining cats and dogs, or tipping it down? Met Office plans to add regional slang to forecasts

I like a bit of the vernacular – good story they must have money to cobble dogs if they can afford this change…..This article tells us:

Baffling meteorological forecasts could be consigned to history under a scheme to help more people understand the weather.

The Met Office is planning to incorporate regional slang into local broadcasts to make bulletins simpler and more useful.

Unsurprisingly for a country obsessed with the weather, Britain has an impressive lexicon of meteorological idioms, from “raining cats and dogs”, to conditions “cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey” a phrase originating from military history rather than chilly primates.

The Met Office is launching an appeal for people to submit their local weather words and terms, so they can come up with a new glossary for use in regional forecasts. They are also considering reading the weather in local dialects.

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