Hinterland - Friday, 22 December, 2017

Merry Christmas to one and all! Jessica and I have really enjoyed our RSN year – from seminars, to conferences, to your kind responses to rural words to our regular Hinterland correspondents. Thank you all.
Hinterland, this last week before the shut down (and with me still having presents to forage for!), we look at broadband, council tax, farm subsidies, innovation to help the homeless, economic forecasts and some dolphins. See you all in the New Year...
 
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High-speed broadband to be legal right for UK homes and businesses

This still feels to me like a BT/Westminster bunfight and not enough like concerted action. What do you think?

British homes and businesses will have a legal right to high-speed broadband by 2020, the government has announced, dismissing calls from the network provider BT that it should be a voluntary rather than legal obligation on providers.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said only a universal service obligation (USO) would offer certainty that broadband speeds of at least 10Mbps would reach the whole of the UK by 2020.

Broadband providers will now have a legal requirement to provide high-speed broadband to anyone who requests it, no matter where they are in the country.

BT had said it would pledge to voluntarily close the digital gap in broadband speeds between cities and rural areas, and would start work immediately, but it argued that secondary legislation could slow progress down.

However, the department said it did “not feel the proposal was strong enough for us to take the regulatory USO off the table, and have therefore decided not to pursue BT’s proposal, in favour of providing a legal right to broadband”.

Council tax bills could rise by £100 a year as government relaxes cap

Too little too late……???

Local authorities are to be allowed to raise council tax by up to 5.99% next year, after a further relaxation of the government-imposed cap to address shortfalls in funding for social care.

Families across the UK could see their bills rise by up to £100 a year as a result of the announcement, which will also see councils increasing the charge without holding local referendums.

The move, which has been widely criticised and called “woefully inadequate” by leaders in the social care sector, could see the average band D council tax bill rising to £1,653.30.

Sajid Javid, the communities secretary, said all councils would be able to raise council tax by up to 2.99% next year to fund local services, which is 1% more than this year. On top of this, 152 councils, which includes all London boroughs, unitary and metropolitan authorities and county councils, will be able to increase it by an additional “precept” 3% to fund social care services.

The minister also announced that 10 councils – Berkshire, Derbyshire, Devon, Gloucestershire, Kent & Medway, Leeds, Lincolnshire, Solent, Suffolk and Surrey – would be involved in a pilot scheme allowing them to retain 100% of business rates raised locally, along with new powers for police and crime commissioners to raise council tax.

Gove prepares to unveil limit on farm support

Watch this space for something unpleasant coming round the corner…..This article tells us:

Government plans to limit the amount of direct payments received by larger farmers will be unveiled as soon as January. Capping is one of the first changes that will be made after the UK leaves the European Union, said Defra secretary Michael Gove. A Defra paper to be published next month will detail the means by which the government will introduce the cap, he said.

First vending machine for homeless people launches in UK

I think this would work well in a number of rural market towns….

A vending machine containing essentials for rough sleepers has been installed in Nottingham in what is believed to be a world first, with the inventor hoping to put one in every city with a homelessness problem.

The machine was unveiled at the Intu shopping centre in Broadmarsh on Tuesday. It dispenses water, fresh fruit, energy bars, crisps, chocolate and sandwiches, as well as socks, sanitary towels, antibacterial lotion, toothbrush and toothpaste packs, and books.

Much of the fresh food comes from redistribution organisations seeking to reduce food waste, according to the inventors at Action Hunger, a new charity. Other items are bought with donations.

Use of the machine is exclusively for those in need, and items can only be vended with a special keycard, which Action Hunger’s partner organisations give to users. In Nottingham the cards are given out by the Friary, a drop-in advice centre for homeless people.

The keycards are programmed to permit up to three items being dispensed per day. The limit aims to stop “dependency” on the machines, the charity said.

“We want our low-cost solution to complement other services that are available, as engagement with professionals and local support services is instrumental to breaking the cycle of homelessness,” it added.

IMF downgrades UK growth forecast on Brexit uncertainty

Lets hope all this sort of doom-mongering subsides next year!! This story tells us:

The IMF has cut its UK economic growth forecast, blaming Brexit uncertainty.

The Fund expects growth of 1.6% this year, down slightly from its previous forecast of 1.7%. It expects growth to slow further next year, to 1.5%.

IMF chief Christine Lagarde said uncertainty over the Brexit deal was causing UK firms to delay investment plans.

She also said rising inflation, caused by the fall in the pound, and stagnant wages were squeezing spending power.

Ms Lagarde said that the government had made “significant progress” in reducing the deficit.

But she added that relative to growth in the rest of the world, “the UK is losing out as a result of higher inflation, pressure on wages and incomes and delayed investment”.

“If you look at investment alone, with 2.1% of GDP in investment, with the global economy as it is, and the space the UK economy has in that global economy, it should be rolling at 6%.”

Bottlenose dolphins found living off English coast in ‘incredibly exciting’ discovery

Yet another reason why Cornwall is such a fab place!

England’s only resident population of bottlenose dolphins has been discovered by researchers.

Experts analysed thousands of sightings and photographs from the South-west of England between 2007 and 2016.

They identified 98 individual bottlenose dolphins and were able to define a distinct group of 28 that were resident throughout the year.

These dolphins were present in shallow coastal waters mainly in Cornwall – particularly St Ives Bay and Mount’s Bay – but also in Devon and Dorset.

Ruth Williams, marine conservation manager at the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, described the discovery as “incredibly exciting”.

“Further work is needed but this is a huge step forward and I am proud of what our partnership between Cornwall Wildlife Trust, scientists and boat operators has achieved,” she said.

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