Hinterland - Friday, 4 May, 2018

In Hinterland this week, we discuss ATMs, broadband, business rates, council merger proposals, public health – and we take a special look at a pub on wheels... 

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Plans to scrap six councils in major merger could save £28m a year

This very interesting story tells us:

Plans to scrap all six councils in Somerset could save the area between £18m and £28m a year, it has been claimed.

Conservative leader of Somerset County Council, David Fothergill, has asked for work to begin on looking into how a possible unitary model could be feasible.

Such an arrangement would see one single tier authority replace all six of Somerset’s councils, including Somerset County, Taunton Deane Borough, South Somerset, West Somerset, Sedgemoor District and Mendip District.

Cllr Fothergill said: “At a time of unprecedented financial pressures on all councils we are all looking at different ways to be more efficient, make savings and protect the frontline services that our residents value so much.

“I believe that we owe it to our residents to look at this option too. I want start the ball rolling on work to establish the benefits and costs of such a change so that we can all make an informed decision as to whether a unitary model is the right way to go.

“This is only the start of a conversation and what would be a long process. At this stage we don’t have all the answers, but I believe that in these difficult times we have to be bold enough to start asking the questions.”

In a statement from Somerset County Council, it was claimed that possible benefits of switching to a unitary arrangement include savings of up to £500,000 by switching from five chief execs to just one, as well as savings of around £1m a year by halving the number of councillors.

LGA responds to report on spending reductions in councils’ public health services

This story tells us:

Responding to a report by Pulse Magazine which suggests that nine out of 10 councils have reduced spending on sexual health, alcohol misuse and weight management services this year, Cllr Izzi Seccombe, Chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said:

“These findings are not unexpected. Despite budget reductions, councils are determined to maintain vital public health services to help people live longer, healthier and happier lives, but the reality is that many local authorities are having to make difficult decisions on these key services, including stopping them altogether.

“Councils are having to carefully consider how best they can spend their public health funding, which has been reduced by £600 million from 2015/16 to 2019/20 by central government, to maximise cost effectiveness and improve health outcomes.

“Early intervention and prevention work by councils to tackle teenage pregnancy, child obesity, physical inactivity, sexually transmitted infections and substance misuse, is vital to improve the public’s health. Not only does it reduce the risk of people having their lives shortened by conditions such as heart and liver disease, cancer, and Type 2 diabetes, but it also keeps the pressure off the NHS and adult social care.

“We have repeatedly argued that reductions to councils’ public health budgets is short-sighted and needs to be reversed otherwise they will undermine the objectives we all share to improve the public’s health.

Call for more certainty over business rate provisions

Whitehall must provide certainty for councils to stop changes to business rates costing them ‘considerable sums’, according to local government groups.

CIPFA and the Local Government Association have expressed concern that the move to value properties every three years rather than five could result in more business rate appeals.

They spoke to PF after a letter emerged in April suggesting the government had u-turned on a promise to compensate councils for loss of income due to the reversal of the so-called ‘staircase tax’.

This is where businesses occupying more than one floor with stairs between were taxed for the separate levels as if they were different buildings.

Reversing this will mean councils are collecting less in business rates.

Chancellor Philip Hammond promised to reduce the valuations cycle in last year’s autumn Budget and in March brought the next valuation ahead a year to 2021.

Jo Pitt, CIPFA’s local government policy advisor, said appeals can cost councils “considerable amounts” and “takes money out of the system for public services”.

Which? calls for a rethink over free ATM changes

An “urgent review” of plans to cut the fees paid by banks to UK cash machine operators has been urged by consumer rights group Which? It warned the proposals to reduce the amount paid could lead to operators closing free-to-use machines.

Which? warned people, especially in rural areas, could be left isolated.

However, the UK’s largest cash machine network, LINK, said it would only reduce fees when there was another cash machine within a kilometre.

LINK administers the interchange fee, which is paid by card issuers (banks and building societies) to ATM operators, who are often independent companies such as Cardtronics and Notemachine.

It argues that more than 80% of the UK’s 54,000 free-to-use ATMs are within 300m of each other, making the system inefficient.

LINK has announced a reduction of fees from 25p to 20p per withdrawal over four years in order to stop the growth in ATM numbers, which has occurred despite declining consumer demand for using cash.

Critics fear the change could lead to fewer free ATMs as operators decide they are not worth the trouble.

Bristol’s historic bridge pressed into service for rural broadband

Great broadband innovation story here.

Rural full-fibre broadband supplier Gigaclear has received permission to run cables underneath the deck of the historic Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, to bring ultrafast broadband services to rural communities in north Somerset for the first time.

Because of the unique geography of the area, the 154-year-old Clifton Suspension Bridge is the only existing crossing point over the Avon Gorge to the west of the city.

This means that while Bristol has developed into one of the UK’s better-connected urban areas, the more isolated communities on the west side of the gorge are still making do with antiquated copper networks, receiving speeds of under 1Mbps, despite being a few minutes’ drive from the city centre.

The Clifton project is being conducted under the auspices of the wider Connecting Devon and Somerset Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) project – through which Gigaclear holds a contract to address the needs of around 53,000 homes and businesses across both counties.

By running fibre cables across the bridge, it hopes to not only address the needs of locals in nearby villages, such as Abbots Leigh, but to help it roll out its fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) network footprint more widely into north Somerset.

“Not since 1935 has another utilities provider crossed the bridge directly, and we’re delighted to be helping Gigaclear bring this life-changing service to locals,” said Chris Booy, chairman of the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust.

“By taking the direct route, there will be no disruption and is a win-win for everybody in the community. It’s amazing to see this monument of British engineering being utilised as a catalyst for modern infrastructure.”

By running the cables underneath the deck of the bridge itself, Gigaclear said besides avoiding road closures on a critical route, the new cables would both be shielded from the weather and less prone to damage, helping it guarantee a more resilient broadband service.

Story about a fairy themed mobile bar (via a horse box)

I suppose it was only a matter of time before someone put a pub on wheels! This article tells us:

Some pub-goers may end up seeing a magical mystery woodland with sparkling fairies and unicorns after a night out, or at least that’s what customers to a new mobile bar will be greeted with even before they’ve had a drink.

Keep your eyes peeled if your lucky it might be pulling up next to you…..


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