Hinterland - 03 February 2020

Hinterland this week - bank closes, broadband openings, the ongoing challenge of funding children’s services, a rural commission in North Yorkshire and a heart warming story featuring a wonderful piece of charismatic mega-fauna...

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Lloyds group to close 56 more branches across UK this year

I think it would be unfair to blame just Lloyds for the loss of local bank branches. It is incredible to think it has closed over 600, many in rural areas, in the last decade. What would Captain Mainwaring think??

Lloyds Banking Group is closing 56 more branches this year, blaming “changing customer behaviour” for the decision.

The group will shut 31 Lloyds, 10 Halifax and 15 Bank of Scotland branches between April and October this year.

Many of the big banks have been slashing their networks on the grounds that customers are spurning traditional branch counter service in favour of doing their banking online and via mobile phones.

However, the consumer organisation Which? said: “The loss of yet more branches to an already devastated network will hit communities across the UK hard, as there is still a clear demand for access to traditional banking services and cash.”

It is understood the Lloyds group has closed a net 655 branches since 2010.

A bank spokesperson said: “We are committed to having the largest branch network in the UK and, in addition to our branches, all our customers can also use the Post Office to access their banking locally, alongside our mobile branches which visit many rural communities.” The bank said the latest cuts were in response to “changing customer behaviours and the reduced number of transactions being made in branches”.

The bank said it would aim to avoid compulsory redundancies by seeking redeployment in the first instance and then offering voluntary redundancy.

In recent years, Lloyds Banking Group has been reorganising its branch network. It has shrunk some of its existing high street outlets and turned them into “micro-branches” that do not have traditional counters. At the same it has unveiled large flagship branches with facilities such as an in-house coffee shop and dedicated business hub.


Virgin Media Covers 4,000 Rural Test and Dun Valley Premises

More evidence of useful but piecemeal connectivity coming to parts of rural England. This story tells us:

Cable broadband ISP Virgin Media UK has completed their community driven project to roll-out a 1Gbps capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network across 12 rural villages in the Test and Dun Valleys of Hampshire and Wiltshire, which since starting in 2018 (here) has now covered a total of 4,000 local homes and businesses.

As first reported in 2017 (here), local residents had spent years campaigning to get Virgin Media’s broadband network into the area (TVNeed4Speed) and that was partly because the operator already owned an old cable duct along the Test Way, which is now being used as a springboard to provide a “genuine all-fibre network” via their latest FTTPinfrastructure.


Openreach sets out plan to provide 227 rural communities with full fibre broadband by next year

And still more evidence related to the story above…..

Beaminster in Dorset, Clitheroe in Lancashire and the cathedral city of Ely in Cambridgeshire are among the first of more than 200 British market towns and villages in line to receive an ultrafast full fibre broadband connection within the next 14 months, the Telegraph can reveal.

Openreach, the BT-owned operator of Britain’s biggest broadband Internet network, will this week set out details of 227 rural communities which will be among the first to receive cutting edge full fibre connections under a new investment programme.

The announcement forms part of Openreach’s plan to extend full fibre broadband to the British countryside as well as urban areas, which are cheaper and easier to supply because of the greater density of population and shorter distances involved....


Blackpool council to fund children’s services by cutting up to 75 jobs

I know Blackpool is a big place but the struggle it is locked in mirrors exactly the same challenge faced by a significant number of rural authorities. This story tells us:

Blackpool council has said it will invest an extra £14m in its beleaguered children’s services by axing up to 75 jobs and raising council taxes.

Since 2012, the council has received several “inadequate” ratings from Ofsted. The most recent inspection raised concerns vulnerable children were being left at risk of “significant harm” including from sexual exploitation and going missing.

Figures show the cost of all social care in Blackpool accounts for more than three-quarters of local authority spending. Budget proposals for the forthcoming financial year show cuts of £5m, which mean savings of £19.6m must be found across all services when the funding for children’s services is factored in.

The council has announced that up to 75 jobs will be lost, while council tax is expected to rise by the maximum 4% allowed by the government.

In January last year, children’s social care in the Lancashire resort was deemed inadequate because of “key weaknesses” in support services. The inspection report also found that some children were left to “live in situations of chronic neglect for long periods of time”.


Independent commission hears evidence on how North Yorkshire's rural economy can achieve its potential

More power to the elbow of North Yorkshire for drawing attention to the challenges its rural communities face through this innovative approach. This story tells us:

North Yorkshire’s rural communities are full of economic potential but longstanding obstacles needed to be cleared to allow them to realise it, an independent commission has been told.

The North Yorkshire Rural Commission, set up specifically to look at the challenges facing North Yorkshire’s rural communities, has heard evidence from small businesses and large organisations on the county’s jobs and economy. 

The eight commissioners tasked with investigating key areas of concern in England’s largest county, 85 per cent of which is classed as rural or super sparse, heard that the big ticket items which would help unlock the rural economy included an overhaul of public transport, education linking learning to business start-up opportunities, significant investment in mobile and superfast broadband and devolution.

The first to give evidence was former farmer, Mark Pybus, who highlighted the issues around rural broadband. Mr Pybus started to diversify on his family farm near Catterick 15 years ago and is now the manager of Crabtree Hall Business Centre.

The centre employs 32 people and offers serviced office space for small businesses alongside a café and a children’s nursery. 

But Mr Pybus said broadband has been an issue from early on.

“We opened the business centre in 2007 but by 2010 the broadband we had was not fit for purpose so we started looking for an alternative. We invested in and installed our own super-fast connection in 2012/13 and Crabtree Community Broadband (CCB) followed.”

Mr Pybus said this provided affordable superfast connectivity to businesses and villages, predominantly west of the A1, as far as Masham and Leyburn.


And Finally

Wild grey seal caught ‘clapping’ on camera for the first time

Grey seals are the lagest mamals which are indigenous to the UK. A full grown male weighs more than a red deer. We go to Donna Nook every year to see them on our stretch of coast. This fabulous story describes one aspect of their fascination. It tells us:

A wild grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) has been caught “clapping” on camera for the first time, making sounds that resemble “shotgun-like cracks”.

The large male was filmed striking its flippers together off the coast of the Farne Islands, near Northumberland, during the breeding season in 2017.

While captive seals can be seen clapping in zoos and aquariums, scientists say this is the first time one of their wild counterparts has been caught on camera performing the action.

While humans clap to applaud or express approval, in the case of wild grey seals , this gesture signifies quite the opposite.

Scientists believe male seals clap to demonstrate their strength, as part of an attempt to ward off competitors and attract potential mates. The action produces a “loud high-frequency noise”, sending out “a clear signal” to other males in the area.

In the video, the male seal can be seen swimming close to a female, with other males lurking nearby, before it starts clapping.

Dr Ben Burville, a researcher at the University of Newcastle, who took the footage, said: “The effect of the clap was instant and the rival males rapidly dispersed.

“The clap was incredibly loud and at first I found it hard to believe what I had seen.”


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



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