Hinterland - 03 June 2019

In Hinterland this week - declining numbers of GP surgeries, spatial inequality, reducing budgets, twee views of the countryside, rural labour market challenges and a scary crow. Read on.... 

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GP surgery closures in UK 'hit all-time high' in 2018

Many of the areas, which are most heavily challenged by this phenomenon are in rural areas.  It’s a cause for great long-term concern. This story tells us:

GP surgery closures across the UK have reached an all-time high, affecting an estimated half a million patients last year, research has found. An investigation by the medical website Pulse found 138 doctors’ premises shut their doors in 2018, compared with 18 in 2013.

GPs said under-resourcing and recruitment difficulties were forcing surgeries to close. They said many smaller practices were merging with others to survive, which allowed them to avoid having to disperse their patient list to other practices much further away.

Data released by 186 out of 217 clinical commissioning groups and health boards, following freedom of information requests, revealed that smaller surgeries – those serving 5,000 or fewer patients – were the worst affected in 2018, accounting for 86% of closures.

Pulse calculated that last year’s closures affected about 519,500 patients. Thirty-one of the 138 surgery closures in 2018 came as a result of mergers, the figures showed, which affected an estimated 161,126 patients.

Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said the figures were sad but unsurprising. “GPs and our teams are working to our absolute limits to provide safe, high-quality care, while general practice is under intense pressure, and this is resulting in some GPs leaving the profession, and in other cases forcing them to close their surgery doors,” she said.


Half of job growth to be limited to London, inequality inquiry finds

In addition to a north south divide you’ll find if you look that take home wages even in the most affluent rural areas, from the jobs based in those areas, not their surrounding cities, are very often below the national average. We really need to think about how we can address this challenge by renewing the link between where people live and where they work.  Does anyone remember Living Working Countryside by Matthew Taylor?  In the meantime this article tells us:

London and the south-east will see more than half of the UK’s future job growth if the government does not address the massive gulf between the capital and everywhere else, an independent inquiry into the UK’s deep–rooted inequalities has warned.

Bob Kerslake, the former head of the civil service and chair of the UK2070commission on regional inequality, said the UK was going “materially in the wrong direction”. He urged the government to take lessons from Germany in reunifying the country by setting up a £250bn “national renewal fund”.

Londoners as well as people elsewhere will suffer if the imbalance is not addressed, the commission warned, as housing becomes ever more unaffordable and a growing population puts pressure on transport infrastructure, with increasing need for long-distance commuting.

The capital’s taps could also run dry as water supplies come under pressure from the climate crisis. The Environment Agency estimates there will be serious water shortages by 2050, particularly in the south, as the amount of water available is reduced by 10%-15%, with some rivers having 50%-80% less water duringsummer.

It will also become even more expensive to build in the capital, which is already costly by international standards because of the challenge of engineering through the crowded urban fabric. Despite this, researchers for the 2070 commission estimated that London and the south-east would gain 2.26m extra jobs by 2015, 55% of the UK whole.


Council spending on local services down 21% over past decade

Articles like this give those of us mired in the front line fight of trying to make les go further in local government the opportunity to stand back and think just how horribly local government has been hollowed out. The story tells us:

Council spending on local services has fallen by more than a fifth since 2010, according to a report from Britain’s leading independent economics thinktank.

In a reflection of the austerity drive imposed on local authorities by Conservative-led governments during the past decade, the Institute for Fiscal Studies said spending on services in England had fallen by 21% between 2009-10 and 2017-18.

In a sign of the increasing difficulties facing local authorities across the country, the leading tax and spending thinktank also said the funds available to councils would become increasingly inadequate in the 2020s, rendering the current financing system for the country’s local authorities through council tax and business rates unsustainable.

David Phillips, an associate director at the IFS, said: “Current plans for councils to rely on council tax and business rates for the vast bulk of their funding don’t look compatible with our expectations of what councils should provide.”

The shifting demands of an ageing population mean the current 3% cap on annual council tax rises would mean adult social care would require 60% of local tax revenues within 15 years, up from 38% now, according to the report.


MPs to debate returning huge swathes of Britain to natural habitat in ‘rewilding’ scheme

Some people seem to think rural England is just a recreational playground….

MPs will have to debate returning vast swathes of land to wildernesses after a petition calling for mass rewilding gained more than 100,000 signatures.

It calls for the government to “make a bold financial and political commitment to nature’s recovery” to help slow climate breakdown.

Expanding habitats for native plants, trees and animals such as beavers and allowing wildlife to return will help remove from the atmosphere the carbon dioxide that is largely driving up global temperatures, organisers Rewilding Britain, said. 

“Rewilding and other natural climate solutions can draw millions of tonnes of CO2 out of the air through restoring and protecting our living systems," the petition says. 

The group plans to establish at least three pilot projects over the next 10 years, with the aim of returning at least a million hectares to their natural state – twice as much as the land as the government has already pledged to restore.

Last month the government’s own advisers on climate strongly advised ministers to set a new target to bring down Britain’s carbon emissions to zero by 2050.

In a response to the petition before it hit its 100,000 goal, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the government’s 25-year environment plan, launched in January last year, committed the government to improving the condition of the protected sites network and to creating or restoring 500,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat in England.  

“Our manifesto committed to planting 11 million trees by 2022, and in addition a further million trees in our towns and cities, and we also have a long-term aspiration to increase woodland cover from 10 per cent to 12 per cent by 2060,” it added.


Farmers say prisoners allowed to work on day release could help fill post-Brexit void of EU fruit pickers

I’m all for innovative solutions to rural workforce challenges but this smacks of desperation. Unless we have a massive increase in the prison population I cant see this strategy taking up the post Brecit slack created by choking off our supply of migrant workers can you?

Farmers say prisoners who are allowed to work on day release could help fill the post-Brexit void left by EU fruit pickers.

Ministers are planning to relax the rules that will allow more offenders out to work while they complete their sentence.

Currently offenders in open prisons must wait a year before being allowed out to work in the community, but earlier this week David Gauke, the Justice Secretary, proposed they could be allowed to work on day to boost their job prospects.

Suzannah Starkey, who runs Starkey's Fruit in Northamptonshire, said she is currently in discussions about how to recruit prisoners to pick strawberries and apples at her farm come harvest season.

The farmer said she would be happy for them to start as soon as September, in order to harvest her Bramley apples, and that she had sought advice from John Timpson, who hires offenders and ex offenders in his Timpson's shops.

She told The Sunday Telegraph: "I will be getting in touch with my local prison and tell them who I am and what I want, and they will go and find potential people for my fruit farm.

"They are free to work just like any other employee, they come here, work and go back with their pay packet at the end of the day. 

"I think we should be as a society giving chances to these people. The prisons are full of people who really ought not to be there and it is up to society who has chosen to lock people away to give them a place in society."

Farmers are currently worried that post-Brexit it will be difficult to get seasonal workers for their farms.


And Finally

Russell the crow dive-bombing walkers in Sheffield wood

Sheffield is the gateway to the Peak District but it seems that those blithely passing through this particular way in do so at their peril as the yrun the gauntlet of the imaginatively named “Russell the Crow”. This story tells us:

An unruly crow nicknamed Russell has been ruffling feathers by dive-bombing people as they walk through a wood.

Walkers and runners in Brincliffe Edge Wood in Nether Edge, Sheffield, have complained about being attacked by the bird.

Claire Goodwin said she was "terrified" when Russell swooped on her several times while out walking her dog.

Dozens of people have taken to Facebook to discuss his antics, with one man saying Russell had cut his head.

Ms Goodwin said Russell performed his signature move when she was in the woods on Tuesday and then again when she was out walking on Wednesday.

"All of a sudden something hit me on the head and I saw a crow in front of me," she said.

"I carried on walking and it got me again from the back of my head

"It really hurt. I know he's drawn blood from other people so I was really lucky it didn't happen to me.

"I'm staying out of the woods for a while."


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


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