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Hinterland - 07 May 2019

In Hinterland this week - controversy in the countryside revealing some interest insights about the balance between the work of “Executive Agencies” and Government Departments, frustration around the failure of national policy in aspects of Education and the NHS to really deliver and my reflections on the upshot of these two stories for rural communities. It seems we’re no clearer on what the developing economic climate holds for the UK. At least we have (as profiled in And Finally)  therapy dogs!. Read on...

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Countryside versus town? Please don’t turn this into a culture war

This is a thought provoking and contemporary article – here’s a flavor. Once you have read it have a look at the next article which shows how fast politicians can sometimes move on countryside issues!!

The fallout has been considerable. Forget the haves and the have-nots, Brexiters and remainers, north v south: some people are determined to make our disunited nation’s ultimate binary division the one between town and country.

According to the popular caricature, one camp lives in concrete and glass towers, imbibes polluted air and superciliously treats the countryside as a playground for Disneyfied nature. The other resides in leafy lanes, brandishes shotguns and is increasingly besieged and undermined by city dwellers’ laws.

These two tribes, we are told, have clashed over foxhunting – a unique tradition or a barbaric relic according to taste. They’ve battled over badger culling – a vital disease control measure to protect cattle farmers or an unscientific muddle that’s cruel and pointless. And they’ve gone to war over dairy farming – an environmentally friendly and nutritious food production system or a cruel industry that turn animals into machines.

The row over bird shooting licences is presented as the latest expression of the great divide. Is it a perverse attack on country livelihoods by townies who are happy to see curlews become extinct and lambs’ eyes pecked out because they hate shooting so much? Or is it an overdue, rational move to bring licences into line with wildlife laws and stop people massacring harmless jays and rooks for fun?


Michael Gove seizes powers to overturn curbs on shooting birds after furious protests from farmers

Michael Gove has paved the way for overturning the curbs on shooting birds which triggered death threats against TV naturalist Chris Packham.

Natural England has been stripped of its power over the permits by the environment secretary – who has ordered his own investigation by officials “with intensity and urgency”.

The move follows calls by angry Tory MPs for Mr Gove to “take back control” from Natural England’s new chief Tony Juniper, a leading environmentalist and former head of Friends of The Earth.

In a letter to Mr Jupiter, Mr Gove said he was responding to “concern that has been generated by the decision to revoke” permits allowing farmers to cull “pest” species of birds, such as crows and wood pigeons.

“My judgement is that the present situation needs to be considered with particular intensity and urgency,” Mr Gove wrote.

 “I want to gain a clear understanding of the implications for the protection of wild birds, and the impacts on crops, livestock, wildlife, disease, human health and safety and wider nature conservation efforts.”


Interest rates: welcome to UK plc, an economy in limbo

We live in a time of unlikeable change with no plan for the future. How can a rural business plot a way forward with conditions like those revealed in this latest report on the current thinking about economic growth from the Bank of England? This article tells us:

Welcome to limbo land. That was the message from the Bank of England as it once again decided that Britain’s delay at the EU departure gate meant the wisest course of action was to leave interest rates well alone.

But only for now, because it was also clear from Threadneedle Street’s quarterly update on the economy that the wait-and-see approach will only last for as long as Brexit uncertainty persists.

Why? Because – on the assumption that the UK has a smooth exit from the European Union – the Bank thinks growth will pick up over the next three years, the unemployment rate will hit a record low of 3.5%, and excess demand will be pushing inflation above its official 2% target.

These forecasts are, however, based on what the financial markets think will happen to interest rates, and at present the expectation is that there will be only one quarter-point increase – from 0.75% to 1% - between now and 2022.


Parents and headteachers demand ‘education emergency’ to stop forced takeover of schools

In my view local is almost always best. I would be intrigued as to how heavily the need to make non-commercial decisions about supporting small schools in high cost rural settings features in the academy planner’s lexicon…. This story tells us

Opposition against the removal of schools from local authority control has resurged as families march in the streets and headteachers reignite calls for forced academisation to end.

Parents are increasingly leading the battles against schools being converted into academies, which are state schools independent of local councils, as they become more aware of negative stories.

The increased use of WhatsApp and social media groups connecting opposing parents across the country, including those who have been successful in their fight, has also spurred families on.

The opposition from parents comes as school leaders at the National Association of Head Teachers conference in Telford this weekend debate a motion calling on the teaching union to reaffirm its opposition to forced academisation.

Some headteahers and parents fear that joining an academy trust, which sets its own policies on admissions, behaviour and the curriculum, could result in the school’s identity and staff being lost.

High-profile reports of the large salaries of academy chain CEOs, at a time when schools are struggling to provide even the basics to pupils amid cuts, has also fuelled opposition to the system.


NHS digital leaders leaving for private sector over Health Secretary's tech 'revolution', IT chief warns

This interesting article throws a key light on the challenges of harnessing tech to improve the health services for rural dwellers who could benefit perhaps most from such an action. It tells us:

Richard Corbridge, formerly chief digital and information officer at Leeds teaching hospitals, describes the “excrutiating” situation of trying to realise centrally-imposed slogans such as “axe the fax” and “purge the pager” without dedicated funds.

Improving digital innovation in the health service is a central plank of the organisation’s 10-year plan announced in January.

However, recent months have seen the departure of several key leaders to the private sector, such as NHS England’s Chief Digital Officer Juliet Bauer, as well as chief information officers at Royal Brompton & Harefield and South London & Maudsley trusts, and senior staff at NHS Digital.

Basic innovations commonly embraced by businesses, such as embracing cloud technology or single sign-in systems, are passed up because funds are often diverted to “fighting today’s crisis”, Mr Corbridge warns.

Cloud services are considered crucial for improving the NHS’s clunky system for sharing patient records, currently considered the one of the biggest blocks to improving efficiency in the health service.

Meanwhile frontline doctors commonly grapple with up to 12 different passwords for various hospital systems, such as calling up test results, creating log-jams at computers on the wards.

While welcoming Mr Hancock’s vision and the promise of funds, Mr Corbridge argues that until cash for IT is ring-fenced hospital bosses will continue diverting it towards more “visible” concerns, such as extra beds.


And finally

Therapy dogs bound into Aberdeen airport to alleviate stress

In a busy world thank goodness for the therapy dog. Many of those involved in Local Government could, I am sure, have benefitted from having a friendly dog at hand this week. This story tells us:

The passengers fresh off the afternoon flight from Southampton are scanning the information boards at Aberdeen international airport for the whereabouts of their baggage when their attention is drawn to something altogether less stressful, as members of the UK’s first ever team of airport therapy dogs bound into the arrivals hall.

A group of teenage girls, visiting Aberdeen for a diving competition, are the first to spot the Canine Crew and zoom over, chattering excitedly and crowding around the dogs, who respond with perfect calm, friendly wags and, in the case of Breagh the golden retriever, an inviting display of furry tummy.

“I think this is a really good idea,” nods Emma Bolton, 14, enthusiastically. “They would calm me down a lot.”

“You have happy thoughts when you see them,” explains her friend Felicity Cronin, also 14, “instead of dreading things about the airport. It gives you something else to think about.”

As Breagh, along with Grace the Scottish deerhound, Noodle the beagle and their owners, trot through the terminal sporting bright yellow bandanas that identify them as “therapets”, the effect on passengers and staff is instantaneous and exponential. There is plenty of research showing that dogs can improve mental health and wellbeing, alleviate stress and calm nerves and, while these dogs are being brought in from 4 May specifically to assist anxious travellers, it seems no one can walk by without pausing for a pat and a play.


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


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