Hinterland - 1 June 2020

This week we start with a non Covid story about railways. We then go on to look at the impact of the virus in terms of charities, its uneven economic consequences, evidence that people are tiring of the lockdown and in And Finally we feature a social distancing tepee...

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How local communities could run rural railway lines: Paul Salveson

I begin, this week, with a break from coronavirus. This fascinating article argues for a new community enterprise approach to the provision of a number of rural rail lines. It tells us:

The Rail Reform Group – an independent think-tank of railway professionals – recently published a series of papers called The Enterprising Railway, looking at opportunities to develop a railway based on ‘the common good’.

What could work is a combination of greater local management, empowered to do much more than just run trains, with the security of being part of a much bigger network.

In its submission to the Williams Review, the Rail Reform Group argued for converting franchises – using ‘Northern’ as a pilot – into socially-owned businesses controlled by the community. It’s about applying a more co-operative approach. Government support would continue, but profits would go back into the railways, not to shareholders.

If ‘Northern Trains’ became a social enterprise with representation on its board from passengers, employees, local government and the business community, we’d be on the way to getting a railway that operates ‘for the common good’.


Coronavirus: Rural charities face funding crisis

In Lincolnshire we have known this for months and are getting on and doing something about it through a peer support programme, developing action plans for the worst affected VCS bodies. If you want to know more drop me an email. The experience of RABI featured here is very typical. The article tells us:

Rural charities are facing a sharp drop in income, as the coronavirus crisis scuppers fundraising initiatives, but they are reassuring farming families there will be no cuts in the support on offer.

The cancellation of agricultural shows and events as varied as tractor runs, summer balls and YFC initiatives has led to a fall in donations to the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (Rabi).

 “We will have a significant drop in our income this year because the structure of how we raise our voluntary income has been wiped from under us,” said Rabi chief executive Alicia Chivers.

“The expectation is that larger events aren’t going to happen anytime soon in 2020 – and that’s where we’ve got a gap.”

She pointed out, however, that would-be donors were thinking creatively, organising such events as a Virtual Tour of Pembrokeshire cycle ride and a virtual Kilimanjaro trek.

“People are doing some amazing things, but we have to accept – and it will be across the board for charities – that this situation will have an impact on our income, certainly in 2020,” she said.


Number of job adverts increase in rural parts of UK despite Covid-19 slump

This article reminds us that the economic impact of the virus is not uniform. I fear however articles like this could significantly over state the resilience of the rural places they feature. This article tells us:

New research suggests some parts of the UK have seen an increase in employment despite the severe impact the coronavirus outbreak has had on the economy.

Rural communities in areas such as South Norfolk, Omagh and Moray have had a surge in job adverts, according to the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC).

Demand in professions such as roofers, security guards, artists and NHS staff have increased, with the number of job vacancies in Breckland and South Norfolk growing by 8.7 per cent week-on-week between the start and middle of May.

The report also noted many areas of Scotland and the north east of England saw growth. Argyll and Bute noted a 4.5 per cent increase in postings, while both Durham and Northumberland saw a 2.4 per cent increase.

In contrast, the largest weekly falls in vacancies were reported to be in the south west and north west of England.


England's coronavirus tracing plan 'beset by conflict and confusion'

I was listening to Jonathan Sumption speaking to Nick Robinson on Saturday and I found his take on the coronavirus fascinating. See if you can plug into what he has to say somewhere, it will make you think very hard about the efficacy of initiatives such as the tracing approach planned by Government. He is not only a fascinating thinker but a historian with very useful perspective to boot. This article tells us:

It was meant to be the system that would allow the country to emerge confidently from lockdown. But the development of the NHS tracing system has been characterised by missteps, conflict and frustration behind the scenes.

At the heart of the difficulties have been tensions between central government and local public health officials, or as one insider complained: “There has been control freakery from start to finish by the NHS and the Department of Health.”

Public health officials say systems and protocols to manage so-called “complex cases” involving central and local cooperation, such as the outbreak in Weston-super-Mare, have not yet been fully worked out days before schools start reopening on 1 June.

“I think councils will be told who will need extra help because they are vulnerable in a shielded category, and that’s about it,” the official added, saying there had been difficult meetings between officials from both sides.


Health officials make last-minute plea to stop lockdown easing in England

I am coming round to being far less judgemental of people seeking some balm from lock down by visiting attractive places. My view is predicated on the need for visitors to act responsibly but I think the vast majority of the population do.  If we get a second pandemic wave I genuinely wonder whether or not people will respond in good part to a return to the lock down.

There are trade offs to be considered between bearing down on coronavirus but increasing levels of poor mental health, between bearing down on coronavirus and the loss of thousands of jobs and businesses, between bearing down on coronavirus and increases in pernicious crimes like domestic violence. I think people are beginning to vote with their feet.

Its worth also remembering that in Sweden they have managed the pandemic without resort to lockdown. Notwithstanding all that, this article gives a largely without hope message from a number of health groups of the need to do what we are told with no indication of any short or perhaps even medium term relief.

Senior public health officials have made a last-minute plea for ministers to scrap Monday’s easing of the coronavirus lockdown in England, warning the country is unprepared to deal with any surge in infection and that public resolve to take steps to limit transmission has been eroded.

The Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH) said new rules, including allowing groups of up to six people to meet outdoors and in private gardens, were “not supported by the science” and that pictures of crowded beaches and beauty spots over the weekend showed “the public is not keeping to social distancing as it was”.

On Saturday and Sunday, parks and seafronts were packed as people anticipated the lifting of restrictions on what has been dubbed “happy Monday”. Car showrooms and outdoor markets will also be reopened, millions of children will return to primary schools and the most vulnerable “shielded” people will be allowed out for the first time since lockdown began in March, all as long as physical distancing is maintained.

But Jeanelle de Gruchy, president of the ADPH, said her colleagues across England were “increasingly concerned that the government is misjudging the balance of risk between more social interaction and the risk of a resurgence of the virus, and is easing too many restrictions too quickly”.

They have called on ministers to postpone the easing of restrictions until more is known about the infection rate, the test-and-trace system is better established and public resolve to maintain physical distancing and hygiene can be reinforced.


And Finally

Teepee built at East Bergholt school to allow social distancing

Now here’s some positive innovation showing the true British spirit of innovation. This story tells us:

A primary school in Suffolk has had a teepee built in its playing field for pupils to learn while maintaining social distance.

The structure was constructed by staff at an events company whose children attend East Bergholt school. It will likely be used for outdoor lessons and lunch breaks.

New government guidelines have set out ways for schools across England to allow children back from next month.

Headteacher Gill Mitchell told BBC Look East's Debbie Tubby that children would be "supervised to wash their hands" before entering any new or redesigned classrooms.


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


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