Hinterland - 11 March

In Hinterland this week - digital services; county lines, over regulated farmers, degrading public services and the growing of a self help trend. Read on...

*         *          *

The challenge to ensure digital public services leave no one behind

A thought provoking piece on digital services and the need to tackle the likely inequities associated with their roll out this article tells us:

Digital technologies can be valuable tools to improve public services and reduce health and social inequalities, but should not be adopted as “fashion trends” that leave some people behind.

While new technologies like chatbots or artificial intelligence (AI) get a lot of attention, experts at a recent Guardian roundtable event, supported by DXC Technology, agreed digital services should be adopted only when they can genuinely make systems more efficient for staff or end users.

It’s also vital to ensure digital improvements benefit vulnerable groups, and there should be a range of ways to access public services, rather than simply switching to digital-by-default, agreed the panel. In 2018 there were still 5.3 million adults in the UK who were digitally excluded because they lack internet access or have low levels of digital literacy, including people from low-income groups, the elderly, and those living in rural communities.

“Before we even get to the technical barriers there are access barriers as a direct result of poverty or low income,” said Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust. “[Digital public services] shouldn’t be just another thing people are excluded from.”


County lines drugs blamed for Kent's big rise in knife crime

Just in case you thought knife crime was just an urban issue. This article shows how it permeates into its hinterland. It tells us:

But cuts to youth services are just one factor that police, community workers and others cite for an often overlooked rise in knife crime outside London in counties such as Kent, which has experienced a rise of 152% since 2010, according to ONS figures.

They include the spillover of violence from so-called county lines – drug dealing that involves urban gangs moving drugs and cash between city hubs and provincial areas – as well as London councils’ relocation of homeless families to outside the capital, in some cases being followed by the dangers from which the parents have sought to shield their children.


Peak District farmer forced to give up Highland Cattle after one dog walker complaint

This is a sad story - it seems to me that too often we allow anonymity to trump responsibility. It tells us:

A Peak District farmer has been forced to give up his “gentle” highland cattle after a single dog walker complained that they felt unsafe around the herd.

Alex Birch, 32, has roamed his 27-strong herd on Baslow Edge in the Peak District for 40 years, ever since his grandfather David Thorp first introduced them to the land as a young man.

Walkers in the national park regularly encountered the red-haired cattle, described as “the most photographed cows in the world”, as they grazed on the bracken.

They were even the face of BBC Look North’s weather programme.

But ramblers cannot find the animals on Baslow Edge anymore, as Mr Birch has been forced to sell and slaughter his cattle following a complaint to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) from an anonymous dog walker.

The complaint stressed concern after a walker claimed that one of the highland cows attempted to attack their dog.

A petition, which has branded the HSE’s decisions as a “knee-jerk reaction”, has now been signed by more than 8,000 in support of the farmer who owned the herd which was removed from the 300-acre plot of land in January.

The signatories are also calling for the return of the highland cattle to this area of the Peak District, which was visited by walkers and photographers in search of the furry animals, and even described as “landmarks” by some.


Government outsourcing firm Interserve faces administration

Interserve is likely to go into administration on Friday.

Where Carillion starts others will follow. In a previous era we had no proper regard for social value in the awarding of contracts and this is what happens when we industrialise local service provision. This story tells us:

Directors of the company, that employs 45,000 people in the UK, have told the BBC the firm has "a mountain to climb" to prevent it collapsing under the weight of its nearly £650m in debt. 

A plan to swap the majority of that debt for new shares requires the support of more than 50% of the shareholders and the company's biggest shareholder - US hedge fund Coltrane which owns 27% - is currently dead set against the plan. 

Since many small shareholders don't vote - even in a crisis like this - the support of Coltrane is seen as crucial in getting the deal through. 

The board's plan would see current shareholders awarded 5% of the company - with the rest going to the creditors.


Not just schools: five public service areas struggling with cuts

Sometimes when the music stops and you take a long view of recent events you realize how serious things have become. This article had this effect on me – many of the services mentioned here underpin the quality of life in rural areas. What do you think?

In addition to education, critics point to the damaging impact of austerity cuts first introduced in 2010 across a range of other policy areas:


Housing has become a full-blown crisis since 2010: more expensive, more scarce, and less secure in many parts of the country, especially for young people and low-income working families, as successive governments have let the market balloon while imposing hefty austerity cuts to housing support.

Rents have soared, while wages have stalled. Tenant insecurity has risen. Overcrowding is at record levels. Homelessness has increased. One in 200 people in England are homeless, according to Shelter. Rough sleeping is up over the decade: 600 homeless people died on the streets or in hostels in 2017, up 24% since 2010.

Local government

Back in 2012, a notorious PowerPoint slide circulated in local government called the Graph of Doom. It demonstrated that if austerity cuts and demographic pressures (more older people living longer) continued, councils would be unable to afford to provide anything other than social care within a few years.

Many town halls believe that point is fast approaching. After nearly a decade of cuts, councils spend a fifth less than in 2010; larger councils now spend 60% of their diminished budget on adult and children’s social care, meaning other services – parks, libraries, swimming pools, Sure Start centres, fixing potholes, bus subsidies, winter road gritting, museums – have had to be eviscerated.

Social care

Around 1.4 million adults in the UK fail to get the basic social care support they need, such as help with washing, dressing and eating, according to the charity Age UK. Rising demand from an ageing population, coupled with shrinking budgets, has led to ever tighter rationing.

Since 2010, adult social care spending in England has shrunk by £7bn, with the government averting crises with a series of “sticking plaster” funding packages. Long promised plans for putting social care funding on a sustainable level have been lost in the Brexit long grass, while there is little optimism the autumn public spending review will come to the rescue.

In children’s social care, welfare cuts, soaring poverty levels and rising parental mental illness have contributed to an explosion in child protection activity. Since 2010, assessments of children at risk of harm or neglect have gone up 77%, while child protection plans increased by a quarter, and children in care increased by 15%.

English councils predict a £2bn budget shortfall in children’s services by 2020, forcing growing cuts to preventive services such as family support to meet the cost of child protection.


Eight years of tiny budget increases have left the NHS in England seriously overstretched, chronically understaffed and £4bn in the red.

Limiting the NHS to 1% rises – far below the historic 3.7% average – has also forced patients to endure increasingly long waits for A&E care, cancer treatment, planned operations and to see a GP at their local surgery.

In-depth research published last week found levels of public satisfaction across Britain with the NHS at their lowest ever (53%) and the highest levels ever of dissatisfaction with GP services. Delays in accessing care were the main driver of rising discontent, it found.


Police chiefs have long been warning about the impact of budget cuts on their ability to do their job, and the issue has come to the fore with the escalating concern about violent crime.

Home Office research leaked to the Guardian last year found that falling officer numbers were likely to be “an underlying driver that has allowed the rise [in violent crime] to continue”.

In Theresa May’s six years as home secretary to 2016, police numbers fell by 20,000 as she slashed their budgets while insisting that they could cut crime by eliminating inefficiencies. The number of officers fell from a peak of 144,353 in 2009 to 122,404 by March 2018.

The chancellor, Philip Hammond, has trumpeted the extra £970m in police funding pledged for the next financial year. However, police chiefs have warned that this is too low, and that some of the cash will be swallowed up by other liabilities, possibly leading to a further fall in headcount.


And Finally….

Stressed Brits buy record number of self-help books

As we wait for the outcome of a serious series of Parliamentary votes this week it sounds like we should be seeking some self help advice. This story tells us:

Sales of self-help books have reached record levels in the past year, as stressed-out Britons turn to celebrities, psychologists and internet gurus for advice on how to cope with uncertain times.

Three million such books were sold – a rise of 20% – according to figures from Nielsen Book Research, propelling self-improvement or pop psychology into one of the fastest-growing genres of publishing.

“People come into the shop and they’re really fed up about things. They’re looking for reassurances and peace of mind, so self-help books have become incredibly popular,” said Paul Sweetman, owner of City Books in the seaside town of Hove.

In 25 years of business, Sweetman says he’s never known customers more in need of uplifting reading than they are now – a result, he believes, of the political climate both here and abroad.


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


Sign up to our newsletter to receive all the latest news and updates.