Hinterland - 12 November 2018

In Hinterland this week - One hundred years on from the end of the first world war the landscape of local government looks very different.  The end of the war was the impetus for a range of local dynamism including huge council house building, the establishment of County Farms, the genesis of rural community councils. As the following range of stories illustrates we now live in a world where macro-economic command and control approaches seem to leave us with all the challenges and blame and none of the power to do much about it.  The stories here show the need for a new mutualism founded at the local level on tackling market failure in rural communities, backed by risk taking local councils. I’m not holding my breath as I wait for it to happen. Read on.....

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‘Devastating’ cuts hit special educational needs

Never mind the scissors of doom – this scenario sees councils in the jaws of despair, trapped between a Government approach which doesn’t provide enough and the demands of parents to over turn decisions on spending made locally. Stories like this do really make me fear for the future of both local authorities and the idea which illuminates them – local democracy. This story tells us:

A crisis in funding for children with special educational needs is plunging councils across the country deeper into the red and forcing parents into lengthy legal battles to secure support, according to an Observer investigation that reveals a system at breaking point.

Council overspending on children’s special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) has trebled in just three years and is continuing to increase, with councils having to raid hundreds of millions from their overall schools budget to cope. The Observer has identified 40 councils that have either cut special needs funding this year, are considering making cuts or are raiding other education budgets to cope next year.

Data from freedom of information requests and council reports shows that the combined overspend on “high needs” education budgets among councils in England soared from £61m in 2015-16 to £195m in 2017-18. It is already expected to hit £200m this year. The figures cover 117 of England’s 152 councils, meaning the true figures will be higher.

It comes with legal action being threatened across England against councils considering cuts to SEND funding, which supports children with conditions such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and physical disabilities. Cases have already been launched in London and Surrey after a successful challenge to proposed cuts in Bristol. Campaigns are also being planned in Portsmouth and Yorkshire, while a case is being drawn up against central government for failing to properly fund the system.

By the end of this financial year, councils will have raided nearly £315m from mainstream and early years schools’ budgets since 2015 in order to plug gaps in special needs funding. However, recent rule changes have cut their flexibility to do so.


'Tax on age' to pay for social care being considered for the over-40s

And here is story two about a response to the squeezing of local authorities at the other end of the age spectrum. It tells us:

A new levy targeted at the over-40s is being considered by ministers to help solve the social care funding crisis.

Matt Hancock, the Health and Social Care Secretary, told the Telegraph he was “attracted to” a cross-party plan for a compulsory premium deducted from the earnings of the ­middle-aged and over-65s to fund the cost of their care in later life.

The proposals, set out by two Commons committees, are based on the system in Germany under which all workers over 40 pay 2.5 per cent of their wages into a pot formally earmarked for social care.

The plan also includes offering cash payouts to young and elderly adults ­receiving care, to enable them to pay carers, including family members.


Councils urged to take control of regenerating their town centres

I look around the signature small towns in my area and wonder whatever happened to the planning regime. There is surely a relation between the quotient of retail catchment and the number of viable shops. I know other factors intervene like the dynamism of those running the shops. I also know there are huge issues with the transition to online shopping – I just lament the loss of post war heroes with real dynamism and brio like Sir Peter Hall. We need a big impulse to reinvent the town centre not some welcome but ultimately very limited initiatives like those sketched out below. This article tells us:

In last month’s budget the chancellor, Philip Hammond, outlined a number of initiatives to help struggling high streets, including business rates relief for independent shopkeepers and a consultation that would seek to relax planning rules so some of Britain’s 50,000 empty shops can more readily be repurposed as gyms, libraries and houses.

The government also announced a £675m “future high streets” fund with councils from next year able to bid for up to £25m towards regeneration projects such as local historic building refurbishments and improving transport links. The fund will also pay for the creation of a high street taskforce to provide expertise and hands-on support to local areas.

“We expect local areas to set out how their plans will enable their high street to adapt to changes in consumer demands and give details of individual projects with a clear economic benefit,” says the policy paper outlining the fund’s purpose ahead of the publication of its full prospectus. “We would not expect local areas to bid for funding to expand traditional retail on their high street.”


85,000 jobs lost from Britain’s high streets as retailers feel the pinch

And just to drive home the point ……

Up to 85,000 retail jobs disappeared from Britain’s high streets in the first nine months of this year after a surge in the number of businesses going bust and closing stores.

Nearly 1,000 retail businesses – from big employers such as House of Fraser, Evans Cycles and Poundworld to independent traders – went into administration between January and September, according to new data seen by the Observer, the highest number in five years. A further 26 big companies, including New Look, Carpetright, Mothercare and Homebase, opted to close stores or cut rents using an insolvency procedure known as a Company Voluntary Arrangement – up 73% on the same period last year.

The figures raise further fears about the future of Britain’s high streets, where the number of premises lying empty soared by more than 4,400 in the first six months of 2018, according to retail analysis firm Local Data Company.

Retailers are under pressure as shoppers buy more goods online, and the cost of running high-street premises is being hit by rises in business rates and the legal minimum wage. The cost of building new warehouse, transport and IT infrastructure to support home deliveries is also biting, just as consumers rein in spending amid uncertainty over Brexit and minimal real wage growth.

According to the Office for National Statistics, 80,000 retail jobs were lost in the first half of this year, with losses now believed to be up to 85,000.


NHS nursing vacancies will top 51,000 by end of transition period in 2021, report warns

This report, which chimes very much with the findings of some research we have just finished through the National Centre for Rural Health and Care, which shows rural trusts already have far fewer staff than their urban counterparts, tells us:

A new report estimates that as many as 51,000 nursing staff will be needed by the time time the UK leaves in 2021 after its transition period. 

This would mean the health services is missing the equivalent of 45 hospitals’ worth of nurses, according to the report by the Cavendish Coalition, an alliance of 36 health and social care organisations which is urging government to step up recruitment and training to mitigate the loss of EU staff.

The latest NHS workforce figures have revealed a “grim” and growing gap in key staff with 41,722 nursing roles unfilled in June.


And Finally…

How to Prospect for Gold in England

Gold is amongst the rarest of things you can find in the UK. In today’s financial climate however you might just want to take a look at this article and its advice on how you might find an alternative way of insulating yourself against what promises to be a very challenging 2019


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



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