Hinterland - 14 September 2020

It’s the first virtual RSN Conference this week. I hope to see many of you there. We have six stories here about increasing residential interest in villages, free trade threats to farmers, Doctors, Care Homes and Testing and finish in stile (if you’ll pardon the pun!)

*         *          *

Home sales in UK villages surge:post-lockdown buyers leaving cities for houses in commuter areas

Here is a key coronavirus impulse to city flight – according to this article…

The number of homes sold in the UK so far this year has almost caught up with the number of sales agreed in the whole of 2019 – despite the total halt brought to the property market for seven weeks of lockdown.

Whereas in recent years a surge in sales has been led by London buyers, most of the home buying hotspots for 2020 are in villages.

The figures from Rightmove are the latest indication of an urban exodus following coronavirus lockdown, with people swapping city flats for houses and outside space in more rural locations as they look to a mid-term future with less or even no commuting.

The stamp duty holiday on homes up to £500,000, announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in early July, has kicked both buyers and sellers into gear with tax savings of up to £15,000 available until the end of March next year.

While some villages have seen more sales agreed in the first nine months of this year compared to the whole of last year, no areas of London have achieved the same distinction.

The strongest market in the capital is in Upminster in the borough of Havering on the Essex-London border, where sales agreed so far this year are up 42 per cent on the same period last year.

“The national sales agreed trend is an important and early indicator of future completed transactions and it’s encouraging to see that whilst it’s still playing catch-up, it has been improving at pace over the past few months,” said Rightmove’s Miles Shipside.

“National statistics are drawn from hundreds of local markets, with villages and market towns peppered across the country benefiting most from the post-lockdown boom in activity and a shift in buyers seeking out more serene scenery.”


British farmers will be trampled in the rush for free trade deals

An interesting opinion piece from Poly Toynbee this article tells us:

As he fielded PMQs on Wednesday, Boris Johnson wore a wool and wheat sheaf badge on his lapel. Behind him many of his MPs sported it too, as did Keir Starmer and Labour MPs: it was the symbol for Backing British Farming Day.

But in the Financial Times, the National Farmers Union’s combative leader, Minette Batters, was calling the Tories “immoral and hypocrites” for refusing to vote to give parliament – themselves – the final say on any post-Brexit trade deals. If deals with the US, Australia or anywhere else threaten to flood the market with lower-quality food, produced using hormones, pesticides, antibiotics and chemicals, with weaker animal welfare standards, MPs should have a vote on that.

A million people have signed the NFU petition calling for the government to ban any food imports of a lower standard in quality, welfare or environment. This has reached far beyond farmers, rousing food campaigners and animal welfare activists.

Amendments are being put to the agriculture bill reaching the Lords next week, but to date all such attempts have been struck down by the government. Donald Trump has listed “comprehensive market access for US agricultural goods in the UK” as a goal for any trade deal. Liz Truss, the international trade secretary, has given verbal assurances that food standards will not drop, but this is no “my word is my bond” government.

On Thursday, Brexit edges dangerously closer to a no-deal precipice. Once commentators sought method in the Boris Johnson cabal’s politically perverse actions. No longer. Divining their political strategy is perplexing. Just brinkmanship, many hope – but others say their priority, above any sense of the country’s good, is a determination to have no enemies on the right. They are still afraid of Nigel Farage’s leery grin, as he waits to pounce on Brexit betrayal.

Farming used to be part of the core identity of the Conservative party. But here’s a reminder of what no deal and trading on WTO rules will do to farming and the much larger UK food industry: a 48% tariff will be slapped on British lamb exported to the EU, along with 57% on Cheddar, 37% on poultry and 84% on beef.


More than 1,000 UK doctors want to quit NHS over handling of pandemic

If this does come to pass, bearing in mind the already severe shortage of GPs in rural settings, even though most of these doctors wont be GPs it does not bode well.

Over 1,000 doctors plan to quit the NHS because they are disillusioned with the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and frustrated about their pay, a new survey has found.

The doctors either intend to move abroad, take a career break, switch to private hospitals or resign to work as locums instead, amid growing concern about mental health and stress levels in the profession.

“NHS doctors have come out of this pandemic battered, bruised and burned out”, said Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden, president of the Doctors’ Association UK, which undertook the research. The large number of medics who say they will leave the NHS within three years is “a shocking indictment of the government’s failure to value our nation’s doctors,” she added. “These are dedicated professionals who have put their lives on the line time and time again to keep patients in the NHS safe, and we could be about to lose them.”

In all, 1,758 doctors across the UK responded when DAUK undertook an online survey among its members. It asked: “Has the pandemic and the government’s treatment of frontline doctors during the pandemic impacted your decision to stay or leave the NHS?”. Almost seven in ten – 1,214 (69%) – said that it had made them more likely to leave the health service, while 26% said that it had not.

When asked “where do you see yourself working in the next one to three years?”, almost two-thirds of doctors – 1,143 (65%) – said they would be leaving the NHS. That finding has prompted renewed concern about NHS understaffing, as the service in England already has vacancies for 8,278 doctors, according to the most recent official figures.


Care home staff fear for residents as Covid-19 cases rise across UK

Many rural care homes are on the covid front line – we have a significant stock of such facilities and this article gives us major pause for thought. It explains:

Care home staff have expressed growing anxiety about a rise in hospitalisations and deaths among their most vulnerable residents, after leaked documents from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) revealed an increase in the number of coronavirus cases in England.

The UK is experiencing a sharp rise in the number of positive cases, with 3,497 new cases reported on Saturday and an “R” number – the average number of people infected by each person with Covid – above 1 for the first time since March. Data shows the R number for England could be as high as 1.7, with prevalence of the virus doubling every 7-8 days.

While this is at its highest among younger adults, experts have warned the virus could spread to more vulnerable populations – as is happening in France. There are signs that hospital admissions have already started to rise in the UK


Covid tests sent to Italy and Germany as UK labs are overwhelmed

As virus numbers begin their rise I worry on the strength of articles like this about just how much of a grip we have on the virus and how effective the proposed track and trace measures are. Without them I fear vulnerable groups in heretofore non impacted rural settlements coming into the eye of the storm.

The government’s coronavirus testing programme is dealing with a backlog of 185,000 swabs, with tests being sent to Italy and Germany as local labs are overwhelmed.

Not even a week after the government was forced to apologise for continuing delays to Covid testing, the Department of Health and Social Care insisted on Sunday that the capacity of the NHS test-and-trace system was the highest it had ever been but there was a “significant” demand for tests.

This includes demand from people “who do not have symptoms and are not otherwise eligible”, the DHSC said.

Leaked documents revealed the 185,000 backlog and the fact that tests are being sent to German and Italian laboratories for processing, according to the Sunday Times.


And Finally

Photographic stile record to be created in Gloucestershire

A man is attempting to create a photographic record of every stone stile in Gloucestershire after becoming "alarmed" at how fast they are disappearing.

Fabulous stuff –  Im going to add rural buildings to my ongoing theme of rural mega-fauna on the strength of this article, which tells us:

Peter Wilson, from Inchbrook, said each stile had a story attached to it.

"They're a record of ancient rights of way, or even a route to the nearest ale house," he said.

Mr Wilson is working with the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) to create an online map of every stile.

Stiles are structures built into fences of animal enclosures which allow walkers to cross them safely.

Ramblers are invited to submit photos of stiles they encounter, with over 150 submissions to date.

"Some of them date back to the 13th Century, but they seemed to go out of use around 1800 and very few have been built since then," said Mr Wilson.

"Stiles have always been part of our heritage and we should have a record of where they were."

Many of these structures are now being replaced to meet accessibility requirements for ramblers.


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.