Hinterland - 23 January 2019

In your Easter Hinterland: - Lies, damned lies and statistics, agency profits at the cost of the local tax payer, time to get down to the pub, the damage casued by wildfires, drink deeply at the well of your local traditions and the connections between Elon Musk and the Museum of Rural Life… Read on...

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Rough sleeping figures cannot be trusted, says statistics chief

“More or Less” should become a national institution on Radio 4. I have noticed, in this post truth era, an increasing tendency amongst official organisations to offer half truths and figures without context. Anyone who lives in a small town will have seen a huge rise in the number of people sleeping rough. This “good news” issued by Government suggested that there had been a relative decline in this phenomenon. Thank goodness, before we all glibly swallow the headline, for the work of the official version of “More or Less” the UK Statistics Authority….

Claims that rough sleeping is falling in England should not be trusted until the government has explained how an emergency funding scheme for the worst-affected areas might have skewed the latest figures, the chair of the UK statistics Authority (UKSA) has said.

Sir David Norgrove’s comments are the latest development in a row over the apparent 2% fall in rough sleeping in England in 2018, which ministers said was a sign the government’s Rough Sleeping Initiative (RSI) was tackling the homelessness crisis.

In a significant intervention, Norgrove said the official figures for 2018 should not be used to make claims about rough sleeping in England until the government addresses concerns that some councils that received RSI funding had deliberately underreported the scale of the crisis in their area.


Councils spend millions on agency social workers amid recruiting crisis

I wonder how we might undo this process of agencies becoming “for profit” middlemen in the provision of key services, which underpin the quality of life of, amongst others, vulnerable people, in rural areas. This story tells us:

Local authorities are having to spend millions of pounds on social work agencies as they struggle to recruit permanent staff, with some authorities employing nearly half of their children’s social workers through private companies, a Guardian investigation has found.

Data obtained through freedom of information requests shows that many English councils are routinely spending tens of millions of pounds – a total of at least £335m in 2017/18 – hiring agency social workers.

Experts said the difficulty experienced by councils in attracting permanent staff meant vulnerable children and families were often seeing multiple social workers in a single year, making it harder for them to engage with services.

They said the large-scale use of agency social workers was a poor use of dwindling local authority funds, as locums received a higher hourly rate than permanent staff, on top of the fee paid to the company they were employed through.


'Costs are crippling': more than 900 British pubs vanished in 2018

This story carries a very positive “use it or lose it” message in favour of the local pub. It also makes me reflect on the fact that business rates are the least positive form of local taxation.  It’s a very long time since the idea of a local income tax was first mooted but I wonder whether it might be time to dust off the idea? This story tells us:

A total of 914 pubs disappeared in 2018, according to the real estate data company Altus Group’s annual review, due to be released this week.

About 76 pubs vanished each month during the year, although this represents a slowdown in decline from 2017. The total number of pubs in England and Wales, liable for business rates, was 41,536 on 1 January 2019, representing a fall of 1,530 since a controversial revaluation came into force in April 2017.

The chief executive of UK Hospitality, Kate Nicholls, said: “Pubs are being hit with a myriad of cost pressures at a time of unprecedented political uncertainty and unstable consumer confidence. Unless positive action is taken by the government to address crippling costs, more pubs will be forced out of business.”

This month, the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) said business rate increases were forcing publicans to lay off staff, increase prices and hold off investment.

A survey of 650 licensees by the pub campaign group found that three out of four believed the system was unfair to pubs. The chief executive of Camra, Tom Stainer said: “Since the last business rates revaluation in 2017, it has been clear that the system simply isn’t working for publicans.”


Ilkley Moor wildfire: Three men arrested as firefighters tackle major blaze

The sort of actions which happen in these geographies might seem trivial but they have major consequences for some of our most precious landscapes. This story tells us:

West Yorkshire Police said in a statement on Sunday afternoon: “We can confirm that three men have been arrested in connection with a fire on Ilkley Moor yesterday.

“The men, who are aged 19, 23 and 24, remain in custody at this time and enquiries are ongoing with the fire service to establish if this incident is linked to the larger blaze.

“The fire service is continuing to tackle the blaze and members of the public are advised to avoid the area.

“The blaze is believed to now be under control, but we would like to remind members of the public that this recent hot weather may have made some moorland areas tinder dry, which means that even small fires may spread rapidly in these conditions.”


Councils should do more to promote 'county days' and historic boundaries says Government minister Jake Berry

If, like me you’re interested in the links between people and places, as expressed through all sorts of folk traditions, you will see this story as a jolly good thing. Whether you’re chasing a cheese in Brockworth, a hood in Haxey or following a horn dance in Abbots Bromley you’re communing with generations of former dwellers in your locality. If local government becomes a positive focus for these activities so much the better for its value and legitimacy. This story tells us;

Historic county day celebrations should be revived to boost community pride, new according to new Government guidance for councils.

Local authorities should also look to fly their county flags and erect signs which show where historic county boundaries lie.

The new eight page guidance is designed to encourage communities to boost community pride and help families to learn about local traditions. 

In 2012 the Government changed Whitehall rules to allow local and county flags to be flown without planning permission.

Local authorities have been able erect historic county boundary signs since 2016.

But currently more than half of councils do not have county days to celebrate and not all local authorities...


And Finally…

Elon Musk swaps shots with Museum of English Rural Life

I would have struggled to see a connection between Elon Musk and the Museum of English Rural Life but I had not thought of the “Teslewe” until I read this article. Read on….

Have you heard the one about the sheep so big the CEO of Tesla made it his profile picture?

Elon Musk first tweeted the picture as a joke, but then went a step further by replacing his Twitter avatar with the image of the farmyard animal.

This did not sit right with the sheep photo's owners, the Museum of English Rural Life, which soon made a change of its own.

Now visitors to its Twitter page will be greeted with Musk's smiling face.

Musk is known for participating in running jokes and slang online, such as previously asking Twitter users for their "dankest memes" and releasing a rap song about Harambe, the gorilla shot dead in a US zoo who then became a social media touchstone. 

And he has been enjoying his time as a sheep by replying to genuine Tesla car customers with oblique sheep puns to thank them for their purchases.

Likewise, the Museum of English Rural Life regularly joins in with internet humour, and has used its time as Musk to tweet jokes about "electric sheep called Teslewe"


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


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