Hinterland - 25 March

In Hinterland this week - In Hinterland this week, the implications of land ownership for economic development in rural areas, key rural staffing shortages in the NHS, the creeping influence of surveillance capitalism, RBS and local authority debt, the potentially unintended consequences of proposed environmental taxes and an upsurge in holiday camp investment! Read on...

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'Abuse of power' over Scottish land ownership

This is a Scottish story but it raises some very interesting questions about the balance of power in rural communities in a number of particularly upland communities in England. It seems to me that land ownership and land usage are inextricably linked rather than distinct as implied by the spokesperson at the end of this piece.

Large concentrations of land ownership are leading to power being abused in some parts of Scotland, according to a report by the Scottish Land Commission.

Its investigation said a "land monopoly" in effect existed in many areas.

The report also said the law provided very little protection.

Scottish Land and Estates, which represents land owners, said the report did not adequately reflect the contribution made by rural businesses.

The commission's report calls for a public interest test for future land sales.

More than 400 people gave evidence to the investigation, including land owners, land managers and community representatives and individuals.

The report found that most of the disadvantages from Scotland's current pattern of land ownership related to a concentration of decision-making power.

It said that in some parts, that hampered economic development and caused serious and long-term harm to communities.

It added that there was an "urgent need" for mechanisms to protect fragile communities from the "irresponsible exercise of power".

The commission makes a series of recommendations including:

  • A public interest test for significant land transfers
  • The requirement for a land management plan for estates
  • A statutory land rights and responsibilities review.

The report and recommendations will now be considered by ministers.

Sarah-Jane Laing, chief executive of Scottish Land and Estates, said: "We are deeply concerned that the report still sees land ownership rather than land use as the prime route to dealing with issues being faced by communities. Nor does the report adequately reflect the positive and substantial contribution made by rural businesses.


Cancer doctor shortage 'puts care at risk'

This story is worrying – we know from recent research commissioned by the National Centre for Rural Health and Care that rural trusts have the most acute shortages. It tells us:

A shortage of cancer doctors will hamper the ability of the NHS to provide cutting-edge care, experts are warning.

A Royal College of Radiologists census of 62 major UK cancer centres found more than 7.5% of consultant posts were vacant, with services maintained only by large amounts of overtime.

It said this was unsustainable and would put treatments at risk.

But the NHS said plans were in place to increase doctor numbers.

Doctor training places are increasing, as is investment in the NHS.

But the college said this was not enough to cover the increases in demand for care, particularly given the number of doctors who are retiring.

Dr Tom Roques, from the college, said: "The UK is seeing more and more fantastic innovations in cancer treatment from the introduction of new immunotherapy drugs to high energy proton beam radiotherapy.

"These doctors are vital to the rollout of these new therapies but we do not have enough of them and our workforce projections are increasingly bleak."


Tracking tools found on EU government and health websites

Surveillance capitalism is the most invidious and pernicious phenomenon of our age. This article is an example of how it works. It shows that the organisations, which exploit people’s personal private information have effectively infested Government websites. Lots of vulnerable people in rural areas will be having their data sold on by these bodies as a “punishment” for using Government related websites associated with their health. The story tells us:

Online tools which track user behaviour for advertisers have been found on a swathe of EU public health websites, including NHS and Gov.uk pages.

These trackers could compromise sensitive data about people, according to researchers at data protection compliance service Cookiebot.

The researchers also discovered trackers on 89% of EU government websites. Most of the trackers were developed by Google.

They were designed to "associate web activity with the identities of real people" Cookiebot said.

Of all the 28 EU member states, only Spanish, German and Dutch government websites were tracker-free.

"We of course expect everyone to fully comply with EU data protection rules and it is the responsibility of EU data protection authorities to ensure compliance," a spokeswoman for the European Commission said.

But the public health website trackers presented additional risks, said Cookiebot.

"Over 100 advertising technology companies are systemically and invisibly tracking EU citizens when they visit their governments online, or when they access public health service resources about sensitive issues, such as pregnancy, sexual health, cancer or mental illness," it explained.


RBS to wind down £1bn worth of contentious local council loans

This is a potentially liberating news story for a number of rural authorities – always assuming they have the ability to pay their share of this debt down rapidly. It tells us:

Royal Bank of Scotland is aiming to wind down the remainder of about £1bn in controversial bank loans held by local authorities across the country, after criticisms that high payments have diverted cash from council services.

Campaigners have welcomed the move, which followed similar efforts made by Barclays in 2016 and comes as both lenders face a string of lawsuits.

The loans have been criticised by activists and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, who said councils have been on the hook for expensive interest payments that could have been diverted to local services already squeezed by spending cuts. Campaigners against the loans estimate that the cancellation of so-called lender option borrower option loans, or lobo loans, could ultimately save taxpayers £16bn over the next 40 years.

The Guardian understands that RBS is working to wind down the loan portfolio by the end of the year. The main way it is doing this is through loan redemptions: allowing clients including local authorities to pay back the loans earlier than their original contracts allowed, with some offered a discount on their repayment as an additional incentive


Fossil fuel industry must contribute towards £44bn climate change damage in UK each year, campaigners say

Many observers will agree with these sentiments. The downside is that many of the companies and energy producers concerned employ lots of people in rural settings on very good wages from nuclear to power stations. Makes you think….

Coal, oil and gas industries in the UK cause at least £44 billion pounds of damage each year, according to a new estimate by environmental campaigners.

Friends of the Earth have called for the “polluter pays” principle to be applied, with a new carbon tax levied on companies so they can contribute to a green transition.

They argue the fossil fuel industry has long been aware of the harmful effects of climate change, such as its impact on extreme weather.

“If you pollute, you pay. It’s a simple fix to help avoid catastrophic climate breakdown. For decades the oil, coal and gas industry has extracted, processed, sold and profited from fossil fuels,” said Mike Childs, head of policy for Friends of the Earth.

“The costs of this industry are being felt by people and nature across the world through more extreme weather, such as floods, droughts and wildfires. 


And Finally

Hi-de-high-end: how Butlin’s has climbed from camp to resort

As most of these holiday camps are in rural settings this level of investment can only be good news! This story tells us

For decades it was famous for contests to find the knobbliest knees and most glamorous grandmothers. But in recent years visitors to Britain’s best-known holiday camps have been more likely to drink champagne and luxuriate in spas. (The grannies were dispatched long ago, along with fluorescent yellow plastic palm trees.)

Now, as it eyes a potential market among the growing numbers of families wanting to holiday in the UK as a result of a weak pound, Butlin’s is preparing to make the biggest investment in its 83-year history and position itself as a rival to upmarket family holiday giant Center Parcs.

Its Bognor Regis resort – like all the other Butlin’s destinations, its status has been upgraded from a mere “camp” – is to open a £40m pool complex next month featuring 6,300 square metres of waves and waterslides. “This isn’t something you do every day,” said Jon Hendry-Pickup, Butlin’s new managing director and the former boss of the Italian restaurant chain Prezzo.

Designers approached parenting website Mumsnet, he said, for a list of “must-have” family features, from underfloor heating in the changing rooms and special areas for toddlers to outdoor gardens and eco lighting. The result, the company hopes, will cement a “reputational reboot” that has seen it fight off what Hendry-Pickup calls misconceptions about Butlin’s traditionally cheap and cheerful image.

“It’s a challenge, but I think the bigger challenge would be if people didn’t know who the brand was,” he said.


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


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