Hinterland - 25 October 2021

In Hinterland this week - I feel a frenetic pace of activity and expectation on the cusp of the budget planned for Wednesday. County lines, supermarkets, cash machines, rent rises, young family hubs and a landgrab focused on my county!! Read on...

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Nearly 1,500 arrests in county lines drug dealing crackdown

Serious stuff this and a suggestion that either the crackdown was super successful or the level of criminality in rural places fuelled by these urban networks is far deeper than we might have casually imagined! This story tells us:

Nearly 1,500 people have been arrested in England and Wales in a week-long operation against so-called county lines drug dealing networks.

Police say they have started focusing on senior figures controlling phone numbers used to sell drugs.

Officers are also using modern slavery and human trafficking laws to prosecute gangs exploiting vulnerable children.

Some 139 county lines were closed, and almost £2m of Class A drugs, including cocaine and heroin, seized.

County line gangs are urban drug dealers who sell to customers in more rural areas via dedicated phone lines.

They have become central to the trade in illegal substances across Britain and the way they operate is often accompanied by serious violence. 

Gangs in cities operate phone lines advertised in other towns and rural areas to supply drugs, while remaining at arm's length to reduce the risk of arrest.


Supermarkets using cardboard cutouts to hide gaps left by supply issues

Nothing to see here – move on…..

Shoppers have spotted fake carrots in Fakenham, cardboard asparagus in London, pictures of oranges and grapes in Milton Keynes, and 2D washing liquid bottles in Cambridge. Sainsbury’s has also used outline drawings of packaging to fill shelves.

The tactic comes as shortages of HGV drivers and pickers and packers on farms and food processing plants lead to low availability of some items in supermarkets. Problems at ports, where handlers are struggling to cope with a surge in deliveries for the festive season, are also leading to shortages.

Bryan Roberts, a retail analyst at Shopfloor Insights, said he had only begun to see the cardboard cutouts of fresh produce in the past year, but said similar tactics had been in place elsewhere in supermarkets for some time. “It has become quite commonplace. It is not only because of shortages, but because a lot of the larger stores are now simply too big.”

He said the cutouts were one of an array of tactics being used to fill space, including filling meat fridges with bottles of tomato sauce or mayonnaise, spreading packs of beer out across whole aisles, and erecting large posters or other marketing material.

Tesco, which has boasted that its sales have been boosted by its ability to keep shelves stocked, said the fruit and vegetable pictures were not linked to the recent supply chain issues and had been in use for many months.

Traditional supermarkets, which can stock more than 40,000 product lines, have been honing their grocery ranges to improve efficiency so they can cut prices and compete more effectively with discounters such as Aldi and Lidl, which sell fewer than 3,000 different products.

That process has only been accelerated by Brexit and the pandemic which have led to staff shortages and difficulties in shipping goods. Supermarkets and manufacturers have reduced the range of different types of pasta, coffee or teas they sell to make it easier to keep goods flowing.


Average cash withdrawal climbs to £80

This story points to the need to enhance financial digital literacy amongst the most vulnerable and isolated groups in rural areas. It tells us:

People are taking out more money when they visit ATMs, with the average amount climbing more than £10 to just under £80 in the last two years.

But they're using cash machines 40% less than before and withdrawing £44 a month less.

Withdrawals are now nearly £100m less a day than in 2019, said cash machine network Link.

"Covid has turbocharged the switch to digital," said Nick Quin, head of financial inclusion at the network.

Before the pandemic, each adult in the UK visited a cash machine on average three times a month, taking out on average £66.99. That amount has climbed to £78.54.

However, 18 months after the coronavirus crisis started, visits are now less than twice a month.

That means the total average amount each month withdrawn per person has fallen £44, from £200.97 to £157.08.


Popularity of countryside living causes rural rent increase

Astonishing prices which leave me wondering how much people then have left to pay for anything else in rural settings. This story tells us:

The move towards countryside living is raising rural renting costs in Norfolk, says Rightmove.

Renters have turned their sights to the countryside, as homebuyers did before them.

New data from property website Rightmove shows that rental prices in rural and suburban areas in the UK have jumped 11pc compared to 2pc in urban areas.

Rightmove claims that this is due to a longing for outside space and separation from cities.

Rent prices in rural areas have risen by £122 a month, from £1,142 in February 2020 to £1,264 in October 2021.

Demand for rural homes is up 224pc and availability is down by 61pc, and demand for suburban homes is up 155pc and availability is down 45pc.


Budget 2021: Ministers pledge £500m to support young families

Hope rural areas are getting their share of this investment!

Ministers are to fund a network of "family hubs" in England as part of a £500m package to support parents and children.

The centres in 75 different areas will provide a "one stop shop" for support and advice, the government said.

The funding, to be announced by the chancellor in Wednesday's Budget, will also go towards breastfeeding advice and mental health services.

Labour called the plans a "smokescreen" for failing to deliver for families. 

Kate Green MP, Labour's shadow education secretary, said family hubs were "a sticking plaster for a fractured childcare and children services landscape".

"This supposed commitment rings hollow after 11 years of Conservative cuts have forced the closure of over a thousand children's centres, cutting off the early learning that sets children up for life," she said.

The funding includes £200m to support 300,000 families who face complex issues that could lead to family breakdown. 

Some £82m will be given to 75 local authorities to fund the new family hubs, while another £100m will go towards mental health support for expectant parents.

And £50m will be spent on breastfeeding support - including antenatal classes and one-to-one support - to build upon best practice from areas such as Tower Hamlets in London, which has the highest breastfeeding rates at six to eight weeks in England.


And Finally

Road sign bungle sees Yorkshire sign erected in Lincolnshire

Yorkshire is big enough without impinging on my beautiful county! This story tells us:

Residents in a North Lincolnshire village have been left feeling a little disorientated after a road sign was erected welcoming people to Yorkshire.

The mysterious sign, which can be seen by motorists entering Sandtoft, appeared earlier this week.

One resident said it was about 150m (492ft) from the original Welcome to North Lincolnshire sign - on the same side of the road.

Some have suggested it is the work of contractors unfamiliar with the area.

The local authority, North Lincolnshire Council, said it was unaware of the sign, while the neighbouring authority, Doncaster Council, has yet to respond to a request for comment.

Posting in a local Facebook group, one resident said it appeared the sign had been put up on the wrong side of the road and facing the wrong way.


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


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