In Hinterland this week a range of less than optimistic stories – it seems to be a sign of the times! Councils at financial breaking point, housing crisis, species crossing TB, arrogant gourmets and a negative glimpse at future holiday homes policy – but at least at the very end some interesting news about the “London Stone”! Read on....
* * *
This first story is further grist to the mill and confirms the most severe financial crisis in my professional lifetime assailing large rural authorities. It tells us:
England’s largest councils have called for a massive injection of government funds after saying they no longer had sufficient money to run vital frontline services, from children’s centres to rural bus routes.
The Conservative-dominated County Councils Network (CCN), which represents authorities covering nearly half the country’s population, said its members expected to make an extra £900m of cuts next year to balance their budgets.
It said councils would need to make “unpalatable” cuts to respond to the soaring demand for children’s social services and adult social care.
Roads, libraries, Sure Start centres and youth clubs, bus route subsidies, recycling centres, and drug and alcohol services were likely to face deep cuts and closures, while services charges would be increased or introduced, the CCN said.
Cllr Nicholas Rushton, CCN’s finance spokesman and the Conservative leader of Leicestershire county council, said the government needed to intervene with extra funds if county councils were to avoid unpopular cutbacks in 2018-19.
He said: “County authorities are in a serious and extremely challenging financial position. The further planned funding cuts and continued escalation of costs outside of our control will make this bad situation even worse. There is not enough money today to run vital services.”
The growing financial pressure on budgets would increase the risk of councils moving to a “core offer”, meaning services would be stripped to the legal minimum.
Northamptonshire county council, which is technically insolvent, has said it will set out proposals for core-offer cuts at the end of this month to try to fill a £60m hole in its accounts.
Several county councils have reported financial dire straits, including Somerset and Lancashire, while others, such as East Sussex, have warned they face bankruptcy within three years unless they make drastic cuts.
Last winter the government intervened with extra funds for social care to prevent a revolt by backbench Tory MPs incensed by cuts to funding in rural areas.
This story which has a relevance to rural renters shows the interconnected and vulnerable nature of those at the sharp end of the benefit system. It tells us:
More than a million vulnerable people on low incomes are being driven deeper into poverty after being shunted into the private rental sector due to an acute shortage of social accommodation.
A report commissioned by the Nationwide Foundation, an independent charity, says that the shortfall in social housing has been met by a doubling in size of the private rented sector in the past 25 years.
But this has forced more households, many on benefits with dependent children or a disabled family member, to pay significantly more for unsuitable housing.
The shake-up of the benefits system – which has led to sanctions being imposed on people claiming universal credit who fail to attend meetings with job advisers or decline to participate in employment schemes – has had a dramatic effect on the attitudes of private landlords.
“Because of sanctions you’re more likely to fall into arrears and to be asked to leave because you are in arrears,” said the author of the report, Dr Julie Rugg, of the University of York’s centre for housing policy. She has spent 20 years studying the benefits system and its relationship with the housing sector.
“The welfare system change has created vulnerability,” Rugg said. “It didn’t used to be the case 10 years ago but it is now. People know the benefits system is tightening up but they might not realise that if you’re at the bottom end and receiving benefits then your situation can be pretty precarious indeed.”
Rugg’s report found that more than a third (38%) of the private rented sector now comprises low-income households who are classed as vulnerable.
The potential cross species nature of this illness portends a scary rural challenge – which as this story tells us is no respecter of status. It reveals:
Cows belonging to Prince Charles are among thousands of animals affected by bovine tuberculosis (bTB), vets have said.
There has been an outbreak at the royal farm near Windsor Castle, as well as four in Prince Charles' organic herd at the Highgrove estate in Gloucestershire.
The cause of the infections are unknown but vets say it is likely the cows came into contact with other cattle carrying the disease.
The prince's spokesman told the Sunday Times: "The Duchy of Cornwall is acutely aware of the importance of halting the spread of bTB."
Hundreds of pet cats as well as a lion from a zoo in Devon are also likely to be affected by the disease.
The cats are likely to have caught it after hunting infected mice, rats and voles.
"It is currently thought that most cats are infected when bitten by infected small rodents while hunting," said a paper published in the Vet Record.
"Feline bTB is now a significant disease in cats in Great Britain."
Indu the lion, from Paignton zoo, had to be put to sleep after becoming infected, after staff unwittingly fed her the carcass of a cow carrying bTB.
Zoos are at risk from bTB, as they feed their animals uncooked meat from animals which may carry the disease.
Cats who catch the illness cause vet bills of thousands of pounds, and can even infect their owners. Bovine tuberculosis can also affect dogs, with foxhounds who take part in hunts most at risk.
The new cases suggest that a 2013 prediction by Ian Boyd, the chief scientist at Defra, that bTB would "spill over" to pets, new livestock species and potentially humans, could be coming true.
Its often difficult to mix very successful tourism initiatives with settled rural communities as this story reveals.
With dishes such as raw beef with caviar, razor clams with almonds, and wagyu nigiri, a tiny village restaurant in County Durham is attracting foodies from across the British Isles.
The Raby Hunt restaurant has received glowing reviews since being bought by the Close family in 2009. It is north-east England’s first and only two Michelin-star restaurant.
For many, this would be a cause for celebration, but for some villagers in the rural hamlet of Summerhouse, its inclusion on haute cuisine’s food map has bought nothing but misery. And now a turf war has ensued.
Numerous villagers have claimed the plan of the chef-patron, James Close, to combine the inn with the adjoining cottage to provide extra guest bedrooms, a temperature-controlled wine storage room and improved facilities, will aggravate the problems the popular venue is already causing.
They say they are “prisoners” in their own homes because of “arrogant diners” at the restaurant – where prices start at £130-a-head – causing parking issues.
Many of the 140 villagers say they are fed up, claiming that a constant stream of wealthy diners and delivery vans is blocking the bus stop and side roads.
Tensions escalated when the exclusive restaurant announced a plan to expand into an adjoining cottage to provide extra guest bedrooms. Visitors to the restaurant can also book a room for £180 a night.
In one of several objection letters to Darlington council, two residents, Justin and Tiffany Fear, said the lack of car parking spaces had left them “prisoners” in their own homes.
Fear, 40, said residents, including elderly people, were having to park miles away from their homes to make room for diners.
I think this policy might need a bit of rural proofing……
Plans for a new levy on tens of thousands of second homes have been drawn up by Labour in a move designed to ease the housing crisis and generate funds to cut homelessness.
Second properties used as holiday homes would be the target of an annual tax should Labour win the next election, with each property facing an average levy of about £3,000 a year. It is the latest sign that Labour is prepared to back radical policies to show it is preparing for government and willing to target new taxes on wealth. The move could hit as many as 174,000 properties in England and raise up to £560m a year.
Labour has earmarked the money to battle homelessness, particularly the growing number of children living in temporary accommodation. Recent figures show that there are more than 120,000 children homeless in this type of emergency housing – up two-thirds since 2010.
The new levy would be based on a property’s council tax band, and represent a doubling of its council tax bill. The extra money would be sent to the Treasury rather than local government.
It would only be applicable to second homes primarily used as holiday houses, and would not include homes that are rented or used for employment, or static caravans. Areas that would be affected include Cornwall, north Norfolk and parts of the Lake District. However, the policy will provoke claims that it would rely on second homeowners being honest about the use of their property. It could also be complicated to collect the money.
I know this is an urban story, unless of course the stone referred to below was the original home to Excalibur……
Half a century ago, the “London Stone” returned to its rightful place and the Cuban missile crisis was resolved soon afterwards.
In a fortnight’s time it will make a similar journey home. “We are hoping all the modern woes of life might be reversed now the karma is being restored,” said the Museum of London curator Roy Stephenson.
The London Stone is a not particularly attractive lump of sooty limestone. But it has been laden with a plethora of myths and mysteries, including the belief that if it is moved from its home in the City then London will no longer flourish.
Perhaps for that reason, it has always stayed at 111 Cannon Street, apart from in 1960 when it was moved temporarily to the Guildhall Museum while construction work took place. In 2016 it was transferred to the Museum of London for similar reasons.
Stephenson, London’s historic environment lead at the Museum of London, said the 76kg stone had never left the City of London’s boundaries so “hopefully we didn’t upset the chakra or the karma which is associated with it.
“It all might be a load of rubbish but who knows, it is better to be on the safe side. I’m really pleased with where it is going … maybe there will be a solution to Brexit.”
Among the stories which surround the stone are that it was brought to London by Brutus, the legendary founder of Britain, with the saying: “So long as the stone of Brutus is safe, so long shall London flourish.”
Across the centuries it has been claimed to be variously a Roman monument or milestone; or was it the stone from which Arthur pulled out his sword Excalibur?
It has been referenced by writers and artists, including Shakespeare in Henry VI Part 2.
Sign up to our newsletter to receive all the latest news and updates.