Hinterland - 26 May 2020

Mixed prospects for rural businesses reported in Hinterland this week. If they need help the new national centre for rural economy and its approaching £4 million of grant funding might be the place to drop in. Warnings about post lockdown and rural roads, Luton is the latest local authority to be declared “on the brink” and the Archers are back. Read on…

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Vast majority of rural businesses confident they can reopen safely, survey finds

This is a Scottish story but I suspect we would find the same resilience in English rural businesses. It tells us:

The survey by Scottish Land and Estates (SLE) of 250 firms found 56% are confident they can reopen all of their business safely, while 36% are confident part of their business can restart while adhering to social distancing measures.

The businesses questioned ranged from the tourism to farming sectors, with little variation in confidence.

However, those involved in the food and drink industry and hospitality were slightly less confident about being able to safely open.

Sarah-Jane Laing, chief executive of SLE, said: “This survey confirms that rural businesses are ready to help restart Scotland’s rural economy safely. “Over 90% of rural businesses who responded to our survey are confident they can maintain social distancing measures if they reopen all or part of their business.

New National Centre to Help Unlock Potential of UKs Rural Economies

This is a real coup and very welcome. I think there will be lots of content with focuses on rural and economy sharpened by the current coronavirus challenges, to get stuck into. The article tells us:

Newcastle University and its partners are to lead a new National Centre that will support enterprise, resilience and innovation among rural firms and unlock the untapped potential of rural economies across the UK.

Led by experts from Newcastle, Warwick, Gloucestershire and the Royal Agricultural Universities, and working with businesses, policy makers, enterprise agencies and communities, the centre has been awarded £3.8 million of funding by Research England.

In England alone, rural businesses comprise over half a million enterprises, 3.6 million employees and contribute over £260 billion to GDP.

Through the National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise (NICRE), the aim is to help build the capabilities of policy makers, support agencies, rural businesses and their advisers to create resilient and sustainable economies fit for the 21stcentury.

Centre director Jeremy Phillipson, professor of rural development at Newcastle University (pictured), said: “A thriving rural economy is crucial to the future prosperity, well-being and resilience of communities across the UK.

“The need to encourage and release the dynamism and untapped potential of rural areas is even greater now with the combined uncertainty of Brexit and impacts of COVID-19 and what the implications will be, not just for rural areas, but for the UK economy as a whole.”


NFU says to take extra care to avoid accidents on rural roads as lockdown eases

In a first for Hinterland in over a decade of surfing the rural news we bring you a story from the Falmouth Packet! It features an unintended consequence of lockdown, a potential lethal combination of unfamiliar drivers and rural roads. It tells us

Drivers in the countryside are being reminded to take extra care to avoid accidents as lockdown eases.

With sharp bends, poor surfaces and limited visibility already making rural roads more dangerous than urban roads or motorways, rural insurer NFU Mutual is concerned that the easing of lockdown rules could result in a spate of accidents more people drive in the English countryside.

The hazards of driving in the countryside are shown by government statistics, with 58 per cent of road fatalities in 2018 taking place on rural roads.

To help all rural road users stay safe, the insurer has put together a rural road safety checklist.

It urges motorists to adapt their driving style to take account of rural road hazards and to be aware of slow-moving farm vehicles and vulnerable road users such as horse riders, walkers and the growing number of cyclists on rural roads.


Luton council draws up emergency cuts to avoid bankruptcy

Poor Luton, however I fear the local government landscape is about to change radically over the next 5 years. Without major action the coronavirus will push many authorities over the edge and then what? National Government can borrow its way out of trouble, the NHS can overspend without the sanction of closure, why is local government treated so comparatively harshly when it underpins many of the services which are equally important to people’s qualtity of life? This article tells us:

Luton borough council is drawing up drastic cuts to services to avoid bankruptcy after after a coronavirus-related collapse in passenger numbers at Luton airport blew an estimated £49m hole in its budget.

The council described the impact of the projected drop in revenue from the airport as a “nightmare scenario”. As the owner of the airport, it was receiving a £20m annual dividend, which has helped it maintain local services despite £130m of funding cuts since 2010.

It has been forced to plan a July emergency budget that will cut £22m, or 16% of its annual spending. “The airport has held back the tide of austerity in Luton, but coronavirus has broken those defences,” said Andy Malcolm, the council’s cabinet member for finance. “We are now going to feel the full force of austerity in council services.”

Local authority leaders called for a long-term stability plan for councils after figures suggested that continuing income losses from coronavirus-related shortfalls in council tax, business rates and commercial investments would run into several billions over the next few months.

Estimates based on the latest monthly government survey of councils’ financial projections suggest that local authorities remain on course for a £9bn-£10bn net shortfall this year, as the extra costs of meeting Covid-19 pressures in areas such as social care and homelessness continue to mount.

But there is growing concern that even if cost pressures start to reduce as the lockdown eases, many councils will face long-term structural deficits as record job losses and a faltering economy reduce income from local taxes, rates and business investments.


UK firms to be asked to pay part of furloughed staff's wages from August

I can see this will be a big issue in some rural areas, which are highly dependent on tourism. I suspect many businesses are likely to throw the towel in rather than re-start in very unpromising trading circumstances as the furlough payments begin to dwindle. This is notwithstanding my trailing of the positive story about the resilience of rural businesses in Scotland. Let’s hope I’m wrong. This article tells us:

Businesses will have to pay at least a fifth of the wages of furloughed employees from August, it has been reported.

The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is expected to announce next week that employers will have to begin contributing as the lockdown is eased further, according to the Times.

Employers will be permitted to take furloughed workers back part-time, and all employers using the coronavirus job retention scheme will be required to make the payments, even if they remain closed, according to the paper.

The Treasury said it was “not steering away” from the story, which is understood to have been briefed by officials, and it did not deny its accuracy.

A Treasury source told the Times: “We’ve got two full months of support left and afterwards the government will help to pay people’s wages, but it’s fair to everyone that businesses contribute as they get back to work.”


And Finally

The Archers returns to Radio 4 with Ambridge under lockdown

Personally I’ve enjoyed the absence of the Archers, however this story suggests we are facing a second peak….

For actor Annabelle Dowler, recording the Archers under lockdown involved making a den in her daughter’s wardrobe by covering it with duvets and an old mattress and hoping her two children didn’t decide they too wanted to be part of the fun.

Dowler, who plays Kirsty Miller, also put a sign on the door warning that mummy was recording the Archers: “Stay away + be silent otherwise you will get into trouble with the BBC and we will have no iPlayer for the rest of the lockdown!!!”

It worked. Dowler is among the characters who will be returning to Radio 4 from Monday in a very different version of the world’s longest-running soap opera.

After a three-week break in which classic episodes have replaced new ones, the Archers will return with Ambridge also under lockdown. It will not be dominated by coronavirus, though. Episodes in the first week include stories about Tracy and Harrison’s rivalry to be captain of the village cricket team and a minor emergency when the forage harvester driven by Josh Archer breaks down.


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


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