Hinterland - 30 December 2019

Happy New Year to you all. I think 2019 will be considered as a seminal bridge into the next decade. My stories this week reflect some enduring themes from the last decade – the changing role of towns, mental health challenges, councils asserting their local democratic mandate, the additional costs of maintaining our rural environment. And Finally…. the fact that notwithstanding all our challenges rural England is a much loved and cherished place. Now there’s an optimistic note to end the last 10 years on!!!

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UK high streets shed 140k jobs this year with more to come – study

Market towns are the beating heart of rural England. That is why this is such a disappointing story. We’ve had lots of celebrity and one off responses to the issue of retail decline but no major substantive thinking about it. Some of this stems from the fact that in economic development terms we don’t value retail as something worth funding. I blame Napoleon’s quip that Britain was a nation of “shopkeepers” a criticism we never seem to have got over. Until we do something serious to address this challenge I fear our problems will continue.

The Towns Fund has introduced the prospect of a huge and welcome allocation of new funding for towns but the three core programmes at its heart, urban regeneration, skills and connectivity have very little direct link to retail and will require some innovative thinking if they are to support it.

My gut reaction is that I fear in 2021 we will be having the same discussion about the slow death of town based retail as we are today on the cusp of 2020! This story tells us:

UK high streets have shed more than 140,000 jobs this year as store closures and retail failures made 2019 one of the most challenging years in a generation.

More than 2,750 jobs were lost every week, according to a detailed analysis by the Centre for Retail Research (CRR) published today. It predicts the picture will worsen in 2020, unless the government intervenes, with high business rates one of the factors blamed for accelerating chain store closures.

Prof Joshua Bamfield, the CRR’s director, said retail was in crisis owing to high costs, low levels of profitability and sales moving online.

“These problems are felt by most businesses operating from physical stores in high streets or shopping malls,” Bamfield said. “The low growth in consumer spending since 2015 has meant that the growth in online sales has come at the expense of the high street.”


Charity assisting retail workers sees 30% rise in requests for help

This story features the human consequences of retail and high street decline, made all the more challenging in rural areas where the stock of alternative jobs outside of market towns offers little to those losing their employment. It tells us:

A hardship charity once chaired by Charles Dickens has received a 30% increase in requests for help from struggling shop workers as the high street crisis bites.

The Fashion and Textile Children’s Trust steps in to assist children whose parents work in the fashion industry but are struggling to make ends meet. The surge in requests for its grants in 2019, included a “significant” increase in inquiries from people who were being made redundant from stores.

Anna Pangbourne, the director of the charity, said: “With retailers collapsing, many people have been made redundant, which is very raw for the families involved, particularly at this time of year.”

The charity offers grants to parents who cannot afford essentials for their children. In most cases, families need the cash to buy winter clothing and shoes or to replace broken appliances. It also extends grants to families coping with hardship after a redundancy.


'Wanton' cycling and swearing among acts banned by councils

This is the third story in our last 2019 Hinterland about towns and I have to say I think the use of this act should be largely applauded not seen in skewed terms, which is where this article seems to be going, as something which infringes the liberties of the perpetrators of low level anti-social behavior. I’ve been working on an evaluation of an MHCLG funded integration programme in Boston and it is clear that the enforcement actions of the Council have been a key factor in addressing social division. This article tells us:

The orders are drafted and approved by councils and are allowed under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, which was introduced as part of efforts by the Conservative-led coalition government to devolve powers to local authorities and create a “big society”.

Civil liberties campaigners have warned they are part of a creeping “preventive state”, which can stifle freedom of expression and rights to congregate. Swearing is banned by a dozen councils and gathering in groups is banned in some areas controlled by nine councils.

“The idea that the council or police can fine you for swearing is crazy,” said Josie Appleton, the director of the Manifesto Club, which campaigns against PSPOs. “We’re not at school. It is our language.”

Lara ten Caten, a lawyer at the civil liberties campaign group Liberty, said: “PSPOs are blunt powers that councils are deploying with impunity, without regard to the wellbeing or rights of their residents.

“If you become homeless, your local council should be trying to offer support and help, not victimise you. Councils need to stop using their powers to sweep problems under the carpet, and PSPOs should be scrapped.”

Officials argue the orders reduce strain on public services by prohibiting behaviour such as public drunkenness, improve social harmony by reducing complaints about antisocial behaviour from residents, and tackle nuisances including dog mess.


Farmers to be given £3bn funding to safeguard against Brexit

All very welcome but why do politicians have to criticise and attack what went before as a means of legitimising their future actions??

The chancellor Sajid Javid has said farmers can enter the new year with confidence they will be able to “thrive” after Brexit as he confirmed just under £3bn of funding for 2020.

The money – to be spread over two years – will be used to support farmers when the UK leaves the European Union and the Common Agricultural Policy direct payments scheme next year.

The cash will allow funding for direct payments for 2020 to continue at the same level as this year, and supplement the remaining EU funding that farmers will receive for development projects until 2023.

Mr Javid said: “When we leave the EU and are freed from the Common Agricultural Policy, we will be able to support our vital rural communities – who are a cornerstone of life in the UK – with a fairer and less bureaucratic system.


Action over roadside rubbish thrown out of car windows

With the cost of clearing roadside litter up being effectively a tax on rural authorities I think similar legislation to this in England could make a very big difference. This story tells us:

A law could be strengthened to punish people who throw litter out of a vehicle window in Wales.

It would mean that the registered owner of a vehicle could be fined, regardless of whether they threw it or were even in the car at the time.

Councils are responsible for cleaning most roads and the Welsh Government wants to give them additional powers to fine the owner of the offending vehicle.

It is a criminal offence to throw litter out of a vehicle and people can be prosecuted and fined up to £2,500 if caught.

Most councils issue fixed penalty notices if they believe someone has littered, asking the DVLA for motorists' details.

But they have problems if the owner does not pay or tell the authority who threw the litter.


And Finally

England's Big Picture: Best of 2019

Its no surprise to me in terms of the affection rural England is held in that these photos in the majority of cases reflect rural themes! Read and look on and have a great new year as we move into 2020!!!!

Each day we feature an interesting photograph shared with us from across England.

This week we are featuring a special Best of 2019 gallery, showing our most popular images from across the year, based on social media engagement.


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


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