Hinterland - Friday, 19 January, 2018

This week in Hinterland: a structured approach to tackling loneliness, the shameful decline of life expectancy in some rural places, Carillion and procurement (my view), fox hunting and reconciliation, modern slavery and finally the Bayeux Tapestry!

Plus, it is official: do come to our seminar on rural health themes at Stafford on 12 February. It is a free event and bookable by emailing events@sparse.gov.uk.

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May appoints minister to tackle loneliness issues raised by Jo Cox

We all know that loneliness is a particular challenge for old people in rural settings and I was therefore very pleased indeed to read this story. It tells us:

Theresa May has appointed one of her ministers to lead on issues connected to loneliness, implementing one of the main recommendations of a report into the subject by the Jo Cox Commission.

Tracey Crouch, the minister for sport and civil society, will head a government-wide group with responsibility for policies connected to loneliness, Downing Street said.

In parallel, the government said it would develop a wider strategy on the issue, gather more evidence and statistics, and provide funding for community groups to start activities which connect people.

The move follows a cross-party report by the commission set up in honour of Cox, the Labour MP murdered by a rightwing extremist in 2016, who had campaigned about loneliness.

May is expected to formally announce the appointment on Wednesday, and to say that she has accepted many of the recommendations from the commission. She will also host a Downing Street reception in honour of Cox’s work.

Citing research saying that 9 million people often or always feel lonely, the prime minister said: “For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life.

“I want to confront this challenge for our society and for all of us to take action to address the loneliness endured by the elderly, by carers, by those who have lost loved ones – people who have no one to talk to or share their thoughts and experiences with.”

Life expectancy plummets in parts of UK, data reveals

This is a shameful story and cause for deep concern that some of the places with falling life expectancy are rural and deep rural at that. The article tells us:

Life expectancy in some parts of the UK has plummeted, according to official figures.

By 2041, women will live to 86.2 years and men 83.4 years, projections by the Office for National Statistics showed – a decrease of almost a whole year compared to previous figures released in 2015.

An analysis of the data, conducted by Public Health England, found alarming disparities in longevity by local authority.

Residents in former mining towns and isolated rural areas saw the biggest fall, while London and the southeast continued to see a rise in longevity, The Times reported.

In Torridge, Devon, male life expectancy dipped to 79.2 years – a decline of more than a year. Hartlepool saw a similar decline of more than 12 months to 76.4. In Amber Valley, Derbyshire, female life expectancy dropped by more than a year to 82.4 compared to 2015’s figures.

Carillion collapse: Why we shouldn’t blame it on the banks

Any number of people will have views about who is to blame for the collapse of Carillion. This article highlights some targets. I truly hope this episode gives very deep pause for thought for those in local government who celebrate procurement for its own sake and often have very little knowledge of the things they are buying and the professional context associated with them. When procurement becomes an end rather than a means we run the risk of this happening. This story tells us:

The banks shouldn’t escape criticism over Carillion. They backed a deeply flawed model, and lent too generously to it.

But, if we’re assigning blame for what went wrong they’re way down the list and they will pay a price for their mistakes by incurring substantial losses.

At the front of the queue should be Carillon’s executives, for allowing the business to get into such a dire state in the first place. By the way, several of them are in receipt of generous payoffs while workers, many of whom will today be losing their jobs, have to make do with small cheques from the Insolvency Services to tide them over while their unemployment claims are processed.

Then there are the ministers and civil servants who handed a vast array of vital services to Carillion, including after its problems emerged.

Want more? How about the accountancy firms who advised on the scandalous private finance initiative (PFI) contracts Carillon was such a big player in.

Britons urged to help tackle modern slavery by reporting concerns

Modern slavery lends itself to a number of professions including agriculture and food processing and this article gives much food for thought. It tells us:

Local authorities are calling on members of the public to be alert to signs of modern-day slavery, as research suggests worrying gaps in reporting across Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Lancashire.

The number of people referred to the government’s national referral mechanism (NRM), which identifies and supports victims, increased dramatically last summer. Between July and September 2017, 1,322 potential victims were referred, up 47% compared with the same period in 2016.

But the National Crime Agency estimated that the number of victims was far greater, with tens of thousands of people living in conditions of slavery in the UK. Simon Blackburn, a councillor and chair of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) safer and stronger communities board, warned that residents may be “unwittingly using victims of modern slavery to wash their cars, paint their nails or lay their drives”.

According to research released on Wednesday, under-reporting is a major concern in areas such as Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Lancashire, Dyfed-Powys and Norfolk. The study predicts areas are likely to have higher rates of modern slavery if they have an above average number of people who are foreign born or who do not have qualifications.

The research, by global risk analysts Verisk Maplecroft, used demographic data to predict the rates of slavery across 42 UK police force areas, and compared this with UK National Crime Agency victim data from 2015-16 and 2016-17.

Hunt saboteurs join forces with huntsmen as they come together to rescue horse stuck in a bog

This is a heart warming story that shows our ability to cooperate across deep philosophical divides in the face of adversity. Hunting (whilst not my cup of tea personally) is very important to a number of rural economies, it also raises deep seated revulsion in some groups and networks. Perhaps incidents like this underpin the scope for both sides to understand each other’s point of view better. This article tells us:

Hunt saboteurs joined forces with huntsmen as they came together to rescue a horse which had become trapped in a deep bog.

Members of Surrey Hunt Monitors and Guildford Hunt Saboteurs were following a group of hunters from the Surrey Hunt Union near Hankley Common on Saturday.

They planned to track the hunt and document their activities, and intervene if any animals got hurt.

But after just 30 minutes one of the lead huntsman’s horses got stuck in a deep bog – and the saboteurs stepped in to help their adversaries rescue the distressed animal.

A member of Guildford Hunt Saboteurs, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: “When I arrived, they [the hunt] had started to take the saddle off the horse to reduce weight.

“I waited until they had done that to ask if they needed help but they said ‘no’ so I observed at the side and carried on taking footage.”

He said more saboteurs arrived on the scene and the hunters continued to refuse assistance, but eventually relented and let them help.

“I jumped in after about five minutes and said to them ‘look, the only thing that’s important at this point in time is the horse, I don’t care about anything else’.

Emmanuel Macron: a modern master of the diplomatic gesture

There’s a certain charismatic brio about Macron as this masterful loan of needle work demonstrates….

Ever since the Norman era, the fine art of the meaningful gift has been at the heart of statecraft. 

Historically, they have ranged from a menagerie of exotic animals to fabulous jewels, but Emmanuel Macron – by first offering the Chinese a horse called Vesuvius, and now offering the British the loan of the Bayeux tapestry – has revealed himself this month as the modern master of the diplomatic gesture.

Most contemporary diplomatic gifts reveal more vulgarity than thought. Saudi Arabia’s King Salman gave the former US president Barack Obama a silver-toned letter opener and pen priced at $56,729 (£41,000), while the president of Argentina brought the first family a black electric bicycle worth $1,499 and two signed Lionel Messi shirts worth $1,700. 

Other modern diplomatic gifts have come cheaper; in 2009, the then US secretary of state, Hilary Clinton, presented the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, with a large red “reset button” to represent a reboot in relations – except that the Russian word emblazoned on the button did not translate as “reset” but “overcharge”. 

Others are just best forgotten: Gordon Brown went home with a DVD box set hastily bought from the local store by Obama’s novice aides.


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