Hinterland - Friday, 23 March, 2018

Stop press – at the completion of Hinterland this week, the following story was reported on the BBC: 'Radical change' needed on countryside.

    It tells us:

The Lords Select Committee document says there should be radical change in how the countryside is looked after. It recommends stripping the environment department Defra of its power to regulate on rural affairs, and reforming the Countryside Code.  The Lords said Defra had focused too much on farming and agriculture, rather than other aspects of rural life. The report describes a "consistent failure, over a number of years, to prioritise the 'rural affairs' element" of the remit of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). All this, it says, has had a "profound negative impact ... to the cost of us all".

The Select Committee on the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006 recommends that responsibility for rural affairs should transfer to the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government. According to the report, the body responsible for conserving the natural environment and promoting public access to the land, Natural England (NE), has been "hollowed out" and is now largely ineffective. The report's chairman, Lord Cameron of Dillington, said: "The last major research was done by the Commission for Social Mobility last year, and it said some of the worst spots for deprivation and intergenerational poverty exists in rural England. "That it's as bad as if not worse than our inner cities. We feel they have been neglected by government, that Defra is not doing a good job and that changes need to be made."

You will all have your own views about this – I would like to reiterate a quote from my article on a rural sovereign wealth fund written last year:

“I think rural policy in England has focused far too much on agriculture and conservation. a rural sovereign wealth fund could put rural communities back at the heart of things.”

Elsewhere in Hinterland, we have three coastal stories this week. Two are from fishing communities at the eye of the latest Brexit storm and one is about the impact of storms on some rural homes in Norfolk.

We also have tales of adult social care capping, returning macro-economic stability and Peter Rabbit. 

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Tory Brexiters urge PM to reject transition deal over fishing policy

We’ve just finished a piece of research about the nature of fishing communities. There are around 12,000 people still involved in this sector. They contribute over £1 billion to the UK economy. That’s why this article and the one that follows it are featured in Hinterland this week, largely on the basis of the contribution of fishing to rural communities. This article which is a bit bereft of analysis tells us:

Tory Brexiters have demanded that Theresa May reject the transition deal agreed between David Davis, the Brexit secretary, and his EU opposite number, Michel Barnier, in Brussels on Monday.

The 13 Conservative MPs and Sammy Wilson of the DUP – whose 10 MPs give May her working majority in the Commons – have signed a letter condemning the failure of the draft withdrawal agreement to end the common fisheries policy as soon as the UK formally leaves the EU on March 30 2019.

Instead, British fisheries will remain in the CFP – one of the most bitterly resented aspects of EU membership – until the end of the transition period in December 2020. In the final year of the transition agreement the UK will have no say in the policy, although the EU has said quotas will not change and there will be “consultations”.

The letter says: “The effect of ending discards during this period without compensating measures will be a further disaster for the UK’s already shattered fishing fleet, particularly for the inshore fleet, further eroding prosperity in vulnerable coastal communities. These demands are completely unacceptable and would be rejected by the House of Commons.”

The MPs are taking part in a protest on the Thamesoutside the Palace of Westminster on Wednesday morning. They have been joined by the former Ukip leader Nigel Farage and are throwing fish back into the river to underline their objection to the EU-imposed practice of discarding fish that do not meet quota rules.

This is the first open revolt by the Brexiters since the letter from the European Research Group signed by 62 Conservative MPs setting out their red lines a month ago. Earlier this month, Michael Gove, the environment secretary, went to Scotland to make a common declaration with the Tory leader Ruth Davidson calling for a “fast exit” from the fisheries policy.

Rees-Mogg’s hard Brexit won’t do anything for fishing communities

Ive met the author of this article. He understands fishing and fishing policy and his analysis which is well worth reading below throws an interesting spotlight onto the real rationale underpinning the Brexiteers featured in the article above.

Fishing quotas, by limiting the amount of catch, have worked as intended and have brought many fish populations in EU waters back to sustainable levels. The recent certification of North Sea cod as sustainable was a particularly hard-fought journey from a near collapse of the stocks. The value of fish landings is now increasing year-on-year, and profits in the fishing industry are at the highest level recorded.

And yet it is difficult to find signs of these positive trends in many fishing communities. This is partly due to changes in technology and labour markets, resulting in fewer fishing vessels each year (as in other EU and non-EU countries). But it’s also related to how the UK distributes its quota, and not just its total size. The decision on how quota should be distributed (big vessel or small, trawler or handline) has always been up to the UK government. The reality is that most Brexiteers have never engaged with the nuts and bolts of this issue, and we’re looking at two more years without real engagement.

Never mind the pollocks, here’s Michael Gove

All this has of course been lost in the political theatre around fisheries. The totemic nature of fisheries in the UK consciousness has made the industry ripe for photo-ops, but not for serious reform. This is extremely frustrating for struggling fishing communities, but it’s also very dangerous. Just weeks ago, Rees-Mogg was making the case for tariff-free imports of food products, post-Brexit, without a hint of concern that cheap imports would undercut British fishermen.

An industry that has been overlooked and politicians trying to make a name for themselves can make for interesting bedfellows, but not particularly good ones. Fishing communities deserve better.

Jeremy Hunt confirms individual costs for social care to be capped

Too little too late? Northamptonshire may well be the “canary” in the deep mine of local government finance. This article tells us:

Any new system of funding social care will be capped, Jeremy Hunt has confirmed, in his first policy speech since he took responsibility for social care reform in January. He also pledged to find new ways to support councils struggling to meet the demands of a rapidly ageing population in the green paper on social care due this summer.

Addressing a conference of social workers, the health and social care secretary said: “The way that our current charging system operates is far from fair. This is particularly true for families faced with the randomness and unpredictability of care, and the punitive consequences that come from developing certain conditions over others.

“If you develop dementia and require long-term residential care you are likely to have to use a significant chunk of your savings and the equity in your home to pay for that care. But if you require long-term treatment for cancer you won’t find anything like the same cost.”

Asked directly if that meant there would be a cap on what any individual had to pay, he replied: “Yes.”

At the last election the Tory manifesto provoked fury after it proposed making people meet all the costs of care until they had assets of less than £100,000. After a weekend of angry criticism, particularly from Tory candidates, Theresa May announced there would be a cap on the amount anyone would have to pay from their personal assets.

Hunt and the Treasury are under pressure from councils struggling to raise the money to meet the bill for social care. Many poorer areas cannot raise enough from council tax even at the higher levels now permitted.

Hemsby cliff-top homes to be ‘demolished’

This is a tragic tale – we’ve experienced the impact of this phenomenon on the East Yorkshire Coast. Lets hope those concerned are effectively supported going forward. The article tells us:

Houses left teetering on the edge of a cliff when sand dunes below were washed away during storms will be demolished before Easter, a council says.

Residents were forced to leave the 13 bungalows on The Marrams in Hemsby, Norfolk, after they became unsafe.

The wooden chalets started to collapse on to the beach on Tuesday and it is feared they will fall down completely.

Great Yarmouth Borough Council’s leader said now the bad weather had subsided they could be dismantled.

On Tuesday, it was confirmed 15 people had been left homeless when the properties collapsed.

Graham Plant said the properties would be removed by the council so they do not become a hazard at the popular tourist beach.

Household squeeze shows signs of easing as wages rise

Some good news here but don’t forget it costs the average family around 10% more to live in rural England. This article tells us:

Wages grew by 2.6% in the three months to January while the unemployment rate fell, according to new data.

The Office for National Statistics said that earnings growth was slightly higher than the 2.5% rate in the previous period.

It adds to evidence that the squeeze on household income may be coming to an end after inflation fell to 2.7% in February.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate ticked lower to 4.3% from 4.4%.

A small increase in the number of unemployed people during the quarter did not dent the overall rise in employment over the last year.

The data was not all positive – the number of unemployment benefit claimants rose by 9,200 to 838,000 in February, that’s the highest level in more than three years.

But John Hawksworth, chief economist at PwC, said the good news in the latest figures outweighed the bad.

Peter Rabbit kicks Black Panther off the top of the UK box office

Rural icon Beatrix Potter will be smiling down on this neo-rabbit sequel to her invention of Peter Rabbit this story tells us:

While Black Panther extends its run at the top of the US box office into a rare fifth week, in the UK the Marvel superhero hit succumbs to a well-aimed kick from the family-friendly Peter Rabbit. Very loosely adapted from Beatrix Potter’s children’s tale, this blend of humans (Domhnall Gleeson and Rose Byrne) and digital animals stuns with a £7.27m opening – the second biggest debut of 2018, after Black Panther.

This is below the opening of franchise titles Paddington 2 (£8.26m) and Despicable Me 3 (£11.2m), but ahead of Pixar’s Coco (£3.36m, or £5.21m including previews) and The Boss Baby (£2.80m, or £8.03m including extensive previews). With most schools beginning the Easter break at the end of next week, Peter Rabbit looks set for a nice stretch of rich play.


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