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June 2000

[Week 26 · June 26th - July 2nd - 2000]

RURAL POST OFFICE LIFELINE?

Among a list of measures to modernise the Post Office, Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers announced plans this week that would lead to the creation of a 'universal bank' in Post Offices, and news of a subsidy to help the rural network.

According to a report 15% of the UK's adult population does not have a 'current account'. In itself, this can disadvantage anyone seeking employment with employers who will only pay salaries into a bank account directly. And, potentially, it denies low income families the cost-savings often gained by paying bills directly through direct debit.

While the above drawbacks relate to people living in both towns and the countryside, support for rural POs and sub-POs is to be welcomed, not least because of the traditional high street banking facilities which being withdrawn from rural communities. That said, the new initiative is supposed to be in 'partnership' with major banks, which begs the question how far this rural support will be achieved. Several major banks have shown what they think of doing business in rural locations recently.

In small rural communties sub-POs are often the centre of communication within a community; not only serving the immediate village or town but also the outlying community. In the same way that there is a 'universal' cost for delivering a mail item across the UK there should be universal financial support for the rural Post Office network which is part of the fabric of rural life. This network ultimately benefits those travelling through and visiting Britain's countryside, as well as those living in rural communities.


[Week 25 · June 19th - 25th - 2000]

COUNTRY HERO

The incident this last week of the bungled robbery at Wolverley Post Office and village store, in Worcestershire, again highlights the problems of rural crime and the thinness of policing levels in our country communities.

It was left to Richard Watkins, the upstanding and friendly 50 year old gentle giant who runs the Wolverley Post Office, to defend himself - and the business which had been in the family for 50 years - after being hit across the head and threatened with a sawn-off shotgun.

That, in itself, must have been a terrifying experience, yet Mr Watkins found the courage within him (some might say it was foolhardy), to tackle the balaclava- helmeted raider demanding cash at gunpoint. When the shotgun fell to the floor in the ensuing struggle Watkins apparently picked it up and turned it on the raider. When a pull on the trigger failed to elicit any result Watkins stabbed the felon with a knife he used to cut the binding of the morning's newspapers.

The stabbing unfortunately resulted in the death of the robber, although had his fellow accomplices driven him to a nearby hospital in Kidderminster, he may have survived the stabbing.

Other items...A report by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution has - among 87 recommendations - suggested that the government look at renewable energy sources, including energy crops, solar energy and wind power, as a replacement to fossil fuels; adding that a primary use for agricultural land should be growing energy crops.

English Nature has declared a dales hill farm with especially valuable hay meadows as a National Nature Reserve.

  [Week 23 · June 5th - 11th - 2000]

Mr. FLANNEL GETS HANDBAGGED

This was the week that ten thousand mild-mannered ladies gathered at London's Wembley Arena for the triennial meeting of the Women's Institute, only to find that their guest speaker had decided to use the occasion to parade yet more government 'spin'. [It's unclear from reports whether the PM was 'invited' by the WI or the PM's own team 'invited him', but the outcome was not in doubt - the ladies didn't appreciate the flannel and hot air wafting down from the podium.]

Given that a large proportion of the WI is drawn from rural constituencies, and that the conference delegates no doubt wanted to hear what the Government intends to do to help rural communities (the WI has just begun a petition to save 8,000 rural post offices, and has British food and farming campaigns running), the violation of the non-political platform which the WI conference offers did not go down well. In fact, Prime Minister Blair got a good handbagging from some of the delegates who heckled and slow hand-clapped his speech which was apparently cut short. And this from a Government which claims to be 'in touch' with the nation.

Other items...
The details of several interesting reports and studies have come to light this week... A survey by University College, Northampton [of 1200 nine to sixteen year olds living in the countryside], has found that the lack of public transport, and services generally, makes this survey group feel isolated, unhappy and alienated.

In a poll of 520 parents by The Meat and Livestock Commission [for The National Diet and Nutrition Survey of Young People], it was revealed that 75% of the parents thought that prime cuts of meat should be included in school menus. Interestingly, almost 90% of those surveyed said they would be prepared to pay more for school meals if this happened.

... And research carried out by the department of agriculture and science at the University of Newcastle suggests that traffic pollution is having a significant economic impact on British crop production; to an extent of reducing yields of winter oilseed rape and wheat by over 10%.


[Week 22 · May 29th - June 4th - 2000]

RETURN OF THE COUNTRY BOBBY?

Following the outcry after the imprisonment of the Norfolk farmer, Tony Martin, for shooting dead a burgler in his remote farmhouse, there is news that the government is about to allocate funds for a new part-time countryside police force; based in every parish in England and Wales, and expected to reassure the public by walking their beat, and hopefully deter criminals responsible for the rise in rural crime.

The new uniformed force is expected to be based upon a 'retainer' system like that of lifeboatmen and firemen (who may have other jobs), and be bolstered by a large number of retired police officers and special constables. The new force will also conduct rural crime 'surgeries' - one supposes to get close to their 'clients' woes.

Although a greater presence of the 'Law' in the countryside is to be welcomed - not least to restore the lagging manpower of many rural police stations and forces - worries have been expressed about the potential of the new 'specials' to create more work for the regular full-time police; the argument being that the 'specials' will not be as well trained as seasoned professionals. Still, this is a move in the right direction, but more full-time rural police is the real solution.

Other countryside news snippets...
The Countryside Agency is pushing for the 1997 Hedgerow Regulations to be tightened up to reduce the loss of our hedgerows. The CA also launched the results of a survey on leisure visits to Britain's countryside. Apparently in 1998 there were 1.2 billion day visits to our countryside with visitors spending some 8.4bn during that same year.

Elsewhere, The Royal Agricultural Society of England has produced a report - Routes to Prosperity - which concludes that the farming community must adapt if a decent living is to be had. There either need to be fewer farmers, or those which remain need to diversify into industrial crops, tourism, or manage their land for environmental activities.

Finally... Last week we mentioned that an internet site would be available next year for Britain's farmers to buy low-cost agrochemicals and inputs. Well this week it has been announced that another company will have a live grain trading website available to UK farmers within a couple of weeks. The company, Glencore Grain, will launch the service at Cereals 2000 [June 14th and 15th at Nocton, Lincolnshire].


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