Thursday, 19 May 2022

Level up travelers, too, say Lords

THE Government has been urged to include the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in its levelling up programme. The plea came from a House of Lords select committee after they heard “shocking” evidence in a series of hearings earlier this year about the health and life prospects of the minority groups. “The most shocking evidence that we heard was that life expectancy for Gypsy and Traveller people is reported to be 10 to 25 years less than the general population. “The significant disparity in outcomes creates an urgency for the Government to put communities as the centre of the levelling up agenda,” wrote Baroness Armstrong, chair of the House of Lords Public Services Committee. This week (May 17) Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top sent letters calling for action to Professor Sir Chris Witty, Chief Medical Officer for England, his deputy Dr Jeanelle de Gruchy, who co-leads the office of health improvement and disparities, and separately to Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. Baroness Armstrong was formerly known as Hilary Jane Armstrong, a British Labour Party politician who was the Member of Parliament for North-West Durham from 1987 to 2010. Baroness Armstrong said very little had been done by the Government to address inequalities exposed in the Race Disparity Audit in 2017 and the Women and Equalities Committee in 2019. “A lack of suitable accommodation is the major issue facing GRT communities. Around 10,000 Gypsies and Travellers currently live roadside in England because of a shortage of stopping sites, many of whom struggle to access basic amenities. “Their lack of access is at the root of the health inequalities that affect these communities,” wrote Baroness Armstrong. “We note that Mission Seven of the Government’s Levelling Up the United Kingdom white paper aims to narrow the gap in healthy life expectancy by 2030. “However, there is no mention of GRT communities in the White Paper…We are concerned that the GRT communities will be side-lined and that their unacceptable health disparities, already exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, will continue.” The Committee heard from witnesses how GRT communities had difficulty in accessing health services, especially registering with GPs. They also heard from Dr Dan Allen, deputy Head of Department, Faculty of Health, Psychology and Social Care at Manchester Metropolitan University, that: “We have seen a gradual decline in Traveller education services and specialist health services.” He said: “If we can reinvest and re-enable early help preventive services, we will reduce the number of referrals to social services and bring parity.” In the letter to Mr Gove, Baroness Armstrong made a ten-point challenge to the Government demanding specific action by the Government to address the inequalities, to provide more data, to provide more sites, and to work with local government to improve services to GRT communities. In a summary of evidence, the committee said: “Our witnesses told us that a lack of suitable sites was the major issue facing Gypsies and Travellers. “They argued that the provision of better sites would enable better access to public servies such as health and education. “The 2015 planning policy for traveller sites established that local planning authorities are responsible for providing appropriate sites for Gypsies and Travellers, but in 2020 only 8 out of 68 local authorities had identified a five-yar supply of specific deliverable areas.” Gypsy representative Billy Welch, said more sites were not happening and recommended that “It should be made compulsory for local authorities to provide pitches for roughly the number of Gypsies and Travellers in their area, like it is to build houses.” The committee was also concerned that the new Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill would introduce penalties for people who reside, or intent to reside, on an unauthorised encampment. The Joint Committee on Human Rights stated “a chronic lack of authorised sites means that many in GRT communities feel that they have no choice but to live on unauthorised encampments. It concluded that to “criminalise unauthorised encampments without providing authorised sites would be contrary to the Government’s obligation under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, to facilitate the gypsy way of life.”

Saturday, 7 May 2022

Tories take pasting in rural Cumbria

TYPICALLY, the National media coverage of the local elections was obsessed with Labour gains in traditional Tory seats in London. Elsewhere the narrative was about Labour not making as many inroads as they might, with a mid-term national government facing financial stagnation and crisis of confidence over pandemic parties in Downing Street. Even BBC North-West focussed on an inconsequential Labour performance in Manchester. But here in rural Cumbria the Tories took a real pasting. Voters were electing shadow authorities for the newly formed Cumberland in the North and West of the old administrative county and Westmorland and Furness in the South and East. There had been fears that the new boundaries had been deliberately gerrymandered by the Conservative Government to improve their hold on local councils in the sub-region. If that had been the tactic it couldn’t have misfired more. In Cumberland, Labour took control of the new council – which is set to replace Allerdale, Carlisle and Copeland and the county councils next year. In Westmorland & Furness, which replaces Barrow borough, Eden and South Lakeland districts, the Liberal Democrats took total control. Labour came second, largely due to their stronghold in Barrow. In both new counties the Tories lost seats. This is despite five of the six Parliamentary seats in Cumbria being Tory held. Even in the exception, Westmorland and Lonsdale, the popular sitting Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron had a much-reduced majority in 2019, with the Tories coming a close second. So, what happened to the Tories in a rural county they traditionally dominated? In Mr Farron’s South Lakeland citadel, the Liberal Democrats swept the board with 25 out of the 30 seats available. The Conservatives hung on to just three seats, and only just: Matt Brereton kept his seat in High Furness, after a tense recount, with a majority of 19, Ben Cooper of the Conservatives also took Low Furness after another recount that saw him win his seat with a majority of 23. And Helen Irving won another Conservative seat in Ulverston, where Labour councillor Jackie Drake took the party’s only South Lakeland seat and Green councillor Judy Filmore maintained her seat, the only one won by her party in Westmorland & Furness. Greens won two Cumberland seats. Chairwoman of the Westmorland and Lonsdale Conservatives Councillor Pat Bell, who did not win a seat in Sedbergh and Kirkby Lonsdale, said candidates had registered much 'frustration' from voters while campaigning, reflecting the 'national mood'. "It's a rural area and they are wondering are we being listened to?" she told The Westmorland Gazette. She said frustration stemmed from the increased cost of living, with fuel bills, petrol and food prices continuing to soar and that the way people were voting in this election was 'their way of registering that frustration'. Lib Dem councillor Peter Thornton, who is currently deputy leader of Cumbria County Council, said: “We knocked on thousands of doors and the message was that people wanted a council that addresses climate change, fixes the roads and footpaths and isn’t far away.” Mr Farron said he believed national issues such as the price of living had had a big impact on the day’s result. “When they brought in the new authority it felt like it was drawn up to prevent us from having a majority,” he said. “And for us to win a majority at all is just astonishing. These are astonishing results and we’ve never ever won before all the council seats in my constituency and now we have. “I think on a national level it shows that voters don’t take kindly to a government without integrity.” Back in Cumberland, Sir Keir Starmer, national Labour leader, celebrated with local Labour representatives in Carlisle’s Station Hotel. Sir Keir told Cumbria Crack: “It’s extremely positive and it’s brilliant. I was here just a week ago and to come back is brilliant. Everyone is so chuffed. It’s good for Cumberland and good for the Labour Party to show what we can do.” Labour won 30 seats on the new authority, which means it has overall control. The Conservatives have seven seats, the Liberal Democrats four seats, independent councillors three and the Green Party two seats. This means Labour have gained 12 seats, the Conservatives have lost 14, the Liberal Democrats gained two, the Green Party gained two and the Independents lost two. Labour’s Barbara Cannon, who was elected to represent the St Michael’s ward in Workington, said: “We worried and strategised about what may happen and we have done better than we expected. “We have a lot of work to do now and quickly. I didn’t think we’d do this well, I thought we’d be talking about alliances. It’s very exciting.” Lisa Brown, who was elected in the Currock ward for Labour and is among those in the running to be the leader of Cumberland Council, said: “It has been a long time coming. You could see when you spoke to people how despondent they were locally and nationally. “People didn’t reflect on what they were going through on an everyday basis (during the pandemic), but this result is for those people across Cumberland that this council can now help.” Although the local party was hopeful of a positive result in Cumberland, it took many by surprise. “It is beyond what we expected,” said Mrs Brown. “But also the Lib Dems have taken seats and Helen (Davison) for the Greens. She is an outstanding and hardworking local councillor. “I don’t buy into this protest vote narrative, this result is rewarding hard work by local Labour candidates, especially in Carlisle.” It is too early to say how the results in the local elections might translate into a general election, according to Mrs Brown. The new Westmorland & Furness authority will have 65 councillors in 33 new wards. The make-up of the authority, which will sit for five years, one as a shadow and four for real is: Liberal Democrats: 36; Labour 15; Conservative Party 11; Green Party 1; Independent: 2. Neil Hudson, the Tory MP for Penrith and the Borders, which overlaps parts of both Westmorland and Furness and Cumberland Councils said: "We, as the Conservative Party, have had a very disappointing set of results in both Cumberland and Westmorland and Furness. "The results pose some difficult questions for my Party. Now is the time to regroup and reflect, so we can move forward and regain the trust and support of Cumbrian folk. The two new councils will be shadow authorities for the first year, then run the new areas for four more years, before the next elections in 2027. In total 213 candidates will be standing in 33 new wards for Westmorland and Furness Council. The two main reasons for the local government shake-up are reducing costs and confusion. Currently ratepayers aren’t sure whether it is county or district which collects the bins, repairs the potholes, or keep the streetlights working. It is hoped having one unitary authority will make things simpler. As for costs, the two new Cumbria authorities, will only have one chief executive and one set of officers each, making a total of two sets instead of seven at present. There is likely to be a bloody carve-up of jobs. And then there is the estate, with grand town halls in Penrith, Kendal and Barrow. These are more likely to be used as local offices than be sold or demolished. It is worth pointing out that the new set up is virtually back to the future. It was the Conservative government of Ted Heath back in 1974 which created Cumbria County and its six districts from the old unitary authorities of Cumberland and Westmorland, as well as Lancashire North of the Sands and even bits of the old West Riding of Yorkshire, in Dent and Sedbergh. Going back to that system exactly was deemed a non-starter, and too embarrassing. Now Conservative Government has carved up Cumbria again, although some Cumbria-wide institutions like Police and Fire are likely to survive. How much the public cares was reflected in the turn-out on May 5, which was 38.5%, not much more than half of the number of voters likely to turn out for a general election.

Thursday, 7 April 2022

Back to the Future council election candidates confirmed

Liberal Democrats and Conservatives are going head-to-head for control of a new unitary authority covering south and east Cumbria, including a large swathe of the Lake District. They are the only two parties contesting all 65 seats on Westmorland and Furness Council, which stretches from Walney Island in the South-West to Pennines town Alston in the North-East. The two ends are 72 miles apart, and a two-hours’ drive on a good day. The new council, which takes over from April 1, 2023, will provide services to those in the current areas of Barrow borough and Eden and South Lakeland district councils, as well as those provided by Cumbria County Council. The rest of Cumbria will be represented by Cumberland Council - covering the current area of Allerdale, Carlisle and Copeland. It will have 46 councillors. Elections will be held on Thursday 5 May for five-year term. The two new councils will be shadow authorities for the first year, then run the new areas for four more years, before the next elections in 2027. In total 213 candidates will be standing in 33 new wards for Westmorland and Furness Council. Apart from the Lib Dems and Tories, there are 31 Labour candidates, 30 Greens, 18 Independents and four Trades Union and Socialist Coalition candidates. The latter are standing for wards in Kendal, not the traditional Labour stronghold of Barrow. The shipbuilding town has been Labour run for at least twelve years, although it has a Conservative MP, Simon Fell. He was elected mainly due to fears that Labour nationally was run by Jeremy Corbyn who was seen as anti-nuclear and likely to scrap the submarine programme which keeps the dockyards in work. Current South Lakeland, based on Kendal, is staunchly Liberal Democrat, with Tim Farron the MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale. His Conservative opponent, James Airey, came close in the last general election and the Tories are dominant in Eden centred on Penrith, which has had a Tory MP forever. With such a diverse area, it is difficult to predict the result of the council election. But taking all the seats on the current district and county councils would show a split of 59 Lib Dems, 53 Conservatives, 37 Labour and four Green seats. As always, national politics will have an influence, so it may be that Boris Johnson will be the deciding factor on whether Conservatives or Liberal Democrats win out. Either Labour or Greens could hold the balance of power, so there is likely to be some coalition negotiated. The two main reasons for the local government shake-up are reducing costs and confusion. Currently ratepayers aren’t sure whether it is county or district which collects the bins, repairs the potholes or keep the streetlights working. It is hoped having one unitary authority will make things simpler. As for costs, the new authority will only have one chief executive and one set of officers instead of four. There is likely to be a bloody carve-up of jobs. And then there is the estate, with grand town halls in Penrith, Kendal and Barrow. These are more likely to be used as local offices than be sold or demolished. Commentators can’t help pointing out that the new set up is almost back to the future. It was the Conservative government of Ted Heath back in 1974 which created Cumbria County and its six districts from the old unitary authorities of Cumberland and Westmorland, as well as Lancashire North of the Sands and even bits of West Yorkshire, in Dent and Sedbergh. Going back to that system was deemed a non-starter. Now it is a Conservative Government that is carving up Cumbria again, although some Cumbria-wide institutions like Police and Fire are likely to survive. How much the public cares will be reflected in the turn-out on May 5. The result will be declared in Barrow Town Hall at around 2 p.m. on Friday, May 6.

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

FOOTBALL CRAZY I despair at the standard of journalism and public discourse in this country. Late on Sunday night it was revealed that a dozen top European football clubs, including six from England, were forming a super league. Cue outrage and fury. How dare they do this to our beautiful game? Debates were held in Parliament, the Prime Minister pledged to intervene, my local MP issued a direct appeal to the Government, the news channels, national and local, filled their air time with reaction, comment and analysis. I am writing this on Tuesday morning and do you know what? I am none the wiser about why this matters at all. Even my beloved Channel 4 News failed completely to explain why this development would "ruin grassroots football" which was the cry from all the objectors. The super league will happen on mid-week days and won't clash with the regular league fixtures, which will continue as before. So TV revenue and other income from the Premier League will contine to be trickled down to the rest of the game. Or will it? No one said. What the super league will replace for those taking part is the Champions League. Hence the fury expressed by UEFA, who could see their money-spinner stripped of the clubs most attractive to the world audience. But so what? Why does that matter? Isn't this just another vested interest whingeing? No one told me. The super league was said to have no promotion and regulation. So the same clubs would be in it for all time. This apparently follows and American sport pattern. It means owners can invest in the future without fear of being demoted mid-development. This deplores me. But why does it matter if they want to play the business card? People who watch football can understand the different dynamics involved. If they don't like the Super League format, they can go somewhere else for their entertainmnet. Besides, surely Football has already sold itself to the commercial devil years ago. Complainants cited the community base of football clubs, the fact they were really owned by fans. Give me a break. That hasn't been true for decades. The top six or eight clubs have grown rich and bloated by dumping local connections and just buying the best players in the world. Then they pay them obscene salaries, off the scale when compared to the wages of their supporters. Real local fans, with real jobs can barely afford to watch their teams any longer. I don't see that the Super League makes any difference. When I travelled to Thailand and frequented a down town bar in a remote southern fishing village, I was shocked to see everyone watching the English Premiership on the TV. I even met a Swedish traveller there who knew far more about the top English clubs than I did. Those are the football fans the super league is aimed at. So if any of my contacts reads this blog and knows why there is really any difference made by the Super League, do let me know. No politician or media outlet has so far explained why I should care. All I have heard and read is emotive babble of response. Why does no-one explain anything any more?

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Tales of the Imagination

Are you stuck in a rut? Are you struggling to find a way forward? Are you continually coming up against the same problems? Then the answers may be provided by consulting an artist. That was what I was promised when agreeing to see one of the country’s up-and-coming artists and would-be shaman Marcus Coates. He put his theories to the test by providing his “Unblocking Service” to invited guests in Kendal, Cumbria. He outlined to me why he believes skills learned by artists can be used by the rest of the population. “Art is a solo activity, necessarily self-indulgent, but the skills we use can be very helpful for other people. “The trick is to find a way to communicate those skills in a functional way, teaching people to use their imagination to explore a different way of looking at rationality.” Coates has outlined his theories in a book Practical Guide to Unconscious Reasoning, about how to use the imagination for practical purposes. He holds workshops for people “encouraging them to go into their unconscious world, and allowing solutions to appear in front of them.” He believes that indigenous peoples naturally use this method of thinking, and it is a skill that the Western world has lost. “Only 2% of decision-making is conscious, meaning 98% of the unconscious does the work. It is a matter of tuning into that.” During his sessions at Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal, Coates had one-to-one sessions with people helping them resolve issues. I was his first victim. As a journalist based in the Lake District, I was interested in how to overcome the London-centric view of most of the national media. He related to that as an artist. “The Art World has a set of set ideas about what is valuable. That comes from a cultural elite propagated in London. “The answer is to forge something new outside of London, which is now happening all the time, but may not be recognised. “More and more artists are no longer looking to London to valuate what works. We should all bypass London, especially in these days of the Internet, to Europe and the Rest of the World.” He also predicts that artists will have to leave London as they will not be able to afford to live there. “They will be a cultural backlash where the producers will no longer live in London and form their own groups and networks elsewhere.” Coates works with video, photography, sculpture and performance. His extensive knowledge and understanding of wildlife has led him to create unique interpretations of the natural world and its evolving relationship with society. At one point in our session, we both yielded to our imagination. True to type he conjured up wild animals behaving strangely. This represented a lack of understanding, a sort of chaos, he explained. He then drifted into a dark, sub-marine environment that culminated in him taking on the form of a sea-otter anchored to a strand of kelp. He said this made him feel relaxed and it brought him relief to be at the mercy of the current. Coates was born in 1968 in London and graduated from the Kent Institute of Art and Design in 1990. He completed his MA at the Royal Academy in 1993. He is recognised for his performances and installations that employ shamanistic rituals and contrast natural and manmade processes. A key element to these explorations is his use of shamanism and rituals to help resolve social issues, such as Journey to the Lower World (2004) in which Coates sought guidance from animal spirits for tenants in a condemned Liverpool tower block, At the Baltic in 2007 he showed Dawn Chorus, in which the human voice accurately mimicked birdsong. In this multi-screen video installation 19 singers reproduced a recording of a group of wild British birds singing at dawn. In The Plover’s Wing (2009) Coates performed a shamanic ritual to help answer questions put to him by the Mayor of Solon concerning the Israel/Palestine crisis. Underpinning all his work is an absurdist streak and deadpan humour that allows him to communicate complex and difficult questions to a wide audience. Marcus Coates has exhibited internationally and was awarded with the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award for Artists in 2008 and the Daiwa Foundation Art Prize in 2009. In 2013, he was shortlisted for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. He needed all his ingenuity at Abbot Hall. His sessions were due to be held in a wooden structure, a bit like a space-pod on stilts, designed by the architectural practice Sutherland Hussey. Called Anchorhold, it was built from 25 sheets of ply, precisely machine-cut in such a way so that all pieces interlock with minimal wastage. Unfortunately it wasn’t up to the Cumbrian weather and let the rain in. So Coates had to carry out his sessions in a small room in the gallery.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

How Rights are a curse for communities

Read, if you so please, this press release from Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team and then I will try to explain how Human Rights/Data Protection legislation makes this sort of nonsense ever more common: “At around 8.30 p.m. on Saturday night, a late evening but with many groups still out on the mountain, a ‘999’ call was received by Cumbria Police from a pair of walkers in their 20s who reported themselves as lost and stuck on large rocks somewhere on the summit of Scafell Pike. Their location was digitally established by the team leader using the SARLOC system as being on a rocky path within 100m of the summit. They were very lightly equipped, no spare clothing, no map or compass but did have torches. They had ‘gone on ahead’ of the father and friend on the way to the top and became lost. The father had the only map and compass in the group. If the couple had a map they would not have known how to use it. As they were so close to a busy summit, the team leader worked hard to encourage them to make their way to the top and find some helpful walkers. They were unwilling to move as ‘legs were seized up’ even though they knew the team would take a further two hours to get to them. A limited callout followed, with four team members setting off plus one team member already on the mountain working with a group and a further team member from Penrith MRT already on the mountain. The father and friend, who had presumably given up, were descending via Lingmel Col. They were quickly located by the team member on the fell but the father was not willing to re-ascend to assist in locating his daughter and friend even though their location was now accurately known by the team leader and they were safe on a path although cold and wet. The team eventually brought the pair back down to the valley bottom, after a very frustrating night for the team leader, and reunited the pair with the father who was asleep in his car at the bottom. The incident was closed at 2.30 a.m. Inexperience, lack of equipment, insufficient preparation, inability to get themselves out of trouble, not staying together as a group and a less than helpful group leader (the father) – another avoidable rescue to add to the many the volunteer teams are having to deal with.” So what has this got to do with Human Rights/Data Protection? Well before these twin curses came to dominate British legislation, the MRT would have been more than likely to name the parties involved in their press release. The family concerned would have been humiliated and ridiculed by their peers. Anyone tempted to repeat their follies would have thought more than twice and probably decided to act more responsibly. In fact when the Government first brought in data protection, to safeguard us all from bankers and other pushy institutions selling on our personal details, the Commissioner appointed to police the Act took it upon herself to use the law instead to attack the media. Her name was Elizabeth France and her first case actually involved a newspaper publishing details of a teacher who took a school party to the top of a mountain in bad weather and inappropriately dressed. When the MRT told the Press the name of the teacher and the school, he appealed to the Commissioner under data protection legislation. The result was the start of a remarkable clamp down on details given to the media about all sorts of information which ought to be in the public domain. Never mind that crime victims might want to talk about their experiences to elicit help for the police in catching the culprits; Never mind that traffic accident victims use up public monies for ambulances, hospitals and police; never mind that fire victims are already known to everyone in the neighbourhood and may want to talk about these very public events; none of them any longer have their names released by the police to the media. Of course the media have other sources and you will notice the commonly used “named by local sources.” But police are now so fearful of upsetting “human rights” they won’t even confirm names obtained from other sources. That is why they will never get to hear about any useful information the community might have about these “victims” and which may be pertinent to the police inquiries. And that is why people will continue to act irresponsibly, and make demands on our emergency services with impunity. They know that their actions will never face the scrutiny of their peers. Human rights now trump the right on the wider public to know, at least in the eyes of our misguided legislators and law enforcement agencies.

BT blocks path to global market

THE message is loud and clear. The future prosperity of the nation and viability of our businesses are inexorably linked to the world-wide web. This is especially true of rural economies. The Internet is crucial to sales and profits in a global market. TV Troubleshooter Lord Digby Jones reinforced the point when he dropped in to Ambleside to launch Cumbria University’s business hub. He urged the county’s companies to tap into the rising Chinese middle-class market, which cannot get enough luxury goods from us Brits, apparently. Well, I am sorry to be a prophet of doom. But if we rely on British Telecom, the monopolistic IT provider, our efforts are doomed to failure. The company has become so big and global economy focused that it has lost touch with its customers. I didn’t want to bother Lord Digby with our little local difficulties, but at the very moment he spoke to the cheering audience in Ambleside, the village where I live was without the Internet. The householders didn’t even have landline telephones. This was three full days after a cable collapsed and lay between the grazing sheep in a field. It took another three days for BT to get their act together and fix the fault. That meant that for six days this journalist could do no research, or access e-mails or communicate with his potential markets. Next door a doctor could not research her ground-breaking thesis, or offer her services as a locum. The other side a bed and breakfast business couldn’t book in any guests, even though one provisional booking was for workers from Open Reach, BT’s arms length repair service. Oh irony of ironies. The mail order business over the way could not sell or dispatch anything; the caravan site owners up the road couldn’t take bookings or even pay its staff through the electronic system it uses. A week is 2 per cent of a year. 2 per cent can make the difference between profit or loss, viability or administration. Yet despite the crucial nature of this very obvious fault, could we get BT to respond? Not quickly enough. Like most of the villagers, although not all, I have a mobile phone, so as soon as I became aware of the lack of Internet and landline phone on Easter Sunday I contacted BT, or their agents, in Asia. They told me that as it was Easter, they had no engineers and the clock wouldn’t start ticking until Tuesday. They then had four days to fix the fault. I said that wasn’t good enough and asked to register a complaint, which is what I was told would happen. The next day, Easter Monday I found the fault, the cable lying in a field. My neighbor tells me he has been telling BT for years that their cables are slung too low across the fields and are bound to get snagged in farm machinery. Some of the telephone poles are rotten. One even has a woodpecker nest in it. BT ignores these little local problems until there is an emergency. Then they take four days plus Bank Holidays to respond. I rang my friend in Bangalore or wherever to tell them my exciting news. I don’t think it was even the same city I was talking to, and they confirmed it would be the following Thursday before they got started. When I squealed they said I was the only complainant and it was being handled as a single customer problem. I then toured the village to find that every other resident (nine households) had complained their businesses were completely blocked by the fault. I also found out that the caravan site owner was actually a BT business customer and was thinking of quitting as his upload speed was one third of one Mega-Byte. I confirmed mine was less than 1MB. Stress levels were rising and the only conversation when we met in the lanes was how BT was ruining lives and businesses. Then joy, on Tuesday an Open Reach engineer turned up, climbed one of the offending poles and with his little hand-held computer tried to fix each connection in the junction box. After telling him how pleased we were to get some action, I said that although I am no expert I thought he was wasting his time and pointed out the offending cable in the grass. He looked shocked, even though I had told BT the problem two days previously. He descended and was joined later in the day by a van load of clip-board holders, who took notes, shook their heads and disappeared again. On Wednesday an Open Reach van appeared and said that new cables, poles and junction boxes would have to be ordered and it would probably be the week after that before work started. Another neighbor went to the nearest Open Reach depot, in Kendal, to make his views known. On Thursday a van and a cherry-picker turned up and the cable restored. Within minutes Internet and land-lines were working again. The poles are the same rotten ones. The cable still hangs low over the fields. If rural areas are really to be given a level-playing field in the global economy, then the infra-structure needs to be in place to support them. Cables slung over fields are susceptible to wind, ice and tractors. High speed broad-band is not even an option on such copper wires on Victorian technology. It doesn’t matter which Internet provider you use, unless it is satellite, the Internet comes down wires maintained, or not, by BT. In the long term, fibre-optic cables, laid underground are the only answer, unless you are lucky enough to live near a business hub. In the short to mid-term, BT needs to drastically improve its customer service. Until that happens rural economies are destined to lose out in the global market.