How you see things depends on where you sit.

From the top-down, your interest will be as an employee or elected member of a public authority.

As an individual, you see things from the bottom-up, on your behalf, or from the perspective of your local community or neighbourhood.

No-one knows how the future will be.  And we may not know for some years. (Did we ever?)  All we can say is that the future will be nothing like the past.  Perhaps a paradigm shift is taking place.

The big picture

I do not understand what is happening to the national economy now, let alone in the future.  Whatever happens, I think what I have to say here will be relevant.

I believe that the future of rural areas will increasingly depend on local economies developing.

This piece is to do with our localities, as seen from within them by their residents. From the bottom up. It is not to do with what we might do, as individuals (except when speaking on behalf of our community), nor is it what public authorities, such as Herefordshire Council should do to us.

The notion of bottom-up thinking can be difficult to grasp.  We are so used to dealing with top-down thinking.  A good example is social care.  Top-down thinking has resulted in care homes and the complex processes which determine who should live in them and associated funding.  From the bottom-up, we see things on behalf of ourselves and our elderly parents and children.  Who have physical and mental handicaps and learning disabilities.  How we should care for each other and be cared for?

Top-down systems may spend money on local road improvements in our area, from the bottom up we would prefer to spend the money on our school.

I imagine a future for our area based on what I have gathered from a range of sources. News sources and websites and blogs by economists, futurists, individuals and organisations, with all kinds of political inclinations and platforms.

From which I have gleaned some things which are likely to impact on life in rural Herefordshire.  Some things will be unavoidable, as follows (in no particular order):

  • What we earn, as employees and from self-employment and pensions, will buy less as time goes on. For the time being, we will deal with this by reducing our discretionary (‘left in your pocket’) spending. Sooner or later we will be confronted with having to reduce our essential spending.
  • There will be fewer conventional employment opportunities.
  • A global home-working economy is developing, with rural Herefordshire playing an increasing role.
  • For financial reasons. the NHS and care services will be less helpful to our health and care needs, especially in old age. We will get used to coping with this.
  • Government support for farming will switch from subsidising land ownership to subsidising food production. As a result, farmers will become less inclined to include non-productive land in their “land-banks”.
  • Local authority services, organised and underfunded from the top down, will be seen, from our perspective, to be increasingly disorganised, and less able to provide services we want. For which the Government will be blamed.
  • Consciously or subconsciously, we will become aware that climate change will have a huge influence on the future of our children and grandchildren.
  • This is a guess: Nationally house prices will fall in real terms.  Prices in areas such as ours will not fall, because urban dwellers will be moving outwards.
  • Another guess: We may become increasingly aware of the potential for new pandemic diseases.  Which will affect our daily behaviour?

Local communities will take an increasing role in deciding community life.  Not in top-down ways, undertaken with the best of intentions by Herefordshire Council, but rather as a series of diverse happenstances which will emerge from the bottom up.

What could local communities do

Locally, there are five fundamental issues that we will become aware of and will influence what we do locally:

  • Climate change
  • Economic change
  • Social care
  • Biodiversity
  • Potential pandemics

For financial and top-down cultural reasons I don’t expect any Government or public authority will do more than pay lip-service to these issues.  They will assume that, once the current pandemic problems are over, the future will return to “business as usual”, as it was a few years ago.

I expect there will be a dynamic process of change.  Dynamic in the sense that Herefordshire Council,  the NHS and Government services will be taken over by bottom-up local community ways of doing things.  A process that will be a mixture of top-down policies to push services down to local communities and local communities responding to public services which are seen to be inadequate or inappropriate for local purposes.

Climate change

A fundamental problem in deciding what we could do locally about climate change is the general belief that it will be reduced to an acceptable and liveable level, by replacing the use of fossil fuel  (FF) energy, with energy sourced from other sources.  This is not true.  Instead, we must focus our thinking and actions on preparing for the unavoidable consequences of climate change.

Until the inevitability of climate change is understood and generally accepted, we will continue, with impunity, to use energy and products, which depend on all kinds of energy, for discretionary (non-essential) purposes.  It may be thought that it is OK to do non-essential things that appear to use non-fossil-fuels.  But the more non-fossil-fuels we use for non-essential purposes the less there is available for essential purposes.

I believe that global warming should be slowed down as much as possible, whilst admitting that as things are understood now, it cannot be stopped.   This implies that we should carefully consider what we do, and aim to reduce our non-essential doings.

Our aim should be to find out what has to be done to cope with climate change and take action to reduce its consequences in our locality.

The effects of climate change will depend on the topography of your area.  Global warming seems to be leading to more extreme weather events, throughout the year.  Local experience may identify specific problem areas.

Surface water flooding off hillsides, rivers and streams, especially after prolonged heavy rain, maybe a regular thing, not just now and then.  Development control planners should be made aware of vulnerable places, not just flood plains.   Sometimes flat areas, with run-off from the fields collecting in the lanes, with no-where for the water to go. Places which are known about locally, but not necessarily known by the Environment Agency.

In anticipation of increasing national grid energy costs, we should look for possibilities for community-based solar, wind and water power generation and transmission, by local networks. Especially for use by community projects.

The installation of domestic non-FF systems should be supported, especially if they will release spending into the local economy.

Perhaps the most useful way of coping with increasing air temperatures will be by planting deciduous trees. To provide shade and building materials.  Maybe we need an arbitrary rule of thumb, such as planting ten trees for every new house built.

Economic Change

A local economy occurs when individuals, groups and businesses in a locality area have ideas, interests, money-earning ambitions and concerns as a result of which they communicate with each other.  Exchanging information and commodities for mutual benefit.  Sometimes with money changing hands

Local economic development is dependent on local communications.  Footpaths, roads and telecommunications, and appropriate software applications.

[Telecoms, may start with Facebook moving on to Google Groups (also free of charge) which, being structured, may be more useful for local economic development.]

The objective should be to develop local economies.  Especially by import replacement, which will put money into the local economy.  Import replacement involves making and growing things locally, then using and selling them locally.  Reducing the purchase of things that used to be bought from outside the area. The underlying aim is to increase the money circulating in the area.

Established businesses in urban areas should be encouraged to move into our areas.  IT-based businesses to do with food processing and distribution are an example. To contribute to the development of the local economy.

Home-working is becoming a global economy, as a result of which people are becoming foot-loose in their choice of where to live.  Those who choose to live in our area will put money into our local economies. We should attract these businesses by making our areas attractive, financially, socially and visually.

Local IT business portals (notice-boards) should be set up, providing information to enable co-operation between local businesses.

Compatible businesses, growing and processing food, should be encouraged to develop clusters of co-operation, exporting products to urban areas and enhancing the attractiveness of our areas to individuals and families looking to move from the cities.

Businesses doing well will employ local people and may build houses for rent to their employees.  Which was how things were in the days before public authority housing.

Food clubs could be set up with discounts for locals.  Giving priority to the local economy.

Biodiversity

Perhaps the best way to increase biodiversity is to grow more in our gardens.  Not just fruit and veg, but also flowering plants.

The new farming regime, yet to be introduced, will mean that land which is not viable for conventional machine-based arable and livestock farming will become available for other kinds of food production, which is likely to lead to more biodiversity.

There is uncertainty over the future of large scale dairy and sheep farming, now seen to contribute to global warming,  This may lead to small scale and more productive food production.

The new farming regime should include smallholdings, allotments, flower gardening, fruit trees and vineyards.

The land which has no worth for food production would be useful for community purposes, for recreation and other common uses.

Rivers, streams and lakes could have new roles, for fish farming, transport and leisure.

Wilding may be relevant in some areas.

The development of forest-based communities may emerge, producing all kinds of wood products.

All of which would improve bio-diversity.

Social aspects

Across the rich world, nearly half of all deaths from Covid-19 have happened in care and nursing homes, even though less than 1% of people live in them.
The Economist:  25 July 2020

We live in a Welfare State and expect the State to supply our health and caring needs.  But we are finding that not all are being met.  This will become an increasing problem.  But a problem which is only seen in today’s society.   In the future, we will have to provide more care for ourselves and our relatives as time goes by.

Communities of families may be the future, as people are confronted with questions about the future of their elderly and handicapped relatives.  Much like Orcop was 50 years ago, and rural areas of Poland still are.

We will have to learn new ways of living.  Multi-generational occupation of houses and clusters of houses may become a feature.

When people unable to fully look after themselves become a common sight in a village, areas free of cars, for particular times, may become possible. Giving these people freedom, which is unimaginable today in the UK.  I have seen it on the car-free Channel Island of Sark.

Incidentally, the kind of care homes we have today, charging around £100,000 per annum to care for some people with learning disabilities, will in future be impossible to afford, even in a local economy where costs may be much lower than at present.

Potential pandemics

The future of the coronavirus pandemic is unknown.

If pandemics come to be seen as an everlasting possibility, this will require a fundamental change in our mindsets which I can’t begin to imagine.  Maybe social distancing will lead to localities becoming more home-based. The notion of areas being dependant on tourism may be less attractive.  The use of artificial intelligence may be preferred to using non-local labour.  Who knows?

Funding

Few rural areas have not-for-profit business infrastructures able to support the development of comprehensive local economies. By “infrastructure” I don’t mean buildings. Home-based businesses linked by IT would be more likely and can be started quickly.

Town and Parish Councils, with extended legal powers (perhaps as PC owned Trusts), may have a role in developing a local economy.

In more rural areas it will be necessary to establish not-for-profit companies to provide a financial structure for the area.

Generally, responsibility for financial aspects of local community development should be kept separate from the local politic (small ‘p’) of Parish Councils.

Not-for-profit companies that can raise funds, locally and further afield and promote and activate local ventures.  Perhaps based on local authority wards.

I see setting up these local companies to be the most important early step in the development of local economies.