YP Comment: Time to invest in rural areas. New threat to county’s schools

The future is uncertain for village schools in parts of North Yorkshire.
The future is uncertain for village schools in parts of North Yorkshire.
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EVEN THOUGH the controversial changes to the Government’s funding formula for schools was intended to reduce the imbalance between urban and rural areas, it already appears to be too late for some parts of North Yorkshire.

Four small schools have closed in the county in the past six months; at least five others can’t be assured of their future while many more are struggling to come to terms with a growing financial deficit.

North Yorkshire – home to the highest number of schools in the country with less than 50 pupils – is not alone; LEAs across the country are in a similar predicament because extra funding made available by the Government has not kept pace with day-to-day costs and increase in school-age children. Yet it’s not just the future of schools in countryside communities which is at stake. This issue alone has wider ramifications for the future sustainability of Yorkshire’s rural heartlands. It’s a slippery slope. Take the village school away and the community not only loses its vibrancy and identity but its future. No school lessens the likelihood of young families choosing to live in the area. And, without them, it’s even harder for other essential services to remain viable.

However, while councils are duty-bound to consider all options in these challenging financial times, there does need to be wider recognition, after a general election which paid scant regard to the future of the rural economy, that countryside areas are still not receiving a fair deal from Whitehall. The point is this. If villages become timepieces due to the erosion of services, they will slowly lose their aesthetic appeal. Visitors and tourists will ebb away. And it’s not just the communities concerned that will pay the price. So, too, will HM Treasury in lost income, all the more reason why Ministers should, in fact, be investing in areas like North Yorkshire.

Raising the alarm

THERE will be even more national soul-searching over the Grenfell Tower disaster now it has emerged that the block of flats had failed fire safety tests before a faulty fridge freezer sparked last week’s devastating blaze which has claimed at least 79 lives.

Yet, as the nation shares the pain of the victims and their growing anger at how their safety was allowed to be put at such risk by the powers-that-be, it’s compounded by the regret of campaigners like Nick Ross who were also ignored.

As the broadcaster writes in The Yorkshire Post, it should not take national tragedies – whether it be the Bradford City stadium fire in 1985, the King’s Cross underground fire 30 years ago or this latest disaster – for ineffective regulations, including the provision of potentially lifesaving sprinklers, to be exposed.

His thought-provoking and challenging piece is also required reading for all politicians, landlords and builders now carrying out emergency checks on the fabric of high-rise blocks and social housing around Britain. “We could do with less party politics here,” he says. “We all let down the Grenfell residents. And we all must share the blame, including those of us who failed to make the case sufficiently convincing.”

Coming from such a respected individual – Mr Ross was the face of TV’s Crimewatch – who considers himself fortunate to have escaped a fatal fire, there should be a presumption that all such buildings should be fitted with sprinklers unless it can be proven that it is not in the public interest to do so. As he says: “There is a terrible anger after Grenfell. We must put it to good use.” It’s not too late to do so.

A voice of summer

HENRY BLOFELD won’t just be missed for his cricket commentary when he draws stumps on his 45-year Test Match Special career.

It’s his whimsical style, and plummy voice, that will be such a loss to the airwaves.

Listeners did not need to be cricket devotees to be entertained by the 77-year-old simply known as ‘Blowers’. Throughout the decades, his colourful commentaries would be enlivened by sightings of pigeons and red buses as well as jolly japes and unbounded joy when the TMS box took delivery of assorted delicacies, from lovingly-made cakes to fortifying liquid sustenance, from its fans. To him, any day watching cricket has always been a special privilege and this will always be so.

And that’s why Britain will be a lot duller when ‘Blowers’ retires. By not taking himself too seriously and treating his listeners as friends – others should take note – Henry Blofeld became a voice of summer thanks to phrases like ‘My dear old thing’ that only he could deliver.