Farming: Don’t rural areas also deserve a bit of ‘levelling up’? - Andrew Arbuckle

I was sitting at the computer one-night last week when the lights went out. It was the latest in a series of power cuts, and it was then a case of remembering where the candles had been safely stored in the event of such an occurrence.

People in remote areas suffer from poor Wi-Fi
People in remote areas suffer from poor Wi-Fi

As I groped about in the darkness, I could see from the light of the nearby farm that my neighbhours must have brought their emergency generator into action. Otherwise, the countryside was pitch-black.

I phoned the electricity company helpline where I was told that a branch of a tree had come down on the line and it should – but not would – be repaired in two- or three-hours time. This was good news as friends in rural Aberdeenshire had recently been without power for more than five days.

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There was nothing for it but to settle back and do nothing apart from hunkering down beside the open fire, trying to avoid the worst effects of a rapidly chilling house.

As I sat there in the light from the fire, I wondered about the poor and deteriorating infrastructure that exists nowadays in rural areas. It has become one of the everyday conversations in my parish, easily outdoing the traditional ones of weather and politics.

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A number of years have passed since the supply of electricity ceased to be considered a public utility and moved into being provided by a commercial company.

I make no request for a reversion to the previous supply, but it seems there appears to have been cutbacks in the regular maintenance of the powerlines. There used to be teams of men employed by the electricity companies to trim back branches from trees that might interrupt the supply. They would also remove any dodgy trees that would possibly fall on power lines; thus pre-empting future problems.

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I assume these teams of workers were either swept away or reduced by the bean counters in the company who could not see the benefit of ensuring a regular supply of electricity to customers compared with the profits that could be made.

With the move to commercial profit seeking companies, the Government seem to have backed away from ensuring a robust, reliable and resilient supply of electricity for those who live in rural areas.

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As I sat in the darkness by the fire, I thought the same moan could be made about the quality of Wi-Fi for those outwith the towns and cities in this country.

Despite politicians promising at every election in the past decade and more that super-duper broadband would be provided to every house and home in the country, those of us who live in low population density areas still have a pretty lousy, to use a non-technical term, supply of Wi-Fi.

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While streaming may be a term familiar to those in hot spots, ‘dawdling’ might be a more appropriate description in rural areas where bouts of buffering broadband are rife.

With more people working at home in the past year or so, broadband performance has actually gone down the hill in recent times.

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I am going to continue my grievance about the poor infrastructure we have in our countryside by mentioning crackly phones that reveal lines that should have been buried but lie on roadside verges to be chewed up whenever the verge cutter comes along.

These phone lines were meant to be buried in order to keep them secure, but this intention has been thwarted by workmen just slinging them onto the verges

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And that brings this moan to the condition of rural roads which are now a patchwork of partially repaired potholes. There is no doubt a lot of the damage to the road network has been caused by bigger vehicles and that includes tractors, potato harvesters and combines. It seems when the Government allowed increased tonnages to travel up and down roads that were constructed in the horse and cart era, they did not think about the need to invest in upgrading the roads.

I know Governments are facing enormous costly challenges in dealing with the covid pandemic but note that while they seem to have cash for prestigious projects such as HS2, there does not seem to be the same enthusiasm for upgrading infrastructure in our rural areas.

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Does this not come under the slogan of “levelling up?”​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

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