Around 18 months back, we began hearing rumours that the big telecoms companies were set on slashing rents for their mast sites, with government support, for two reasons: firstly they were struggling financially and secondly the Government was seeking to rush development of better internet speeds in rural areas.
The first reason was obviously laughable, as only weeks after that story emerged it was reported that Vodafone plc profits for the previous quarter had been announced as some £4 billion. Just look at their share prices?
The second reason has more in its favour but, even so, the rent cuts envisaged were so savage it was more likely to get such a negative response from site owners as to delay or reverse internet coverage, not improve it.
To give you a personal example: We have a site close to a very busy main road, a site which I had encouraged the original provider O2 to develop back around the turn of the century because it appeared there was to be a new bypass built within some 250m of the site.
Initially the company had offered a rent of some £4,700 and we had agreed staged increases since. A few years back O2 entered a joint deal with Vodafone on this site, and the rent rose accordingly to reflect the value until, within another two reviews, the site rental stood at £9,500. A fair rental for a very prime site.
So you can imagine my reactions when we received notice that they wanted some new restrictions on site rentals and provisionally offered us an annual rental of close to £200. Needless to say we, and many thousands of site owners across the country, are up in arms at this blatant bullying. A number of groups have engaged some large specialist telecom agents and the fight is just getting going.
Some landowners, I hear, are already discussing getting some big machines out and physically wrecking these masts rather than being subjected to such terms. One thing is certain, the price of phones and calls won’t come down and the only winners will be these huge multinational companies. And the lawyers. Neither will it reflect well on government when 2018 election pledges of a rapid improvement in broadband coverage fail to materialise before the next election.
I apologise for returning to the troubles of the dairy industry again this month, but so many things continue to hit it that each one hurts me almost as if we were still in the job. The day we made the decision to sell the dairy herd was one of the worst days I remember in my working life, and although seeing the old girls leave was quite hard, feelings were eased because I knew they were all going as one herd to one place. The thought of the farms without cattle was in some ways hard to contemplate but made easier by that.
Those feelings have slipped into the past now and, every month since, my main thought is “thank God we don’t have the worry of cattle any longer”, coupled with “how on earth did I stick at it so long?”
Almost every time one opens a farming magazine one sees or hears of farmers lamenting the way the industry is going, be it milk prices, milk contracts, the new TB constraints, tightening nitrogen and effluent controls or labour shortages. In the south it is also the diminishing availability of local service engineers, with the steady loss of so many of the region’s old dairy herds making work harder to find for the long-established dairy engineers and staff, while the costs of dairy maintenance contracts, parts or breakdown visits increase monthly.
The upcoming changes in TB testing in high risk areas will surely convince even more farmers to decide to bite the bullet before they are overcome by yet more futile DEFRA efforts to stop a disease they have failed to control since the Government relaxed controls in the 1970s and the badger population exploded to levels probably higher than it was in our grandfathers’ and fathers’ time (around and before the Second World War).
Then, when the Government made a serious effort they managed to get the disease under control remarkably quickly, whereas now they are failing dismally, and the recent announcement of routine, twice-yearly, area testing will surely do nothing, apart from demoralising farmers and their staff and ensuring lifelong employment for the DEFRA/APHA staff employed to carry out the testing.
And then we keep hearing the animal rights enthusiasts for badger vaccination pushing their pointless case for annual badger jabbing! Even were there an effective vaccine, what do they think is the chance of making sure every brock presents itself for its annual shot? Even then this is dependent on a jab that works, which looks pretty unlikely, given the success they have had developing one so far.
For the past 30 of my 60-plus years involved with dairying I stuck with the cattle because it had been my family’s way of life since the 1890s. Since the mid 1970s I kept seeing neighbours sell their cows and thought the reduced risks of cross contamination from neighbours’ cattle would help those of us left. Slowly it dawned on me that this was not going to happen, until I finally saw the light. You could probably say I was a bit slow on the uptake!
Now I don’t have to worry about it, except for the remaining folk who struggle on with 60-day testing on top of all their other dairy related problems. Coronavirus has so far lasted 16 months; this has been going on since the 1970s, with no end in sight.