Sue spoke yesterday in a parliamentary debate secured by Labour on the issue of rural crime and the delivery of public services in rural areas.
Speaking to conclude the debate, Sue highlighted the financial challenges faced by Cumbria County Council and how Britain’s rural communities are struggling under increasing pressures and cuts to their local public services and amenities.
In her speech, Sue said:
“What we have heard today can leave us in no doubt that the Tory Government have simply neglected Britain’s rural communities and have taken so many of our rural constituencies for granted. I represent the Cumbrian seat of Workington, and I join the hon. Member for Copeland [Trudy Harrison] in supporting the important work that our constabulary and Police and Crime Commissioner do. I thank her for raising that. The constituency I live in covers a huge rural area of the northern Lake District, including the national park, which is now a world heritage site, and the Solway Plain area of outstanding natural beauty. So I am acutely aware of the issues facing people in our small towns, villages and hamlets—I am one of those people.
“Anyone with a rural constituency knows just how difficult the delivery of high-quality public services is in our communities and how much more expensive they are to deliver. Our local authorities are under intense funding pressures. My local authority, Cumbria County Council, is set to have to make a colossal £33 million in savings over the next 12 months, because of the widespread uncertainty it is facing over its funding for the future. That is £33 million of cuts to vital public services that the authority is being forced into, and we know that that is because funding from central Government has been slashed. Expecting a county such as Cumbria to get its funding from business rates is simply not realistic, as we do not have the necessary level of business or population. It is really important that rural communities have proper funding and that the Government understand that not all formulas work for all areas.
“The people set to suffer the most from the cuts to local services are our young people, our elderly, adults who are more vulnerable—those with disabilities—and the people who live in our most rural areas. That is because of the extra cost of delivering to those communities. Unfortunately, it seems that things are set to get even more difficult in Cumbria, as the council also has to find a way to save £70 million by 2022, and that is in addition to the £214 million it has reduced spending by since 2011.
“In February, the Government announced an extra £150 million for adult social care, with about £1.5 million of that for Cumbria, but that was described by the council leadership as ‘crumbs from the table’, and they are absolutely right. As I said, councils need proper funding in place for the requirements they have to deliver and they should not have to rely on ad-hoc tiny handouts from Whitehall to try to keep crucial social services afloat. The County Councils Network estimates that Cumbrian residents will receive £161 of core funding per head this year. As has been mentioned, rural constituents get less money per head. London residents are going to receive £459 per head, which illustrates clearly the problem that we face.
“It is clear that the Government are failing properly to tackle wildlife crime, rural fly-tipping, sheep worrying and rustling and farm machinery thefts. A recent NFU report, ‘Combatting Rural Crime’, said that there is, in fact, no proper co-ordinated response from the Government. […] Figures obtained by Farmers Weekly on sheep worrying attacks reveal that the problem is endemic. More dog attacks on sheep were recorded in Cumbria last year than in any other English county, so this is an issue that is acutely felt by many of my own constituents.
“The latest bird crime report from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds shows that, in 2016, there were no prosecutions at all in the UK for raptor persecution. That was for the first time in more than 30 years, despite the fact that there were 81 recorded instances of persecution. It is simply not good enough. Hen harrier populations are now down by 27%.
“The National Wildlife Crime Unit was set to be shut down by the Government in 2016, but was awarded four years’ worth of funding at the last minute, and I thank them for that. However, can the Minister confirm whether the unit will continue to receive adequate funding after 2020? The removal of this funding would have serious implications for the detection and accountability of those committing wildlife crimes, such as badger baiting and raptor persecution.
“A recent wildlife charity study found a worrying lack of prosecutions for wildlife crimes. Almost 1,300 incidents were recorded in just one year, but the records show that there were only 22 prosecutions or convictions. Worryingly, the report also says that the charities’ data is believed to be more comprehensive than Home Office crime statistics, but is still likely to be only the “tip of the iceberg”. It calls on the Government to follow Scotland’s lead. I understand that, in Scotland, there are specific police recording codes that the police use for wildlife crime. I ask the Minister to commit to that.”
Speaking after the debate, Sue said:
“I was so pleased to secure this important debate, because we need to talk about the real issues that affect rural communities on a daily basis. At the last general election, the Conservatives offered nothing for rural voters in Britain, concentrating their efforts on reopening the debate on bringing back foxhunting, instead of improving rural transport, halting bank closures, properly funding local schools, stopping the centralisation of beds away from community hospitals that play such an important role in our communities and resolving the problem of rural crime.
“Only Labour will put proper investment into Britain’s public services and infrastructure. This has never been more relevant than it is today to the millions of people living in rural communities across the country, who become so isolated when that infrastructure breaks down. A Labour Government will invest in rural communities and deliver prosperity for towns and villages, because they deserve and need it. Everyone who lives, works and enjoys the countryside has the right to feel safe, understood and secure.”