Every day that Labour is in opposition is frustrating and until we get into Government we will not be able to deliver on many of our priorities that will make this a fairer, more prosperous country. But there are moments when we can make a difference for people and now Parliament is in recess for Easter I’ve been reflecting on some of our recent successes.
One of my priorities over the past year has been campaigning around reducing sewage discharges into our rivers. This week the Environment Agency published alarming data showing water companies discharged raw sewage into rivers and coastal waters in England more than 400,000 times last year – a 27 per cent increase from the previous year.
Untreated human waste flooded into rivers and seas for a total of 3.1 million hours via storm overflow pipes that are only intended for use in extreme weather to relieve pressure in the sewage system. This pollution of our rivers poses a real threat to wildlife, agriculture and potentially to public health, so it is vital that Britain’s “blue arteries” are much better protected from harmful discharges.
So, I welcomed the news earlier this week that following the campaigning of MPs and third sector organisations like The Rivers Trust and Surfers Against Sewage, new legal duties will be placed on water companies and Government to stick within defined limits.
The Government will be duty-bound to publish a plan by September 2022 to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows and will have to report to Parliament each year on progress on implementing the plan. Water companies will also be expected to play their part, by publishing yearly data on storm overflow use.
As always, the devil is in the detail and I will be following this development closely. And as The Rivers Trust have said, it will be good to see more funding for water infrastructure improvements and much-needed public education.
Over the Easter break many of us will be heading out to enjoy the countryside, but it’s vital that we all play our part as individuals and utility companies to protect our shared natural habitat, including the littering which blights so many of our otherwise beautiful landscapes.
Since joining the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Loneliness, I have been working across Parliament and alongside the British Red Cross and Co-op to develop the right long-term solutions and policies to tackle loneliness.
In 2020 we led an independent enquiry, collecting evidence and gathering hundreds of views and expert opinions. The result of this work can now be found in the British Red Cross report, ‘A Connected Recovery’, which you can read on their website.
We are now calling on the Government to adopt 15 recommendations from the report to reconnect our communities – from investing in public spaces and transport, to closing the digital divide. All of these things are crucially important in order to have a joined-up approach to tackling loneliness properly and our work continues.
Northumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness has warned violent crime could increase in the North East after the Tories cut a dedicated knife crime fund by 40%.
Home Office Surge funds are handed to police forces to pay for enforcement activity in hotspot areas – for increased patrols, preventing street-based violence and weapons sweeps. But I’m concerned that fighting crime in Northumbria will be harder following Government funding cuts.
The Home Office claims to back local police forces to deal with violent crime. But the Surge funding figure announced for Northumbria – £906,500 – was, in fact, a 40% reduction in the previous year’s vital knife-crime cash. The previous £1.524m Surge funding was used for targeted knife crime crackdowns, with several operations targeting street gangs and known offenders.
Northumbria Police have worked hard to get violent crime and knife crime down – but with lockdown ending and pubs and clubs set to re-open shortly, I’m very concerned the funding cut from the Conservatives could have dangerous consequences. As restrictions are eased, the Government may have serious questions to answer over public safety.