Rural areas getting 'raw deal' over police funding, chairman of Lords select committee says

Rural areas getting 'raw deal' over police funding, chairman of Lords select committee says
Rural areas getting 'raw deal' over police funding, chairman of Lords select committee says

Rural areas are getting a “raw deal” from national policing budgets, the chairman of a Lords select committee has said.

Lord Foster of Bath, whose Rural Economy Committee is studying the economic impact of rural crime, said the situation comes amid a general decline in services for countryside communities, from Post Offices to bus routes.

Speaking exclusively to The Yorkshire Post, he said: “It is absolutely clear to me that in so many areas, rural areas have had a raw deal and that the cake has not been fairly sliced.

“This is true in respect of many aspects of service provision.

“It is in rural areas you see bank branch closures, we have seen Post Office closures, we have seen closures of village shops, we have seen a reduction in bus services in rural areas and so on, so there is no doubt that rural areas have had a rough deal.”

The cross-party committee has begun an inquiry into how rural crime, organised criminals and ‘county lines’ drugs gangs are having an impact on the rural economy, with a report on its findings due in March.

Lord Foster said information it had gathered so far, including a live evidence session in Parliament this week, had shown that more than 1,000 countryside police stations had closed, rural crime was up by 13 per cent on last year and the annual cost to communities had “risen quite dramatically” to £45m.

He said rural forces received 24 per cent less funding per head of population than their urban counterparts but often faced higher costs, leading to low levels of public satisfaction with the police.

Ministers have again delayed a long-awaited review of the police funding formula to at least 2020, with North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan describing it as “in the long grass” in this week’s evidence session.

Mrs Mulligan also told the committee there were difficulties getting other agencies to provide adequate services in rural areas.

For example, she said, they were facing a “real battle” with NHS England over adequate provision of Sexual Assault Referral Centres.

She said there had been two recent cases where there had been no out-of-hours forensic medical examiners for children and instead families had to preserve evidence, “which no family member wants to do when their child has been sexually assaulted”.

Lord Foster told The Yorkshire Post the average cost of a crime to a farmer or rural business owner was £5,000, but “some of them are much higher and can have a huge impact on the viability of the business”.

He said improving rural policing would have a wider benefit on those in urban areas, who relied on the food and other goods produced in the countryside.

The Liberal Democrat peer said the final report was also likely to include a call to toughen up sentencing guidelines.

He said he had been contacted this week by a farmer whose business was targeted by a hare-coursing gang who had “simply ripped off the top of his fuel tank”, causing the loss of thousands of pounds of fuel and contaminating his land. Lord Foster said a fine issued by the courts “was minimal”.

But he said there was cause for optimism, praising the establishment of the National Rural Crime Network, an organisation bringing together 30 rural forces chaired by Mrs Mulligan, and a new national rural crime strategy created by the National Police Chiefs Council earlier this year.

A Government spokesperson said: "We are committed to addressing the crimes that impact our rural communities – supporting Chief Constables and Police and Crime Commissioners in rural areas so they can deploy resources as they best see fit.

“We are on the front foot in engaging with the police and recognise the changing demands they are facing. There is £1bn more of public money going into policing than three years ago, and the Home Secretary has been clear that he will prioritise police funding.”