She’s just taken on a shadow ministerial role at a crucial point in the UK’s Brexit negotiations, but Bradford MP Judith Cummins is just as concerned about the state of young people’s teeth in her home city. Rob Parsons reports.
With an output of more than 250,000 tonnes of chemicals a year, German firm BASF’s base in the Low Moor area of Bradford is one of the largest and most productive plants of its kind in the country.
Judith Cummins has been a regular visitor to the sprawling 50-acre site since her election as Bradford South MP in 2015, but this time her appointment has a more political edge to it.
A few weeks earlier she took on the role of Labour’s Shadow International Trade Minister, focusing on imports and exports, meaning the firm’s ability to export the chemicals its manufactures for industries such as paper-making and waste water treatment is now of more than just local interest.
As she is taken on a tour round the facilities full of glistening metal structures and elaborate networks of pipes, Brexit, the word dominating the majority of political discourse in 2018, is high on the agenda.
“I come here to talk to these people, because they are the experts on the chemical industry, it’s certainly not the politicians, but they tell me about how I can help them, in my role as a local MP and my role on the shadow front bench,” she tells The Yorkshire Post during an interview in a BASF boardroom.
“They are worried about the uncertainty, all businesses are worried about uncertainty and they want certainty. It’s not one business, it’s what we hear from every single business we go to. They want to just get on with it, really. They want to plan effectively and to know how it is going to affect their business going forward.”
Though she campaigned for Remain, Bradford voted Leave 54-46 in the 2016 referendum. And based on her experience knocking on doors, Mrs Cummins says these allegiances have largely stayed the same, with an impatience to get on with things amid the uncertainty of the UK’s trade negotiations with the European Union.
An easier concept to grasp for residents in Bradford is the city’s strikingly poor rates of oral health that meant 190 local children in eight months were admitted to hospital for a tooth extraction under general anaesthetic.
For people in Bradford, it’s a double whammy, because you can’t register with an NHS dentist and they can’t afford a private dentist, so they end up not going to a dentist at all.Judith Cummins
Bradford’s position among the worst 10 per cent of local authorities for oral health is partly down to lack of access to NHS dentistry. Forty-three per per cent of respondents to a recent poll said they did not have an NHS dentist and 30 per cent of parents said their children didn’t have one.
“It is quite complex but my big issue is children’s access to NHS dentists”, says Mrs Cummins, “So many of my constituents have not got access to an NHS dentist and can’t afford to go private.
“As a consequence of that the children’s teeth are particularly bad, they are much worse on decay than the rest of the country.”
She adds: “For people in Bradford, it’s a double whammy, because you can’t register with an NHS dentist and they can’t afford a private dentist, so they end up not going to a dentist at all.”
Looking at the root causes, she says the city’s ability to attract NHS dentists is linked to the way contracts are drawn up, with prevention work and more complex work not rewarded.
On top of this public health messages, such as the fact that children can get free check-ups and treatment on the NHS, are not getting through.
“The amount of children we get now through A&E to get their teeth extracted has shot up massively, it is a crisis”, she said.
“They are being extracted because they are not registered with an NHS dentist, so they end up in hospital because the pain has got so bad, and then they have their teeth pulled out. That is such a shame.
“You might not be talking about milk teeth, it can be second teeth. [It affects] the confidence you feel, your ability to get a job, all those kind of things.
“And then lastly your health, because if you can’t eat very well, you can’t chew your food, you are not going to be very healthy. It is a crisis nationally, it’s certainly a crisis in Bradford.”
Equally damaging for the future prospects of Bradford’s young people is the long-running issue of its poor transport links to nearby cities, a by-product of a lack of government investment stretching back decades.
She remains unconvinced by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling’s claims of record investment in northern transport, preferring to believe the evidence of her own eyes and those of her constituents.
“When I was at a school this morning, it was primary school kids, they asked me what I was working on.
“I was explaining that I wanted trains that ran faster between Leeds and Bradford and to Manchester and back, so they could get access to more jobs when they get older, they understood it perfectly easily. It’s not difficult, is it?
“They were saying ‘we’ve never been to London’, they shouldn’t have to go to London for decent jobs. My job is to make it easier for them to get decent jobs growing up.
“My job is about creating a positive image of Bradford so that people will come and do business in Bradford and people invest here. We were talking about BASF investing just now £25m in Bradford, that is fantastic, they understand that Bradford is a great place to live and work in, my job is to get that message out to more and more people and attract jobs to Bradford.”