SPEECH ON RURAL CRIME

It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison) in this important debate. As a district councillor and long-time resident of Tendring, I know that rural crime is all too common in the Tendring District Council area. To demonstrate that point further, only today I received a telephone call and an email from a couple of local residents who have both recently been the victims of rural crime. In the first incident, a constituent contacted me to report fly-tipping. I hear similar concerns on a weekly basis in my area, and fly-tipping is the most significant rural crime we face locally. It is estimated that my local authority spent over £74,000 last year alone on tackling this issue, which is £74,000 that should have been spent on improving public services for local taxpayers. That is an outrage: taxes should not have to be spent in this way.

Moreover, if the council is spending £74,000, unfortunate private landowners are probably spending much more. I say probably because we have no way of telling how much it costs them to clear up the mess. I am told by my local Essex police district commander, the excellent Paul Wells, that, on the whole, private landowners just get on with it and clear up the mess, so the actual cost to them and to the public is far higher than the headline figures suggest.

We must also consider the potential health risks of fly-tipping, because some people—some builders, et cetera—will just dump stuff that may contain hazardous ​waste, such as asbestos and the like. Consequently, we must continue to tackle this issue very strongly, and I agree with the Country Land and Business Association that greater penalties are needed. We need to punish offenders, and we need to make sure we use all opportunities for enforcement. Unfortunately, it appears that is not currently happening.

According to figures from the CLA, there were 1,132 incidents of fly-tipping in Tendring in 2016-17, yet no fines were given out, no vehicles were seized and nobody was prosecuted. To put it another way, 1,170 incidents were investigated, at a cost of £38,000 to the public purse, nobody was punished, and no costs were recouped.

Moving away from fly-tipping, an equally important local crime in our rural areas is dog theft, which has not been mentioned this afternoon. I am regularly contacted about this issue. I have previously raised the concerns of local residents in a Westminster Hall debate on the sale of puppies, and I would be grateful for more information from the Minister on what the Government plan to do about that issue.

According to Missing Pets Bureau, as many as 38% of all animals reported lost have been stolen, and as many as 60% of stolen dogs are tragically never recovered. I agree with the 93,557 individuals, and counting, who have signed a petition calling for the theft of a pet to be reclassified as a specific crime in its own right.

Rural crime in Tendring is not all doom and gloom. Our police are doing great work locally, and I thank our long-time rural and heritage crime officer Andy Long and all his Essex police colleagues for their hard work. Thanks to their efforts, the cost of rural crime has fallen by £10 million since 2010, meaning that the true cost of rural crime is now around £39.2 million—that is £39.2 million too much—which shows how effective our local police forces can be and demonstrates that things are moving in the right direction.

That brings me to my final point, because this debate, however focused on rural communities, comes back to a common word used in many debates in this House: enforcement. From knife crime to rural crime, we need bobbies on the beat to act, which is why I am delighted that the campaign I launched last year with fellow Essex MPs, as mentioned earlier, to get more flexibility in the police precept was successful.

Police and crime commissioners are now able to raise precept contributions by up to £1 a month. Together, this will mean force budgets can increase by up to £450 million nationally this year. There will be a welcome boost of £8.8 million across Essex to pay for around 150 new officers. These men and women, while enjoying the rural beauty of our fantastic sunshine coast of Clacton, will find their work cut out for them, yet I am pleased they will have the Government’s support.

I am also pleased that we have 150 extra officers in Essex, because I have just been informed on my mobile device that the police are currently out in my area looking for an escaped ostrich.

Watch the speech here.

Read the full debate here.