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It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend Colleen Fletcher.
Never has a Government agenda looked so hollow. Everything on this Prime Minister’s wish list, masquerading as a Conservative party broadcast, being read out by Her Majesty in Westminster, was utterly dependent on what was happening in Brussels with Brexit. Brexit, not this Government, will dictate fiscal strategy. It is clear to me that the Prime Minister is refusing to listen to the voices of those on the frontline of public services who are telling him and all of us how damaging his Government’s reckless strategy will be.
The Prime Minister is pretending and telling us that his Government are the guardians of law and order when it was his party that slashed police officer numbers. Under the austerity agenda, for the last decade, his party has systematically under-resourced the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and legal aid. It has also closed courtrooms, including in my constituency, Bedford, leading to delays of years in cases coming to trial.
The Home Secretary claims that a law billed as a crackdown on foreign criminals would make the UK safer, but this dog-whistle policy, which is estimated to cost the taxpayer about £100 million a year once it kicks in, would apply to only about 10 people a year. Terrorism, cyber-crime and other serious and organised forms of crime have no borders. We rely on working with our European counterparts and joint working with EU police forces to keep our country safe. That is where the Government’s focus needs to be in order to keep the public safe, not on vanity projects that appeal to populist sentiment.
For years, Bedfordshire police begged the Government for more funding. I will not forget that only a year ago the former chief constable of Bedfordshire police told me and this Government that in his 35 years as a police officer, he had never seen such high demand on his force, yet he had to deal with a surge in serious violent crime with fewer officers than he had in 2010 and with a £47 million budget cut. He simply could not find enough officers to attend all 999 calls. Since then the Bedfordshire police force has received more funding, the brunt of the cost of which will be shouldered by taxpayers through the council tax precept. They will see only 54 new officers in the next two years, but that will not even replace those lost or who will soon be retiring. It falls very short of the 440 police officers and 80 detectives that the Conservative police and crime commissioner for Bedfordshire says our county force needs.
It is a similar story with the hollow promises for our NHS. NHS England has made it clear that core treatment targets cannot be met within the funding settlement offered by the Government. How many more times will this Tory Government promise to bring forward proposals to improve social care and then produce absolutely nothing? We need urgent action, not empty words, reviews or vague proposals. The Tory cuts have hit funding by an average of 9% per person since 2010, leaving the social care system close to collapse. Social care services cannot continue to be the victim of political turbulence. Hundreds of thousands of older people, many living in poverty and loneliness, have already suffered years of inaction and broken promises.
The Prime Minister cannot be trusted on the NHS. His grand announcements collapse under scrutiny. The Prime Minister promised 40 new hospitals but will deliver only six new buildings or refurbs—and that is only if they win not just this election but the one to follow. It is totally unclear what criteria were used for which hospitals would receive extra funding, but in the Bedford, Luton and Dunstable merger, Bedford Hospital got nothing from the £99.5 million proposed investment. Next to nothing is being done to address the severe staffing crisis at all levels of the NHS. Bedford Hospital had to recruit 237 nurses from the other side of the world to fill vacancies that were largely left by EU nurses leaving because they feared for their future in the UK.
The Prime Minister’s hints at rail reforms also strike a hollow ring with my constituents, who have experienced a severe reduction in services. Thousands of my constituents who moved to Bedford because of the fast train services to London and the north have been let down. Commuters from Bedford face almost daily misery because of unreliable services. Rail privatisation has failed completely. No one is fooled by a commercial model. What is needed is an integrated system run by the people for the people.
The Queen’s Speech is a sham. Much of it is not even new policy. There is no plan, no vision and no honesty about the state of crisis in our public services. The Prime Minister may want to distract us from Brexit by trying to focus on fixing the public services that his Government decimated, but it is his Government who are making a mess of everything.