I have already said that the role of an elected representative is fundamental to economic development in rural areas, but when I was on the city council, the voice of a commission relating to any subject relevant to a local authority was always taken seriously. Local authorities ignored the policy advice of a commission at its peril. Those commissions, because they are independent and seem to have no direct interest in the issue at hand, are taken seriously, particularly in a politicised city such as Sheffield, which is so politically driven. Statements made by commissions are taken seriously by local community and lobbying groups and are ignored at one’s peril.
Schools, local authority housing and access to further education and employment have already been mentioned, but drugs are also a big issue in rural areas. The issue is not special to urban areas. There are drugs issues across every single rural area in my constituency. The problem needs to be addressed seriously. The problem is often ignored. I am convinced that the Commission for Rural Communities will play a part in raising the profile of such issues, which can threaten to destroy the very communities I am talking about. In a former pit village in my area, High Green, we have a specific drugs problem, which is one of the reasons why it is recognised as one of the city’s most deprived areas.
The whole point of having a commission, which I am pleased to see, is that the focus is going to be on social and economic disadvantage. Drugs and drug taking is one of the key indicators of serious social and economic problems. Outside my constituency, and outside Sheffield, is the village of Grimethorpe, which was made famous by the film “Brassed Off”. Grimethorpe is known as a village with one of the biggest drugs problems in South Yorkshire. It was one of the most prosperous villages in South Yorkshire, but the closure of the pit led to entrenched social problems. It is going to take more than the good will and focus of the local authority to deal with that problem. We need the national policy framework. We need a powerful advocate for communities such as Grimethorpe, High Green and Stockbridge—at the northern end of my constituency—to deal with such deep-rooted problems.
I welcome the commission and I hope the Committee and its members will support the Minister in rejecting the amendments.