Voters in Wellingborough will elect a new MP in a by-election on February 15.
It is taking place because former Conservative MP Peter Bone was removed from his role after more than one in ten registered voters signed a recall petition.
The seat, in the heart of Northamptonshire, has around 80,000 voters. It was once a center for shoe production, but its economy has diversified and now includes services and logistics.
But what can the data tell us about some of the issues facing the constituency? And what do some candidates think about it?
Knife crime and police
These figures apply to “selected” crimes involving “knives or sharp instruments”. The crimes range from actual bodily harm and grievous bodily harm to theft, rape and murder.
It shows that the number of these crimes in Northamptonshire increased by 70% between March 2014 and March 2023, but is down from the peak in 2021. More recent data suggests the decline is continuing.
Gen Kitchen, Labour, said “knife crime is absolutely a problem” and that she had spoken to parents concerned about children coming home from school.
But she praised the “great work of the third sector [the voluntary sector] and local charities” and credited them with reducing numbers through school outreach and knife amnesty bins.
Former police officer Ana Savage Gunn, Liberal Democrats, also praised the “fantastic work” of community groups.
She said the government had “underfunded the police” but “when crime rates skyrocketed, it thought better of it”.
Home Office data shows that the number of police officers per 100,000 in Northamptonshire fell by almost 20% between 2010 and 2019, but has almost recovered by March 2023.
Ms Savage Gunn said the police force is now “disstructured” and has “lost a lot of experienced officers – you can’t just open a box of police officers, you have to train them”.
Helen Harrison, Conservative, said it was “absolutely right that we reverse cuts to the police force”.
Several residential areas, she added, had benefited from the Safer Streets Fund, which paid for CCTV, safer front doors and alleyways.
If elected, she would “beg” the province’s police and crime commissioner to put “visible police” on the streets, with officers “patrolling from their cars.”
Ben Habib of Reform UK said the country is facing a “huge uphill battle” against crime because “the balanced equation that gives criminals the confidence to know they will be caught and beaten for their rights” is being broken used to be’.
He added that the economy should be the priority: “If people can’t afford to make ends meet, people will naturally turn to crime.”
For the Green Party’s Will Morris, crime is a ‘complex problem’ that needs a ‘complex solution’.
“This isn’t just about the police, it’s about child care providers, it’s about medical services and mental health care,” he said.
Marion Turner-Hawes, Independent, said Wellingborough had “profound challenges” with crime, “particularly drug problems”.
More than half of a “network of community support” had “disappeared overnight” and “young people have suffered as a result”.
“I’m not saying this is an excuse for anyone to pick up a knife. But we have to understand the context that if energy doesn’t go one way, it goes the other,” she said.
North Northamptonshire Council said these 2023 figures were lower than expected and there could be an issue with the way the data was split since Northamptonshire’s council structure changed in 2021.
“If you look at the bus routes we have in Wellingborough, it’s no surprise,” Ms Kitchen said, “because there really aren’t any.”
She added that a number of “very sensible routes” had been “cut”, meaning “less connectivity”.
Ms Harrison accepted “we don’t have a huge history of great public transport in North Northamptonshire”, although she supports buses to help people get around and “meet environmental obligations”.
The Conservative-led council had a ‘bus service improvement plan’ which it hoped would ‘increase bus use’.
“The only way you’re going to change people’s habits is if you have a very, very good, very regular bus service that goes everywhere so that people would actually ditch their cars.”
She called for more data to see “who wants the buses, who will use the buses, where they are best used,” and then they can “lobby the government for more money.”
Mr Morris said the difference in life expectancy of 4.5 years between Queensway and an adjacent area around Gleneagles Drive was “shocking”.
One problem, he said, was the current government’s “attitude” toward the “nanny state.”
“Anything that could improve people’s lives or anything that could improve health is thrown away because it’s ‘woke’, otherwise you shouldn’t get involved in people’s lives.”
Mr Habib agreed that this is “definitely something that needs to be addressed”.
The best way? “You need a healthy economy,” he said.
“If you are prosperous as an individual, you can make better life choices.”
Ms Harrison said public health and “reducing health inequalities” was something she took “very seriously”.
She said some government schemes are “plaster work”, although she praised the cost of living, the Household Support Fund and the increase in the national living wage.
The key was “catch people before they fall”.
“If we don’t tackle the problems further upstream, we will have to keep finding ways to help people when they are already in trouble.”
Ms Kitchen said a Labor government would “shift more care into the community” and train more doctors and nurses. She criticized the Conservatives for “not properly funding public services”.
“Queensway probably relies more on those services… and they’ve just seen it cut and cut and cut.”
Ms Turner-Hawes said: “We need a way to ensure we have basic support and good quality services”.
Renovating homes to make them more energy efficient would create jobs for skilled workers, she said, and improve living conditions, offering “an opportunity for a real green revolution at the grassroots.”
Ms Savage Gunn said services were “collapsed around everyone’s ears” and “there is a lot of anger”.
Education was part of the solution, in addition to ‘making their community more vibrant’.
How would she finance investments?
“A windfall tax on oil companies” and “shifting some of the money into society,” she said.
The result in 2019
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