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Shadow minister questions if Steve Barclay ‘abused his position’ over Wisbech incinerator

‘No minister is allowed to abuse the system for their own personal gain’

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Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment Steve Reed used a trip to Peterborough to launch a blistering attack on Environment Minister Steve Barclay over the issues surrounding the decision to agree a £400m incinerator for Wisbech. He was concerned whether the NE Cambs MP may have “abused his position as Secretary of State to try and prop up the collapsing vote in his own constituency for party political benefit”.

In an exclusive interview with CambsNews, Mr Reed was asked what Labour would do about the controversial decision by a Government minister to approve the Wisbech incinerator and the attempts by Environment Minister Steve Barclay to block it.

Steve Reed OBE MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Andrew Pakes, Labour’s candidate for Peterborough visit Park Farm Thorney. Picture by Terry Harris

Steve Reed OBE MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 9centre) and Andrew Pakes, Labour’s candidate for Peterborough visit Park Farm Thorney. Picture by Terry Harris.

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Mr Barclay is facing mounting pressure over actions he may or may not have taken to frustrate an environment permit for the plant and questions over when he recused himself from any decision-making process, a process all ministers must follow when dealing with issues affecting their own constituencies.

Mr Reed began by explaining that it was vital that “we need to look at how we reduce waste, so we don’t have to incinerate so much as it is a key starting point.

“But I don’t think it’s for a government minister to take decisions about every individual case”.

He said: “You have to look at it case by case.

“There’s a process of consultation and engagement with local populations that should happen before those decisions are taken and that’s as it should be.

Steve Reed OBE MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Andrew Pakes, Labour’s candidate for Peterborough visit Park Farm Thorney. Picture by Terry Harris

Steve Reed OBE MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Andrew Pakes, Labour’s candidate for Peterborough visit Park Farm Thorney. Picture by Terry Harris

“My concern about what Steve Barclay has done or has tried to do is that he has abused his position as Secretary of State to try and prop up the collapsing vote in his own constituency for party political benefit.

“Now that may well be unlawful, and it may well be a breach of the ministerial code and there will be consequences for him to face if either of those things have happened.”.

The shadow minister added: “So what we’re calling for is a proper investigation into Steve Barclay’s behaviour, who he talked to, who he tried to persuade, which other ministers he’s tried to collude with to cover his tracks potentially so that we can get to the bottom of this.

“No minister is allowed to abuse the system for their own personal gain.”

 

Steve Reed OBE MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Andrew Pakes, Labour’s candidate for Peterborough visit Park Farm Thorney. Picture by Terry Harris

Steve Reed OBE MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Andrew Pakes, Labour’s candidate for Peterborough visit Park Farm Thorney. Picture by Terry Harris

Mr Reed was at Park Farm, Thorney, to learn about the growing of a range of crops including sugar beet and mustard from farmer Michael Sly.

Following the tour, they met with other farmers in the to discuss Labour’s new deal for farmers and agricultural workers.

Mr Reed said his visit to Thorney, accompanied by Andrew Pakes, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Peterborough, was “to hear what farmers up here in the fens are thinking.

“They are absolutely clear that they have been let down by the current government, so they are looking for much better support.

Steve Reed OBE MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Andrew Pakes, Labour’s candidate for Peterborough visit Park Farm Thorney. Picture by Terry Harris

Steve Reed OBE MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Andrew Pakes, Labour’s candidate for Peterborough visit Park Farm Thorney. Picture by Terry Harris

“Labour is offering a new deal farmers that will tackle some of the issues they are raising with us.

“One is the cost of energy has shot up and it’s contributed to the fact that 6,000 producers have gone bust since 2017.

“Labour’s plan is to set up GB Energy which is a publicly owned company that will direct public and private money to invest in wind wave solar and nuclear power so that we can get our own energy supplies in this country no longer dependent on foreign dictators like Vladimir Putin.”

He said Labour’s policy on energy would create more jobs “to get that energy to where it’s needed but importantly it will cut bills for businesses including farming as well as for households.

“That will be a significant boost to them.”

Mr Reed said another cause for concern flooding “and no surprise really this is a very flat part of the country the rain affects it and we’ve had one of the wettest six months on record.

“Yet the government has failed to get the flood defences built or to put in the ditches that can drain away the flood water despite the fact that the government have announced £5 billion to be spent on those measures by 2027

“They’ve only spent one billion of it the other four billion is sat in the treasury so Labour has said we have a flood resilience task force to coordinate between Whitehall and the agencies on the ground that can do that work; get spades in the ground and protect farmland as well as homeowners and businesses from the from the impact on flooding”.

Mr Reed was asked whether Labour had policies that to sustain farming and its workforce; Fenland is a major area for agriculture and people wanted to know how you might improve and change it.

Steve Reed OBE MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Andrew Pakes, Labour’s candidate for Peterborough visit Park Farm Thorney. Picture by Terry Harris

Steve Reed OBE MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Andrew Pakes, Labour’s candidate for Peterborough visit Park Farm Thorney. Picture by Terry Harris

He said: “Farmers and producers across the country as well as here in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire tell me that they feel really badly let down by this government.

“They were promised that they would continue to have support for producing food in this country and yet they have been completely abandoned.”

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For example, he said, the government had told British food producers they would continue to have open access to the European markets after Brexit.

But the government negotiated a withdrawal agreement that put up massive trade barriers, he said, which has stopped British food exporters exporting high-quality products into markets in Europe that want to buy it.

“That is a government cutting the legs from underneath our British food producers,” said Mr Reed.

MP Steve Barclay hosting a WisWIN delegation to Parliament to re-iterate opposition from Wisbech to the mega incinerator

MP Steve Barclay hosting a WisWIN delegation to Parliament to re-iterate opposition from Wisbech to the mega incinerator

“Labour will seek to renegotiate that trade deal with the European Union so we can get our Great British food products moving across the border again and get that money back into producers pocket

“So, there’s a hard practical way that a Labour government could support producers where this current Conservative government has undermined them.”

Mr Reed was also asked about one of his major campaigns in which he had claimed that “after 14 years of Conservative government our country is buried under sewage; the most unpatriotic negligent and useless government in living memory”.

Could Labour do better?

“We have to do better than that and you know this this is a government that has stood by while every single one of our rivers in the country has become polluted and large swathes of our coastline have become polluted with raw sewage,” he said. “It couldn’t be more disgusting.

“I have been to beaches where families are told they can’t go in the water because there’s so much sewage in the water.

“That is not the kind of country we want to be, not the kind of country we should be.”

Mr Reed continued: “The government has been far too cozy with the water bosses so what Labour will do is put the water companies under special measures and that that means giving the regulator the power they need to ban the payment of bonuses to water bosses who continue to oversee illegal sewage dumping in our waterways

“Since the last general election, they have paid themselves £25 million in bonuses despite the catastrophic failure record levels of sewage being dumped into our waterways

“The Conservative government has just turned a blind eye to that and let it continue – a Labour government won’t.”

He promised: “We will put an end to it, but we will go further than that. We will make the water bosses personally criminally liable if they keep continuing with this kind of behaviour.

“So, if you behave with a Labour government in the way that they have got away with under a Conservative government they will end up in the dock

“I can’t be clearer than that.

“Labour will take action against illegal sewage dumping while the Conservatives have turned a blind eye. It’s a real difference between the two of us.”

Mr Reed added that he had a personal connection with this area.

“When I went to university my parents moved to just outside Peterborough,” he said.

“My mom worked in the city; my dad worked just outside the city. So, I know the issues that that people care about here and I know that Andrew Pakes is a really strong advocate for this city and the people that live here.”

Mr Pakes said: “Food and farming is at the heart of Peterborough

“We are the gateway to the fens; the issues that people spoke to us about today are the issues that Labour will be putting forward in the next election.

“Whether that’s increasing neighbourhood policing so we can tackle rural crime, whether that’s helping businesses and householders with their energy bills or whether that’s tackling fly tipping and dumped rubbish and how dirty some of the streets look at

“But there are bigger issues about how we get the NHS back on its feet so people can see GP or get an NHS dentist when they want one

“People are fed up that nothing seems to work in this country whether that’s a farmer trying to do trade with Europe or trying to buy your fertilizer on international markets while prices are going up or whether that is a household worried about the price of the weekly shop still going up despite this government’s policies.”

He added: “There’s a big message here that it’s time for change. Every day I’m trying to win the trust of voters with they live in rural Thorney or Northborough or in the city centre.

“Over the next few months, we will be making that case and I believe it’s going to be a massive change.”

Mr Reed, who full title is Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, spent time touring Park Farm to learn about the growing of a range of crops including sugar beet and mustard from farmer Michael Sly.

Following the tour, they met with other farmers in the local area to discuss Labour’s new deal for farmers and agricultural workers.

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