Hexham MP Guy Opperman backs national service plan to tackle anti-social behaviour

Guy Opperman MP at Albemarle Barracks with Defence Minister James Cartlidge MP (right) and Lt Col Jonny Hooper (left).
-Credit: (Image: Handout)

A Northumberland Conservative minister has backed plans to reintroduce national service and believes it could help tackle anti-social behaviour.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced plans to return to a mandatory national service system for 18-year-olds. Under a future Tory Government, every 18-year-old would spend time either in a competitive, full-time military commission over 12 months, or with one weekend per month in a community-based setting, such as a special constable or an NHS responder.

Hexham MP and Roads Minister Guy Opperman has welcomed the news, arguing many residents have come to him with concerns about anti-social behaviour. However, his political opponents contesting the seat at the General Election have criticised the cost of the scheme to Northumberland.

Mr Opperman said: "I am fully supportive of the Prime Minister's plan to bring back National Service. Many residents have raised concerns with me about anti-social behaviour in our local area.

"Our plan for National Service will ensure that every 18-year-old is fully engaged in their local community, giving them the tools, training and experience they need to succeed in later life.

"If local young adults choose the military service option, we have some of the best armed forces personnel to be found anywhere in the country at Albemarle Barracks, and I know that they are ready to step up to the plate as part of this initiative."

According to figures from Northumbria Police, there were 894 incidents of anti-social behaviour reported to the force in the Tynedale area between March 1 2023 and April 30 2024.

Mr Opperman's comments came after neighbouring MP and fellow Government Minister Anne Marie Trevelyan refused to rule out the possibility of fining parents if their adult children fail to participate. Berwick MP Ms Trevelyan did not rule out the possibility when quizzed on Times Radio on Monday morning.

The Tories have said that the national service programme is expected to cost £2.5 billion a year. This would be funded by cash previously used for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, as well as cracking down on tax avoidance. The Government's own figures say the shared prosperity fund is slated to provide £19 million to Northumberland between 2022 and 2025.

A Conservative spokesman said: “Of the full funding envelope, £1 billion of this will be funded through our plan to raise an additional £6 billion a year by the end of the next Parliament from cracking down on tax avoidance and evasion.

"The remaining £1.5 billion will be paid for using funding previously used for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF). We will extend the UKSPF for three years.

"During this time, it will be allocated across the Union on the same basis as before. From 2028/29 onwards, the UKSPF will be diverted into National Service and the Royal Commission will be tasked with ensuring an equitable spread of spending across the UK.”

The candidates put forward for the Hexham seat by both the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party have criticised the proposals over the loss of this funding. The national service policy was branded "desperate" and "hare-brained".

Liberal Democrat candidate Nick Cott said: "The Conservative Party has already done so much damage to people’s living standards and public services in the Hexham constituency with all their chaos.

“Now they want to slash funding for local services to pay for their hare-brained plans for a National Service, which are nothing but a desperate distraction from the Government’s record of failure on the NHS and economy.

“If the Conservatives were serious about defending Britain’s security, they would reverse their plans to cut the Army by 10,000 troops.”

Labour's Joe Morris added: "Taking money which was promised to Northumberland and using it for a desperate election announcement shows that the Tories have no interest in our local area. Levelling up has always been a sham and a scam.

"We need change across Hexham constituency, and only Labour can deliver it. Instead of taking from places like ours, a Labour government will give power back to local leaders and work in partnership to rebuild Britain. We need to turn the page on this chaos.”

The Shared Prosperity Fund was introduced to replace the EU Structural Investment Programme after the UK left the European Union. Cash was awarded to councils who could produce plans to show how the funding would be used to further objectives related to levelling up.