Representatives of mountain and cave rescue teams from across England and Wales were in Parliament last week to highlight their work, and to campaign for better funding. They currently get almost nothing from Government, yet according to one MP we'd struggle to do without them.
Volunteer Mountain Rescue Teams in England and Wales represent really good value to the public purse, doing a vital job at a cost to the taxpayer of only around £2000 per team. Equivalent emergency services receive far more meaningful government funding. North of the border, the Scottish Government meets between 25-50% of teams' operating costs; Mountain Rescue England and Wales (MREW) argue they're worth it too.
"If government could guarantee a level of funding... our volunteer rescuers would be able to focus on getting the job done rather than having to worry about money"
Last week they met with over 80 MPs and members of the House of Lords to make the case.
David Allan, Chairman of MREW, explained what they'd been up to:
'We focused on two key messages: the breadth of what we are asked to do and the funding gap with similar services,' he said.
'We were encouraged by the level of interest, the obvious support and the understanding of our current status as volunteers providing a vital service. We now need to clarify the next steps in our campaign to achieve regular and significant funding from central government.'
MREW put on an exhibition in the Upper Waiting Hall in the Palace of Westminster from Monday to Friday. A reception, sponsored by Penrith and the Borders MP Rory Stewart, interesting Afghan-wandering dark horse and leader of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Rescue Services, was held on Tuesday 29 October, attracting about 50 people from both Houses.
'I believe that this was an important event for Parliament because mountain rescue represents one of the very solid examples in the country of volunteers, people unpaid doing something which is completely vital to the public interest,' said Rory Stewart.
'For Parliament to concentrate on that and to get nearly fifty MPs in a reception, meeting mountain rescue people, I think [...] is going to be very important in changing perceptions of what volunteers do for us in society.'
Rory Stewart had invited PM David Cameron to attend the reception, and although unable to do so he wrote in reply to say that 'the work carried out by the volunteers and everyone involved in this service is immensely worthy of praise and recognition'. Mountain rescue is arguably a perfect example of the now rather forgotten big society in action; but like most worthwhile things, it has to be paid for somehow. Whether Prime Ministerial praise and recognition will translate into money is yet to be seen.
Andrew Bingham, MP for High Peak, did attend: 'It was great to be there to support the mountain rescue because they do such a fantastic job across the whole of the High Peak area' he said. 'They really are the extra emergency service that not only residents rely on but also all the visitors that we get across Kinder. Without the mountain rescue, we really would be struggling.'
MREW's Head of fundraising Mike France said the current arrangement seems crazy:
'Volunteer rescuers, about 3600 of them in England and Wales, are available 24/7 throughout the year for local call outs,' he explained, 'and they have to train for many different situations and needs.'
'...[T]hey also have to find time for fundraising just to keep their Teams going and we’re hoping that the week’s discussions in Westminster will have shown MPs the huge discrepancy between the financial support given by government to Scottish rescuers – about £16,480 per team – and the much more limited funding to English teams of just £2,246 per team.'
'If government could guarantee a level of funding from the public purse closer to the Scottish figure, we’d be able to underwrite investments in vehicles and essential kit and subsidise essential training and insurance and our volunteer rescuers would be able to focus on getting the job done rather than having to worry about money.'
'We had great support last week from the MPs local to our rescue teams and representing the key areas for our more obvious work' said David Allan, 'and the Reception enabled us to extend this knowledge and support throughout Parliament. We will continue to work with Rory and the APPG to move this campaign on and explore the options for future funding.'