Policing (London)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:48 am on 23rd June 2000.

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Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North 10:48 am, 23rd June 2000

I wholly agree with my hon. Friend. He must have read my speech because I was about to come on to the fact that, as part of the welcome change post the Lawrence report, reflecting the attention on the operation of stop and search, complaints against the police in central London have dropped sharply. Since 1998, there has been a 13 per cent. fall in complaints on the grounds of harassment and unlawful arrests. In my borough of Kensington and Chelsea, there has been a 43 per cent. fall and a 34 per cent. fall in complaints on the ground of incivility. That is part of the same argument. The police have learned an important lesson about the operation of stop-and-search powers. That is to their credit and will help in building the confidence of the community and in tackling crime.

I welcome the new seriousness with which public agencies are responding to racial incidents and commend the work of Chief Superintendent John Grieve in particular. Since 1998, there has been a fivefold increase in reporting of racial incidents in Westminster, and a fourfold increase in Kensington and Chelsea. We have yet to establish whether that is worrying because it shows a dramatic increase in racial incidents, or pleasing because it shows greater responsiveness by the agencies and a willingness to report, but surely those matters are far better out in the open, where they can be tackled, than hidden away.

Secondly, I commend the Home Secretary for his success so far in winning the resources for the crime fighting fund and for today's announcement, but there is a need to strengthen his arm in negotiations with the Treasury on the comprehensive spending review, so that we can continue to move forward in tackling the recruitment crisis in the Met and in building on the success of the crime reduction initiative.

The 1,113 additional officers allocated to the Met through the crime fighting fund are welcome, but, again, in my local boroughs establishment figures are well down on 1998. The latest figures are that Kensington and Chelsea is 31 officers down and Westminster is 43 officers down. Westminster's establishment has declined from 1,708 to 1,622 since 1998.

Although I am assured that front-line strength will be maintained—I pay tribute to the management skill of both borough commanders in ensuring that resources will be directed to the front line—I am unhappy about that fall in numbers, which will, happily, be at least partially offset by a share of the 1,113 extra officers, but there is a real issue: residents, particularly in the areas that I represent in the north of those two city boroughs, do not feel that they are getting the visible policing that they want to give them confidence. The early indications are that those two boroughs will not do as well from the 1,113 as other boroughs. I fully understand and appreciate the need for the Commissioner to establish priorities, but again when I go to the estates of north Kensington and north Paddington, I have to account for the needs of those communities. They want visible and responsive policing.

I am aware of the fact that, whatever the establishment figures, we must recognise the recruitment crisis. I am delighted with the Home Secretary's announcement recognising the problems that police officers post-Sheehy have had with housing costs, in the light of London house prices increasing by almost half over the past couple of years. We need to do more. We should tackle that not simply through the money that we pay to police officers, but by pursuing what should be a classic example of joined-up thinking. The Home Secretary should be working with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to ensure that we tackle London's housing crisis.

We have 42,000 families living in temporary accommodation in London. The supply of affordable housing has fallen very sharply over recent years, again as a result of a long-term trend—the failure over many years to invest in affordable housing. Unless we create homes for rent and shared ownership homes throughout London, even with the welcome additional housing allowance for police officers we will not be able to ensure that our key public sector workers have the opportunity to live in the city and to have the family homes that they want to bring up their families.

The housing crisis in central London is, to go off at a tangent, an issue not just in the recruitment of police officers. It has a direct knock-on effect on the problems of crime and anti-social behaviour. It is worrying. Hundreds and hundreds of people with severe mental health problems and personality disorders live in bed-and-breakfast and temporary accommodation because we do not have the supply of affordable housing to deal with them. Therefore, I urge the Minister to do all he can to secure not just resources for the police, which he has already shown he can do, but the related resources to help us to tackle the housing crisis in central London for public sector workers and for others in housing need.

Thirdly, I speak in support of—and, naturally, ask for more of—some of the excellent crime prevention initiatives that are being developed to help us to be tough on the causes of crime. This year, the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea's community safety team bid successfully for £117,000 for closed circuit television in north Kensington—it made two bids to supplement police efforts to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour. That will build on successful schemes elsewhere in north Kensington.

CCTV does not solve all our problems. It is not a panacea, but the recent evaluation of a major scheme in my constituency has shown—I quote from the evaluation report: it is achieving its main aims in terms of reducing crime, providing a deterrent to crime and reducing the fear of crime, with a 19 per cent. reduction in total recorded crime during the evaluation period last year—nearly double the divisional average. More than half the residents surveyed said that the scheme had increased their sense of security. We should be very pleased with the CCTV schemes and welcome the additional investment that has already been made, but if we ensure that the scheme rolls forward and helps us to tackle further problems on our estates, car parks and city centres, it will be extremely welcome.

I for one regret the fact that Westminster, which covers half my constituency, has so far concentrated CCTV bids—I am sure with good cause—on the city centre, which is represented by the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke). The north Westminster estates have not benefited from the schemes, despite the fact that there is real fear—and experience—of street crime, and car crime in particular, in those communities.

Finally, I want to commend two important prevention schemes being developed, thanks to the Government, with single regeneration budget funding. The New Life for Paddington neighbourhood warden scheme, the first of its kind in London, will concentrate on community development, environmental improvement and crime prevention through visibility in the management of public spaces.

Early consultation on the scheme confirms the huge gap between the existing means of discussing policing and safety with the public and the public's needs and perceptions. We have a long way to go to convince people that we are recognising their fears, but schemes such as this, which complement the work of the police, make a valuable contribution to the process.

The other scheme is being funded through the single regeneration budget award to Golborne United in north Kensington. The community reward scheme, the brainchild of inspirational youth worker Barran Hulme from the Wornington green detached youth project, offers reward points to young people for their involvement in community projects such as graffiti clearance and gardening for housebound pensioners. The points can be exchanged for trips and activities. I gather that a day's jet skiing is one of the latest options.

The scheme is brilliant in its simplicity and I hope that the social exclusion unit will come to see it and hold it up as an example of good practice in involving young people and offering a deterrent to crime, making people feel that our young people are an integral part of our community and not a source of fear, which is unfortunately often the case at present.

We are running some excellent schemes, backed by Government money. Government investment in policing and the crime fighting fund is extremely welcome. We must continue to sell its benefits and to extend it into other needy and pressurised communities. The Mayor and the police authority must now take up the challenge of working with the Metropolitan police service to complete the process of change and convince all Londoners that we are tackling crime and policing for all our diverse communities. I wish them luck.