I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend’s comments.
The line now taken by the Government seems to be that it does not matter how many police officers there are. As some Members have noted, that is a far cry from the general election campaign, when Liberal Democrats were promising to recruit 3,000 extra police officers. We might be getting a little immune to the Liberal Democrats breaking election promises, but this one, like so many others, was not worth the ink on the “Focus” leaflet it was printed on. I will be interested to see the “Focus” leaflet in Eastleigh, where I am sure they will be explaining why there will be 295 fewer police officers on the streets in Hampshire.
We have heard from a lot of Members today, but it is also worth reflecting on the views of those we have been sent here to represent. Last month, ComRes conducted polling for ITV news that shows why there can be no room for the complacency that I fear we are seeing on the Government Benches. In the poll, 38% thought that crime had got worse in their area in the past three months and just 6% thought that it had got better. On antisocial behaviour, 22% thought it had got worse in the past three months, while just 8% thought that it had got better. We should all be concerned when more than one in five believe antisocial behaviour has got worse and more than one in three believe that crime has got worse in their neighbourhood. If the public express their concerns and believe that crime and antisocial behaviour are rising, we have a duty to reflect those concerns.
Last week, I spoke to a senior police officer who told me that the thing the public tell all of us that they value most—the bobby on the beat in our communities—is becoming harder and harder to provide. He said:
“The policing pledge forced us to up our game. Things like the requirement to spend at least 80% of time on the beat”—
I still have not been given an answer to why that pledge was scrapped—
“and responding to non urgent messages to the neighbourhood team within 24 hours—when we did that our satisfaction rates went through the roof. That customer focus has now gone.”
He went on to say:
“Our first job is to keep people safe so the police service has fallen back to its core service. Neighbourhood policing has fallen back. The 999 stuff is still okay. The neighbourhood stuff, the fact that the community know us and who the local bobby is—that’s gone. You deal with demand, withdraw to your statutory responsibilities, but issues like antisocial behaviour where you need to build trust and confidence, you need people to know you so you can nip things in the bud—that’s gone. At the moment we are just ending up with bigger and bigger control rooms. We’re not doing the bobby on the beat stuff and that is storing up problems for the future.”
Like many in this House, I hear horrific tales from my constituents. Last week I received a letter from a constituent who told me:
“we have suffered…with antisocial behaviour around the property we live which is causing great unease and discomfort. We understand that staffing levels are low and they have to prioritise the workload”— but that by the time the police arrived
“all of the offenders had left the area so no action was taken”.
My constituent went on:
“we now feel totally alone in dealing with this situation and think this is totally unacceptable”.
Police solved 30,000 fewer crimes last year as the number of officers was slashed. Detection rates fell for the first time in more than a decade. Fewer crimes are being solved, fewer criminals are being caught and fewer victims are getting justice. The police are needed to provide a reassuring, visible presence in our neighbourhoods. Have any Members been approached by a constituent and heard the words, “Thank you for cutting the number of police officers on our streets”?