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I will come straight to that point. Precisely as a consequence of what has happened, there are worrying signs that crime, and especially violent crime, is starting to rise for the first time in nearly two decades. The latest crime figures show disturbing signs that a generation of progress in some areas is being reversed. For example, there is a worrying increase in muggings. Violence against the person has increased in 16 police force areas and violence without injury has increased in 19 police force areas. According to the British Retail Consortium, shoplifting, which is often associated with assaults on shop staff, is at a nine-year high.
Increasingly, the victims of crime are being let down as criminals get off scot-free—7,000 fewer crimes of violence have been solved under this Government. Despite a sharp increase in sexual crime, there has been a significant fall in the referral of cases to the Crown Prosecution Service for prosecution. Victims of the most heinous crimes are being let down.
On top of that, police forces are stretched to breaking point. They are taking up to 30% longer to respond to 999 calls and there was a reduction in overall crimes solved in 22 forces—nearly 14,000 more crimes were unsolved last year than when the Government came to power. In addition, crime is changing. Fraud has increased by 34%, but we know that that is just the tip of the iceberg, because much online crime goes unreported.
Despite those worrying indications that a generation of progress is being reversed, all we have heard from the Government is the constant assertion that crime is falling. However, the Government’s independent statistics watchdog has said that the statistics can no longer be relied on, and has downgraded its precious gold standard. The UK Statistics Authority chair, the eminent Sir Andrew Dilnot, has said that the more accurate the statistics become, the more likely it is that they will show that crime is rising. That is the result of three years of cutting too far and too fast, and yet here we are again. The Government refuse to see the damage being done by their reckless cuts to police and local authority budgets.
Not only Her Majesty’s Opposition are raising concerns. The Association of Chief Police Officers president, Sir Hugh Orde, has warned that we may now be at the tipping point—he has used those words. Tony Lloyd, the chair of the police and crime commissioners national body, and the Greater Manchester police and crime commissioner—he is highly respected across the spectrum as a former Member of the House—has said:
“I have warned since before I was elected that the government’s reckless programme of cuts is endangering community safety…We are now standing at the edge of a cliff . The chief constable”— the eminent Sir Peter Fahy—
“has told me that he cannot provide the levels of policing that Greater Manchester people expect and deserve” in future. He adds that, if the cuts continue:
“There simply will not be enough money in the pot” for the police to discharge their duties.
The independent commission on the future of policing, led by Lord Stevens—it is a royal commission in all but name—and on which some of the most eminent figures in police and crime sit, has sounded a warning bell about the future of neighbourhood policing, which has been hit hard by Government cuts.