Elected police and crime commissioners are providing accountable, visible leadership, and are making a real difference to policing locally. Overall, PCCs have presided over a reduction in crime of more than a quarter since their introduction, according to the independent crime survey for England and Wales.
In Fylde, concerns have been raised about the police and crime commissioner spreading resources away from rural areas. What assurances can the Home Secretary give me that police and crime commissioners will be accountable to the Government for failure to spend adequately in rural areas?
One of the changes that has been brought about as a result of the introduction of police and crime commissioners is a greater focus in some areas on rural crime. The national rural crime network, for example, has been set up, and I pay tribute to Julia Mulligan, the PCC in North Yorkshire, for being a leading light in developing that. It is an issue that I discussed with Chris Salmon, the PCC in Dyfed-Powys, and farming representatives when I was in mid-Wales a few weeks ago. We can now ensure, in some police areas, that PCCs put the right focus on rural crime, but to do so the right PCC needs to be elected.
Police and crime commissioners provide crucial accountability in the criminal justice system. They ensure that the public have a direct input in how their local streets are policed. Does the Home Secretary agree that it is now time to widen the scope of the work of PCCs to see where else in the criminal justice system they can make a contribution?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and he is absolutely right. We used the title, “police and crime commissioners”, when we set up the office, precisely because we thought that they could have a wider role. I am pleased to tell him that the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary and I have commissioned work to look at precisely the issue that he has raised. What else can PCCs do in the criminal justice system, and what further responsibilities can they take on in the interests of providing better services to the local community?
I commend the work that has been done by John Dwyer as the first PCC for Cheshire. He has done an excellent job in getting, as my hon. Friend said, more police officers and in managing the budget well. As my hon. Friend said, crime is down, and a Conservative PCC in Cheshire after the
Is the Home Secretary aware that, in areas such as mine in north Wales, the police and crime commissioner has had to put up the precept at more than the rate of inflation to compensate for Tory Government cuts? Is it a fair use of taxpayers’ resources to compensate for cuts imposed by central Government?
The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that we are protecting police budgets when the precept is taken into account, which is in sharp contrast to proposals from his Front-Bench team, who want to cut police budgets by 10%.
The Home Secretary might know that we are very pleased with our police and crime commissioner in West Yorkshire, but has she picked up from PCCs the problems with intelligence gathering in particular communities that are impenetrable due to their language and culture? Police have real difficulty penetrating organised gangs.
There are obviously challenges in relation to dealing with certain communities with organised gangs where, as the hon. Gentleman says, there may well be language difficulties. Police and crime commissioners are finding many innovative ways around that. Looking at their recruitment policies and at how volunteers and special constables in particular can be used to ensure that the language skills are available is a very good idea, which has been adopted by some PCCs around the country.
On Friday, the South Yorkshire PCC announced the loss of 850 police staff because of Government cuts. Also last week, the National Crime Agency’s application to the Home Office for support for Rotherham’s 1,400 victims of child abuse was rejected. How are we meant to bring down child sexual exploitation when the Government are cutting police resources?
I indicated earlier that overall the Government are protecting police budgets when the precept is taken into account. We have also made money available to the national policing lead precisely in relation to the issue of child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation, and ensured that the National Crime Agency has the resources it needs to be able to do that job. The hon. Lady has an excellent record in dealing with this issue. Her constituency has faced particularly challenging times as a result of child sexual exploitation, and I can assure her that I and other Ministers involved take the issue very seriously indeed. That is why we have taken steps such as setting up the Goddard inquiry, and why we have made money available to the national policing lead in order to better co-ordinate the work that is done in this area.