Crime and Antisocial Behaviour: Stockton South

Part of Petition - Green Deal Scheme – in the House of Commons at 7:20 pm on 14th May 2019.

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Photo of Paul Williams Paul Williams Labour, Stockton South 7:20 pm, 14th May 2019

Again, my hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. We are seeing a great response from the local authority antisocial behaviour teams, but they tell us that they just do not have the resources they need to deal with this significant increase in crime and antisocial behaviour in our area.

I did not initially want to air some of this in public. One of the reasons why we wrote to the Home Secretary privately is that—I hope the Minister understands this—there is a genuine concern about keeping confidence in the police locally. I do not want to undermine public confidence in the ability of the police to do their job, but when the police are telling me that they do not have enough officers to police our area safely, and when we approach the Home Secretary privately to try to get a response and do not get one, I am afraid that there is no other way open to MPs than to air some of these problems in a public forum.

I want to compare Cleveland to some other areas. Nationally, police forces are funded at an average level of about £2,400 per crime; in Cleveland we get £2,140. Let us compare areas of similar sizes. Some might say that Cleveland is an area with a particularly small population and that therefore it will not be funded at the levels of other areas, but Warwickshire is a similar size force and it gets £2,494 per crime as opposed to our £2,140. Let us compare areas with similar budgets. Gwent has a similar budget to the Cleveland force. It has to contend with 54,784 crimes a year and we have 61,982, so we have more crimes for a similar budget. Whichever way we cut the numbers, I believe the chief constable and the police when they say that they just do not have the resources to do the job that they need to do.

We have levels of crime that are 21% higher than the national average and that figure is rising, but even with the recent very small increases in funding—according to the House of Commons Library there has been a 3% increase in funding in real terms nationally—there is a 0% increase in Cleveland. Local people just do not understand why we are not getting the resources. There must be something wrong with the formula.

I have challenged the police and asked them what they are doing to reform. I have asked them what they could do to use their money in a better way. They have given me a long list of things that they are trying to do better. They have put extra resources into the force control room to try to get more timely responses; they have tried to get more police on to the frontline; they have tried to improve the levels of community policing and intelligence; they are trying to use technology; and they are trying to have a named police community support officer for every council ward. They are also conscious of the fact that, because of the rising levels of crime and the rising pressure on the police, their levels of sickness are very high. Around 100 of the 1,200 officers are off on long-term sick leave at the moment, which brings extra pressure.

The force is in a spiral of increasing problems but, despite that, all the police I meet are doing a remarkable job. Despite the historical problems with Cleveland police, there are high levels of trust in the police among the community. The individual police I meet are doing a brilliant job. I have to pay particular tribute to our Labour police and crime commissioner, Barry Coppinger, whose levels of engagement are phenomenal. He has attended hundreds of public meetings and gatherings and is a fine spokesman for the work of his team. He is doing the very best he can with the resources that he has.

I am afraid that I have to be a bit party political about this as well. We have a Tory Tees Valley Mayor. Oversight of the police is not the responsibility of the combined authority, but our Tory Tees Valley Mayor has taken it upon himself to make public pronouncements about Cleveland police, and his response to the woefully inadequate funding and the rising levels of need in the community has been to suggest that we abolish Cleveland police. That shows that he is really not listening to our communities. Our neighbouring forces in Durham and North Yorkshire have to contend largely with rural crime, but we have unique levels of urban crime, including serious organised crime, and our police have developed a unique level of expertise. It is clear to me that any kind of abolition or merger would split my constituency in two, with one half being policed by one force and the other half being policed by another. It would completely dilute the police’s effectiveness. Such a split would also mask the fundamental unfairness of the funding. Taking away the expertise of Cleveland police by following the Tory Tees Valley Mayor’s suggestion of abolition would be a criminals’ wet dream on Teesside. It would dilute the police’s effectiveness and be entirely the wrong strategic response.

What would we like to see happening? We wrote to the Home Secretary to outline the rising levels of crime, the rising demands on the police, the increases in sexual offences and in children missing from home, and the massive increase in homicides, in the levels of domestic abuse and in the number of robberies. We know that this is not just about a criminal justice response, however. Indeed, there are some brilliant organisations working in my constituency to provide a community response. A lot of young people there have a very difficult start in life. Many of them are in households where they are exposed to adverse childhood experiences, including parental mental health problems, domestic violence and substance misuse. We have to invest in those young people and I try to bring representatives of the organisations making that investment to every public meeting that I go to. I must give a real shout-out to Nicola Garrett and Darren Iveson from the Five Lamps organisation in Thornaby, and to the Corner House Youth Project, which works across into the constituency of my hon. Friend Alex Cunningham and does brilliant, sterling work helping vulnerable young people to find alternatives to crime. The work that our schools do is fantastic as well. There are many other organisations working hard in our community.

However, we have to face the facts here. The biggest problems felt by our communities are the lack of an adequate police presence, the fact that the police are not there to gather the intelligence that they used to and that the police response is not sufficient. I have challenged and listened to the police on that. I do not think that any force in the country would be able to deal with a 55% increase in crime over the past eight years—the statistic for Stockton South is 83%—given the massive cuts that Cleveland police have faced, which has led to the loss of 500 police officers and 50 PCSOs. Beyond anything else, I as the local representative of my community and the other Members of Parliament in the Tees Valley, particularly Labour Members, are asking the Government to consider the particular local issues and to see whether the police funding formula is the right one to deliver sufficient resources to help my constituents and my community to feel safe.