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Public Services

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 5:12 pm on 16th October 2019.

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Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Labour, Cambridge 5:12 pm, 16th October 2019

It is a pleasure to follow the powerful and passionate speech from my hon. Friend Emma Hardy. I have listened to this debate from the beginning, because I wanted to get a sense of whether Conservative Members and the Government have any sense of what has gone wrong in our country. Twenty years ago, the Labour Government came to power with the slogan, “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.” This Government are tough on crime, but I listened to the Home Secretary to find out whether she understood the causes of crime, and she was careless of those causes—in fact, I would say she was possibly clueless about them. The Conservative party may have slung out its one nation Members, but it has been a one nation party in one sense, because the entire nation has been made more vulnerable, more at risk, more insecure and more miserable by this Government’s policies.

If I had been asked a few years ago what I would choose to talk about in a speech on public services, I would not have imagined that I would be talking about crime and policing. But in my constituency of Cambridge, which many people would imagine is a prosperous place, I am hearing more and more concern from across the city about the state of our country. Every week, we read in our local newspaper about stabbings in our city. Every week in my surgery, people come to me saying they are concerned about seeing open drug dealing on our streets and the level of disorder. That Labour Government were obsessive about tackling antisocial behaviour. This Government seem to be completely careless of it, and that wrecks the quality of people’s lives.

A few years ago, I had friends down from the north of the country, and they expressed pleasure and surprise, because in some parts of the country they did not feel safe even then. They told me, “It’s wonderful in Cambridge. I can go anywhere, any time.” Last week, a young student told me that at times she no longer felt safe walking in our city without being accompanied. That is a terrible indictment of the Government. Despite all the effort by an excellent city council and many local agencies, we find ourselves in that position.

What has gone wrong? Like many Members, I talk to my local police and agencies and ask what has gone wrong. Three issues keep being brought up. The first, of course, is the decline in the number of people in the police service. I talk to neighbourhood police, who a few years ago were in their neighbourhoods, out talking to people, but who now have much bigger patches, and often have to stay in their cars to try to chase around the city to keep up with what is going on. Secondly, other agencies have often withdrawn from services. Sometimes the police have to support the accident and emergency services, which is the place of last resort for so many people. Thirdly, as well as the increase in the workload, the work has changed, with cyber-crime and online crime. There are many more things for the police to do, but resources have been cut.

Some of the statistics are chilling. In 2012, there were 604 incidents in Cambridgeshire, yet in September 2018, there were 1,553. The figure has tripled. Knife crime has doubled since 2013, and of course 139 police officers and 83 police community support officers have been lost during the Government’s time in office.

Perhaps most telling of all is that I am told that, in addition to more police officers, those early interventions that stop people turning to crime in the first place are needed. That is where the insidious cuts over the past decade have made such a difference to all those community services and youth services. The massive cuts to county councils mean that the police have to deal increasingly with the end of the process. Frankly, that was entirely predictable and what we said a decade ago. When I talked to some PCSOs the other day, I found it shocking that they have barely any interaction with the probation service. It has been reduced to a tick-box exercise. We know what is wrong, and it could be dealt with, but I do not get any sense that the Government will do it.

I want to comment on one other issue and give an example of what the Government could do. There are worries about safety in the taxi and private hire trade. I have campaigned on that for the past couple of years. The Government had proposals ready to go. Sir John Hayes worked with me on this. I had a private Member’s Bill and the Government set up a task and finish group. Professor Mohammed Abdel-Haq made strong recommendations about what needed to be done, and we were told that measures would be in the Queen’s Speech. Yet this morning, when I tackled the Transport Secretary at the Transport Committee, he told me it was not going to happen.

The warnings are absolutely clear. We will have more cases of drivers moving from one authority to another because of the inadequate licensing system. There will be more violence, and I am afraid that the responsibility lies entirely with the Government. The previous Transport Secretary promised me that a measure would be in the Queen’s Speech, yet it is nowhere to be seen. I hope tonight we hear that the Government will think again.

The Prime Minister is clearly willing to use the police as a photo op, but my sense is that he has no sense of what needs to be done, and no political will to do it.