A few weeks ago, I stood in this Chamber and stated very clearly that I would not allow the people of West Bromwich West to be abandoned again. That is why I am here today: to fight for them and keep our communities safe. I am sure that all of us across the House can agree that it is that sense of community—that coming together of people, and the genuine care and compassion we show each other—that makes all our communities great. However, the great communities that make up my constituency are under attack.
My constituents are decent, hard-working and caring people, and one of the benefits of having such a great community is that we are blessed with some fantastic community groups, such as the WMA community fitness centre in Tipton, which works to keep young people off the streets and prevent them from falling into crime, through a variety of martial arts, fitness work and pastoral care.
However, the most recent figures, from December 2019, highlight the battle that we are facing in West Sandwell more widely. We have seen a sharp rise in anti-social behaviour; in burglary; in vehicle, violent and sexual crime; in drug-related crime; in bike thefts; and in muggings. With just under 100,000 people in my constituency, the 2019 figures are, quite frankly, shocking: 2,990 violent and sexual crimes, 1,089 vehicle-related crimes, over 1,000 cases of anti-social behaviour, 850 cases of burglary, and 790 cases of criminal damage and arson.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned burglary, but is he also seeing, as we are seeing in Warley, aggravated burglary, where people are smashing into homes even when residents are in, terrifying and intimidating them, and causing huge fear in the neighbourhood?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, having also seen that in my constituency casework. I am sure it is something he sees almost daily in his mailbag.
Since the Labour police and crime commissioner for the west midlands took office in August 2014, we have seen month-on-month increases in violent crime—we have seen violent crime rise by 175%. For example, in August 2014 there were 3,148 violent crimes reported in the west midlands area, and in December 2019 that figure had risen to over 8,500 incidents, in a single month. Those are astonishing and shocking figures, and they cannot be ignored.
Nobody—and I mean nobody—should feel unsafe in their home or when walking to the shops, or feel concern for their children walking to school, or have concerns about their car being vandalised at night, or question whether it is safe to leave their windows open while they sleep. However, that is exactly what I am hearing on the ground, and the statistics very much reflect those concerns. Those concerns are a daily occurrence for many constituents who just want to get on with their lives.
My constituents are coming to me, as their voice in Westminster, and pleading with me to do something about the rising levels of crime in West Bromwich West and west Sandwell. I have seen at first hand the pain and anguish that these criminals are bringing to an otherwise cohesive, close-knit, welcoming and warm community. This is not simply about reducing numbers on a spreadsheet or grabbing a headline; the consequences of the current situation are very real and damage the livelihoods of good and honest people.
I want to share a real-life example that one of my constituents has asked me to use today. Ellie lives in Wednesbury, in the north of my constituency. She moved to Wednesbury last May and is now nine months pregnant. She was the victim of a burglary at the end of last year, around seven months after she first moved in. The perpetrators broke into her partner’s van on
Ellie has told me that she has experienced two other attempted break-ins since she moved to Wednesbury just last May, and her and her partner’s lives have had to revolve around checking the CCTV daily. I ask all Members to think about that for a second. Expecting parents should be thinking about baby names and decorating the baby’s room, deciding on the nappy changing rota and generally celebrating the new life that they will be welcoming into this world. Instead, Ellie and her partner are spending their time checking the CCTV system out of fear that somebody has been trying to break into their vehicle and their home. I will not allow this to go on. I am intervening today because I was sent here to fight for people like Ellie and her soon-to-be-born baby, whose voices have not been listened to for too long. As a result of the situation, tragically Ellie has told me that she does not feel that she can stay in Wednesbury once her baby is born, so she is moving away with her partner and their family.
If we want to revive communities such as Wednesbury, Tipton and Oldbury, we need to ensure that they are safe for people to live in so that families can settle there, feel safe there and want to contribute to our society. I know that this Government and the Minister are committed to tackling rising crime, wherever it rears its head. However, we need to remember that what we are talking about is not solely the responsibility of national Government. Shockingly, the response from our local Labour police and crime commissioner to these very real concerns has been to consider closing a further three police stations in west Sandwell—in Oldbury, a town that I share with John Spellar, in Wednesbury, where Ellie lives, and in Tipton. How the conclusion was reached that that was the right decision, I am not entirely sure.
The response I have received when I have had a frank discussion about this issue is, “By closing the buildings we can put more officers on the street”. On the face of it, that sounds like a sensible proposition. However, it is certainly not an either/or, considering that the PCC has taken the decision to invest £33 million in the refurbishment of Lloyd House, the headquarters of West Midlands police. It is slightly baffling to me that the refurbishment of an office could be even a slightly more pressing matter than the safety of residents or boots on the street. It simply is not good enough for my residents and my communities. This refurbishment is an unnecessary waste of vital resources that should be pushed to the frontline. I invite the police and crime commissioner to Tipton, one of the most vulnerable communities in our area, where the police station has been threatened with closure, to tell the people there why their police station should close but the headquarters can be refurbished.
I am afraid that I must make some progress.
I also ask the PCC to tell people in Wednesbury who have lost their desk service why an office refurbishment should be the priority. I thank my good friend Jay Singh-Sohal, the Conservative candidate for West Midlands police and crime commissioner, for his steadfast support and leadership in the campaign to keep Tipton police station open, as well as a review of provision in Wednesbury. Jay has proven that he is a strong friend of the communities in my constituency, and I look forward to working with him as we continue this fight.
I am fully aware that crime is changing, as is the way we react and deal with crimes.
I really do need to make some progress.
I have been impressed by the efforts of police forces across the country to focus on cyber-crime, recruiting special police officers to deal with cyber-crime and tackling the new ways in which crime has developed, particularly in the west midlands. But I am sure that what our constituents want to see is community-based policing.
It is as if the right hon. Gentleman can read my mind. Community-based policing means boots on the ground, just as he says from a sedentary position, but it also means buildings and a real estate strategy, as well as fostering community engagement—another core point.
How we manage the roles of police officers in our communities also needs to change. Police officers tell me that they do not just want to be the last response and final line of defence. In fact, they want to reclaim the position that they feel they have lost, of being at the core and centre of the community. That means encouraging and allowing police officers to get themselves out there, whether by sitting in their local café, going around their local shop, carrying on going into our local schools or, yes, simply walking up and down the high street on the beat. We need to allow police officers the freedom to come out from behind the desk and to be out there in the community. I have been encouraged by conversations that I have had recently with people from a range of forces, a range of police and crime commissioners and a range of chief constables. With the adoption of new technologies, and innovative ways of thinking and working, we can get back to this grassroots policing.
This is also about continuing and building on the amazing network of neighbourhood and street watch schemes. I pay tribute to these groups in my constituency, particularly the Tividale street watch group. I visited them two weeks ago and hope to be out on patrol with them soon. Those groups are stepping up and doing an amazing job by engaging with our award-winning neighbourhood policing teams in west Sandwell. It is fantastic to see the strides that they are making. But we need to ensure that the resource is there, because, as I am sure all Members will agree, they cannot be their own private police force. They should not have to be. These people are civilians—normal human beings. Why should they have to be acting like a private police force?
While my contribution today has focused more on the gritty and harsh reality of what my communities face on a day-to-day basis, I am optimistic about the future. I know that we can solve the issues I have highlighted—because, quite frankly, we have to. The 20,000 new recruits that we will see across the country are a welcome and vital addition to our community. The Government’s wider commitment to protecting our officers on the beat—
I have a lot of respect for the right hon. Gentleman, but let us look at the reasons why those cuts were made. Quite frankly, it is all summed up by the individual he is backing to be the Mayor of the west midlands, who left the note to say there was no money left. I assure this House that we will be working to ensure that he does not do to the west midlands what he did to this country.
On the 20,000 new recruits, I have three asks for my hon. Friend the Minister. First, I want her to reaffirm the Government’s commitment to ensuring that they will use their influence to encourage PCCs to deploy those extra police officers in the areas that need them. I am sure we can all agree across this House that we need to be maximising where they are deployed. Although that is a decision for our local police forces, hopefully the Government can intervene on that. Secondly, I hope that she will reaffirm the Government’s commitment to community-based policing whereby we work with all our stakeholders to ensure that police are once again embedded at the heart of our communities. Finally, I hope that she will meet me and other stakeholders in west Sandwell to discuss how we can ensure that police forces have the tools and support they need to operate and to keep our communities safe.
As I said in my maiden speech, I was brought up to believe that we have a duty to speak out for those who cannot speak out for themselves, and I wanted to ensure that Ellie, her unborn baby and the rest of my constituents were heard loud and clear by this Government. Our community is vulnerable. I hope that my constituents will see that I am keeping my promise to them.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Shaun Bailey on securing this important debate and speaking with such passion about the impact of crime in his constituency. He set out very clearly the promise he made to his constituents on his election. I, for one, think he is very much delivering on that promise.
My hon. Friend eloquently set out the corrosive and devastating impact of crime. People have the right to feel safe when they visit their local high street, walk home, or go to sleep at night.
The Prime Minister has made it clear that keeping our streets safe is an absolute priority for this Government. We have taken swift action to tackle crime on multiple fronts, with clear priorities of addressing serious violence, homicide and neighbourhood crime. We are also investing heavily in policing, enabling the biggest increase in police funding in a decade and the largest recruitment drive in many more. The Prime Minister promised that, and like my hon. Friend, he is delivering on his promise.
While there is no shortcut to solving crime, this people’s Government have the commitment and resolve to see this through. We will maintain a relentless focus on cutting crime and addressing its root causes. We will see extra police officers on the streets and support law enforcement to deliver innovative approaches that keep them a step ahead of these fast-evolving criminal groups. We must protect the most vulnerable, invest in safeguarding and support those at greatest risk of becoming victims or offenders.
The right hon. Gentleman is surpassing himself today—I am just about to move on to that, because it was the first question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West. We have pledged to recruit an additional 20,000 officers, which we believe sends a clear message that we are committed to giving police the resources they need to tackle the scourge of crime. West Midlands police will receive up to £620.8 million in funding in 2020-21—an increase of up to £49.6 million on the previous year. To put that in context, it is an increase of 8.7%, which is the third highest in the country. This year alone, West Midlands police will benefit from 366 more police officers, but we make it clear that this is the first tranche in a three-year programme.
Forces have been given a generous funding settlement in order to provide for the associated costs alongside new officers, such as additional cars, estate equipment and uniforms, and give them what they need to tackle crime. How and where in each force those officers are deployed is a decision to be made by the local chief constable, but I note my hon. Friend’s encouragement for central Government to get involved. I suspect that he will be a very good advocate for his constituency, to ensure that it sees the benefit of those new officers and the extra funding. Fundamentally, this is about tackling crime. The uplift programme provides the opportunity to ensure that we have the officers that policing needs to respond to the increase in demand and to take a proactive response to tackling and preventing crime.
My hon. Friend asked about community and neighbourhood policing. Local policing fulfils two essential functions: responding to calls for service and preventing crime and harm. It is also the key vehicle for building legitimacy through community engagement and public confidence. The College of Policing published guidelines on modernising neighbourhood policing in March 2018. The Home Office contributed to the guidelines, which cover a variety of topics, including engaging communities, solving problems, targeting activity and promoting the right culture.
That is all good work, but we want to build on it, because two of the crime types that are at the heart of neighbourhood policing are, sadly, acquisitive crime and vehicle crime. The Government recognise the distress and disruption that acquisitive crimes can cause. Indeed, my hon. Friend set out clearly the experiences of his constituent Ellie and her partner, and the longer-term consequences for the family’s livelihood and wellbeing. Residential burglary is a particularly invasive crime that can have a lasting impact on its victims, and vehicle theft can also have a real impact, particularly on those who rely on their vans, scooters and other vehicles to earn a living.
We are committed to driving down those crimes and making our communities safer. One way in which we will achieve that is through our £25 million safer streets fund, which will support the communities who are disproportionately affected by acquisitive crime to implement crime-prevention initiatives such as improved street lighting and home security. The principle behind the fund is that policing cannot deliver this on their own. We need to engage neighbourhoods in the package of measures to have success in local areas. We are encouraging bids to the fund not only to be developed in partnership with local communities but to include community-focused elements—for example, building support and engagement in the proposed interventions, or direct funding for community groups to undertake prevention activities themselves.
We have made it clear that, although police and crime commissioners are the lead bidders, they are encouraged to work in partnership with a wide range of local organisations to ensure that local priorities are addressed and local communities are engaged. The application process for the fund is currently open, and I would encourage my hon. Friend to work with the police and crime commissioner, his local police force and community groups to develop and submit a bid or bids to the fund before its closing date of
My hon. Friend raised the issue of serious violence. Again, we understand and recognise the terrible impact that serious violence has on local neighbourhoods and communities. Preventing and tackling serious violence is a matter for law enforcement—of course it is—but we also need to find long-term solutions to the problem and to tackle the root causes. We recognise the importance of effective partnership working across the wide range of professions that must work together to bear down on this problem.
To support this, we are introducing the serious violence Bill, which will create a new duty on a range of specified agencies—the police, local government, youth offending, health and probation—to work collaboratively, share data and information, and put in place plans to prevent and reduce serious violence within their local communities.
We invested £100 million in 2019-20, through the serious violence fund, for the 18 police force areas most affected by serious violence. Of this, £7.62 million was allocated to the West Midlands to pay for a surge in police operational activity. Only yesterday, the Home Secretary announced a further just under £5 million for the West Midlands, as a provisional allocation in an overall announcement of £41.5 million for police surge funding in the year 2020-21. West Midlands will provisionally be allocated this as one of the 18 force areas worst affected by serious violence.
A further £3.37 million has been invested in developing the West Midlands violence reduction unit. On
My hon. Friend asked me the very difficult question—question 3—of whether I would meet him and his constituents in his constituency, and I would be delighted to do so. I would be delighted to visit him in his constituency so that I can see for myself the issues that he and his constituents are facing. I thank him very much for the opportunity to listen to and discuss the particular issues facing his constituency. I will of course continue to reflect on them in considering the Government’s approach in the future. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will continue to raise these issues with continued passion and determination.
Finally, I wish my hon. Friend’s constituent Ellie and her partner all the very best with the happy arrival, I hope, of their cherished baby.
Question put and agreed to.