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Violence Reduction

Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 2nd April 2019.

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Photo of Joanne McCartney Joanne McCartney Labour

With levels of violence rising across the country, including London, has the Government’s response been good enough?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

First, I would like to express my condolences to those who have lost loved ones. Every death as a result of violent crime is an utter tragedy, leaving lives destroyed and families heartbroken. As you know, Chairman, I often meet those bereaved families who have lost loved ones as a result of violent crime.

Sadly, the simple answer to your question is no, the Government’s response has not been good enough. Without excusing criminality, the causes of violent crime are extremely complex and involve deep‑seated problems like poverty, inequality, social alienation and a lack of opportunities for young people. This has been made far worse by the Government’s huge cuts since 2010 to our police and preventative services like youth services, local councils, mental health services, schools and charities. As a direct consequence of Government cuts, the number of police officers on our street has fallen and we have seen the decimation of the very services that help to address the root causes of crime.

It was absurd for the Prime Minister [Theresa May MP] to claim recently that cuts to police officer numbers are not linked to the rise in violent crime, something that the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) Commissioner [Cressida Dick], other senior police officers and rank‑and‑file officers across the country have said is just not true. Cuts have consequences and we are now seeing the devastating reality of this across the country. I welcome the very limited extra funding to tackle knife crime that the Chancellor announced in the Spring Statement last week but frankly this is just a drop in the ocean compared to what is actually required. Let us put this into context. The Government has promised an extra £100 million for police forces across the entire country, but here in London the Prime Minister has already forced the MPS to cut £850 million since 2010 with £263 million worth of cuts still to come by 2022. This is on top of all the cuts the Government has made to preventative services like mental health, youth services and schools.

As Mayor, I am doing all I can and leading from the front to tackle this problem in our city with a relentless focus on both arresting violent offenders and tackling the root causes of crime. We have funded a new dedicated Violent Crime Task Force with nearly 300 police officers focusing on the areas worst affected. The Task Force has already seized 1,479 dangerous weapons and arrested 3,632 suspects. We have also established a new Violence Reduction Unit (VRU), bringing the police together with local councils, the health service, community groups and others to work on a shared public health approach to prevent people from turning to violent crime in the first place, and we have created a £45 million Young Londoners Fund to provide young people with positive alternatives to crime and to help Londoners to get out of gangs and violence into employment and training. However, it is becoming clearer than ever in recent weeks that this is a national problem that cities like London cannot solve alone.

Photo of Joanne McCartney Joanne McCartney Labour

Thank you. It is that latter point I want to delve into a little bit further. Last week the Home Secretary [The Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP] talked about the need for a public health approach to tackle this issue, which is something you are instituting in London, but on that same day you had the Health Secretary [The Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP] dismissing such an approach. As you are quite rightly saying, the Prime Minister [The Rt Hon Theresa May MP] has said there is no link between police officer numbers and certain crimes, which was roundly denounced by police chiefs. Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council Sara Thornton [CBE QPM] has said that the rise in knife crime is a national emergency. Do you get the sense that Government is coordinated enough and understands the drivers of this well enough to elicit a national response?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

I do not think this Government is coordinated when it comes to fighting violent crime. I do not think they understand the importance of a national response. Let me give you a compare and contrast. In 2002 we saw a massive increase in street crime. The Prime Minister at the time, Tony Blair, called a COBRA meeting, put the various Secretaries of State around the room together plus the Chief Constables, demanded action and said, “We will meet every week to make sure we get a grip on this”. Tony Blair as the Prime Minister would attend those meetings every week and would ask the Secretary of State for one Department to make sure he or she works with another Department so that they could not be working inconsistently, nor using different policies nor passing the buck. Within six months there was a 10% reduction in street crime.

When have you seen this Prime Minister lead that sort of action? When have you seen COBRA being convened? What you are seeing is the Home Secretary having to lobby his colleagues, his peers, to take action, and as you have seen, the differences have been exposed. The Home Secretary is saying, “Public health approach”. The Health Secretary is saying, “No public health approach”. That is where the Prime Minister has to get a grip, lead this and fight this. Every day there are new victims and I think there are preventable victims if there was action taken from the top.

Photo of Joanne McCartney Joanne McCartney Labour

You have called for COBRA to be instituted. Have Government listened to those calls? Have they given you a response?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

As we saw last night with the Prime Minister’s press conference, she has a tin ear. She has a tin ear when it comes to Brexit and she has a tin ear when it comes to fighting violent crime. The Chancellor, by the way, also has a tin ear when it comes to fighting violent crime. The idea that £100 million spread across the country is going to make any impact is ridiculous.

Photo of Joanne McCartney Joanne McCartney Labour

Thank you. Now, in the last few days we have had your predecessor, the previous Mayor of London, [The Rt Hon] Boris Johnson [MP], saying that he wants money to be taken away from victims of child abuse. He does not see the need to look at historic child abuse investigations. At the same time you have the Policing Minister [The Rt Hon Nick Hurd MP] distancing himself from that view. I am going to quote the Policing Minister. He states, “I don’t want it to be a choice”. His priority was to get more resources into policing and he made the comment that policing was “too stretched”, particularly in London. Has it come to a case where we have to choose between investigating crimes against children or tackling these issues? Should it be the case that a Commissioner has to make those decisions?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

The police will not stop investigating child abuse cases. They very much will and it is important they do. What you are seeing now is national politicians finally waking up to the consequences of their cuts. I will tell you this. The comments from [The Rt Hon] Boris Johnson [MP] in relation to child abuse cases are disgraceful. There are some people in this room who consider him to be their putative leader [of the Conservative Party]. They should be condemning his comments rather than staying silent and thereby condoning them. They are disgraceful.