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I beg to move,
That this House
has considered Safer Neighbourhood policing in London.
Thank you very much, Mr Evans, for giving me the opportunity to make a contribution on the issue of neighbourhood policing. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. Those of us who have been in Parliament for some time will remember that we used to have an opportunity every year to discuss policing in London, which is a matter of huge concern to us. We no longer do that, but I am pleased that we have the chance to discuss the issue for the next hour.
When the London safer neighbourhood policing scheme was formally launched in two wards in Brent and north Paddington in my constituency in 2004, it marked a new era in the policing of modern London. It was widely accepted that fundamental changes were needed.
I hope that does not establish a pattern by which all my hon. Friends seize the opportunity to claim the credit for launching safer neighbourhood policing. In a sense, it does not matter. It was launched in 2004 by the then Labour Mayor of London, and I hope it prefigures important changes in policing by our future Labour Mayor of London, my right hon. Friend Sadiq Khan, who is sitting to my right.
Safer neighbourhood policing was an important response to a flaw in the way that London was policed over a number of years. It was always about more than just resources. Of course, it was partly about policing numbers, which had been falling for many years and were of great concern to Londoners, but it was also about having a different approach and attitude. The most unimportant aspect of it, although it was not wholly insignificant, was the fact that the area-based policing—the closest thing to the neighbourhood model that existed before 2004—was an unwieldly and clunky model of relating to communities. It did not work effectively, in terms of community participation and setting local priorities, and did not give local police continuity so they could establish the relationships they needed.
The safer neighbourhood policing model, which was introduced in 2004, reflected a commitment to return to communities, in all of their geographical, social and ethnic diversity. That commitment was, in part, informed by the experiences of the 1980s and 1990s. It encompassed, at the extremes, the important lessons we learned from the Scarman report on the terrible riots at the beginning of the 1980s and the Macpherson report. The Met learned important lessons from those terrible events, too.
Safer neighbourhood policing teams quickly changed the face of London policing. Indeed, they even helped to change the face of the police themselves. The police community support officer role was an important route for recruiting Londoners. One of the concerns that some of my colleagues will always have is that many of London’s police are drawn from outside London for different economic reasons. We want London’s police to reflect the face of modern London. The safer neighbourhood team route and the PCSOs, which were a part of that model, were a means of doing that. As Lord Stevens recognised at the time, they helped us to change the face of policing. It was obvious; when we, as local politicians, began to develop relationships with our police, we saw that changes were taking place.
The other critical issue about safer neighbourhood police teams in the early years was the commitment to a core team. At that point, they used the 1-2-3 model, comprising the sergeant, the constables and the three PCSOs. There was a commitment not to remove members of safer neighbourhood police teams to provide aid and assistance to other activities, but to provide the continuity that is crucial in keeping them connected to their local communities and give them time and space to develop important relationships with residents’ and tenants’ organisations, local schools, mosques, churches and youth clubs. In addition to a dedicated sergeant in each ward, they had someone with the skills and experience necessary to make those relationships work. The mere fact of being a sergeant does not give a person the ability to do that, but reflecting a degree of seniority within those police teams is important and it says something significant about the way in which relationships are built and sustained in communities.
I can think of several individuals—I am sure my colleagues and other hon. Members have faces that they can call to mind—who demonstrated a real change in policing style at the neighbourhood level. Stuart Marshall was the Queen’s Park sergeant for many years. He ultimately transferred to use the skills and knowledge he built up in the Queen’s Park ward—a deprived ward that includes the Mozart estate, which is a very challenging community—to continue to tackle antisocial behaviour with City West Homes. Ken Taylor built up a superb track record in the middle of the last decade in countering crack houses, which had become a plague in parts of London and required a new model of relationship building so the police could act quickly and close them down.
Ian Rowing was a long-term sergeant in Church Street. Only a few months ago—he had been in post since 2004—residents fought to keep him in Church Street because of the excellent relationships and local knowledge that he had built up. The residents said to me, “There is nothing he doesn’t know. There are no people he doesn’t know. He knows every corner of his ward. He knows what is going on, and he has built up a trusting relationship with people.” He was taken off, against all our wishes and advice, to fill some of the yawning gaps in the custody service, which are a huge challenge for London police at the moment.
Lawrence Knight is still serving Maida Vale and Little Venice brilliantly. Paul Reading, a member of his team, runs a boxing club in Little Venice. Anybody who wants to see the face of top-quality community policing should see the work he does. Over time, he has worked with hundreds of sometimes very challenging young men in that corner of London, and he has built up an enormous number of relationships based on trust and knowledge. Some of the newer people working now—I am not able to mention them all—include Sean Marshall, Ian Armstrong, Jason Emmett, John Marshall and Mohammed Nouri. They are relatively new, but their work has been absolutely superb.
But the model has changed, and I want to spend a few minutes talking about that. The continuity of the relationships that were built up and of the police teams themselves has largely evaporated. Under this mayoralty, since 2008 the Met has lost 23% of dedicated neighbourhood uniformed officers in London boroughs and more than 2,400 PCSOs since 2010 alone, and it has closed 63 police stations—we were told that their closure would lead to a huge reinvestment in community policing—due to the £600 million of budget cuts over the past four years.
The hon. Lady and I have worked together in Westminster during the time that we have been Members of Parliament, and I accept much of what she said about the importance of neighbourhood policing. Equally, we are clearly under financial constraints. No one can deny that that is part and parcel of what is driving the change. Does she accept that we have a model that has been in place now for more than a decade? London is changing quickly, although the City of Westminster is probably changing less quickly than many outer suburbs. Is there not a risk that if we simply persist with that model without looking for a model for the next decade or so, we will run into the problems of the past and have a model that is not fit for purpose for London in the 21st century?
It would be foolish to argue for no change ever, and I am not doing so. Services have to change and adapt, and a number of different trends are going on in London. Our population is rising sharply, which has to be taken into account. Churn and turnover are also rising sharply, which reinforces the importance of community policing. Yes, of course we need to revise our model constantly, but, as I will describe, the changes to the local policing model were an error and took us completely in the wrong direction. Change, yes—but change for its own sake that undermines the core elements of community and relationship building, which is integral to neighbourhood policing, is a mistake.
I of course unreservedly welcome the fact that the autumn statement lifted the threat of a further £800 million- worth of cuts to the Met police, in particular to the remaining police community support officers. The Chancellor was right to heed the warnings of the devastation that cuts of that scale would wreak, but it would be completely wrong to say that we are now in the sunlit uplands. The settlement remains tight. Commissioner Hogan-Howe told the Greater London Authority police and crime committee last month that
“whatever we are going to have to cope with” will be better than what was originally feared. He continued:
“There is no doubt that we still do have pressures. We have this £50 million for National Insurance that the organisation will have to find for pensions. We have a 1% pay increase baked into the budget… There is a series of other things. It is, no doubt, still challenging.”
On the threat of changes to the funding formula—the complete dog’s breakfast that we saw before Christmas—he said:
“That threat has not gone away because they said they will review it over the next 12 months and so we, on behalf of London, need to keep our eyes on that because London is unique.”
He also highlighted concern about the national and international capital city grant and said that
“we have a bid in. We normally get around £165 million. We thought that it is actually underpaid by about £200 million. We say that we paid £340 million on national issues that are relevant to the capital. They”— the Home Office—
“accepted the case for £270 million.”
The Met in fact received £170 million. There is a continuing shortfall in national and international capital city status, which is highly relevant, because that underfunding leads to the undermining of the ward-based neighbourhood policing that is my concern.
We know that we remain under pressure and that budget cuts have had a serious impact on police numbers, which has been further complicated by the introduction of the local policing model and the redefinition of neighbourhood policing. However, we hear—we have heard it from the Mayor of London and will probably hear it from the Minister today—that neighbourhood policing in London has increased exponentially, not decreased. The Mayor has claimed that London has 2,600 additional neighbourhood officers, but that is a piece of sophistry. It is a definitional change that conceals a decrease of 2,500 dedicated borough officers and 3,200 dedicated borough PCSOs since 2010, reducing the ward teams from the 1-2-3 model to just one constable and one dedicated PCSO, and an increase in duties for the remaining neighbourhood teams.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. It is only fair given that the Mayor of London is not here to defend his record. She said that we claim to be increasing police numbers, but the sense was that we were going to redeploy those 2,600 into neighbourhood teams with a localised remit. I accept that that was a change from the remit that was introduced in 2004, but no one was suggesting for one minute that there would be additional police. It was a matter of redeploying police into neighbourhood teams.
As I will briefly refer to at the end, we have seen a redeployment of officers within a reduced total and rebadging, which has led to confusion and a dilution of what neighbourhood policing was originally about.
The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime’s review of the local policing model stated last summer:
“Neighbourhood policing under the LPM is distinctly different to the previous ward based 1:2:3 delivery model which was identical across all London wards”.
The previous model’s critical defining element was a core service common to all London wards that could be enhanced or supplemented. Despite the uplift of officers into neighbourhood policing, as referred to by my neighbour, Mark Field, the move to a single dedicated ward officer with a single dedicated ward PCSO represents a 77% reduction in ward-based neighbourhood policing when compared to the 1-2-3 model. In my borough of Westminster, we went from a total full-time-equivalent police strength of 1,632 in 2010 to 1,661 in 2012—there were changes in 2011 that meant that 2012 was a better base year—and then down to 1,327 in June 2015. The redistribution under the new service has led to a dramatic drop in our total police strength, which has led to the reduction in neighbourhood policing I have mentioned.
If I am lucky enough to catch your eye, Mr Evans, I hope to dwell on another aspect of neighbourhood policing that I hope my hon. Friend will comment on with concern, namely that the Met proposes to pilot the merger of borough commands, in particular Brent, Harrow and Barnet, about which my constituents will be particularly concerned.
I hope that my hon. Friend is able to catch your eye, Mr Evans, and to develop that theme, because it is a real concern. I suspect that he will also want to discuss the theme of leadership that I am developing. Borough leadership is important, but neighbourhood leadership, which was defined for neighbourhood policing team purposes as being ward-based, is also important. Relationships do not happen by themselves; they happen because people in leadership roles are equipped and skilled to build them.
We have already seen a dramatic reduction in police numbers. Underneath that and within a reduced total, we then saw a reclassification of what a neighbourhood police officer is. We have also seen a fundamental dilution of the original model of ward-based safer neighbourhood policing. The combined impact of that led the MOPAC review of the local policing model to conclude that the
“visibility of officers within neighbourhoods remains an issue raised by communities and key stakeholders”.
Well, it can say that again. As Commissioner Hogan-Howe told the GLA:
“The irony was…that we put more officers into neighbourhoods but people saw fewer people dedicated to their area.”
That is central to the point, and it happened because additional duties were given to safer neighbourhood police officers under the LPM. The MOPAC review states:
“Although the LPM has allocated… additional police officers to”— the new definition of—
“Neighbourhood Policing, with a greater ability to flex resources, to realise the crime and ASB reduction, and respond effectively to community concerns, it has at the same time allocated additional functionality previously undertaken elsewhere.”
The review continues:
“There are a number of functions within the neighbourhood policing strand of the LPM which are required but which impact on the opportunities for officers to be visible within the…MPS Neighbourhoods.”
Those functions included the investigation of neighbourhood crime, appointment cars, e-graded calls, hospital guards, crime scene management, custody constant watches, and aid, all of which were not previously undertaken by neighbourhood police teams.
Since that initial review was carried out, I am aware that some areas of additional functionality have been moved back to response teams, which has had a marginal impact, but additional functionality still remains a problem.
We need only to talk, as I am sure all my hon. Friends here are doing, to local police teams to hear why they are unable to undertake the visibility policing or the relationship building and community work that they used to do. It is because they have additional policing duties to undertake.
The other critical change that took place under the LPM was to aid. One of the most important strengths of the SNT model was its ring-fencing, but the abstraction of staff from neighbourhood teams to other duties is now a constant element. According to MOPAC, neighbourhood officers undertook some 102,000 hours of aid over the 12-month period prior to the review. Assembly Member Andrew Dismore, the former Member for Hendon, obtained figures for the two boroughs that he represents. In just three months over last summer, Camden lost a total of 1,293 officer shifts to other boroughs, averaging 99 shifts a week, and Barnet lost a total of 951 officer shifts, averaging 73 shifts a week. I can also speak from local experience: I will not name the ward because I do not want to get the officers in trouble, but when trying to solve neighbourhood problems and talking to the police about dedicating some resources to help, I have been told:
“No joy this weekend as I was on my own. I had planned to be with 3 other PCs but they got put on AID at short notice.”
That is a regular refrain. Problem-solving work is often taken away.
Is the hon. Lady aware that the National Audit Office has produced a report highlighting that several police forces are not actually aware of the demand on their service and that replicating a model across every ward in London may not be the best way to carry out policing? It also states that if a local authority wants to continue with the model to which she refers, they are able to purchase extra police officers from the Mayor of London and avail themselves of the buy-one-get-one-free offer, which we have done in Kingston town centre to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour.
I have a terribly old-fashioned attitude: the police should police and the local authorities should run libraries and children’s and other such services. I am struck by the fact that a few weeks ago in Westminster the leader of the council said at a staff conference that the local authority was on the path of having its total funding reduced from £390 million to £90 million over the course of the two spending review periods, so I am afraid that it is facile to say that the local authorities, which are being slashed to ribbons, are the ones to take on additional policing roles.
Aid has increased and the continuity of relationships built up by neighbourhood policing teams has been undermined. The impact, according to the MOPAC review, has been that public awareness of police visibility in London has faltered; the neighbourhood confidence comparator shows that over the previous year, on average, it has reduced from an already low 53% to 51%. MOPAC challenged the Met to increase public confidence in the police by 20%, but levels remain broadly unchanged from the March 2012 baseline. The Mayor also set a target for public confidence in the police of 75%, but it is 67%. A review into safer neighbourhood boards by the London Assembly police and crime committee received evidence from those SNBs that some police safer neighbourhood ward panels were meeting infrequently or not at all, so the community relationship was not being sustained evenly simply because the police were unable to find the resources to continue their work. I have found, as I am sure colleagues have, that concerns have bubbled up in the neighbourhoods about the kind of problem-solving work that safer neighbourhood police were so good at doing.
I want to make a few remarks about three particular areas that reflect our priorities at the moment, the first being counter-terrorism. In particular since Paris, we are acutely aware of the critical importance of counter-terrorism work. We should all pay tribute, as I do in heartfelt manner, to the work of the intelligence and security services in keeping us safe. In that context too, however, the local knowledge and relationships built up by neighbourhood policing are absolutely irreplaceable. I can state with certainty that the local officers I know knew exactly who the families and where the areas to focus on were. Such officers were a source of information on and of trust in the police in the community, vital not only to help counter-terrorism work, but in reassurance and community confidence building. Immediately after Paris we, the police teams and the local authority were called together by our excellent borough commander in Westminster, Peter Ayling, to talk about exactly that—higher visibility for our neighbourhood police teams in London in order to reassure our communities.
The second area is hate crime, of which sadly there is soaring incidence in the aftermath of Paris. It has also increased over the course of the past two years, notably anti-Semitic hate crime given a couple of flashpoints, as well as the spike in Islamophobia after Paris. Again, the relationships built by our neighbourhood police with our mosques, churches and synagogues are irreplaceable. Such efforts need to be well led.
The third area is serious youth violence: last year 19 teenagers were killed, which sadly is a dramatic increase on the figure for 2014 and the highest figure for seven years. According to Scotland Yard, nearly 20% of all murders in London now have gang associations. Trident, as with our security services, is a critical specialist service, but I can also state from personal experience that the knowledge built up by my safer neighbourhood team sergeants on gang membership or the risk of that is totally irreplaceable, as are their relationships and their work on the ground, often directly with troubled young individuals. If we are to make serious progress in tackling serious youth violence and gang violence, we have to review urgently what has been done to our local teams.
I am delighted to see that others are present to speak. In conclusion, I want to reinforce the fact that our model of safer neighbourhood policing is not now what it was originally envisaged to be. It was always intended to be at the core of policing. I had a number of enhanced teams in my most deprived areas, I am pleased to say, but the model was never only about total resource, but about leadership—for community relationship building, networking, developing local knowledge and providing continuity. That has been diluted, the model has been changed and we have lost the previous safer neighbourhood model. I am relieved that we do not face further cuts to or the loss of our PCSOs, but I hope that the local commander, MOPAC and the Minister will hear a plea from the Opposition: we need to return to the core of a ward-based and, ideally, sergeant-led neighbourhood police team to restore public confidence in community policing, which was so valuable and hard won and is in danger of being lost.
The Front Benchers will be called at 12.40 pm, which leaves roughly 45 minutes for the debate. If everyone shows time restraint, everyone will be able to speak.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Ms Buck for securing the debate and for her excellent speech to kick things off. She is a tenacious and passionate campaigner on behalf of her constituents. In this debate on safer neighbourhood policing in London she has clearly shown that she understands the big issues facing not only her constituents, but our citizens. It is great to see so many London colleagues present for this important debate.
I also pay tribute and put on the record my gratitude to all police and police community support officers, and to all who work for the Metropolitan police. They work day in, day out to protect us and to keep us as safe as possible, preventing crime, detecting those responsible for crime, playing a huge role in maintaining the rule of law and due process, and helping us to feel safer.
There is no point beating about the bush: the very future of safer neighbourhood policing in London as we know it is under threat. As has been said, one of the legacies of Ken Livingstone’s time as Mayor of London was the creation of dedicated community policing teams. I know from my own constituency just how successful and popular safer neighbourhood teams in London were and are. In some of the wards in and around my constituency, there were teams of at least one sergeant, two police officers and three PCSOs. As a resident, a ward councillor and a Member of Parliament, I saw at first hand their work to build community relations. They knew shopkeepers, vicars, priests, imams, neighbourhood watch co-ordinators, resident association members, head teachers and youth leaders. They actually spoke to and engaged with youngsters and made an effort to build relations with parts of our diverse communities that previously had no relations with the police.
The teams’ networks gave them a unique insight into what was happening on the ground and in their patch—proper, old-fashioned community policing: bobbies back on the beat, some would say, not only providing reassurance to the community, but acting as the eyes and ears for gathering intelligence, preventing crimes from happening and clearing them up when they did. That is what policing by consent is all about.
Over recent years, however, safer neighbourhood policing has been devastated in London. While we have had a Conservative Mayor and a Conservative Prime Minister, the number of officers has been steadily eroded. Since May 2010, the number of PCSOs in London has dropped by up to three quarters, with some boroughs—Brent, Ealing, Hammersmith and Fulham, Lambeth, Wandsworth and Westminster—seeing falls of 80% or more. I have with me some of the figures, which cover the period between May 2010 and September 2015. Hackney has lost 69% of its PCSOs and 29% of its uniformed officers; Harrow, 75% of its PCSOs and 24% of its uniformed officers; Hounslow, 75% of its PCSOs and 11% of its uniformed officers; Kingston—I am sorry that James Berry, whose borough this is, has left the Chamber—75% of its PCSOs and 19% of uniformed officers; and Lambeth, 80% of its PCSOs and 32% of its uniformed officers. Across the whole Metropolitan Police Service, 62% of PCSOs and 11% of uniformed officers have been lost. In some areas, there is one officer left, or at best two. There is no longer the same dedicated team for geographical areas as there once was.
Although crime has been broadly falling over the past decade and a half, too many areas of London are still blighted by antisocial behaviour. Violent crime is up across the city and, worryingly, knife crime is on the rise again.
The right hon. Gentleman will recognise that the broader metric of crime is down. Does that not suggest, to a large extent, that, given the financial constraints that any Mayor or Government would have been under in recent years, the Metropolitan police has done a pretty good job of utilising diminishing resources to ensure that people are kept as safe as possible? While I very much accept some of the concerns about the breakdown of the neighbourhood model to which he refers and the importance of integrating with other agencies, broadly there is a good case for saying that, given those financial constraints, we have done a pretty good job, although we should not be complacent about the future.
The police service does a fantastic job under very difficult circumstances. However, internet crime is going through the roof, along with serious youth violent crime, knife crime, knife crime with injury, gun crime and gun crime with firearm discharge. I pay tribute to the remarkable work done by police officers and CSOs.
The right hon. Gentleman is generous in giving way. I pay tribute, as I will in my speech, to all the officers in England and Wales who I represent, and to those in London in particular for this debate. When we look at levels of crime, we see that internet crime and cybercrime was not recorded before, so we do not know what the levels were. We know that it is a major issue, but the previous Government did not record it. We are now recording it, so that we will have better knowledge of what is happening and can put resources in the right place. However, I want to put on the record that while he said—I think understandably—that internet crime is going up, actually we did not record it, nor did the Government of which he was a Minister.
I am sure we all accept that technology is advancing and that evolution is a wonderful thing. I repeat the point that I pay tribute to officers, who do a remarkable job under difficult circumstances. However, the Mayor of London—he and the Policing Minister must accept this—aided and abetted by the Government, has filleted safer neighbourhood policing. We have heard some of the results of that in today’s debate, and we will hear more of that in Labour Members’ speeches.
I want to add two further thoughts into the debate. First, there has been a debate over a number of years about stop and search and the impact it has on keeping the city safe. I am one of those who believe that, historically, it has been overused and done so in too much of an arbitrary fashion, so that certain communities have seen strained relations with the police. Someone is unlikely to come forward tomorrow and provide invaluable information or give evidence that can help with a prosecution if yesterday they or a family member were wrongly stopped and searched, and treated discourteously or badly by the police.
Let me be clear: intelligence-led stop and search plays a crucial role in keeping Londoners safe. We should all be worried about the rise in knife crime over recent months. The deaths of teenagers because of knives deeply alarms me not simply as a Member of Parliament and a citizen of this city, but as a father of two teenage girls. However, we will not be able to pursue an intelligence-led approach to stop and search if we lose safer neighbourhood policing, because that provides the police with the intelligence they need to inform stop-and-search activities. Without safer neighbourhood policing feeding into police intelligence, stop and search risks becoming a blind and arbitrary action, with a resultant negative impact on community relations that would damage all of London.
Secondly, the horrific attacks in Paris were a wake-up call to all of us. It could so easily have been London. If we are to prevent a repeat of the Paris terrorist attacks here in London, we must always be vigilant and make the most of all the resources at our disposal. High level, technologically-led intelligence operations have a role to play. Our security agencies, who do such a sterling job, have considerable pressure on them to keep us safe, but community policing should never be dismissed.
Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, has pointed out that intelligence that leads to the investigation of people who may be responsible for acts of extremism or terrorism increasingly comes from people reporting suspicious behaviour to—guess who? To local neighbourhood police officers and PCSOs, who they know and trust. The hollowing out of neighbourhood policing is putting those relationships and that intelligence-gathering capacity at risk. If we weaken safer neighbourhood policing, we weaken our protection against terrorism.
I would like to end as I began by thanking London’s police. They do a remarkable job in terribly pressured circumstances, which is not helped, I am afraid, by the deep cuts inflicted on them by the Government and the current Mayor of London. Safer neighbourhood policing has been hit particularly hard. To lose that crucial community-facing aspect of London’s policing would be a terrible mistake. It is important that those of us who understand the importance of policing by consent for crime prevention unite to stop a further hollowing out across London.
Several hon. Members rose—
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend Ms Buck on securing this vital debate. She clearly outlined why safer neighbourhood teams work, so I will not delay the Chamber by repeating that. I will just add that I fully endorse it. In my borough of Hackney, it was transformational in building relationships in the community. The community relations with the police were a byword for bad relations around the time that I was elected to the London Assembly. It was only with the installation of ingrained neighbourhood policing that we began to see a change. People felt that they were working with the police, rather than feeling that they and the police were on opposite sides.
It is important to remember that the police police us by consent and, for that to work properly, they need to know their community in a granular way and people need to know their police officers. As others have, I could highlight many local examples of times when people have passed on intelligence to the police, but I will give just one example. When I was out knocking on doors for one of my regular weekend surgeries, in two households in a row I spoke to parents who did not want to speak to the police or for me to report something, because they were afraid that an officer in uniform appearing on their doorstep could mean their teenage child being targeted by gangs. If they want to report something as simple as drug dealing going on in their area—simple in that it is easy to identify and relatively easy to police—I can act as a third-party reporting mechanism, but so can neighbourhood police teams, many of whom go around out of hours, not in uniform, to talk to people or find safe places for people to talk to them.
Along with other London colleagues, I recently met with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, and we raised some of our concerns about this topic. He understandably raised competing challenges and his challenge with the budget, as my hon. Friend highlighted in detail, and he reminded us that much of modern policing is not visible. Of course, dealing with historic child exploitation or cybercrime is important to our constituents, but it is important that we see police on the street and that they build relations with their community.
The hidden policing—the stuff that is not seen—should not take away from the vital community policing that we know works. The improvements in Hackney underline the importance of that regular, steady relationship. Every year there is a commendation ceremony from the borough commander, where we hear stories of the deep community engagement that others have highlighted.
We should be clear that, in political terms, this is an ideological battleground. The Government want to shrink the state and they hide that under the veil of austerity. We all want to see taxpayers’ money spent wisely, because every pound saved is a pound to spend on something else or to provide benefits to our constituents, but there is a point at which shrinking the state so far, under the guise of austerity, goes too far. I believe it has gone too far in the realms of neighbourhood policing. This is in area where the public want the state to be present.
The hon. Lady and I agree on many things, and we have worked together as neighbouring MPs on broadband and the like, but it really is nonsense to suggest that the Government are trying to shrink the state to any great extent. We are still living miles beyond our means—we are borrowing at the rate of £75 billion to £80 billion a year—and the notion that the Government have taken a slash-and-burn approach is quite wrong. I accept that, with some of the austerity agenda, there has had to be some reduction in public spending, particularly in the area we are discussing, but the notion that this is a state-shrinking Government is very far from the truth.
I think my constituents would beg to differ: this is an area where they do want to see the state visible and active on the streets.
Over the past five years in Hackney, crime has continued to drop. However, Hackney has lost 173, or more than a fifth, of its police officers—in October 2010, it had 770, but there are now 597. It has also seen a dramatic cut in PCSOs, from 100 to 37. There were recently plans to axe all our PCSOs, but thankfully those have been dropped. I echo the really important point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North that safer neighbourhood policing was a vital recruitment line for the police—the police in Hackney still do not look like Hackney, so that was really important. It is important that our overstretched officers are supported by good PCSOs.
Let me just highlight how our officers are overstretched. For more than a decade, Operation Bantam has provided an effective response to gang violence in Hackney, which is sadly still a scourge and a challenge for the police, the community and local authorities. There used to be a team of 40 dedicated officers; now there are six, and that is a real concern. I back Hackney Council’s campaign to bring 100 officers back to Hackney to make sure we deliver for the people of my constituency and my borough.
PCSOs were introduced under the last Labour Mayor of London, and I look forward to having a future Labour Mayor of London who recognises their importance. Previously, seven different uniformed officers and wardens patrolled my constituency. Many were funded by the Home Office or the Department for Communities and Local Government, while some were funded by the police or local authorities. There was a crazy mishmash—a multi-coloured rainbow—of different uniforms and different powers, and it made sense to bring those officers together. As a result, however, they were then at risk from these cuts and changes, because of the other pressures on the policing budget, and that is a regret.
There are two key benefits from safer neighbourhood policing. First, there are people on the streets, and having more PCSOs on the streets saves vital police officer time. Those three PCSOs in the ward also really got to know their area, and they often stayed longer than the police, unless they planned to become police officers themselves.
James Berry mentioned the National Audit Office report on policing, which the Public Accounts Committee has looked at. We visited and had evidence from forces around the country. The hon. Gentleman rightly said that many forces do not have good enough data to know the impact of the cuts coming down the line or the needs of policing locally. What is really crucial and really unforgivable, however, is that when the Home Office makes a cut and sends it down the line to the police, it does not have the data to know what the impact will be. I would like the Minister to address that directly.
The funding formula is one issue, and we do not need to dwell on what a mess it was; that is now fairly well acknowledged, and I am sure my hon. Friend Jack Dromey, who speaks from the Front Bench, will touch on that. However, there is also cost shunting, which is a consistent concern on the Public Accounts Committee. We see police officers, as the providers of first and last resort, picking up the pieces for other services, but that is not recognised in the funding formula or in cross-Government working. It is really important—I challenge the Police Minister on this—that the police service should not be picking up the pieces because Departments have cut funding and do not recognise the impact on the police. I would like the Minister to tell the House how he will challenge that.
If the hon. Lady had heard any of the speeches I have made in the House or outside it, she would know that that is exactly what I have been saying since I have been the Police Minister. All too often, the police are the first port of call, rather than the last port of call, for other services, which is fundamentally wrong.
Well, I hope the Minister actually has the power in Whitehall to bang heads together and to get this sorted. We will continue to see problems in London if its policing budget is squeezed because the police are having to pick up ambulance calls and to deal with mental health issues—for example, by tracking down mental health beds at weekends. There is a long litany of such issues. The Minister speaks the words, but if he could talk in more detail in his response about what he is actually going to do about this, that would be very helpful.
As with clothes and interior design, there are fashions in policing, and we are seeing a backlash against the current fashion. What is happening is not just about money, although money may be the principal cause, but about the fact that some in policing circles simply did not believe in the community policing model—the one sergeant, two PCs and three PCSOs model—as set out by Ken Livingstone when he was Mayor and by a number of Labour Home Secretaries, because it “de-policed” the police. However, it actually enhanced what the police could do, particularly in areas that are more financially challenged and that have more people who are excluded. We began to witness more people willing to talk to the police than ever before.
With those increasing police numbers came more police bases. There is a huge issue about the enormous waste of money that has resulted from closing local offices that were opened in order to place safer neighbourhood teams at the heart of their community. In my constituency, Mitcham and Morden, we have seen the closure of the Lavender Fields and Graveney team office in Wilson Avenue, which must have taken thousands of pounds to open to standards that the Metropolitan police accept.
Pollards Hill is a ward right on the outskirts of Mitcham and Morden, bordering Croydon and Lambeth. People there feel out on a limb and excluded from their local area, and the police office there showed a real investment in their community. People felt that the police were close to them and dealing with the problems they face. I am sad to say that some of those problems relate to gangs and stabbings. We do not have the same level of such problems as other hon. Members will in their constituencies, but the fact that that office is no longer there for people to turn to when issues arise is a real problem for that community. Again, there is the issue of the costs involved in opening these offices and then closing them, leaving memorials to a police system that worked a great deal better than it does currently. That is really sad.
There is an idea that we can point to crime figures and say, “Crime is down, so it’s okay.” However, if we consider confidence in policing, and we look at the figures for the fear of crime in my borough of Merton, we see that about two thirds of people now fear crime, when the figure was once the lowest in London. Mitcham has 41% of the crimes that take place in the borough, but 68% of people fear crime—the fact that people can no longer see their police officers has tripled the numbers.
When there was a stabbing in Pollards Hill, where would people go? They would go first to the police officer or the PCSO at the local high school. We can be pretty sure that within hours those officers would have had a very good idea of how the incident came about and who was involved. That would then allow the police response teams—Trident or whoever—to go into action and to deal with the issue.
When we have our police meetings, some in the police—I suppose this is out of frustration at their situation—tell residents, “You don’t have a crime problem here. Crime is not high. You live in one of the safest boroughs in London.” That really does not wash if someone has seen a young man stabbed outside their kitchen window. Although people can absolutely rationalise that that would never happen to them as a middle-aged woman, an older dad or a young child, they have seen it happening in their neighbourhood and they want it dealt with. Their fear is for themselves, their children and their neighbourhood. When they know that the police office that used to be open behind their homes is no longer there, there is a real and severe feeling that, given the level of policing in their area, the possibility of dealing with these issues becomes less.
When we combine that with local authority cuts in youth services, we get a maelstrom. In Pollards Hill, in Merton, we do not have a huge youth service. The Pollards Hill youth centre was due to close in April this year. Luckily, we brought people together to build an alliance to keep it open. However, I suspect that, in areas more challenged than mine, a combination of police cuts, youth service cuts and the inability of services to take young people away from crime will create a legacy that will be with us for a long time. That will not save any more money, and it will cause far more challenges for many more vulnerable people.
I want to focus on the possible merger of borough commands in Harrow, Brent and Barnet and to set out my fears for Harrow under such a plan. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Ms Buck and to my right hon. Friend Sadiq Khan for their wide-ranging analyses, but I hope you will forgive me, Mr Evans, if I am ferociously parochial in setting out my fears about what the pilot merger might mean for my constituents.
I have no reason to dislike the people of Barnet or Brent, and a merger may seem sensible—for example to those who think that reducing the number of chiefs would mean more resources to be allocated to the front line. I fear, however, that it is the thin end of the wedge. Barnet and Brent are very different from Harrow in policing terms and have higher crime rates. Brent has many of the characteristics of an inner London borough, as well as responsibility for Wembley stadium and all the major events that take place there, and those things give rise to complexities in policing. Harrow is an outer London borough and already many of its police officers are allocated shifts in other places to help to deal with rising crime—sometimes in inner London, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting mentioned; they may also help with the policing of major events, as needed. I fear that if the merger happens a new tri-borough commander will be greatly tempted to shift the police on occasion into Barnet, and certainly into Brent, to help with their policing challenges.
It is difficult to see how the borough commander under the new tri-borough arrangement could continue to be based in Harrow rather than Brent or Barnet. I am relatively pessimistic about the prospect because, given the operational challenges in Brent in comparison with those of Harrow and Barnet, logic would base the new borough commander for the three boroughs in Brent. Clearly, there would also be a case for Barnet, given that many people arrested in Harrow are already transferred to its new and more modern policing complex in Colindale. The temptation would be for CID resources to be shifted to where the tri-borough police commander would be based. Operational challenges in Brent and the modern police station with its better cells complex in Colindale suggest, on the face of it, that a tri-borough commander would be unlikely to be based in Harrow.
Inevitably, resources shift over time to where the commander of a team is based. One of the first pressures will inevitably involve the shifting of CID resources to help to bring the teams together. One can see a logic to that, but I fear that the CID offices would be taken out of Harrow and that complex policing work to detect the perpetrators of crimes might not be immediately available in Harrow as it is at the moment.
Perhaps the biggest immediate concern, however, would be the loss of a visible experienced and accountable borough commander for Harrow. My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North rightly focused on the requirements of neighbourhood policing at ward level, and issues such as the need for a dedicated sergeant, police constables and police community support officers at ward level; but there is also a need for a dedicated, experienced and highly trained police officer, who has the confidence of the chief constable, to run the police force in each borough. That officer needs to be someone of the calibre to engage with other stakeholders such as council officials, NHS workers and leading community representatives. I fear that if the borough loses a very experienced officer who can engage with Members of Parliament and senior councillors and direct resources quickly when alerted to problems, there will be a slowing down in the tackling of crime and antisocial behaviour. I pay tribute to recent borough commanders on my patch who, when I have gone to see them about particular crimes, have quickly grasped their significance and have diverted time to looking into them and responding more appropriately.
I worry that, in the long term, basing the borough commander for Harrow in Brent or Barnet will call into question the future of the police station in south Harrow, which serves the whole borough. It is not fit for purpose now and it needs investment; but I fear that with a borough commander based elsewhere that would not happen.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I congratulate my hon. Friend Ms Buck on securing the debate and I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on the excellent points that they have made in the debate.
Just before Christmas a pig’s head was left on a pavement in Hounslow alongside anti-Muslim graffiti. Among the first people on the scene were PCSOs who work on that beat. They saw the graffiti and could speak to local people, report the incident, give reassurance and act as liaison. They could act as the first point of call, to reduce community tension at a time when, as we know, such tension is heightened in parts of London. Police driving past in a car would not have seen the graffiti and might not even have seen the head. That is just one example of the importance of PCSOs and neighbourhood policing in London, and of why they need to be protected.
In Hounslow there has been an increase in the number of full-time equivalent police officers, although I think that clarification is needed with respect to the total number of officers and PCSOs and full-time equivalents. The number has gone up by 16 to 556 since March 2010—a small increase. In the same time, as my right hon. Friend Sadiq Khan has said, the number of PCSOs in Hounslow dropped from 109 to 23 by November. There are now fewer than one per ward.
I have spent 25 years as a ward councillor, have been a deputy leader and cabinet member, and have served on my local ward panel, and I have seen the benefit of neighbourhood policing to my community and borough at grassroots and neighbourhood level. As has been outlined, safer neighbourhood teams are in regular touch with councillors, young people, headteachers, voluntary and community organisations and key people in all the main local public and community services. I am told that the police and PCSOs in Hounslow do not feel confident that neighbourhood policing has a future in London, despite the good words of the commissioner late last year. The drive towards car and computer-based policing means fewer links between the police and the community and less of the benefit that they bring in reducing tensions and improving community safety, and in counter-terrorism. PCSOs are the conduit between the police bureaucracy, the local authority and public services and local residents.
Londoners have built confidence in the police since the implementation of neighbourhood policing. None of us wants to go back to how it was before. I do not want policing to go back to the situation I experienced in my early years as a councillor, when it was impossible to get in touch with the police. There was no engagement on local issues and no consistent engagement; it was only as and when, as a reaction to an incident. There were no long-term links with community organisations and little understanding of local issues, local tensions and local people. I do not want to go back to that position, which is why I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North on securing this debate.
We know now that there are no immediate cuts to police budgets. Last time we debated this subject, there were worries about potential cuts of £800,000 to £1 billion. We now know that those will not happen, but there are worries among people on my patch that the devil is in the detail. I have some questions for the Minister about possible attempts to reshape London’s police force by stealth.
Members have already said that the safer neighbourhood team model was a great achievement of the previous Labour Government, welcomed by communities at the time. We also heard about the 1-2-3 model, so I will not go into that again. As far as I understand it, the headline announcement of no immediate cuts was against a background of £600 million of savings—that euphemistic term—already made between 2010 and this year. We have heard how London as a whole has lost 3,170 dedicated neighbourhood PCSOs since 2010, which is a 70% cut. What is the shape of the police to come?
In Ealing, we have gone from a ward-based model to clusters. There are brilliant, dedicated people such as Graham Durn from Acton, James Lenton from the Ealing Common and Northfields ward, where there has been a merging of wards, and James Bister from the Acton cluster. However, there is a worry, and I want to echo some of what my hon. Friend Mr Thomas said. I actually have some good news about crime reduction in Ealing, where levels have been some of the best. Last time we debated this subject, we were worried we could lose PCSOs and police stations and that police office numbers could be cut. My worry, however, is that the borough model is in danger.
We have 32 boroughs in London, of which Ealing is the third most populated. We have 600-odd police officers in Ealing. I am worried about the dilution that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West warned of. There is a current programme to tackle the MOPAC 7 crimes, which include burglary, criminal damage, robbery, theft of and from motor vehicles, and theft from the person. Even under the new model, in which we have gone from safer neighbourhood teams to local policing, we can report a 27% reduction in those seven crimes in Ealing, with the most dramatic reductions being in robbery and burglary. I welcome that fact.
We all have to recognise that policing with and in local communities is about neighbourhood policing. Police officers in this country are not seen as Robocop. We have strong ties, and people know named officers. That is the difference between us and other nations, but I fear that that is endangered by the cuts by stealth, the reshaping, the shaving off of PCSO numbers and the threat of merging borough commands.
All the police I speak to say that they are in a position of not knowing what will happen next. They still do not know the future shape of the police force in London, and the amalgamation of borough commands is a worry. At the moment, all 32 boroughs have a chief superintendent, and that is why things have improved: there is a go-to person. The chief superintendent and the command team can liaise with all the authorities—for example, the chief executive of the council, the health services, the mental health services, the probation service, safeguarding, which covers adults and children, and third sector people. That could be lost.
We heard about the tri-borough nightmare in Harrow, where the borough command is possibly merging with Barnet, which is geographically quite far. I believe the idea of merging borough commands is still on the table. It has been discussed before by MOPAC, and I want some clarity on whether it is still an option. Will it go ahead? What benefits will it bring? What significant improvements will it make to local people in Ealing and Acton if you merge these forces in this way? [Interruption.] Does the Minister want to intervene?
I apologise; that was inappropriate of me. If the hon. Lady says “you” in her speech, it refers not to me but the Chair. I cannot do anything anyhow, because that is for the commissioner.
My apologies. I am a rookie MP, so the terminology is still new to me.
The 27% reduction in the MOPAC 7 crimes in Ealing is good news for the Minister, and I am sure he will welcome it. However, communities and boroughs need dedicated PCSOs. That is vital to our police service. Each of the 32 boroughs in London needs their own chief superintendent and command team. We as MPs need to work hand in glove with the police dedicated to our patches.
I will be brief—I only intended to make an intervention, but it has turned into a speech. The money may have been found down the back of the sofa so that it can be said there are no police cuts, but there are lingering doubts about what the shape of the police force will look like and that the worst could be yet to come, so I would like some clarification on the issue of the borough model.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I will do my best to stick to the timescale you outlined.
My first experience of working with the police as an elected local representative was as a local councillor working with my safer neighbourhood team, set up by the former Labour Mayor of London. I found the dedicated team of six officers to be hugely impressive, forging strong connections and relationships across the community and working in a way that was responsive to local needs and issues but also proactive and preventive. They also delivered results. We saw estates that had suffered episodes of gang-related violence have no such problems for years, and antisocial behaviour and drug dealing properly dealt with. We saw the perpetrators of spates of burglaries quickly apprehended and really valuable work, such as the detailed mapping of a large area of woodland in the ward, so that it was easier to find lost children. Most importantly, we saw the police out and about in the ward day in, day out, getting to know residents, understanding and responding to their concerns and preventing crime as well as responding to it.
I would like to pay tribute briefly to the hard work of the police in my constituency, which often goes above and beyond the call of duty. I was contacted on
The cuts to policing in London have been extensively covered by my colleagues, so I will not dwell on them in detail. I will simply say that the cuts have been devastating, and that the change from safer neighbourhood policing to the local policing model has been the most damaging of all. That reorganisation strips away one of the vital tools the police had for building deep relationships with the communities they serve, and we are seeing the impacts on the ground.
On one of the estates in my constituency, residents, many of them elderly, are not currently receiving any post because the postal worker who delivers there has been threatened and mugged, and Royal Mail has decided it is not a safe environment in which its staff should deliver. That could easily be resolved if the safer neighbourhood team could put resources on the ground, as it could previously. On another estate, problems of antisocial behaviour are not being dealt with as quickly as they could be before. On another street, a spate of burglaries running on for months and months culminated in a horrible attack, where the contents of a petrol canister were thrown over a local resident.
Our police have been forced by the cuts to become reactive instead of proactive, visiting the victims of burglary or robbery after the crime has taken place and responding to call-outs. However, a proactive approach through neighbourhood policing is vital to addressing some of the most serious and pressing challenges that we face—gun and knife crime, child sexual exploitation, radicalisation and terrorism, forced marriage and honour-based violence and hate crimes. Investigating and preventing those crimes requires the police to have the depth of knowledge and relationships with the communities they serve that cannot be fabricated in the heat of a rapid response, once a crime has taken place. As one community activist in Brixton said during a MOPAC roadshow meeting, in eroding safer neighbourhood teams
“you have taken the heart out of policing”.
Neighbourhood policing is vital to maintaining confidence and trust in the police. When communities know their officers and officers know their patch, the police have a public face at local level. When that is taken away, the public are left to rely on headlines and high-profile cases and the individual experiences of people who have sadly already been the victims of crime to determine their level of confidence in the police.
Finally, neighbourhood policing should not be regarded as the softer side of policing, but as the vital relationship-building bridge between the police and the communities they serve and the key to resolving and preventing many of the serious crimes that can threaten the security and stability of our communities.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I congratulate my hon. Friend Ms Buck on rightly bringing to the House—as one of the first debates we are having in the House this year—this debate on the importance of the safety and security of our citizens in London and, crucially, the role played by neighbourhood policing.
I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Sadiq Khan and my hon. Friends the Members for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), for Harrow West (Mr Thomas), for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury), for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) and for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) for bringing to this debate the experience of their constituents and the concerns that are increasingly being expressed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North was right to remind us of the legacy of history. I will say two things about legacy. First, painful lessons have been learnt from what was a very different era of the policing of London—following Scarman, Macpherson and stop and search. Indeed, John Grieve said today, in a powerful intervention, “I got it wrong all those years ago and I feel ashamed of myself.” One senior police officer in London said to me, “Jack, we were like Robocops touring estates in cars, remote from the communities that we were responsible for policing and distrusted by them.”
The second thing about the legacy of history is that although the police themselves learnt lessons, including excellent police officers such as Sir John Stevens, that came together with what we did in government to create the British model of neighbourhood policing that is celebrated worldwide. That included 17,000 extra police officers, 16,000 police community support officers and, here in London, ward-based safer neighbourhood teams.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting said, rooted as he is in his community and in the great city of London, this is about the notion of patiently building good community relationships of trust and confidence, whereby people then co-operate in detecting crime, but it is about more than that: it is about preventing crime and diverting people from crime. Again, my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North gave the excellent example of the boxing club in her constituency. It is about engagement between the police and young people, whereby the police come to be seen very differently by the young people they serve.
Sadly, a generation of progress that has been made in building trust and confidence is now being reversed. In the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting, today we are seeing the filleting of neighbourhood teams here in London, as a consequence of the last five years, with the £600 million of cuts, and of what will happen in the next five years, when there will be remorseless reductions at the next stages. These are the biggest cuts to any police service in Europe.
The first duty of any Government is the safety and security of their citizens. I therefore stress how important it is that the truth is told in this very important debate. First, it is not true that crime overall is falling. Crime is changing. There are disturbing signs, in the words of Sir Hugh Orde, the former chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers, of a “tipping point” being reached; and, as the statistics are now cleaned up, we see police recorded crime up 3%, violent crime up 24% in London and sexual crime up 29% in London. In addition, we are seeing a rapid growth in cybercrime. That will now be included in the crime statistics from this year onwards, showing a 40% increase in crime overall. I therefore hope the Government will stop saying, “We cut police, but we cut crime,” in circumstances where the truth will be told.
Secondly, it is not true that the comprehensive spending review protected police budgets. As has been said, the pressures remain tight and resources will reduce. Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe has been absolutely clear about how that presents big challenges to the police service. The threat relating to the reform of the funding formula still remains. There was an omnishambles and that had to be shelved, but again, as he has said, “It makes it difficult to plan ahead in circumstances where we do not quite know what our income streams will be in two to five and five to 10 years’ time.”
Thirdly, as has been exposed today, it is not true to say that there are more neighbourhood police officers here in London. Suffice to say, the powerful case that Opposition Members have made shows that such assertions about statistics are as reliable as dodgy Del Boy promises that “All will be right if you buy from me now.”
This is the worst possible time for the Government to continue putting those resource pressures on our police service. It is not just about the tipping point being reached in relation to conventional crime, as it is sometimes called, but about the challenges relating, first, to child sexual exploitation and abuse. Rightly, this country is rising to the challenge of rooting out that evil and protecting children, but that is hugely resource-intensive. Secondly, there is the rapid growth of cybercrime.
Thirdly and crucially, there is the uniquely awful generational threat of terrorism that we now have in our country. Key to combating terrorism is good neighbourhood policing. Peter Clarke, the former head of counter-terrorism, said that neighbourhood policing was “the golden thread” from the locality to the global, where plots are hatched by terrorists. Mark Rowley, the current head of counter-terrorism said that, from their point of view, neighbourhood policing was absolutely crucial. Remember that we are seeing arrests for terrorism nationally at the rate of one a day, and here in London, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe has said that the majority of leads in relation to those engaged in or plotting terrorism has come from neighbourhood policing—not from high-tech surveillance, although that plays its role, or international collaboration, although that is absolutely crucial. However, neighbourhood policing and the patient building of good community relationships are key to detecting those who are planning such outrageous wrongdoing.
In conclusion, as Opposition Members have said, it is welcome that within 48 hours of the comprehensive spending review the Government pulled back from the brink and did not make a proposed 22% cut on top of the 25% cut in the last Parliament. However, the facts speak for themselves: resources will reduce. Neighbourhood policing in London is being hollowed out. I say, with due respect to the Minister, that at a time like this, the Government need to think again, because it is true that the first duty of any Government is the safety and security of their citizens and the Government cannot say, “We backed the police,” unless they make the necessary resources available.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time in the new year, Mr Bone; I am sure we will have plenty more encounters.
It is good to see the shadow Policing Minister, Jack Dromey, in his position, and I hope that, as things progress, he stays in the job, because he is passionate and cares an awful lot—he knows me well enough to know I mean that.
I was wondering if I was on one side of a hustings for the mayoral election at one stage of the debate. I fully understand why the debate was called; in many ways, it was called prior to the announcement on the funding—[Interruption.] If I am wrong, I apologise, but it felt that way. This issue has certainly been part of the mayoral election campaign, and I would probably have done the same thing had I been on the other side. However, I would not be saying what has been said today, because anybody who is listening to this debate from outside the Chamber or outside London would think that crime in this country is rocketing and that terrible situations are happening across our country, but they are not.
Let me touch on some of the points that have been made. What was the cut in the number of police officers in London? It was 4%. That was the loss in the number of police officers, yet crime in London has fallen. Recorded crime has fallen by 11%—[Interruption.]The shadow Minister has said from a sedentary position and previously, during his speech, that things have changed. Absolutely: crime in this country is changing dramatically. Police officers and chiefs, and in London the Mayor, must make the operational decisions on where to put resources.
We asked the 43 police forces for which I am responsible around England and Wales to look at whether they could make 25% savings or more. Some, including London, said they could make 10% savings over this spending round. The Labour party and its spokesman said they could save 10%. No one listening to this debate would know that the Labour party had said that before the spending round, but it did. We looked carefully at how we could police in this difficult situation going forward—not only local policing and making people feel safe in their homes, but dealing with terrorism and so on.
That must be put on the record, because no one will have heard during the past hour and a half that the Labour party wanted to cut spending on the police in this country by 10%.
I think the Minister has misunderstood some comments from Opposition Members. We acknowledge that there are issues with funding. We are saying that one priority should be ingrained, neighbourhood community policing because, for all the reasons outlined by my hon. Friend Ms Buck, that has a beneficial effect all round.
I respect the hon. Lady a lot, not least in her role as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, but that is a policing decision. It is for the police to decide how they police the community, not for politicians in this Chamber.
I will give way in a moment if I can. It is not for us to say what police stations should be open. Those days have gone. We said we would not make the 10% cut that the Labour party recommended. We said no cut. In fact, there is a £900 million funding increase for London over this spending round.
I want to challenge the Minister on operational decisions. I have wanted this debate for some time. Resources are an issue and we can debate them, but fundamentally it is absolutely right for politicians to talk about the values and principles on which our city is policed. Many Opposition Members have expressed deep concern about the local policing model, even if that model has rested upon the same resources that we had in 2010. It is completely right and just for us to do so, and the Minister is totally wrong to say that we should not be discussing that.
I did not say we should not discuss that; I said we should not be telling the police how to police operationally, because that is fundamentally wrong.
The right hon. Gentleman has already presented his election campaign so we can wait a little longer for another press release.
We need to make sure that the public have the truth and are not scared—[Interruption.] I will not give way again, so hon. Members need not even try. We must make sure that public are not scared by these sorts of debate and the sorts of press releases that are being out here. Let me give an example of fantastic policing work being done in Westminster—in particular, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Westminster North, who did not mention this in her speech. Under Operation Trident recently, there have been 150 arrests, 15 knives have been seized, and nine adults have been charged with drug-related offences and given custodial sentences.
Part of the issue with Operation Trident, which does some excellent work—I referred to it specifically—is that we have a lot of difficulty finding out what it does. The whole point of this debate rests on the fact that our safer neighbourhood teams were conduits for local information and relationship-building. That in no way detracts from the quality of police work. We are addressing a different problem. Operation Trident’s success lies on the bedrock of ward-based safer neighbourhood teams.
I will have to write to right hon. and hon. Members, as I will not have time to deal with all the points now, because we are going over the debate that we have already had. However, Operation Trident has done fantastic work, with local information, in the hon. Lady’s constituency, so arrests and prosecutions have taken place. That is happening today.
I will have the honour and privilege in the next couple of weeks of going to Hendon for the passing-out parade, so more officers will be coming out of basic training. On PCSOs, the commissioner has already announced that there will be no reduction from the present levels. I think we would accept that that is right and proper.
Let me also touch on some of the points to do with representation. I think that is really important. Actually, this is one of the things that the commissioner has done that I think is really important, and the Mayor of London has supported it as well. The commissioner has said that recruits—people who want to join the police—have to live in their communities. There is an exemption, which is right and proper, for our armed forces. I was born and bred in Edmonton, but I went off and joined the Army at 16. When I left the Army, I would never have been allowed to join the Met police under the present rules unless there was an exemption for our armed forces. That exemption is right and proper.
However, I think we need to go further. I would say this as a Hertfordshire MP, but the Metropolitan police often recruit trained police officers from outside the Met area and bring them in. I do not think that that is great. I know there are some specialist roles that need to be done, particularly in relation to armed response and other areas, but actually officers should replicate the communities that they serve. I am determined that, throughout the ranks of the police forces in England and Wales, officers should replicate the communities that they serve and live in them. They do not now, and that is not something that has suddenly happened; it is something that we should have addressed years ago. How many chief constables are from a black and ethnic minority background? Very few are, so we must ensure that that happens.
The Chair of the Public Accounts Committee mentioned other duties that the police undertake. That is one of the things that I have been banging on about. I am sorry if she has not heard or has been sent to sleep by any of the speeches that I have made on that subject, but I know that the shadow Policing Minister has heard them. We now have an inter-ministerial group—it started under the coalition—so that we are stopping police officers doing something that they are fundamentally not trained to do, particularly in relation to mental health. I have been out on patrol with the police, like many colleagues here, and all too often when we say, “Where are we going?”, the reply is that we are going to see Mary or Johnny, and this is at 7 o’clock on a Friday night. “Why are we going to see Mary?” “Well, because social services phoned up and they haven’t seen her all week. She’s a very vulnerable lady, so we should go and see her.” No, we should not. It was because a phone call had come in earlier in the evening saying, “We haven’t seen her. Will you go and see her?” That is a social services responsibility. Of course we went, and of course the police would do that, but it is not the key role of the police.
The Minister might like to reflect on the fact that too often the police are the ones being called in because too many of these public services, such as social care and youth services, either are non-existent or have been cut back so far that there is no one to do that visit.
I would challenge whether that is true. I hear this from police officers all the time: when they ask social services when they realised that Mary or Johnny had not been visited and they have not heard from them, the answer is that it was earlier in the week. This nearly always happens on a Friday evening. I am not saying that the police will not respond—of course they will—but we should not be continually asking the police to do something that they are fundamentally not trained to do. Social services need to step up to the plate.
We have changed the rules, particularly on holding juveniles in cells. We were told that that could not work, but what was happening was fundamentally wrong and illegal. A place of safety for someone with a mental illness or a learning difficulty is not a police cell. It is actually and fundamentally an important place that they should be taken to. I was in Holborn recently and we did exactly that. Traditionally, people would have been taken back to the cells—section 135 or 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 might have been used to detain them. We are changing that more and more as we bring in mental health professionals—paid for by the NHS in most cases—who may be embedded with the police in custody facilities, although actually more of them are triaging people out on the streets. That is the sort of thing that is required. We have to have other experts from other departments. We have to break down these silos to try to ensure—
Hon. Members ask from a sedentary position where that is happening. It is happening around the country now. We must not say that it is acceptable that the police are being used inappropriately, and they have been for many years—not just under this Administration, but prior to that.
It is fundamentally important to make this point. Yes, there is a debate—a discussion—but the British public are safer today than they have ever been from traditional crime, which continues to fall. We must ensure that we put all our resources into protecting them from the new types of crime, particularly terrorism. Of course neighbourhood policing is a very important part of that, but it is not about buildings or stations; it is about people delivering the help that the public need.
The debate that was scheduled to take place at 1 pm has been withdrawn by the Member in charge. Therefore the sitting will be suspended until 1.30 pm.