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Safer Neighbourhood Policing: London

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 12:41 pm on 5th January 2016.

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Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 12:41 pm, 5th January 2016

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.