I beg to move,
That this House
has considered tackling aggressive antisocial behaviour.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Bailey. For seven years, the standard response of Ministers to any question or doubt about crime and antisocial behaviour has been an assurance that crime is falling. Those of us who ventured that police budgets were being cut too deep and too fast, exposing areas such as the west midlands to severe grant reductions, have been brushed aside. I have lost track of the number of Ministers who think that all is solved by the stock answer that crime is falling.
It is certainly true that the crime survey for England and Wales provides a valuable picture of long-term trends for certain types of offences, but it does not necessarily capture the picture on the ground for other types of crime, so it is wrong for Ministers to rely on those statistics to the exclusion of all else. The fear that dominates the daily lives of real people and their families is not addressed when Ministers issue such a stock reply.
Estimates are especially unreliable when it comes to particular types of offences and, as a consequence, we frequently underestimate certain crimes. Sexual offences and child sexual exploitation, about which we are beginning to learn much more, are good examples of underestimated crimes. Antisocial behaviour almost certainly also falls into that category. Until 2015, the headline figures also excluded fraud and computer misuse. When those figures are added, the number of crimes rises from around 5.9 million to around 11 million, which suggests that there is even less room for complacency.
Not that long ago there were major debates about the need to improve the quality of police recording of crime. When recording is done properly, we have a more reliable measure to assess recent or current trends. In the last year alone, police recorded crime increased by 10%—the biggest year-on-year rise in a decade—which includes a 20% surge in knife and gun crime. That rise is actually accelerating; a 3% increase in the year to March 2015 was followed by an 8% rise in 2016.
Turning to antisocial behaviour, most people think of their home as their sanctuary, their castle, and the place where the troubles of the external world can be set aside, if only for a short time. But what if home is not like that? What if, because of aggressive antisocial behaviour, intimidation, threats and harassment, a person’s home becomes just another place of risk and fear—a place where they can be subjected to deliberate and intolerable levels of noise, and where dangerous and uncontrolled dogs are allowed to run free, threatening children? What if walking a few hundred yards to or from their own front door risks a confrontation and potential assault? What if the immediate vicinity of their home is plagued by thugs with motorcycles, who constantly congregate outside or nearby?
According to some reports, there has been a 1% decrease in antisocial behaviour incidents. I find that impossible to believe. Try telling my constituents that antisocial behaviour is declining. As far back as 2012, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary reported concerns about the wide variation in the quality of decision making associated with the recording of antisocial behaviour by police forces. That resulted in a review, but as budgets are increasingly stretched, I find it hard to believe that there has been a vastly improved focus on tackling antisocial behaviour. We are talking about offences including vehicle and bike-related crime, vandalism, criminal damage, graffiti, nuisance neighbours and extensive intimidation, involving threats, verbal abuse and domination of whole neighbourhoods.
Not only do Ministers say that crime is falling but they regularly tell us that they have protected police funding. That is simply not the case. The reality is that the central Government grant remains largely the same, and the shortfall in police budgets has been transferred to the council tax precept. Analysis by the Library tells us that since 2010, police expenditure from tax and grants has fallen by 5% in cash terms and 13% in real terms.
The National Audit Office has pointed out the effect of that sleight of hand: the force areas most affected by funding reductions are those that are most reliant on the police grant. Four of the five forces that are most dependent on the central Government grant—all, incidentally, in the midlands and the north—are those experiencing the worst overall budget reductions. I am sure that the Government understand perfectly well that economically depressed areas with a relatively low council tax base are not capable of making up for the loss of central grant, even if they raise the council tax precept to the maximum permitted level.
In the west midlands, which is one of the hardest hit areas, we have faced cuts of £130 million since 2010—the highest proportion in the whole country. In 2017-18, we have suffered a further £6 million budget cut. The chief constable has recently been forced to point out that policing will “break” unless forces are given “real terms protection”. In Northumbria, the chief constable has said that his force is close to no longer being able to provide a professional service. The chief constable of Avon and Somerset police said:
“We now face a tipping point. We cannot sustain further funding cuts without extremely serious consequences.”
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case on behalf of his constituents and the city of Birmingham. The West Midlands police service has suffered a real-terms cut of £18 million this year. The chief constable has warned that the force is stretched to the limit. The police and crime commissioner has said that call-out times are getting longer; they are now up to 24 hours for 999 calls about domestic violence, and the police often do not turn out at all to deal with antisocial behaviour, although it is said to be very serious. Does my hon. Friend agree that the first duty of any Government is to ensure the safety and security of their citizens, and that it is absolutely wrong that the Government have cut 2,000 police officers from the West Midlands police service, putting the public at risk?
I agree totally. Those reckless cuts and the Government’s refusal to recognise the consequences are the reason why we are experiencing such problems.
As well as giving us a hopelessly complacent message about crime falling, Ministers for far too long have tried to tell us that this is all about back-office savings—that the police are top heavy in administration and there is plenty of fat. As my hon. Friend says, the figures tell a different story. The number of police officers in the country has fallen for seven consecutive years, despite all those promises to protect the frontline. Since 2010, more than 20,000 police officers and 6,000 community support officers have been axed.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the falling numbers of police officers, and especially community police officers—in my region of Yorkshire, more than 400 have been lost—has a huge impact on antisocial behaviour, such as crimes committed on off-road bikes and mopeds, which plague communities like mine in Barnsley? Does he agree that more needs to be done to tackle it?
I do agree. It seems to me that one feature of policing, particularly in relation to antisocial behaviour, must be deterrence. If people feel that they will not be caught and there will be no consequences, there is nothing to inhibit their behaviour, and that is exactly what we see in communities right across the country at the present time.
Policing has now reached a historic low, with forces at their lowest strength per 100,000 of the population since records began back in 1979. In the west midlands, as we have heard, we have 2,000 fewer officers compared with 2010 and there are 50% fewer community support officers. Conversely, better-funded forces such as Surrey, which benefit from the perverse nature of police funding decisions, have managed to increase their numbers of police officers for their low-crime communities over that same period. That says something about priorities and attitudes to crime and antisocial behaviour.
All of this is having a profound effect on police morale. The Police Federation report for 2017 shows that 58% of officers have reported not having time to do the job to the standard they would be proud of; 57% report being single-crewed, which increases operational risk, and 39% report high job stress.
I was recently told of an incident by someone who works in community safety. There was a local neighbourhood disturbance, with about 40 youths with weapons roaming the area, threatening each other and carrying out attacks. After several members of the public made repeated calls, a police car eventually turned up, sirens blaring. The youths scattered, and naturally there were no arrests. It turned out that the occupant of the police car was the duty inspector for the area, who was the only officer available. He freely confessed that he had had no choice but to turn up sirens blaring in the hope that he might scatter the youths. Is that really the level of policing we should expect in this day and age when our neighbourhoods are under attack? Force-wide voluntary resignations increased by 11% last year, and long-term absence is at record levels. Our police are stretched to breaking point.
It is hard to see how any Minister could come to the House with a straight face and continue to argue that the impact of their cuts is not affecting operational performance. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary’s police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy report for 2016 talks of the risk that forces are struggling to meet demand and are resorting to artificial means of suppressing that demand. The report suggests that that might be done by downgrading the severity category of a call or by setting a quota for the number of cases that get referred for special assistance. For example, a number of forces are increasingly dealing with calls for service over the phone rather than deploying officers to visit the victim. That can be very inappropriate in certain types of cases—for example, assault or sexually related offences—and there can be no guarantee that the person charged with conducting the phone call has the correct skills to carry out such an interview.
Particular areas of concern are the large number of incidents in control rooms that do not receive an appropriate response, as referred to earlier by my hon. Friend Jack Dromey. An immediate response should be within 15 to 20 minutes and a prompt response is usually within an hour. In either event, that is likely to be too long to prevent a crime or, in most cases, catch a perpetrator red-handed. However, in far too many cases, calls are not allocated for several days. That is consistent with the many examples of which Members will be aware from their constituents, saying that they phoned the police but did not hear back or that officers attended several days later but made no attempt to take finger prints or record any other significant details that might help identify the culprit. In too many circumstances, the response to a crime is a perfunctory police appearance, well after the event—that is if they turn up at all.
Across the United Kingdom, the number of abandoned 999 calls more than doubled in the 12 months from June 2016, rising from 8,000 to nearly 16,500 across 32 forces. The number of 101 calls abandoned over the same period also rose—by 116%. In total 230,000 calls were abandoned; 101 is the number that the police prefer the public to use to report antisocial behaviour. That is the reality of much police response in this day and age.
As I have said, we have to be careful about relying on ministerial fantasies that crime is falling. Half of police forces inspected since August 2016 have been rated as “inadequate” for failing to record hundreds of thousands of crimes reported to them—approximately 219,000 crimes a year. Only three forces were rated as “good”. West Midlands police were found to have failed to record an estimated 38,800 crimes. In 2015-16, no further action was taken in 74% of recorded offences and by 2016-17 that had increased to 76%. By far the largest category of “no further action” cases resulted from a failure even to identify a suspect. It is not hard to see why crime is rising if the fear of being caught is rapidly diminishing.
Perhaps I may take this opportunity to remind the Minister of the importance of those findings and the store the Government place on HMIC inspections. The former policing Minister, Brandon Lewis, told us that
“HMIC’s rolling programme of crime data integrity inspections will keep the spotlight on forces to improve the accuracy of their crime recording.”
That is exactly what HMIC is doing, and it is reporting an increasing number of forces unable to cope and, in many cases, opting to downgrade the reality of the crime people are experiencing.
There is little evidence of a robust Government response to those HMIC warnings. Ironically, even HMIC is seeing its budget cut, with a 14% reduction in cash terms since 2012. First the Government cut the police, and then they cut the agency charged with keeping track of police effectiveness. Is it really that surprising that there has not been an HMIC report on force handling of antisocial behaviour since 2012?
The Government have embarked on a dangerous road. It is important to remember that, as part of the incoming coalition Government’s efforts to diminish the Labour legacy, they put arguments about civil liberties ahead of issues of public safety. In everything from control orders, designed to protect us from would-be terrorists, to antisocial behaviour measures, Ministers set out to loosen existing legislation and controls. To some extent, the changes were cosmetic, but they had an impact, as can be seen from the reduction in the use of stop-and-search powers, and the corresponding increase in knife crime.
The then Home Secretary branded Labour’s antisocial behaviour measures “bureaucratic, expensive and ineffective”. She embarked on a series of changes that led to a loss of focus on bearing down on antisocial behaviour, as practitioners had to take time to learn new language and procedures for tackling existing issues for which powers were already proving quite effective. However, it was more than a rebrand. Abolishing ASBOs and introducing injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance was a weakening of the stance on antisocial behaviour. Breach of an ASBO was a criminal offence; breach of a civil injunction was a civil contempt, carrying a much lower maximum penalty. Significantly, under-18s can be dealt with only by the youth courts, where the penalties are lower.
Also, collapsing ASBOs and related measures into a civil injunction effectively removed the graduated response that Labour’s measures were designed to achieve. It is true that there was a fairly high breach rate for ASBOs, but acceptable behaviour contracts and antisocial behaviour injunctions were stepping stones prior to an ASBO. There were stages to be gone through, and warnings could be issued if the initial response failed to quell the unacceptable behaviour. The Government’s changes swept all that away, along with all efforts to monitor the effectiveness of the legislation.
The Home Office and the Ministry of Justice regularly respond to questions about the effectiveness of their policies with the standard defence that it would not be cost-effective to collect the information requested. Indeed, the Government have contrived to make it virtually impossible to measure the effectiveness of their response to antisocial behaviour. Not only do they fail to collect information centrally; county courts do not do it either. Consequently, the only way to obtain information on the Government’s injunction strategy would be to examine individual case files. In fact, the Government have no capacity to link arrests, recorded crime, and prosecution and conviction data. They have no idea of the effect their policies have on crime and antisocial behaviour.
Labour’s approach was not just about court orders. Family intervention projects were established to provide focused work on those families considered most likely to generate antisocial behaviour problems. In 2007, the Department for Communities and Local Government produced a report that found that both criminal and antisocial behaviour had declined markedly at the point when those families exited the programme. The risk that they would face eviction because of their behaviour had also considerably reduced. Once again, the incoming Government sought to change things, and introduced a decentralised troubled families programme, with a significantly broader focus and, of course, fewer resources. It coincided with huge cuts in local authority youth programmes and other social services spending.
Despite early positive claims about the troubled families programme, an independent evaluation found that there was no significant impact across its key objectives and that it was not possible to evaluate estimates of savings, despite Government attempts to argue that the policy had resulted in savings of £1.2 billion. That, of course, was at a time when Ministers were keen on arguing for payment by results. However, the independent evaluation noted:
“The financial framework could have been significantly improved if it had followed the model of other programmes, which included a requirement to demonstrate that results were attributable to the programme.”
It is my contention that those changes in legislation, and the loss of focus, have damaged our ability to tackle antisocial behaviour. I attended a recent meeting of a community safety panel covering my constituency. I was impressed by the commitment of those present—about 23 people, including a fire station commander, who chaired the meeting, a police inspector, two councillors, a community representative and several council officers. It was a two-and-a-half-hour meeting; they are bi-monthly. It was full of presentations, which I must say I found interesting. However, what I did not get was that CompStat feeling: where were the raw data and the demand to do better? Where, indeed, were the results, and demands for action? I fear that, without greater direction from the senior echelons of the various agencies, community safety panels will become another part of the local bureaucratic apparatus. They are well intentioned, but what issues will they resolve?
It was interesting to hear that the panel had noted an increase in gang activity in south Birmingham and was concerned about an emerging picture suggesting that children are getting involved in gangs at a much earlier age, and that membership is no longer confined to those from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds but embraces those from what we might regard as quite middle-class homes. It seems to me that that information supports my view that we are losing control of our neighbourhoods, and that we need Government-directed activity and local intelligence to come together to provide clear action plans to tackle the threat posed by that emerging gang culture.
Neither the Home Secretary nor the Prime Minister made a single reference in their conference speeches to antisocial behaviour. It is clearly not on their radar. Nor did they mention police resources. It is all very well the Home Secretary saying that she plans to keep the police safe, but how safe are they if there are not enough of them to do the job and they are exposed to risk every time there is a local incident? There was a passing reference in her speech to a review of moped crime—I hope that will also cover motorcycle crime. I welcome that, although my constituents would like a timescale and a promise of clear action. Perhaps the Minister can update us on what the Government intend. Also, where is the evidence that under-18s are the greatest offenders in acid attacks? If there is not such evidence, what exactly will be achieved by the Home Secretary’s announcement on the matter?
I reassure the Minister that I do not raise these issues for the sake of it. A recent analysis that received more than 1,000 responses in my constituency highlighted the priority that my constituents accord to such matters. More than 70% reported being very concerned about the rise in crime. With respect to the visibility of, and access to, police and community support officers, almost 90% reported experiencing a decrease; 92% regard it as a false economy that the Government have pursued a policy of reducing police numbers, especially when so much money can be found for other items. Nearly 40% of those I asked about the 101 non-emergency police number had never heard of it. Of those who had used it, nearly 30% reported that it was unsatisfactory. The chief complaint, which will be no surprise, is the time that it takes to get through. Too many people are left hanging on, and are forced to give up. Those who do get through often find the response unsatisfactory.
Bearing in mind that I am a Birmingham MP and that what happens in London does not reflect the whole country, the Minister may want to note the fact that nearly 75% of those responding to the survey thought that we might need to look again at the rules on stop-and-search. I remind you, Mr Bailey, that it was the present Prime Minister who championed curtailment of the use of stop-and-search. I wonder whether the increase in acid and knife attacks, gun crime and gang activity suggests we may need to listen to the majority of our constituents, who are asking about their civil rights.
Often in crime surveys it is argued that people’s fear of crime is a much bigger issue than their actual experience, so I asked how many of those responding had been a victim of crime or had someone close to them experience a crime in the past 12 months. Over 50% said that they had; that is not exactly a picture of crime falling or a situation that is under control. One of the few aspects of antisocial behaviour the Home Secretary acknowledged in her conference speech was the problem of moped and motorcycle crime and associated offences—94% of respondents said that it is time to come up with new ways of tackling that menace, as current methods are simply not working.
What should we do? Clearly, we need a greater uniform presence, and to that end I support Labour’s sensible and costed proposals for an extra 10,000 officers. I recognise that it takes time to recruit and train such numbers, so in the interim we can perhaps look at making better use of other personnel, such as transport police, council security staff and even some traffic wardens. I draw the line at suggestions that employees of private security organisations such as G4S should be given the power of arrest, and I hope that the Minister will knock that on the head today.
I advocate that we need to examine stop-and-search once more, particularly where there is evidence of a high risk of weapons being carried and increases in knife and gun crime and other violent assaults. Members will recall that the Prime Minister claimed in her 2014 conference speech that the number of black people being stopped and searched had fallen by two thirds as a result of her intervention. However, the figures show that although overall stop-and-search is down, the number of black people being stopped and searched as a percentage of the total has actually risen. It is a failed policy. Discrimination needs to be tackled, but not with red tape that ties the police in knots and puts the safety of whole communities at risk.
I do not understand why, in an age of high-quality cameras that are so small and relatively cheap, it is so difficult to mount more successful surveillance operations in areas where particular types of street crime such as theft, assault and carjacking are prevalent. When it comes to the pursuit of those on mopeds and motorcycles, why is more attention not given to drone technology, and where local communities are clearly being intimidated, why not make more use of professional witnesses to identify and prosecute prolific offenders?
We need to see a new energy in tackling aggressive antisocial behaviour, with guidance from the Home Office to chief constables, police and crime commissioners and local authority chief executives making it clear that it is a priority and must be tackled. That should be coupled with a reinvigoration of community safety panels, with a clear emphasis: their job is to collect and analyse data, so that they can demonstrate how they are getting on top of rising neighbourhood crime and aggressive antisocial behaviour. If the Government are determined to hide behind the cloak of localism, they must issue guidance on how data are collected and shared on the success of measures such as criminal behaviour orders and civil injunctions. We must be able to see reliable comparisons, so that there is proper evidence about the scale of the problem and the success and failure of existing strategies and policies.
I support the development of a national transformation fund to tackle some of the worst areas of deprivation, but we should also entertain the idea that such an approach should be coupled with a new family intervention programme, so that those who create the most problems are not simply left to enjoy state benefits without any obligations on their behaviour. We need to revisit their entitlement to enjoy rented tenancies in areas where they cause untold trouble.
In circumstances where the perpetrators are homeowners or responsible for those living at their abode, we need to be bold. Where the culprit or someone regularly living under the roof of that person is guilty of persistent aggressive antisocial behaviour, we need to change the law so that eviction is the end point. Local authorities should be given new powers with the police, so that those who persistently practise aggressive antisocial behaviour, or permit its practice from their dwelling, can have their property made subject to a compulsory purchase order—effectively forcing them to leave the area and preventing them from continuing to practise the evil that they have inflicted on innocent victims for too long.
The simple truth is that the last Labour Government picked up the challenge of aggressive antisocial behaviour in our neighbourhoods and did something about it after years of neglect. The present Prime Minister has failed us on that vital area of crime by cutting our police, ignoring the predicament of our constituents and allowing crime and antisocial behaviour to grow. It is time for a substantial change.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I will be considerate of your advice and the fact that there are other people who wish to speak, rather than just go on for a considerable time.
I congratulate Steve McCabe on securing this debate. I know he will share my pleasure that he will be able to work with Andy Street, the new Mayor of the combined authority, to tackle many of the issues he raised in his speech. As he rightly pointed out towards the end of his quite long address, it is not only about the police arresting people, but about tackling a range of issues. It will be interesting, if we follow the pattern in the west midlands of the Mayor becoming the police and crime commissioner, to bring that work together to make a real difference on the issues that the hon. Gentleman has just outlined. I am sure that his constituents will appreciate that.
It was interesting to hear about drone usage. Devon and Cornwall police now have the first drone squad in the country. I am sure officers in Devon and Cornwall would be only too happy to share with West Midlands police their experience of the opportunities afforded by drones. In cases in which a force helicopter could not be used, a drone offers an aerial presence that is far safer than one on the ground.
My main reason for contributing to this debate is to discuss the issues that we have experienced over the summer in Torquay town centre and what can be done to tackle them. Things came to a head one day when six people had collapsed by lunchtime on the floor in Castle Circus as a result of using Spice. That put pressure on the police, as did the overspill from some aspects of antisocial behaviour that are inherent in the use of those substances and from the disputes about who can sell them in particular locations. People were putting their lives at risk, and that had an impact on businesses in the area.
Being homeless in itself is not criminal. However, too often, the two were conflated in reporting of the issues over the summer—the idea being that homeless people and antisocial behaviour went together. In fact, some people at the local homeless hostel were the very people targeted by the suppliers the police are now seeking to deal with. Although we have some great organisations making a difference, such as Humanity Torbay and Shekina, along with the Torbay End Street Homelessness campaign, which received £400,000 of Government funding, it is clear that some people were pretending to be homeless and are still doing so with fake begging operations. Lumping everyone together was not appropriate. Some of the most vulnerable people in our communities should have had the chance to be helped and should not just be lumped in with those who are causing problems.
It is worth complimenting Torquay police and its inspector, Si Jenkinson, who has been working to react to the situation after I said that enough was enough and we needed a crackdown. We have had action days where a number of people have been arrested and the law has been enforced. A number of people have been jailed for offences. Two people who recently pleaded guilty to the supply of new psychoactive substances will, I hope, join them, but I am conscious that that matter is still in the courts and I should not say too much more about it. A number of arrests have been made. Police drug dogs have been out in the night-time economy, tackling the problem. We are beginning to use proactively the criminal behaviour orders system, to ensure that those who are a constant nuisance can be dealt with.
However, this is not just about police enforcement. As I touched on in response to the speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak, it is about tackling a range of issues. That is why I am pleased that traders are coming together to make a difference and to begin looking at how we can take our town centre forward. They are meeting this Friday to do so. What can the Government do? The purpose of this debate is to discuss that, rather than just reeling off statistics. For me, part of it is about looking at the rules in relation to the usage of new psychoactive substances. It is a great credit to the Government that they introduced the Bill—with cross-party support, to be fair—that finally made those substances illegal and closed down two shops in my area that, bluntly, were drug-dealing outfits that sold stuff that avoided the law. We need to look not so much at possession as at usage in public. It would be interesting to hear the Minister’s thoughts on whether the law could be taken slightly further. I can understand why we did not seek to criminalise users, as opposed to dealers, given the history of other legislation, but could some consideration be given to this point? Alcohol is not illegal, but being drunk and disorderly in a public place is an offence. Perhaps we could look at how the legislation could be tweaked to cover those who have used new psychoactive substances.
Likewise, on tackling fake beggars, we need to review the provisions of the Vagrancy Act 1824, which have clearly had their day. I am not seeking to target those who are vulnerable—there are charities doing that—but there is clear evidence of a group of people in Torbay who are exploiting the good will of others to get money, even though sometimes those people are sitting there in quite expensive designer gear.
This is also about the regeneration of our town centres. It is not just about using the law, but about ensuring that Torquay town centre is a pleasant place to be and about providing positive activities for young people. That is why I shall close by saying that I hope Paignton rugby club can soon use once more the park that its eight and nine-year-olds were playing in, as it seems absolutely bizarre that Torbay Council has decided to ban that.
It is, as ever, a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I congratulate my hon. Friend Steve McCabe on a comprehensive analysis of the problems confronting many of our constituents.
I shall confine my remarks to the criminal, dangerous and antisocial use of motorcycles. Many Members of the House have raised concerns about that; indeed, the Prime Minister herself has acknowledged that it is a problem. My hon. Friend Louise Haigh, on the Front Bench, has been campaigning alongside me and others on the issue.
It is a real problem in my constituency. The young people who ride the motorcycles often wear crash helmets, although they are unlicensed, or use some sort of head covering—a balaclava or scarf—to make it very difficult to recognise them. That poses challenges for the police. There is recognition on the part of Merseyside Police, to whom I am indebted for my briefing for this debate, that these scrambler bikes, as they are commonly called, although they are not necessarily scrambler bikes, are used in the pursuit of crime. We have heard examples of their being used in acid attacks and in ram-raids on shops, but more commonly in my constituency they are used to distribute drugs and, in some cases, firearms. Merseyside Police tell us that although there has been a sharp increase, in some parts of the Liverpool city region, in the discharge of firearms, the numbers of firearms have not necessarily gone up. The same firearms are being used repeatedly, and in some cases they are being ferried around by young people connected to so-called drug barons. They are almost like firearms for hire: the young people drive around, and whoever wants to hire a firearm for the day, that is how it is delivered to them.
There is real concern about this matter and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak said, at the same time as the problem is growing, police numbers have been reduced. On Merseyside, we have 1,000 fewer police officers than we had in 2010, and which creates challenges. This matter is covered by section 59 of the Police Reform Act 2002, which gives the police the power to seize vehicles, including motorbikes, if they are used in a “careless and inconsiderate” manner. In most circumstances, a warning is required, but in exceptional circumstances one need not be used. The legislation is suitable for dealing with very low-level antisocial behaviour—for example, people using a scrambler bike in a field or on wasteland who will engage with the police when stopped and spoken to—but not for dealing with riders who are intent on riding along public roads in a dangerous manner and have no intention of stopping for the police. We therefore need to revisit the legislation, and I would like to refer to a couple of case studies that illustrate why that is important.
The first case study involves an incident on Merseyside in 2015 in which police officers came across a scrambler bike rider travelling at excessive speed in the city of Liverpool. Eventually, after a lot of problems, an officer managed to detain the rider of the bike, because he considered that he was a real danger to the public. The rider was arrested and charged with dangerous driving, and was eventually sentenced to six months in prison, but that was not the end of the story. The incident was referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, and thirteen months later the police officer involved ended up in court, and was acquitted, for the actions that he had taken to detain the young person. Dealing with the matter took 18 months, during which time that police officer was under a lot of pressure and, indeed, the threat of losing his job and his liberty.
I have other case studies, but I realise that we are short of time, so I shall skip them and just say that the Police Federation has concerns about this matter. It believes that the law needs to be clarified so that police officers in the situation described have some kind of exemption from prosecution. Obviously, their need to protect the public should override the civil libertarian concerns about people who are using what are often unlicensed and uninsured vehicles for criminal purposes. I hope that the Minister, who nodded when I made that point, will acknowledge, when she winds up the debate, that that is a problem and it needs to be addressed urgently.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. First, I congratulate Steve McCabe on presenting a very comprehensive case. This issue affects us all, regardless of constituency or region of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; it is a shared concern. We are all very aware of antisocial behaviour issues, such as drunkenness, noise pollution, vandalism, shoplifting and joyriding. In the past week alone, I have read about displays of antisocial behaviour among young people during freshers week in Belfast, and on Saturday a substantial number of fireworks and counterfeit goods were seized in Newtownabbey, a town just north of Belfast. Again, those were to be used for antisocial behaviour.
A quick Google search confirms that such behaviour is not confined to Northern Ireland. In the past week, police have launched an operation in Skegness to deal with antisocial behaviour. New orders have come into force in King’s Lynn, Downham Market and Hunstanton. In the broads, a new plan to tackle antisocial behaviour has come into force, and a zero-tolerance order has been passed in Walsall. That is a very quick synopsis of some of the issues. Across Northern Ireland, the incidence of antisocial behaviour incidents has decreased, although there has been a slight increase in the last three years. The Police Service of Northern Ireland releases monthly and annual figures, and while antisocial behaviour incidents seem to be falling they are still too high. We have to address that. Antisocial behaviour rates in Northern Ireland are consistently higher in July, August and October, while they fall between November and February or March. It could be said that that suggests the weather plays a role in how people behave. Anyone who has been to Northern Ireland can attest to the fact that we do cold weather better than most, but the fact is that the figures decrease in the colder months, whereas when the weather is good and the nights are longer, people tend to stay out for longer and consume an amount of alcohol. We all know those people who consume more alcohol and become very friendly, but most people who consume alcohol to excess become louder, rowdier and are prone to getting into arguments and even physical fights.
Like many of my colleagues, I have a fantastic relationship with the local police force of Northern Ireland. They continue to work alongside relevant organisations to address antisocial behaviour, particularly when it relates to the misuse of drugs or alcohol. We should give credit to the organisations that do fantastic work in Northern Ireland and across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. For example, the SOS Bus operates in Belfast to ensure that people get home safely and receive any help that they require, whether that is medical or simply taking a seat and having a coffee to reduce the effects of alcohol. In 2015, street pastors, who are very active in my constituency—I am pleased to be their president—aimed to ensure that people got home safely; however, they also give out flip-flops, pick up bottles, and listen to people’s stories, helping those in distress and pointing people to further help if required. That is their role and what they do. They have a growing organisation in Newtownards that is now in Ballygowan and Comber, right down the Ards peninsula. The overall aim is to ensure that people remain safe when they are out socialising, and where possible to prevent people from getting into situations in which antisocial behaviour might arise. I would like to put on record my thanks to those organisations, which do such fantastic work for people throughout the United Kingdom.
One way to address antisocial behaviour is to encourage local authorities to introduce a zero-tolerance order for antisocial behaviour and perhaps more CBOs. Is that something that the Minister is considering? Some people see antisocial behaviour orders as a badge of honour. They should never be a badge of honour; they should be a discredit to the person who has one. We need to be strong on that. The stats for England and Wales show that some 1.8 million incidents of antisocial behaviour took place, but it has been a while since Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary did an inspection on antisocial behaviour. If she has the chance, would the Minister give us her thoughts on where we are with that? The crime survey for England and Wales showed an increase of respondents on the issue of antisocial behaviour in the last year.
I want to reiterate what Mr Howarth referred to: a growing problem with those on mopeds. Riders regularly mount pavements, swiping mobile phones, and they also use mopeds in acid attacks, and we need to look at that. We also need to look at the pursuit of criminals on mopeds. The death of Henry Hicks in London, who crashed his moped while being pursued by police officers, changed the way police officers have to work. Four officers are going to have hearings this month. It means that the police are unable to pursue citizens, but we must allow police officers to do their job, including pursuing and stopping criminals in a safe and responsible manner. In the last year, crimes involving vehicles have risen by 600%.
I will conclude, Mr Bailey, as I am conscious of time—I apologise. We must do more to tackle new types of antisocial behaviour, particularly crimes involving vehicles. Can the Minister say whether she is working with the police to identify the problem areas that we have outlined, and the times of year at which antisocial behaviour increases, with a view to improving police presence and in turn reducing the extent of such behaviour?
I congratulate my hon. Friend Steve McCabe on an excellent contribution and summary of some of the concerns relating to aggressive antisocial behaviour.
I want to start by saying very firmly that the police are trying to do a good job and want to reduce antisocial behaviour as much as my hon. Friend and other Members who have spoken do. However, the key issue boils down to policing numbers and the police’s ability to respond on a local level to concerns raised. There are many powers in place. Previous Labour Governments, the current Conservative Government, and previously the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Government, introduced a number of measures to give powers to local councils and the police to tackle antisocial behaviour, but ultimately it is about having local, visible policing on the ground, engaged with the community, being seen, giving reassurance and dealing with issues at the first instance, before they escalate into what my hon. Friend described.
I mention that because just yesterday I received an email from a constituent, which puts the case more eloquently than I ever could. The constituent wrote to me regarding policing in one of the towns in my constituency, and she said:
“Can we ever expect to see the police walking again or PCSOs? Is this ever going to happen again. Their presence is immeasurable on so many levels i.e. reassurance, deterrents, role models, help when needed… the list is endless.”
It is important that we look at that summary of a real problem.
In my area, the North Wales force is small compared with that of the West Midlands, but it covers a geographical area from the borders of Chester through to Holyhead, a distance of nearly 100 miles as the crow flies. In my area, since I was Police Minister in 2010—we had 1,590 police officers in March 2010—we have seen a reduction to 1,441. That is 149 police officers lost, nearly 10% of the police force. In Wales as a whole, we have lost 682 officers over a similar period. That is at a time, particularly in the last 18 months to two years, when we have had increased demands on the police in terms of armed response units, prevention of terrorism and radicalisation on a range of fronts, from right-wing radicalisation through to potential terrorist threats elsewhere. The police are responding dramatically to those areas at a time when they are facing difficult cuts, and have lost thousands of staff and over 20,000 police frontline officers as a whole. If we add to that the 36% reduction in police and community support officers, who deal with the visible, frontline, intelligence gathering and reassurance issues, which my constituent referred to in her email yesterday, we find that the ability to respond to low-level aggressive antisocial behaviour is not as good as it was, despite the best efforts of the police.
My hon. Friend mentioned the partnership in relation to local councils. Local councils are facing severe cuts in their funding. Just looking this very morning at this month’s reports, we see that Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council in south Wales has said that it may have to turn off its CCTV cameras, because of a potential lack of funding. Denbighshire County Council, in the next authority to my own, has had the same problem. Councils are facing a squeeze on their resources and are having to take on statutory responsibilities more and more, making it difficult to do things that are important in helping to support the police on low-level antisocial behaviour.
There will always be pleas for more money—we know that. With the police draft grant coming up in November to December, and the police grant being formalised by this House in February next year, the Minister has an opportunity to recognise that policing is under pressure. It is under pressure for the reasons that my hon. Friend mentioned, but also because the increasing demands of this very dangerous world that we live in are dragging police resources away from the neighbourhood policing model. The challenges of mental health, antisocial behaviour, reductions in council budgets and reductions in CCTV are causing real difficulties at local level. The Minister and her colleagues, the Police Minister and the Home Secretary, have an opportunity to look at the police budget and not to palm it off, as my hon. Friend said, to those local ratepayers, who in many areas are facing difficulties anyway and whose rateable value base was not sufficient to generate the income. The Minister should use that opportunity and look at how she can uplift police funding to help to meet the challenges that we have described today, and in doing so help to reduce antisocial behaviour, protect communities, take stress off individuals and prevent the criminals of tomorrow from gaining confidence, growing in their potential and committing more serious crimes at a later age.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I commend Steve McCabe for securing this debate. I am pleased to see him in the Chamber leading on this issue after the incident that happened to him this summer; I am sure that all colleagues wish him well.
The debate so far has been good. We have heard contributions from Jim Shannon and David Hanson, giving us a UK-wide picture. I am conscious that this matter is devolved in Scotland, but I will offer a couple of thoughts through a Scottish prism, as well as from a constituency point of view.
The backdrop to this debate is police cuts in England; when I saw it on the Order Paper, I thought it an excellent opportunity to talk about some of the things that we are doing north of the border, particularly on policing. The Scottish Government went into the 2007 elections with the commitment to put 1,000 extra police officers on Scotland’s streets. I am glad that 10 years on, we have managed to maintain that; the number of police officers in Scotland has gone from about 16,000 to 17,249 in June. As a result of ensuring that there are police officers on the streets, we now have the lowest levels of recorded crime since 1974, which was 42 years ago. That is welcome, but it is important that we do not rest on our laurels. Although there has been a reduction in the number of many crimes, I am disappointed to say that there has been an increase in the number of sex-related crimes, as there has across the board.
From my casework in surgeries and from going out door-knocking, I know that antisocial behaviour involves many issues. I will refer particularly to some antisocial behaviour issues in the Cranhill area, where I come from originally. Antisocial behaviour there comes from a group of young boys who think that it is absolutely acceptable to throw stones at both windows and people. I was disappointed to see a couple of weeks ago that a young girl in my constituency was injured when they threw a brick at a passing car. That is totally unacceptable, and we need to nip it in the bud straight away. There are also antisocial behaviour issues in the Baillieston and Garrowhill areas in my constituency, and I am working hard with Police Scotland and Community Safety Glasgow to address them. I pay tribute to Community Safety Glasgow, a joint initiative of Glasgow City Council and Police Scotland, led by Eileen Marshall, to tackle antisocial behaviour and crime. Since it was set up in 2006, there has been a remarkable transformation in our communities.
I also want to mention some of the local voluntary groups working to provide diversionary activities for young people. The first is Urban Fox, led by Michael McCourt and Debbie McGowan. It is a voluntary project based in Lilybank in my constituency that delivers a range of educational and diversionary activities including supervised sport, leisure programmes and health and social guidance. It promotes self-development and provides young people with skills, confidence and opportunities to develop self-esteem. I commend the work of Urban Fox to the House.
Andy Gilbert is a passionate community activist in my constituency who does a lot of work in the Glenburn centre. One issue that I plan to raise with the Employment Minister on Thursday involves the proposal to close three out of four of our local jobcentres, which is ridiculous given that territorialism and gang culture are still issues in my area. One example that I mention here regularly is Wellhouse and Easthall, which are literally separated by a road into two communities, both of which are small but have their own community centres and housing associations. The work that Andy Gilbert is doing in Easthall is to be commended; he is reaching out to attract young people to the Glenburn centre who might otherwise be at risk of offending.
I was delighted last week to meet Young Movers, also based in Easthall. The organisation does a lot of work on youth empowerment, and I was pleased to hear about its recent efforts in the park at Sandyhills, where about 20 young folk had been hanging about causing trouble and engaging in antisocial behaviour. Through youth empowerment, Young Movers has managed to get them to set up a youth club, which has removed the antisocial behaviour in that part of Sandyhills.
Another organisation is Street League, which is UK-wide; it has operations in 14 cities around the UK and is led in my constituency by Brian Lennox. It has had good outcomes in terms of reducing antisocial behaviour in Glasgow, particularly in the constituency of my hon. Friend Alison Thewliss. It ran a programme that cut antisocial behaviour in the Carlton area by 80% through street football, which is to be commended. Another organisation, which the hon. Member for Strangford already discussed, is Street Pastors. It does excellent work, particularly in Glasgow city centre at chucking-out time for the nightclubs; he mentioned initiatives to hand out flip-flops and similar things. I commend Stuart Crawford, a good personal friend of mine, who leads that organisation.
To return to the point about police budgets, we in Scotland have committed to protecting revenue budgets in real terms for the entirety of the next Parliament, delivering £100 million in investment over the next five years. I would like to ask the Minister about VAT. Police Scotland is the only force in the UK subject to VAT; it has cost the Scottish Government £140 million since 2013. I hope that in the Budget next month, the UK Government will do the right thing and ensure that Police Scotland is not subject to VAT. Once we can release that money back into the police force, we can reduce antisocial behaviour in our constituencies.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I congratulate my hon. Friend Steve McCabe on his tour de force describing the growing issue of antisocial behaviour in our communities, particularly the consequences of reckless and brutal police cuts.
It is common sense that we cannot tackle antisocial behaviour and crime without a well-resourced neighbourhood policing presence. It is an irreplaceable component of the battle to keep our communities safe, and it has been steadily undermined and eroded over the past seven years. Kevin Foster discussed the use of police dogs to tackle drug abuse. That was excellent to hear, but there has also been a massive reduction in the number of dog handlers throughout the country. Ten years ago, South Yorkshire had 54; we now have 12. Furthermore, his own police force, Devon and Cornwall, is being forced to merge with Dorset amid significant funding challenges. We welcome collaboration and efficiencies, but it is alarming to see forces taking decisions that might be harmful to police accountability on the basis of funding challenges.
The chief constables, in their press release, said that the merger was brought about amid significant funding challenges and was the only way forward for the police forces involved. It was disappointing not to hear the hon. Gentleman talk about those funding challenges in his speech.
Over the past seven years, 20,000 police officers and more than 30,000 police staff have been cut. The crimes that concern the public most—knife crime, gun crime, violent crime and acquisitive crime—are all on the rise. Demand across the board, especially on non-crime issues such as mental health, is soaring. At a time of unprecedented terrorist threats, the number of armed officers is down. Yet among all those competing demands, my hon. Friend the member for Birmingham, Selly Oak painted a compelling picture of why it is so important to take antisocial behaviour seriously. Time and again, it is an issue raised by our constituents. It blights lives and can make people prisoners in their own homes.
Undoubtedly, the reduction in neighbourhood policing has left our communities at risk. Alongside the incredible quotes read by my hon. Friend from a variety of chief constables, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary said earlier this year that the model of neighbourhood policing is being eroded. In calling for urgent action, HMIC warned that
“the position on crime prevention and local policing continues to deteriorate.”
The blame lies clearly and squarely with the Government.
The voices raising concerns do not stop there. Over the summer, one of the most senior police leaders in the country—Sara Thornton, who weighs her words carefully—said:
“We’re particularly concerned about the resilience of local neighbourhood policing...Withdrawal from communities risks undermining their trust in us, at a time when we need people to have the confidence to share information with us.”
The Government have been told time and again that police forces are increasingly unable to provide the service that the public expect. They are rationing their time, which is pushing reports of antisocial behaviour, among a host of other demands, to the back of the queue. At the Budget, as my right hon. Friend David Hanson said, the Government must get a grip. Forces urgently need a real-terms funding increase that matches their needs and that recognises the record demand they face, having lost 20,000 officers and £2.6 billion since 2010. The status quo is not an option.
If we are to tackle ASB effectively, the Government must get to grips not only with resources but with some crucial practical issues. As we have heard, people are incredibly frustrated with the performance of 101 across the country. They can wait for more than half an hour to report ASB or crime and they feel that the police will not act on the report and that it will fall into an intelligence black hole. The police can have all the evidence and intelligence they like, but that is useless without the analysts and officers to act on them. Will the Minister consider conducting an assessment of the performance of 101 and of which forces are demonstrating best practice in the area? Some forces have excellent online reporting mechanisms, but that is far from consistent across all forces.
On data analysis, I direct the Minister to the recent report by the Royal United Services Institute, “Big Data and Policing”. I recommend its suggestion for a national data strategy and policy for the police. It is deeply frustrating that expertise and practice have to be replicated across 43 forces, especially when they are struggling even to provide core response services.
On legislation, we have heard about the problems associated with the downgrading of ASBOs to civil injunctions. With CBOs, the same challenges persist that existed with ASBOs for police on the ground. A considerable amount of police work goes into preparing a CBO case but, from speaking to those on the frontline, it seems that CBOs are not respected in the round by the judiciary. I have heard many examples of the police working with councils and other services to provide individuals with interventions that have repeatedly failed. They have turned to a CBO as a last resort, only to have it thrown out of court almost immediately. Under the previous legislation under Labour, the judge or magistrates were required to explain why they would not grant an ASBO, but that is not the case for a CBO.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak pointed out, we have no measure of the effectiveness of the Government’s ASB strategy. We certainly do not measure or hold to account the wider criminal justice system’s use and implementation of ASB legislation. Will the Minister consider raising with her Ministry of Justice colleagues the need for better training and awareness of ASB measures and for putting in place a review of how and when CBOs are granted by the courts to establish whether they are being used properly?
One of the positive things about CBOs is that they require some positive action from the offender. That is fantastic in theory, but in practice the third-sector and public providers either no longer exist or do not have the funding to work with and support offenders with CBOs. Will the Minister consider commissioning research to establish how that is working in practice? For example, Durham Constabulary is doing some excellent work through the programme Checkpoint, which I recommend to her. The problem, however, is that, although the cost savings from reducing reoffending and diverting from court are felt across the criminal justice system, the police are currently footing the entire bill. That is simply unsustainable.
We have heard about moped and bike-enabled crime from several hon. Members, particularly my right hon. Friend Mr Howarth, who has conducted an excellent campaign on it. It is menacing communities nationwide. Bikes are used not just to plague residents with ASB, but for much more serious crime associated with drugs and violence. A significant part of the issue is the decimation of youth services, but an effective police response is a crucial part of the solution.
We have been calling for the Government to get a grip, not least through a review of police pursuit policy. In recent months, both the Minister and the Independent Police Complaints Commission were adamant that the current Crown Prosecution Service guidance was adequate for protecting the police. It was good to hear the Government think again and announce a review recently. Pursuit and response drivers across the country will be watching with interest. Many tell me that effectively they are forced to operate under a no-pursuit policy, as they do not have the confidence that if—God forbid—someone got hurt during that pursuit, they would not be prosecuted, even if they had followed their force pursuit policy to the letter.
There have been incidents across the United Kingdom in which people on mopeds have removed their helmets so that police following them feel they must pull back. There are so many conditions and restrictions on the police. As the hon. Lady says, it is important for the Minister to address that.
That is exactly the problem. The message is out there that the police are not able to pursue, and offenders are freely removing their helmets or carrying on under that impression.
The lack of protection for the police was amply demonstrated last week by the case of PC Simon Folwell, who was involved in February last year in the pursuit of a vehicle. The car crashed into a lamp post and, tragically, the driver died. The CPS ruled no further action on the case on two separate occasions, yet the IPCC still pressed for a gross misconduct hearing. The officer was finally cleared last week after an 18-month investigation.
No one is suggesting for a second that the police be given blanket licence to pursue, but if officers have followed their training, their force policy and the law, they should not be treated as suspects. Will the Minister confirm what the review’s terms of reference will be and when she expects it to report?
In conclusion, I beg the Minister to put our case to the Treasury in the strongest possible terms ahead of the Budget. Policing simply cannot continue in its current form with this level of demand and with no additional resource. Does she acknowledge the importance of neighbourhood policing and recognise that the rise in crime and antisocial behaviour is at least partly due to cuts to that important function? I reiterate our ask that the Government properly measure their ASB strategy and review the pursuit policy, to give the police the confidence to do their job and our constituents the confidence that their safety and fears are taken seriously.
I congratulate Steve McCabe on securing this debate. Addressing antisocial behaviour is important not only to all Members present, but to so many Members across the House, because it is important to all the communities we represent.
I want to underline, as I was asked to confirm, that it is the first responsibility of Government to keep people safe. In doing so, we want to ensure that the police have the resources to deliver good neighbourhood community policing. That is the cornerstone of our policing, which makes it distinctive compared with police forces around the world. It plays a significant role in the public confidence that people have in our police force, which is actually increasing. There has been liberal use of statistics in this debate, but one thing that we cannot be in doubt of is the crime survey, a robust data set that is acclaimed throughout the world for its integrity. It looks at how people feel and their experiences of crime. It shows growing support for the police—up to 78%—and public perception that traditional crimes are falling.
We welcome the rise in police-recorded crime because, as the Office for National Statistics says, that is the result of better work by the police. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak recognised that as an improvement. We have also introduced lots of new offences for hidden crimes—sexual offences, domestic abuse and violence, stalking offences, revenge porn—that were not measured in the past because they were not crimes. I am proud of our record in government of facing up to these hidden crimes and encouraging victims to come forward who would have previously been too frightened.
I have listened carefully to the wide range of very good points made today. As hon. Members can see, I have very few minutes left to address such wide-ranging and detailed questions, but I will write back in detail responding to each request for further action or information.
I stress from the outset the importance I attach to how the Government and public services respond to antisocial behaviour. Noisy, inconsiderate neighbours, drunken and unruly behaviour on our streets, and nuisance in our public spaces undermine the pro-social values of the law-abiding majority. They can have a debilitating effect on the people subject to them, particularly when they happen day in, day out. I recognise that people can feel like prisoners in their own homes.
I also want to say how sorry I am that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak was recently the victim of a very nasty attack. That must have been a very frightening experience and I hope that he is feeling much better. I will do everything I can to support him and the work he is doing in his community to tackle what is clearly a spate of totally unacceptable antisocial behaviour that may be related to an increase in gang activity around drug use and county lines.
I have put a lot of effort into tackling that issue, and I have had a huge amount of support from police chiefs across the country. We have put extra investment into area-based reviews. As many people have said today, we need better intelligence, better data and more sharing of information among local agencies if we are going to bring together not only the police but all the other agencies that can make a difference in safeguarding vulnerable individuals and keeping communities safe. Following this debate, I will be very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to look at the particular circumstances he has mentioned and see what further resources and further support we can deliver in his community to help him to keep it safe.
Crime is antisocial by its very nature but one thing concerns me—it has been referred to in this debate. At one end of the spectrum, we have daily incidents of misbehaviour and nuisance. Unpleasant as they may be, they require a particular response and we have an effective regime to tackle them. However, a lot of what we have heard about today is actually criminal behaviour. Where Parliament has created offences and given police officers and the criminal justice system the powers to go after the perpetrators of those crimes, I expect the full force of the law to be used. Many of the examples of antisocial behaviour that we have heard about today are serious criminal offences. Parliament has created a range of new and flexible powers—six in total—that are designed to enable not only the police but local authorities to respond to antisocial behaviour, to nip the concerns in the bud and to prevent their escalation into more serious offences.
We recognise that antisocial behaviour happens in different communities and different parts of the country, and that it has several different features. We have heard lots of examples today. We need to empower professionals on the frontline to make decisions about what powers they want to take that will really keep their communities safe. Of course, they are responsible for how they use those powers. I reassure Members that those powers are kept under review. Part of HMIC’s PEEL inspections—the police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy inspections—is to examine how police are using those powers locally. However, we do not want to tie the hands of police officers or tie them down with the red tape of daily reporting and reporting in great detail what is going on. We have set up a national advisory panel, which is made up of police officers, members of the local authority and, most importantly, victims and the Victims’ Commissioner. At the centre of all our work to tackle antisocial behaviour is the victim. The panel meets regularly. It gives us really good advice, which enables us to monitor how those powers are being used and to update any guidance or recommendations—
It is reassuring that all that work is going on, but at the end of the day it does not alter the fact that, even where powers already exist, if the police do not have the resources—they say that they often do not have the resources—to exercise those powers, the problem cannot be tackled.
I have carefully listened to the point that the right hon. Gentleman and all other colleagues have made about the capacity of the police to respond effectively to antisocial behaviour. Of course, the Government and I recognise that it is crucial that police have the right resources and capabilities and the powers that they need to keep the public safe. That is why we ensured that in the 2015 spending review the overall funding for the police was protected in real terms.
In addition to that funding, of course, there is the police transformation funding. We have heard today about the way in which the nature of crime is changing and it is important that we invest in new skills and new tools to enable the police to recognise those changes, take them into account and to go after the criminals effectively. There is £175 million in the police transformation funding alone.
Let us look at the west midlands. Following a public consultation, the police and crime commissioner put forward a budget for 2017-18, which was approved by the police and crime panel in early February. That budget is enabling the recruitment of 800 new police officers, 150 more police community support officers and 200 specialist police staff; those are all being recruited as we speak. Across England and Wales, in the last six months, the overall number of police officers has risen, and the number of officers joining is up by 60%, compared with this time last year. So more police officers are being recruited.
The vast majority of funding for the police comes from central Government, but the precept has always been an important part of funding policing. It ties police officers to their local communities in a very strong way. Police and crime commissioners, working with the public and the police, are responsible for deciding the local priorities and how they should be policed.
Everyone here has given examples from their own constituency of good partnership working. We know that there are complex challenges facing police officers, and they require the support of schools, social services and health services in their community. Like other colleagues here, I have the great privilege to go up and down the country to see excellent examples of partnership working, which enables smarter working and more people to be kept safe in our communities.
This debate has been important in many ways. We have not only talked about antisocial behaviour; we have also touched on some of the emerging crime areas. We have heard about the issues of moped and motorcycle-enabled crime; the use of acid as a weapon; the increases in knife crime; psychoactive substances and their effect, particularly on homeless communities around our country; and the increase in gangs in certain areas.
In the remaining few minutes that I have, I want to assure hon. Members that we are working with great pace, urgency and determination to tackle those threats. We know that, although crime in those areas, compared with 2010, has fallen, in the last 12 months or so, there have been real rises. Some of this is about better police recording, but I accept that we are seeing increases in violent crime.
That is why we have set up a series of taskforces to bring in industry, academics, the police themselves, NGOs and victims’ organisations to ensure that we leave no stone unturned and that we are considering how powers are exercised. We have talked about the pursuit power review and about the work that we are doing to ensure that police officers feel empowered to stop and search people in an appropriate way. We are looking at new offences of possession of acid. We are looking at what more we can do to prevent young people from getting hold of offensive weapons. However, what is probably more important than anything else is the work that we are doing to ensure that young people are resilient and receive a good education and support, so that they can make good choices that keep them away from gangs and the violence that not only blights their lives but blights their community.
Therefore, we are investing more new money into community-led area-based reviews and into providing support for grass-roots organisations that work with young people who are tempted into crime and who are being criminally exploited. We work with organisations that have a good track record of helping people to exit gangs. There is also work in schools to raise awareness of the harms of being drawn into violent crime and carrying knives. That is new funding; only recently £400,000 has been added to the funding for that locally.
In the final few moments that I have, I reassure the Members present that we absolutely understand that we must have a well-resourced police force, and we will continue to do everything we can to support the police in the incredibly good job they do to keep us safe, in challenging times, day in and day out.