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Merseyside Police Funding — [Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:01 pm on 19th February 2019.

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Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley 3:01 pm, 19th February 2019

May I, too, say how good it is to serve under you in the Chair, Sir Edward? I add my thanks to Jane Kennedy, the police and crime commissioner for Merseyside and to Merseyside police. My hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) and for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) have given us a comprehensive survey of the current situation, particularly the financial problems that Merseyside police faces, which I will say a bit about in a moment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby made the point that a police officer was stabbed in my constituency, which brings home, sharply and regrettably, the risks that police officers face when going about their everyday business of trying to keep us safe. I will return to knife crime in a minute.

As has already been said, Merseyside police has had to make more than £110 million of savings since 2010 and as a consequence, the police officer establishment has been reduced by 1,120, which is a fall of 24.4%. That must have consequences; it cannot simply be brushed aside as, “Well, we don’t need them.” I want to talk about how some of those consequences affect my constituents.

I will make three points. On gun crime, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby has already stated the statistics, but I will repeat them for emphasis. In Merseyside, there were 79 firearm discharges in 2018 and 94 firearm discharges in 2017. Of the discharges in 2018, 13—16%—were in Knowsley, and in 2017, 22% were in Knowsley. That means that guns are now considered something relatively normal in some sections of the community, which was unthinkable when I was growing up in the area and cannot be right. There must be some connection between that and the level of policing that Merseyside police can provide.

Knife crime has become commonplace, and 88 knife incidents in Knowsley in one year is really frightening. It is frightening, first, that the knives seem to be readily available, and secondly, that the—mainly young—people who use them seem to think that doing so is perfectly normal. Again, that must be linked to the level of policing provided. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby rightly referred to the policing model. Neighbourhood policing has now been abandoned, so the intelligence needed to deal with this problem, such as who has the knives, where they are getting them from and all that important information, is not being gathered to the same extent. That is not the police’s fault; they simply do not have the resources.

I will make one further point on knife and gun crime before I move on. This is not unique to Knowsley or to the Merseyside police force area; to a different scale in different places, it exists everywhere. There are a group of young people in this country who will probably not get any GCSEs. Most will get an apprenticeship, find work and make their way in the world. However, there is a sub-group within that who, maybe because of family influence or other influences in the neighbourhood, see a life of crime as being a perfectly normal progression. We need to do much more with those young people, to make them appreciate that, first, that is not normal; secondly, that they have the potential to do other things—really good things in some cases—with their lives; and thirdly, that they need to be in a position where they can provide for a family in later life, and not by the haphazard means of the proceeds of crime.

My second point is on antisocial behaviour. Merseyside police says, and the statistics show, that there has been a recent 32% reduction in the number of reported incidents of antisocial behaviour—[Interruption.] I have to say that that is not my experience as a local MP, and I can see from the reaction of my hon. Friends that they feel the same. I simply say that I held two advice surgeries on Friday evening—one in Huyton and one in Kirkby—and most of the cases brought to me were in some way related to antisocial behaviour.

I also think that the term “antisocial behaviour” often does not properly describe the sort of problems we are talking about. For example, with the local social housing provider, Knowsley Housing Trust, I have been dealing with a case of a woman in north Huyton who cannot step out of the door without a volley of abuse being thrown at her by neighbours. The police might classify that as a neighbourly dispute, but when someone is literally afraid to step out of the door because of the abuse they will get from neighbours, that is serious.

People have a right to a reasonably quiet life in which they should not expect daily abuse to be normal, yet in some cases it is. There are people in housing need who might be in a perfectly nice, well-maintained house that they pay the rent on, but they want to move out to get away from the trouble. That cannot be right. There cannot be places in this country where those subjected to antisocial behaviour feel that the only way they can escape it is to move house. Again, it comes back to whether the policing resources are there to deal with the problem. The police are honest about that and say there are not.

There is some light at the end of that particular tunnel, certainly in Knowsley. Knowsley Council, as my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood is aware, is looking within its resources to see what more support it can provide to the police to get on top of antisocial behaviour. However, should that be the responsibility of the local authority?