The Minister nods her head and says yes from a sedentary position. Perhaps up to a point she is right, but at the end of the day Knowsley Council does not have the powers to intervene in such cases without the support of the police. All it can do is to help to point the police in the right direction, perhaps building up a case with some evidence, but in the end it has to be a policing matter.
Finally, I agree with my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, West Derby and for Garston and Halewood in that I welcome the increase in the precept and that it is not how policing should be paid for. The increase will not have the impact that we need, but nevertheless I welcome it. Late last week, Merseyside police announced that they were going to downgrade Kirkby police station in my constituency, so that it will be open to the public on only two days a week. I recognise that we do not want police to sit in police stations; we want them out on the streets doing things. To be honest, however, if people want to report a crime, to get into a dialogue with the police about antisocial behaviour that they are experiencing or to give information on gun and knife crime when PCSOs are not out and about on the streets, the only place they can do so is at the police station.
I also question the way that the announcement was made on social media. The local councillors and I were alerted to the announcement on social media, but was that any consultation whatever? Is that any way in which to do it? I know why the police had to do it—because they have problems with resources—but I question the method.
A group of local councillors has been invited to meet Merseyside police tomorrow. Those councillors will put the case against the downgrade strongly. The leader of the council, Councillor Graham Morgan, has written to Jane Kennedy, and I will quote from what he said, because I agree with him. This relates back to the decision about the increase in the precept:
“The Chief Constable, and yourself for that matter, had the opportunity to let Cllr Aston know that you were planning the same thing for Kirkby ahead of her formally considering your Precept proposal on Knowsley’s behalf. Nothing at all was mentioned!
As you know, Cllr Aston moved the proposal and Knowsley reluctantly supported you, noting that colleagues in St Helens were not in a position to do so given the issues relating to Newton Police Station”— which my hon. Friend Conor McGinn raised in a debate in this very Chamber. The letter continues:
“I ask myself would we have taken this course of action”— to vote for the increase in the precept—
“if we were made aware that we too were going to see a reduction, almost identical to that faced by our colleagues in St Helens?”
For the leader of Knowsley Council, the sort of person who tries to be reasonable with everyone, to write in such strong terms is an indication of how annoyed the community are about that. I share that annoyance. When the police meet the local councillors tomorrow, I hope that they will reach a solution that does not involve virtually closing down Kirkby police station for most of the week.
Unless Ministers appreciate the terrible circumstances in which the police have to operate throughout the Merseyside police force area, and do so quickly, I am afraid that we will have this debate repeatedly, with some of the problems that we are concerned about just going up and up. That cannot be right.