Robbed of power

Why Labour needs more PCCs

Labour police and crime commissioners contributed most of the budget information Andy Burnham used to deter George Osborne from more draconian police cuts in the comprehensive spending review. Our 13 commissioners govern all metropolitan police forces except London. In the past three years in our elected role we have brought police closer to our communities, found the public’s priorities, and delivered them. Labour invented neighbourhood policing. It remains the bedrock service, solving problems, keeping communities safe and providing intelligence that stops organised crime and terrorism alike. It has been tough but vital, given the unprecedented and ill-considered funding cuts, to keep that partnership working effective. Meanwhile, we have tackled formerly ‘hidden crimes’ – domestic and sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation – empowering the most vulnerable victims to get justice.

We have all innovated and followed our Labour ethics. Many of us are living wage employers, have appointed apprentices and work hand in hand with the unions and the Police Federation. In Northumbria, we send an expert domestic abuse worker out with the police on every relevant 999 call. We divert military veterans on arrest into support. We are tackling the epidemic of legal highs and drug- and drink-related offending and, since the government will not make it a compulsory curriculum item, we teach our youth to guard themselves against sexual grooming however we may. Cyber-fraud and online abuse are booming but so is our new volunteer recruitment from cyber-business to upskill our force in this complex field.

Crime is not decreasing, as the Tories claim, it is changing. The Crime Survey for England and Wales, on which they rely, counts only 68 per cent of offences, excluding those ‘hidden’ ones, cyber-crime and cyber-fraud. Northumbria Police has lost a quarter of its funding; over 800 officers and nearly 1,000 staff since 2010, slashed by a home secretary perpetually vitriolic about the police and whose department the National Audit Office described in a report in 2015 as insufficiently informed about demand to know when cuts might push forces over the brink.

Driven back from major reductions, Osborne nonetheless ‘failed to make himself clear’, say the UK Statistics Authority, when declaring that there were no more cuts to police. That assertion assumed every PCC would increase their local precept to the maximum possible. And, even then, most northern and Midlands forces have lost out; Northumbria is down a further £1.2m even though I was forced to add £5 a year to our council tax.

In the name of austerity, the government has invented ‘rationalisation’ – more like rationing – of key specialist services such as firearms, tackling serious organised crime, counterterrorism, perhaps child sexual exploitation (now a ‘national priority’) and use of dogs and horses. All are likely to be reallocated from local to regional or national level. How are local forces to access them? Will it be first come, first served? Who will decide priorities? What about the people of Berwick, 100 miles from any English force but ours? What will the governance be of any service removed from local policing? The Northumbria public expects me to equip our force for large-scale drugs investigations and public order policing, but will these resources now be ordered into action, or not, irrespective of what we want, by a distant chief constable working at a seven-, eleven- or 43-force level? And will they be sending my ratepayers a bill? Have PCCs been appointed to take the fall for funding cuts and then be robbed of power over ‘localised’ policing?

Labour has to stand up for properly funded local policing, accountable to the public it serves and fully equipped to protect it. In our localities we are finding support for our manifesto and are looking for a 14th, 15th or 16th Labour PCC to add to our national lobbying strength. The coming elections could not be more important.

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Vera Baird is police and crime commissioner for Northumbria

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