When it comes to policing, our towns must not be overlooked
Whether it’s nuisance bikes, anti-social behaviour, burglaries or violence, it feels as though our smaller communities are battling against the tide, writes Tracy Brabin
One of the major failings of the Conservative government since 2010 has been their record on law and order.
Once upon a time this was their natural territory, but no longer. Police recorded violent crime has more than doubled since 2010. Knife crime is at the highest rate on record. Arrests – the currency of deterrence – have halved in a decade and unsolved crimes stand at an unthinkable two million cases.
Just last week saw the bizarre spectacle of Home Secretary Sajid Javid, now campaigning for the Tory party leadership, calling for 20,000 new police officers. This isn’t a policy that I necessarily object to, but it would hold a bit more water if his current position didn’t make him one of the only people able to stop police numbers dwindling.
If the upcoming summer of Tory infighting leads to a Prime Minister committed to increasing police numbers, it would be one tangible outcome that would improve the lives of my constituents and people like them across the country. But I won’t hold my breath.
Because, after nine years of austerity, there are 20,000 fewer officers on our streets. The NAO estimates that police funding fell by 19% between 2010/11 and 2018/19, and over the same period the direct government funding has fallen by a staggering 30%.
There’s little wonder that people have lost faith in the Government when it comes to policing and are angry. I’m angry.
This week I’m glad I’ll be able to vent some of that anger on behalf of my constituents in Westminster Hall by hosting a debate on crime in towns.
My Batley and Spen constituency is made up of small towns and villages and served by West Yorkshire Police.
West Yorkshire Police have an enormous jurisdiction, including the big cities of Leeds and Bradford and sizable towns of Wakefield and Huddersfield. Towns such as Batley, Birstall, Cleckheaton and Heckmondwike in my constituency, and many more across the region, often struggle to get seen and heard ahead of our better-known neighbours.
The problems we face are not unique and when I speak to my fellow MPs, so often the issues feel very close to home.
Illegal quad bikes and mopeds driven at high speed, without appropriate license or protective clothing. Too many local people have come to me, feeling terrorised by these bikes flying past them on the streets and keeping them awake at night. And let’s not forget the serious danger the drivers put pedestrians, other road users and themselves in.
When it comes to burglaries, all too often the words ‘spate of’ precede reports in local papers. Numerous businesses on a high street targeted over days or even weeks. Not only is it devastating for small business owners, it erodes the confidence to open a shop or restaurant on our already struggling highstreets.
Whether it’s nuisance bikes, anti-social behaviour, burglaries or violence it feels as though we’re battling against the tide.
I know that our local police officers go above and beyond, and the force’s leadership is dedicated and always eager to improve. But the fact is West Yorkshire Police are over a thousand officers down on where they were in 2010.
Look, I know there isn’t a magical, overnight solution to these deepening problems. Turning on the spending taps – as important as more resources are – isn’t the be all and end all.
We need a broad conversation about crime and what solutions are out there for our towns, the often tightly-knit places where the impact can feel amplified.
I’m pleased to be kick-starting that conversation on Wednesday because we’re all too familiar with the problems.
Tracy Brabin is Labour MP for Batley and Spen. Her Westminster Hall debate is on Wednesday 5th June at 16.30