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7.15 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) on securing the Adjournment debate for which she has been trying for some time. She will not be surprised to learn that my comments will echo much of what she said.

It is Government policy to increase police numbers. As a result, we have established the crime fighting fund to provide the necessary additional resources to all police forces. We have also provided extra resources to aid policing in rural areas. Devon and Cornwall police will recruit an extra 79 officers this year as a direct result of both those measures. In turn, the city of Plymouth will benefit from 16 more officers over the coming months.

The Government also recognise, however, that the fight against crime cannot be won by the police working alone. In some of the first legislation that we introduced on coming to power in 1997, we created crime and disorder partnerships to bring together at a local level all those with a part to play in reducing crime. The story of crime reduction in Plymouth is, as my hon. Friend said, an excellent example of what can be achieved by a wide variety of local agencies working in partnership, supported, when necessary, by central Government funding.

Plymouth reacted early to the principle set out by the Morgan report in 1991, which is that

It formed the Plymouth community safety strategy group in 1993, and a safer cities project followed, running from 1994 to 1997. Following the introduction of the Crime

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and Disorder Act 1998, the Plymouth community safety partnership was formed by agencies that by then needed little convincing of the advantages of working together.

Since 1998, the partnership has run a range of projects funded by a number of Government programmes such as the crime reduction programme and the single regeneration budget, which have successfully targeted the most vulnerable and victimised areas of the city. Those programmes have helped to reduce domestic burglary, vehicle crime and violent crime--offences identified by the Government as being of most concern to the community.

An example is the homesafe project, which received £170,000 from the reducing burglary initiative. That was aimed at improving the security of houses of multiple occupation. Those houses, which, frequently, consisted of bedsits occupied by students, represented only 3 per cent. of local housing stock but accounted for 20 per cent. of domestic burglary. The scheme involved the city council housing department, the fire and rescue service, local private landlords and higher education colleges.

A security certificate scheme was developed, which encouraged private landlords to improve door and window security standards to a level that qualified them for a certificate. Only those landlords holding such a certificate would be recommended by the colleges to students looking for accommodation. Since 1998, burglary in those properties has dropped 44 per cent., compared with the national burglary reduction target of 25 per cent.

A further project called "Safe as Houses" was granted £72,000 under the reducing burglary initiative to improve security in 3,800 homes in 20 streets identified as suffering the highest incidence of burglary. As a result of those security improvements, burglary rates in those streets have dropped 22 per cent. since 1999. In the city as a whole, rates dropped by 17 per cent. in the year to September 2000, compared with 1999.

Vehicle crime has also been tackled through partnership involving all the key agencies. A variety of approaches have been adopted. Publicity using local radio and advertisements in the local press have targeted potential victims, giving simple precautionary advice that they should not leave property visible in parked vehicles. Offenders and potential offenders have been targeted through the TREADS motor project, which provides an understanding of cars and teaches driving skills to all young people, while providing extra programmes for those who are at risk or have been referred to the project through the youth offending team. More than 250 young people from Plymouth have been through the scheme since the beginning of the year, and it has led to a reduction in reoffending among this group.

Vulnerable sites such as car parks have been targeted for increased security. Two car parks have achieved the Association of Chief Police Officers secure car park standard, and £114,000 was granted under the crime reduction programme closed-circuit television scheme to assist by providing cameras for the car parks at Derriford hospital. That sustained activity addressing all elements of vehicle crime has reduced offences of taking a vehicle without consent by more than 50 per cent. since 1994. Over the last year the number of thefts from vehicles has fallen by 10.5 per cent., while the number of vehicle thefts has fallen by 13.2 per cent.

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The partnership has also successfully targeted violent crime in public places and on licensed premises. A registration scheme for door staff on licensed premises has been introduced, requiring them to undergo training before being licensed to supervise doors.

The CCTV scheme at Derriford hospital, along with improved links with the health and ambulance services, has helped to reassure staff and reduce their vulnerability. As a result of those and other initiatives, violent crime in the city has fallen by 8 per cent. over the last year, as my hon. Friend said. That is a significant achievement, given the increases seen in many cities with similar problems.

The partnership is continuing to build on this success. I am aware that it has two further bids for Government funding for CCTV schemes. I assure my hon. Friend that the bids are being evaluated, and that we hope to decide shortly which have been successful.

Drugs continue to be a major influence on crime levels, and a recent concern is evidence that crack cocaine has begun circulating in the city. The Government have recognised the damage that drugs can do to local communities and have announced funding for all community safety partnerships to tackle the problem: the communities against drugs fund. The Plymouth partnership will receive £224,700 this year, and is actively developing plans to use the money to disrupt the local drugs market. Those plans will be produced in consultation with the drugs action team and the local police commander, whose willingness to consider and adopt a wide range of policing options has already contributed significantly to the successes enjoyed in the city.

Linda Gilroy: I am pleased that the Minister mentioned the local Chief Superintendent Pearce. Will he congratulate the superintendent and his team on coming down very hard on the recent advent of crack cocaine in the city, through Project Ovidian? That appears to have put the lid on the problem at least for the present, although we must remain vigilant.

Mr. Ainsworth: That is certainly what I intend to do. According to all that I have heard from officials in the Home Office, the superintendent's attitude to the partnership and to methods of working in the city have been innovative, and he has been supportive in employing policing methods that have delivered considerable success.

Although levels of crime in Plymouth remain above average, they are being reduced, but people's fear of crime often remains disproportionate to the actual risk. Reassurance from familiar and recognisable figures in the community often helps to address such fears. The Government have provided nearly £90,000 to fund the presence of 12 neighbourhood wardens in the city. They have been there since April this year, providing ready and visible reassurance and acting as the eyes and ears of the community, solving problems as they arise and connecting residents with additional services when required to do so.

Crime is often the product of a range of factors present in particular areas. The Government are addressing the underlying issues through a number of programmes in Plymouth, which include a new deal for communities programme, a health action zone, an employment zone, and an education action zone. The new deal for

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communities programme is providing almost £49 million over 10 years to improve the infrastructure of a deprived community at the heart of the city, through an integrated approach to problem solving by the local people.

Reducing crime is a major issue that will be addressed in the first year of the new deal programme through a number of initiatives aimed particularly at burglary and drug abuse. A further eight constables are planned for the area covered to help to tackle crime and disorder and to reassure local people. A CCTV scheme is also planned, together with the development of the homesafe project. Work with excluded pupils and young persons and family drug support programmes will also be undertaken.

The first year programme will commence on 2 July, and on 5 July a domestic violence strategy is due to be signed by representatives of all the key agencies. The targets set in this strategy will also be incorporated in the city council corporate plan.

As the partnership commences its crime audit and consultation with the people of Plymouth in preparation for the new crime reduction strategy, its efforts will be supported by resources from the Government's partnership development fund, which has provided £1.7 million this year to help community safety partnerships in the south-west to improve their performance. A substantial part of this funding is aimed at improving the lT available to collect, analyse and share data within the partnership. That will provide geographical information systems, which allow crime hot spots to be accurately mapped and tracked, so enabling resources to be targeted more effectively at areas where crime is most threatening.

Plymouth has consistently shown the benefits that can be achieved through working in partnership. It has shown that, by identifying and targeting crime problems, real reductions can be made by focusing actions around the community safety model. That model combines activities

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to improve law enforcement and crime prevention, and the rehabilitation of offenders. The experience that the partnership has gained will be invaluable as the new crime reduction strategy is developed and integrated with the broader regeneration work that is being taken forward in the city.

My hon. Friend raised the matter of the Plymouth coroner, Mr. Nigel Meadows, being able to allow cameras into his court. I am sorry if the Plymouth coroner feels that his inquiries about filming have not been dealt with appropriately. The issue is subject to the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1925, which prohibits photography in court. Whether the prohibition applies in the particular circumstances envisaged by the coroner is a matter for him to decide. That was explained to my hon. Friend's neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), in correspondence on behalf of the coroner last year. The Government have no plans to amend the legislation. If further clarification is needed, I shall try to ensure that it is supplied.

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