Previous SectionIndexHome Page

1 Nov 2005 : Column 247WH—continued

1 Nov 2005 : Column 248WH

Safer South Derbyshire Partnership

1.30 pm

Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire) (Lab): This brief debate is an opportunity to do three things—first, to celebrate a local achievement in South Derbyshire, secondly, to see what lessons can be drawn from what has happened, and thirdly, to ask some questions about the future. To start with the achievements, the Safer South Derbyshire partnership is regarded as the leading crime and disorder reduction partnership in Derbyshire by the local constabulary. It is seen as a model of how local organisations in a diverse community can get together to discuss and resolve how to address issues relating to crime and the fear of crime.

Among the successful projects in which the partnership has been involved, in several of which I have participated, are the school safety days, during which pupils work with drama groups to examine issues relating to antisocial behaviour and prejudice. Having witnessed one of the performances, I know that the organisers managed to secure a great deal of engagement with young people on some of the key issues of understanding what constitutes antisocial behaviour, and how diverse prejudice can be.

One of the critical elements of support for diversionary activity on demand for young people, to which I shall return when I address the lessons that can be learned, is empowering local people to find local solutions. In one case, young people came up with the idea of organising a football league to run through the summer, when some of them might have been engaged in other less constructive activities. That was set up, has been very successful, and will now continue into a Christmas league. One of the key points is that young people suggested that that was something that they would like to do for themselves.

A third, highly successful initiative is liberation day—which I do not always manage to attend because it tends to be timetabled when Parliament is sitting, regrettably, and sometimes on the busiest days. It is held by the local police force and the partnership to highlight the needs of older people and to address their concerns about crime and the fear of crime. They try to make it a fun day. The most recent event was focused on VE-day celebrations, with many people bringing along memorabilia from the last war. Some people dressed up in costumes, although I did not participate in that. They had a lot of fun, but   got across some key messages about how to make people feel safer. Invitations were given to a wide range   of local groups that work with older people, and about 650 people attended, in a fairly small community centred around the town of Swadlincote, with some people bussed in from outside. It was a marvellous success.

I have already touched in other parliamentary exchanges on the safer homes initiative, which pays for a joiner who is uniformed and uses a branded van, and is therefore clearly identifiable as part of the initiative. The joiner travels around installing burglar alarms and better home security, checking on windows and doors, and so on. I visited some people who have benefited from that scheme, and they were tremendously impressed by both the professionalism of the individual and the comfort they gained because this was someone
1 Nov 2005 : Column 249WH
with whom they felt they could work in their home. Through that initiative, we have had 54 alarms fitted, and 120 homes fitted with additional security.

That initiative was focused on vulnerable older people, and older people who have experienced a burglary in the past. Regrettably, as I am sure the Minister is aware, it is common that once people are burgled they tend to be burgled again, because unless the culprits have been apprehended, they know perfectly well where the weak points are, and what they left behind. It is very important that target hardening is done, and that initiative has been a tremendous success, which I know has been greatly appreciated by those who have benefited from it.

There are also other matters, such as the use of section 30 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 in Melbourne, a pleasant small town in South Derbyshire. I should say straight away that South Derbyshire has, generally, a low crime rate, and is a very pleasant place to live; I live   there, and I enjoy doing so, as do most of my constituents. However, there are problems from time to time.

Melbourne certainly had problems with youths, mainly from outside the town, congregating and causing nuisance. I recognise that there has been some controversy about the use of section 30, but the imposition of that section allowed the police to step in, talk to young people, check on what they were doing, and, in some cases, send them home. Some 100 notices were served in the first three to six months of the use of section 30, and there have been a small number of arrests under it. As a result, calls to the police for attendance in that town were reduced dramatically, and that made a considerable impact on police time.

There are a number of urban parks in the town of    Swadlincote, and they are attractive legacies, mostly dating from the Victorian era or the turn of the 19th century. However, they were a neglected asset, and sometimes a focus for antisocial behaviour. The introduction of park patrols—again, the partnership was involved—has started to make them not only more attractive places, but places that people feel comfortable visiting. They recognise that they are walking around in a safe environment. It is reassuring to have a presence there, so that people think, "There's someone in charge of this place." That also reassures regular users, such as the bowls community.

Another past initiative was the successful intelligence-led project focusing on potential drug offenders in a particular part of Swadlincote. That had a significant impact on crime rates in the town for some   considerable time. In a small town such as Swadlincote, a rather small number of people tend to commit a very large proportion of offences, and that sweep, based on additional support for intelligence, was highly successful in reducing crime.

I now come to a future initiative that is just about to start. I am proud to say that South Derbyshire is not the antisocial behaviour order capital of the UK. We do not use them except in pretty extreme circumstances. Nevertheless, I feel that there is more scope for the use of ASBOs. We are setting up a hotline, so that people troubled by antisocial behaviour can come forward and give information, and get the appropriate co-ordinated response. If they need to keep time sheets about
1 Nov 2005 : Column 250WH
particular activities or report incidents to other agencies, the hotline will be their guidance point. That should produce a more coherent policy response to antisocial behaviour.

As for measurable outcomes, in the past year crime in South Derbyshire has fallen by 10 per cent. Detection of crime has risen by 9 per cent., burglaries are down by 2 per cent., auto crime is down by 7 per cent. and violent crime is down by 8 per cent. That is pretty much a clear message from the community, working through the partnership and the local police to address the problems that we face in South Derbyshire with a high degree of efficiency. We can always do better—and I always urge all the agencies that I deal with on this issue to do better—but progress has been marked.

I am looking forward to future measurements of perceptions and fear of crime in the community. One of the problems in South Derbyshire was the fact that although crime rates were low, people's perception of them, partly fuelled by what they read in the newspaper or saw on television, meant that they were worried about the subject. One of the critical tests of the sort of work that has been done is whether that fear of crime will start to drop, as well as the crime rate itself.

Let me try to draw some lessons. First, local partnerships in our area work. That is partly down to the local people, not just to an organisational structure. As I gently pointed out to the Minister at the start of my speech, this partnership can comfortably be held up as the best in Derbyshire; there are others that do not work as well. It is therefore perfectly fair to say that the success of that partnership stems from the way in which   local people solve problems together. South Derbyshire is a very pragmatic community, and if there is a problem, people talk about it and want to find a solution; they are not tremendously interested in posing and saying, "I represent this group. Let me have my say before anyone gets on with the job." Local people want to find solutions, and all credit must go them for the way in which they have worked together to produce solutions. That suggests that such a partnership works well if we find the right people.

Secondly, there is now greater confidence that the initiatives that are being taken suit local priorities. Instead of the top-down processes of controlling crime and crime prevention, we have a process that picks up the concerns raised by local people themselves, which is helpful.

Thirdly, we are building networks of information. If we start building confidence about how things work, people start talking more about which solutions they see as valuable. That is positive too, because it builds local resilience. Parts of South Derbyshire—a former mining community—have not tended to see the flowering of organisations that develop their own way of solving things. Robust locally led initiatives build that confidence, leading people to say, "We can do other things, too."

The last point is that we need to analyse what works. I have set out some of the things that I think work in South Derbyshire, but I have a suspicion, which is borne out a little by the inspection of the Derbyshire constabulary, that the analysis of what is working and what may not be working is not being done as rigorously as we would like. I am sure that that is a problem nationally, not just in that county.
1 Nov 2005 : Column 251WH

In the last few minutes, I want to touch on the future. I confess that I have concerns about the suggested reorganisation of policing in my area. First, it is being suggested that Derbyshire will be merged into one unit with Nottinghamshire or into a much larger east midlands force. I have no problem with increasing co-purchasing activity and sharing specialist services within policing, and Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire already work together on a helicopter unit. It is perfectly obvious that many other policing units should be shared across forces, because they would be much more efficient. In any reorganisation, however, I would want to make sure that local successes were not endangered by the top-down model of a larger force and an attitude of, "We do things like this. Your way doesn't quite fit." Our way does fit in my community, and I do not want to lose that.

Secondly, I am concerned about the possible focus of the larger unit. It would be natural for a larger force to   say, "Where is crime greatest? Let's focus all our endeavours and our best resources on addressing the problems there." As I have already accepted, people in South Derbyshire can, I am glad to say, generally walk the streets without fear and get on with their lives without hassle from others. Although I understand the desire to focus on bigger things, I would not want to lose the focus on success in local areas such as mine.

I have some concerns about future funding. Representatives of the Derbyshire constabulary will be coming down to meet Derbyshire MPs shortly to discuss their expectations for the future budget, and the indications that I have seen are that they may well face a very tight year. I would want some reassurance that those early indications are false, and in particular, that basic command unit funding, which has been one of the successes in supporting initiatives in my community, will be retained and raised.

Finally, police community support officers have just arrived in my area. Generally speaking, they have been a success. There are strong arguments for giving them greater powers. Some nuisances, such as traffic offences relating to parking and speeding, would be well addressed by PCSOs. That resource is not readily available in my community at the moment, because they do not have the powers to do that particular job, but I would like to see their powers extended.

The partnership is a local success, which should not be endangered by changes driven from the centre, or top-down from above. Local people have the confidence to make it work, and I hope they can continue to do so.

1.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Andy Burnham) : I congratulate my   hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mr.   Todd) on securing the debate and on doing something that will be appreciated by people throughout his area—showing that there are strong partnerships and good local schemes that are given due attention and praise. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for doing that and for rewarding those working in his constituency who make a success of such matters.

In his characteristic way, my hon. Friend painted a positive picture of the work that local agencies have in hand to reduce crime and disorder. Partnerships, when
1 Nov 2005 : Column 252WH
they are genuine and when people come to the table wanting to make things work, can achieve more together than individual agencies can. That is the essence of a true partnership. We have something to learn from what my hon. Friend described; crime and disorder reduction partnerships throughout the country could usefully listen to what he said.

My hon. Friend's constituency and mine share some characteristics, as both are former mining areas. I strongly agree with what my hon. Friend said about the collapse of traditional industries in those areas; they left a legacy of social problems that we are still grappling with today. The loss of the traditional fabric of those communities and their destruction left social problems in their wake that we are only now beginning to understand and to deal with. What my hon. Friend said has a resonance that goes much wider than South Derbyshire.

The solution to these problems cannot be achieved by just one agency; everything is not all the fault of the police, or all the fault of the council. The answer for local people should be about making sure that the whole community accepts responsibility for dealing with such issues.

I will say more later about my hon. Friend's constituency, because it is interesting, but first I want to say a few words about the overall picture. As he rightly said, crime is low and going down, but the perception of crime remains high. That has something to do with how newspapers and other media report crime. In fact, crime has being falling dramatically for the past decade. Since 1997, overall crime, as measured by the British crime survey, is down by 35 per cent., with significant reductions in crimes such as burglary and vehicle crime. According to the BCS, violent crime, which is subject to much media comment, fell by 34 per cent. in the same period. That is not to say that there have not been increases in police-recorded violent crime, which has attracted comment, and that has driven some of the reporting and public perceptions. But those increases have largely been due to changes in the way in which such incidents have been recorded, and to increased police activity, as a result of which more minor violent offences are being reported and recorded.

None the less, we recognise the disproportionate impact that crimes of violence can have on a victim's confidence and that of their community. We therefore introduced the Violent Crime Reduction Bill—as foreshadowed in our manifesto, on which my hon. Friend and I stood for election—to give the police and local communities the powers that they need to tackle guns, knives and, importantly, alcohol-related violence and violent crime. Those measure are as important in South Derbyshire as they are in Greater Manchester, and when the Bill comes into force it will further empower organisations such as the Safer South Derbyshire partnership to bear down on some of the problems described by my hon. Friend.

The figures therefore represent a significant achievement, which is often overlooked in the general desire to comb crime statistics for the most negative news. As a result of the reduction in the number of crimes, many fewer victims have had their lives ruined by destructive criminal behaviour. The risk of being a
1 Nov 2005 : Column 253WH
victim of crime is now down by a quarter since 1997. That means that 3.3 million fewer people fall victim to crime every year.

There is also, of course, the low-level crime and antisocial behaviour to which my hon. Friend alluded, which the figures do not always pick up—but I believe that we are getting a grip on antisocial behaviour and low-level disorder and thuggery. Strong partnership working, and using legislation, has helped to make our   streets and communities safer. As my hon. Friend knows, the Home Office has been developing the respect agenda since the general election, and there will be further measures associated with that soon.

Overwhelmingly, people want to live with peace of mind, and to be free from nuisance and low-level thuggery. We need to carry on introducing the necessary measures so that people have that peace of mind. According to the British crime survey, people's fear of crime has lessened in the past few years, and we should be proud of that.

We are not resting on our laurels, however. The Home Office's five-year strategic plan sets out an ambitious programme of reform to continue to reduce crime. Key elements of the programme include the prolific and other priority offenders strategy, which, as my hon. Friend rightly said, targets existing prolific offenders and the young people who are most at risk of joining them. His constituency will be not unlike mine in that there is often a hard core of troublemakers, around whom another fringe will gather. That is often the pattern of antisocial behaviour in a particular area, and as he said, we can have a real bearing on reducing crime by targeting those most prolific offenders.

We have the ambitious target of reducing overall crime by 15 per cent., and this is the first time that a Government have set such a challenging target. We have also established the National Offender Management Service to oversee the end-to-end management of all offenders, which will help to reduce reoffending and rehabilitate offenders. We are taking action to tackle alcohol-related crime and disorder, and the selling of alcohol to those under 18, and there are other measures in the Violent Crime Reduction Bill to introduce sanctions against the possession of illegal firearms.

Having set out the general context within which the Home Office is developing policy in this context, I shall use the remaining time to talk about the local picture in   South Derbyshire. All the measures that we are introducing in this place—I believe that my hon. Friend would agree that we have introduced many in recent years—will be meaningful only if there are strong partnerships at local level that aim to do something with those powers, and to use them in a targeted but proportionate way.

I listened carefully to what my hon. Friend said about South Derbyshire not being an ASBO capital. Indeed, I   asked that very question when I prepared for the debate and examined the figures on ASBO use in South Derbyshire, which show that, given the overall crime picture in the area, ASBOs are being used carefully. The threat of the sanction of an ASBO is obviously being used proportionately and in a targeted way. That is interesting, compared with what happens in other parts of the country, and it is worth reflecting on.
1 Nov 2005 : Column 254WH

My hon. Friend mentioned several initiatives in which the Safer South Derbyshire partnership has been involved. I am convinced from what I have seen that it is making extremely good progress in tackling crime and disorder. Its strategy, which is available on the internet, shows a confidence and a willingness to engage with local communities, and an openness about priorities and how they will be tackled. It is commendable that people have ready access to that document.

For the next three years, the partnership's priorities have been identified as including measures to address domestic burglary, vehicle crime, antisocial behaviour, domestic violence, drug and alcohol misuse and the fear of crime more generally. It has a strong structure and an ethos of partnership working that is the envy of many, and is a model for my hon. Friend's area. Key posts are occupied by motivated and experienced people, which is one of the key strengths of its work.

My hon. Friend mentioned a football league project. He knows that he was preaching to the converted there, because I have long believed that sport can be a key diversion away from crime. He and I would probably share the view that we do not use sport enough to take young people away from crime. The success of the partnership may begin to break that mould, and may help to introduce the use of diversionary sport more widely. I have witnessed the success of the midnight leagues project in parts of the north-east, which is partly funded through the Coalfield Regeneration Trust. That is a fantastic scheme, with which we can do more.

I was interested to read in my briefing for this debate that the Safer South Derbyshire partnership has a "youth engagement through sport" officer. I cannot believe that many other partnerships have such a post, and I think that it is a fantastic idea; I should like to meet that individual if my hon. Friend ever brings him or her to Parliament. There is a strong team of people, with clearly defined functions within the partnership. That must be part of its success.

I was interested in what my hon. Friend said about the work with old people and the liberation day project. I am aware of similar projects in my area. It is important to bring young and old people together to communicate, to hear about each others' lives and to get a better mutual understanding. There is a tendency in parts of the media—perhaps politicians should bear some of the blame for this—to demonise young people and characterise them in a particular way when there are many decent young people, just as there always were. By bringing the two groups together we can do more to facilitate inter-generational understanding, and thereby address the fear of crime. I was interested in what my hon. Friend had to say about that, and I would endorse it entirely. The safer homes project seems a fantastic scheme. Again, other partnerships could usefully look at that.

My hon. Friend also asked me to reconsider the reorganisation of local policing. He wanted to be sure that local success was not endangered, and that is a key factor. Whatever structure emerges—and I urge him, and his local communities, to express their views in the consultation on policing reorganisation—local success must be maintained. He will know that the Government's commitment is to neighbourhood policing, and it is
1 Nov 2005 : Column 255WH
entirely consistent with that that local, strong, bottom-up policing can sit within a broader strategic police force. That is crucial, but I hear what he said on that point.

My hon. Friend also spoke about the focus of a larger force, and about not losing touch with a more rural area, or a low crime area, when that focus is quite broad. That is true, and that factor needs to be borne in mind. We could make further progress in reducing crime in such areas, perhaps more than in the more challenging areas, and we should reflect further on that idea . He also asked for more powers for PCSOs. Those issues have been
1 Nov 2005 : Column 256WH
raised, and as PCSOs become more established members of the policing family, the case will begin to be made. I heard what he had to say about that, too, and I will relay those comments to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety.

Finally, funding is an issue that preoccupies all police forces. I will be interested to hear what my hon. Friend has to say when the representatives of the Derbyshire force come here to brief our colleagues.

This has been a good debate, and South Derbyshire deserves—

 IndexHome Page