Previous Section Index Home Page

28 Nov 2006 : Column 54WH—continued

28 Nov 2006 : Column 55WH

There is not a great deal more that I can say, except to emphasise my respect for Lesley Anne. I repeat my apologies to her that we let her down when she first came to us with the allegations. I hope that she will accept that, now that we have identified that we let her down, we have done everything in our power to make it up to her. We are doing as much as we can to deal with the specific circumstances of her ordeal and to ensure, as far as possible under current legislation, that everyone else is protected. I reiterate that I will ensure that we will somehow bridge the legislative gap to fill this serious loophole as soon as we have an opportunity to do so.

28 Nov 2006 : Column 56WH

Community Support Officers

12.55 pm

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): I am delighted to see you in the Chair, Mr. Jones, and I am grateful for the opportunity to consider police community support officers and their impact on neighbourhood policing. I was a member of the Standing Committee that debated the Police Reform Bill in 2002, and therefore followed closely the development of the use of CSOs in the criminal justice system.

I observed the successful introduction of CSOs with some satisfaction. I well remember the dire warnings of Conservative and Liberal Democrat spokesmen in our Committee debates that there would be confusion about the roles of CSOs, that their powers were uncertain and that the public would be unhappy about their role in policing. Those warnings proved to be ill-founded, however. CSOs work successfully within the criminal justice system and are extremely popular with the general public.

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab) rose—

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab) rose—

Ian Lucas: I am spoilt for choice. I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane).

Chris Ruane: Does my hon. Friend agree that the reason why CSOs are so popular is their visibility? They are on the beat for 90 per cent. of the time, thus giving a high visibility of a police uniform—well, nearly a police uniform. It is that reassurance that the public welcome.

Ian Lucas: That is true. I know from discussions with my constituents that they welcome a uniformed presence on the streets and the fact that CSOs work locally with police officers. They want to see police out on the streets and welcome the reassurance that that inevitably gives. However, it is important to note that police officer numbers are increasing in areas such as north Wales, where the number has increased from about 1,300 in 1997 to about 1,600 today.

It is vital that we recognise that there has been a revolution in policing since 1997. We now have neighbourhood policing teams made up of community beat officers, CSOs and, in many cases, neighbourhood wardens. A remarkable change has been brought about since I was elected in 2001, when—I well remember this—many people came to see me about criminal justice and antisocial behaviour matters. I had real difficulty in knowing who to contact on their behalf to raise issues directly.

The situation is now entirely transformed. I have a list in my office of community beat officers, each of whom represents a dedicated ward within my constituency. I can contact the relevant officer for an area with any concerns that I might have and I know that he or she will address it. That has made my job more straightforward and has led to a huge reduction in the number of complaints that I receive about antisocial behaviour and crime.

28 Nov 2006 : Column 57WH

Mark Tami: My hon. Friend has painted a good picture of the changes that have occurred since Labour took power in 1997, but does he agree that that change has been possible thanks only to the massive investment that we have made? That investment has delivered police, community support officers and neighbourhood wardens on the ground and provided front-line policing where people actually want it.

Ian Lucas: Indeed. That investment is very evident in north Wales, and my hon. Friend pre-empts me to some extent. I recently tabled a series of parliamentary questions, and the answers to them indicate that police funding in north Wales—I am talking specifically about Home Office funding and I shall leave aside the police precept for the time being—has increased from £78,861,341 in 2002-03 to £90,071,490 in 2006-07. There has therefore been a substantial increase in Home Office funding for policing in north Wales.

In addition, the North Wales police authority has made substantial investment in policing over the same period and has had the fourth highest policing precept in the country for the past three years. The precept for the current financial year—2006-07—is £166.89, and we have moved up the list somewhat since 2002-03, when it was £96.53. There has therefore been substantial investment in policing, and I welcome that because when I was first elected, I was very aware that policing was, if not the major priority, certainly one of the two major priorities for my constituents.

We have had good news about the effect that that investment has had on crime reduction, although hon. Members need not take my word for that. Only yesterday, I was given a copy of the Wrexham county borough newsletter, “Connect”, which I recommend to all and sundry. It talks about Wrexham faring


I can therefore speak of good news, and it is important that we recognise the progress that has been made.

Chris Ruane: On the issue of good news, will my hon. Friend give way?

Ian Lucas: On the issue of good news, I will certainly give way to my hon. Friend.

Chris Ruane: On the issue of good news, the Government and the local taxpayer have put in the investment. Last year, the north-west basic command unit was first out of the 420 basic command units, the central unit was fifth and my hon. Friend’s own eastern unit was about 15th. Does my hon. Friend agree that progress is being made and that investment is being put in and is, to all intents and purposes, being spent quite wisely?

Ian Lucas: I recognise that progress has been made and I am pleased to see it. None the less, I am afraid that there is a large “but” coming. The neighbourhood policing that we have taken forward in Wrexham over the past few years has been built on the premise set down in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 that the
28 Nov 2006 : Column 58WH
local authority must work with the police in formulating a strategy to address crime and antisocial behaviour. Over the past few years, the local authority has taken that forward by beginning to employ neighbourhood wardens in Wrexham. They have worked in conjunction with community support officers and community beat officers in particular wards in my constituency, and they have been very effective.

It is with profound regret, therefore, that I must tell hon. Members that the same local authority that boasts such a crime reduction rate has scrapped one of the essential reasons for that success—the neighbourhood warden scheme, which has been so successful in Wrexham. In saying that, I realise that political opponents are, of course, sometimes sceptical, so let me pray in aid a letter that I received from a community leader in the Caia Park area of Wrexham, Mr. Les Stamp, who works extremely hard for the community there. He wrote to me when the local authority’s decision was mooted, saying:

I met the community warden whom Mr. Stamp mentioned. He was a gentleman called Wayne and he worked very hard in his area of Wrexham, particularly with young people. I had an interesting conversation with him shortly before he left his post when the council decided to sack him. He said that it was important that he was distinct from the police in the job that he did and that he did not have a police uniform but was dressed differently, because he could build a relationship with people, particularly young people in the area. He did not want to become a community support officer because he did not want to work for the police, so I asked him what he was likely to do, and he said that he hoped to go into youth work because he had enjoyed working with young people. However, he saw his role as distinct from that of community support officers.

Wayne was part of a successful team in Caia Park, and it is unfortunate that it has been decided that that part of the team should not remain in place. It will be a loss to the people of Wrexham, which I deeply regret. However, I do not want anyone to suggest that I do not welcome the Government’s continued investment in community support officers. They have a distinct role to play in the town as part of the neighbourhood policing teams, and they have been extremely successful. I bumped into a community support officer in Wrexham the other day and he proudly showed me his new automated bike, which was designed to deal with the hills in the constituency. He was enthusiastic about his job and has become well known in the town, contributing hugely to the success of neighbourhood policing there.

I therefore welcome yesterday’s Home Office announcement of increased funding for community support officers in north Wales. I am sure that the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I think that the funds that can be spent on community support officers have increased from £2.3 million to £3.1 million. That is very welcome indeed, and I want
28 Nov 2006 : Column 59WH
to see more community support officers working in areas such as north Wales and contributing to the safety of places such as Wrexham.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) on securing the debate and on his support for community support officers, which I share. I welcome the increased spending on community support officers, but may I, through him, raise concerns that have been expressed in Northamptonshire? Given the way in which the funding mechanism works, one knock-on effect of increased spending on community support officers could be the loss of 42 full-time police officer posts. Does he agree that if we are to have extra community support officers, that should not be at the expense of full-time police officers with full powers?

Ian Lucas: I agree entirely, but as I said, that has not been the experience of policing since 1997. That has certainly not been the case in north Wales, where we have high levels of police. Community support officers have also been introduced, and they work with neighbourhood wardens and the police in neighbourhood policing teams. All those involved perform distinct functions, complement the others and build relationships with the local community. They also work with councillors, which is a huge improvement on the situation that existed before neighbourhood policing teams were introduced. I met councillor Geoff Lowe in my constituency, and he worked hard with his local neighbourhood warden before that gentleman, too, was dismissed from his post. I know from discussions with constituents how successful the neighbourhood warden was in building community safety.

Mark Tami: My hon. Friend makes a telling point. The difference between a community support officer and a neighbourhood warden, as I know from my experience of working with neighbourhood wardens in Buckley and many other areas of Alyn and Deeside, is the relationship that wardens are able to build, particularly with young people who perhaps do not see their uniform as a threat and are therefore much more able to work with them on particular youth projects. They break down the traditional hostility between youth and authority.

Ian Lucas: Absolutely. That is a powerful point and shows the complementary nature of the distinct roles of officers, community support officers and wardens. I am concerned that by no longer employing neighbourhood wardens in a town such as Wrexham, the local authority is in danger of losing the connection with younger people that has been so successful in reducing the crime rates to which I referred. I am also concerned that there will be less direct contact between the local authority and the criminal justice system. The profound breakthrough made in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 was the recognition that local authorities had a vital role to play in crime reduction. The reason for the success of neighbourhood policing
28 Nov 2006 : Column 60WH
has been the involvement of local authorities. I remember that, when I was elected, it was unusual for police officers to know who was the councillor for a particular ward in a town. That has changed completely. The danger of a local authority such as Wrexham withdrawing from the employment of neighbourhood wardens is that individual councillors will lose the direct contact with the criminal justice system that has been so successful.

The matter is not simply about sacking individuals—that is profoundly regrettable—but about the principle of police authorities working with local authorities to reduce crime. I hope that the commitment made by central Government to provide further moneys for community support officers, announced yesterday, will be followed today by an announcement of further investment in policing. That is the record of the Labour Government. I hope that that national investment will be coupled with local investment to ensure that crime is dealt with, because that is an important issue for my constituents.

I am concerned that the police authority in north Wales has been rash and reckless in its public announcements on investment for the future. It has been fortunate to be able to manage an increasing budget. That requires skills, but fewer skills than managing a decreasing budget. The police authority should recognise that it is necessary to manage the budget sustainably and take forward the success of neighbourhood policing that has been experienced, certainly in my community of Wrexham. It is important that the individuals employed by the North Wales police authority, some of whom are civilian employees, are treated with respect and considered an important part of the police force. They should not read on the front of local newspapers, as has regrettably happened in north Wales, that their jobs might be threatened.

The north Wales group of Labour MPs has done an enormous amount of work on policing. We were vociferous on the creation of a single police force for Wales, strongly supporting the police authority in its opposition to the proposal. We work hard to ensure that North Wales police authority gets its fair share of resources from the Home Office, and my hon. Friend the Minister can rest assured that if that does not happen, he will be getting a knock on the door from all of us to discuss it. We ask those in the police authority, if they wish to raise concerns about job losses, to do so privately with us so that we can raise them with the Home Office. We have a success story in north Wales: achievement in neighbourhood policing, attributable to wardens, community support officers and more police officers working together. We want to take that forward and we want more resources going into policing, which is important to our constituents, and to work with the police authority to achieve that.

Mark Tami: I thank my hon. Friend for being so generous in giving way. I agree totally with everything that he has said about the police authority. Does he agree that job losses must be the last port of call if we want savings, not the first, and that the police authority needs to examine other areas of its spending that could be cut back, or not spent in the first place, rather than cut valuable people’s jobs?

28 Nov 2006 : Column 61WH

Ian Lucas: I cannot improve on my hon. Friend’s point. People are always any service’s highest priority and greatest asset. I am sure that the police authority will ensure that the people who have been employed to improve policing in north Wales will remain in post.

1.16 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) on securing this debate. I know that he has been an assiduous campaigner for policing in his area, and he should be congratulated on that. I also congratulate him on bringing along his two able assistants, my hon. Friends the Members for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) and for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane), who have also championed neighbourhood policing in their areas. Between them they have put a good case for the continuation of neighbourhood policing.

Chris Ruane: I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for his kind comments about my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) and his two sidekicks behind him. He should include you in those comments, Mr. Jones. You have played an integral role in policing issues in north Wales, and along with myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Conwy (Mrs. Williams) you have been on the police parliamentary scheme in north Wales. We have each spent 25 days there learning the ins and outs of policing in north Wales.

Mr. Coaker: I thank my hon. Friend. I will include you in my comments, Mr. Jones. You have worked hard to ensure the national roll-out of neighbourhood policing. This is an important debate and will no doubt be read keenly by our constituents in Wrexham and beyond.

I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham that I wish to speak specifically about the position of funding for neighbourhood policing and police community support officers. He will know that my hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety made a written ministerial statement yesterday about those two specific grants. I do not propose to go through that statement, but I wish to set in context for my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham some of the figures to which he referred.

Overall, there will be an increase of 41.3 per cent. in funding for the vital area of policing in question in 2007-08. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham said, North Wales police will receive £3.1 million as its share of the funding next year, compared with £2.3 million this year. The force will have 157 PCSOs in 2007, up from 58 in 2006, contributing to the roll-out of neighbourhood policing across north Wales. I know that my hon. Friend will recognise that the Government have invested significantly in north Wales. I believe that additional figures will also be useful to set the debate in context. In England and Wales in 1997, there were 127,000 police officers; in 2006 there are more than 141,000. The figure for civilian support staff in England and Wales in 1997 was 53,000, and in 2006 it is 73,000.

Next Section Index Home Page