Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380
TUESDAY 3 JUNE 2008
Q380 Mr Winnick: Chief Constable,
do you take the view that if you demonise recent arrivals and
make them responsible for most crimes without any evidence at
all the danger is that hate crimes against them will increase?
Ms Spence: I do not disagree with
that at all. What we have tried to do is lay out exactly what
is happening and encourage victims particularly from Eastern European
countries to come forward and have confidence in us, using our
PCSOs to enable us to have greater involvement with victims so
that we can show that in this country we deal with people fairly.
I know that there are members of the media here. When you read
the context of what we say it is about a very balanced management
of the issue, but some of the headlines are not so balanced. That
can make life very difficult and adds fuel to some of the fire
about the harassment and racial abuse that go on, so we all must
take a measured approach. For the vibrant county I represent without
inward migration it will not remain vibrant and contribute to
the GDP as it does currently.
Sir Simon Milton: A lot of councils
spend money with their partners on so-called bridging or integration
activities specifically to counter some of the myths that can
arise. Very often one gets quite disconnected things being conflated
by people who blame migration for the fact that there might be
restructuring of service provision going on anyway in a particular
place. If I dare to mention Crewe and Nantwich as an example,
it has reported significant Polish migration originally of single
males and then the families that followed. There was a big wave
of applications for children of primary school age. It just so
happened that Cheshire was doing a restructuring which included
some school closures and in the public's mind this was blamed
on the migrant community. It had nothing to do with it whatsoever.
You are absolutely right we have to be very careful not to allow
the fact there is migration to be used as evidence for things
going on elsewhere in the public services.
Q381 Mr Winnick: Sir Simon, do you
agree that all political parties must be extremely careful not
to do or say things which can only inflame the situation?
Sir Simon Milton: Absolutely,
but there is probably a more proactive duty that all politicians
can and should perform, which is to look at how they can anticipate
and then defuse some of these issues rather than simply not say
Q382 Chairman: Westminster had signs
in Polish to assist people driving through that area but I understand
they have come down.
Sir Simon Milton: It was subject
to quite a lot of criticism. It was to stop Polish coach drivers
driving through streets subject to coach bans but it was not very
Q383 Mrs Dean: What more can be done
to protect immigrants from being the victims of crime? To what
extent is diversification of the police workforce important?
Ms Spence: Diversification of
the workforce is absolutely needed. We identified very early on
that we could not do our job if we did not have language skills.
That was why we were one of the first forces in this area to use
genuine occupational qualifications to make sure we could properly
recruit those who had the language skills that we needed for the
93 different cultures and 100 different languages with which we
had to deal. That has made a significant difference. It is also
about empowering our own staff to go out and learn languages and
looking at our own staff to realise how many languages we have.
We had 450 staff speaking languages within the constabulary. First,
the identification of that made a significant difference. Also,
recruiting our own interpreter who spoke five languages made a
difference, not just because she could interpret but also because
she knew about some of the cultures we would have to police and
was able to give us very clear advice. Having 13 languages spoken
in our community cohesion team in Peterborough made the job and
life a lot easier. For example, one of our Polish-speaking PCSOs
is currently on leave with his wife who is having a baby. We are
just noticing the difficulty being caused by his absence. We need
diversity to allow us properly to manage and police what is going
Sir Simon Milton: A number of
things are being done to try to minimise the chances of people
becoming victims. There is work to reduce tensions within communities,
understanding and addressing the needs of migrants, bridging and
integration activities which I have mentioned and explaining the
benefits of migration to existing communities. For example, we
have also noted some very good work going on in places like Bristol,
Devon and Flintshire. In addition, some councils provide information
and welcome packs to migrants which not only explain laws but
also how to keep them safe. Burnley, Fenland, East Cambridgeshire
and West Lancashire are examples of councils which have done good
work on that.
Ms Spence: We now do that in 20
different languages. That was sponsored by the Office of Criminal
Justice Reform. Again, that was good partnership working to enable
the delivery of good information.
Q384 Patrick Mercer: Immigration
can increase tensions. What are your views on that? What are the
implications for policing? How does that relate to the community
Sir Simon Milton: Of course it
can, which is why councils try very hard to do the things I have
just mentioned: to explain the benefits of migration to communities
and help people to integrate much more quickly and effectively.
All you can do is look out for signs where trouble is brewing.
Where one has places which experience unexpected levels of migration
which historically have not had to be coped with before one tends
to get more difficulties than in places like the big cities which
have long experience of coping with inward migration. Issues have
arisen because of competition for scarce resources and public
services. Therefore, the duty is on councils to try to minimise
those tensions and work with communities to build greater understanding.
I think that is the only way we can do that.
Ms Spence: I would endorse that.
We are part and parcel of the community cohesion programmes within
the county. The neighbourhood teams play a specific role because
from my perspective I want them out on the ground understanding
and seeing where tension is and nipping it in the bud but also
to talk regularly to both sides, bringing them together so they
know and understand each other better.
Q385 Patrick Mercer: In your constabulary
do you have in your mind's eyeor is it even possible to
plot on a mapwhere the hotspots might be?
Ms Spence: I know where the current
hotspots are and therefore there is intense work going on.
Q386 Patrick Mercer: Do they change
or are they fairly constant?
Ms Spence: They change and intensify
at certain points, but there are two hotspots currently. Within
those there are individual hotspots. One can concentrate where
one puts resources, but one must be aware and never take one's
eye off the ball; otherwise, it will pop up somewhere else. In
some of the other areas a lot of this work is done with employers.
There are some very good employers who have been able to talk
to their workforce about what they can and cannot do and to make
sure that when they are out in the community we do not get those
tensions and everybody lives in harmony.
Q387 Chairman: But neither of you
thinks that Britain is on the brink of ethnic violence. Chief
Constable, you are quoted as having said that to the Police Federation
only two weeks ago.
Ms Spence: I did not say that.
If you read the bit underneath that was not what I said.
Q388 Chairman: That was the headline.
Ms Spence: Yes.
Q389 Chairman: Is not the danger
that in respect of some of the things you have been saying about
migration newspapers and others may feel that that is the end
product of it?
Ms Spence: At the Police Federation
conference in essence I was talking to professional officers about
the need to be alert, as I said to Mr Mercer, to activities taking
place on the ground and the Police Services needed to be on the
front foot to nip things in the bud; otherwise, there might be
tension. I was talking honestly and openly. There have been comments
between communities and if one does not nip that behaviour in
the bud one will have bigger problems. This is about positive,
Q390 Chairman: Sir Simon, if it is
going to happen your borough is probably where it will happen?
Sir Simon Milton: I disagree.
It is less likely to happen in boroughs like mine which are used
to be melting points than in areas which have not had much experience
of coping with inward flows of migration. The truth is that this
country has experienced an unprecedented wave of inward migration
over the past few years and there has not been ethnic violence;
it has been managed pretty well with examples here and there of
problems and as a country that is something about which we should
be quite proud. I do not imagine that the same would have happened
in, say, France.
Q391 Mr Winnick: Sir Simon, I agree
with your last comment. You are the leader of Westminster Council,
are you not?
Sir Simon Milton: For another
two weeks, yes; I am about to stand down.
Q392 Mr Winnick: Westminster Council
has been the subject of a great deal of controversy which I am
certainly not going to mention today. Can we proceed on the basis
that Westminster Council is better run than it was when it was
the subject of intense and bitter controversy that lasted for
a long period of time?
Sir Simon Milton: Certainly, the
view of the Audit Commission and government is that Westminster
is one of the best run councils in the country.
Mr Winnick: Do you have any regrets about
what happened in the past? You were involved, were you not?
Chairman: I do not think that is relevant
to the inquiry. Sir Simon, thank you very much for giving evidence
to this inquiry today. I did not realise that you would be stepping
down. I am sure that it will not be a quiet retirement bearing
in mind all the other responsibilities you have, but we are extremely
grateful. If there is anything we have missed out in terms of
information that you feel you can put to the Committee on policing
we would be most grateful to receive it. Chief Constable, thank
you also very much for coming to give evidence today.