Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380 - 392)



  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 anything inflammatory.

  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 effective.

  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 on.

  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 cohesion agenda?

  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 eye—or is it even possible to plot on a map—where 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, proactive policing.

  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.

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