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Policing (Middlesbrough)

Volume 461: debated on Wednesday 6 June 2007

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Michael Foster.]

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) for giving me a chance to get here. If she had not done so, I should have lost the debate. I also thank you, Mr. Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak about aspects of policing in the Middlesbrough area of my constituency.

Most people are aware that the Government have made combating crime and antisocial behaviour a key community priority. In practice, the police and our local crime-fighting partnerships have been supported consistently by resources and backing from the Government, and it is on the concept of partnerships and their success in Middlesbrough that I want to concentrate.

We cannot rely on the police alone to fight crime; crime-fighting must be the business of the whole community. In order to identify the problems and determine the appropriate strategies with which to confront them, we must ensure that there is broad participation by all the relevant stakeholders. The supervision of policing through an active and involved police authority is central to the process, as is full support from the local authority. Combined with a highly competent and dedicated chief constable and a committed team of senior police officers, that approach has given Middlesbrough what is perhaps the country’s most impressive crime-fighting partnership.

That partnership is certainly performing. Let us look at the facts and figures. In 2006-07 crime was down by 5.1 per cent., with around 1,298 fewer victims than in 2005-06. Robberies were down by 12.7 per cent., house burglaries by 23.8 per cent., vehicle theft by 34.7 per cent. and sexual offences by 8.6 per cent. The key driver of those reductions was the crime detection rate, which rose by 5.2 per cent.

I believe that Sean Price, who became Cleveland’s chief constable in April 2003, has been one of the key factors in this great success story. He has united and lifted the morale of a force that had been divided by internal tension under its previous leadership. He has established a hands-on management style that has led to higher personal involvement by senior officers in front-line policing, and has delegated more decision making to officers on the beat. He has also successfully argued for extra officers to be deployed on the ground. As a result of his determination, along with the support from the Home Office, Cleveland will soon have the highest number of officers in the force's history. That equates to 1,727 full-time police officers, 197 police community support officers and 50 special constables.

The force has been able to recruit 23 more police officers and, crucially, 20 of those new posts have been earmarked for neighbourhood policing. That has been accompanied by an intense programme of collaboration with Middlesbrough council and with community and neighbourhood groups across the town. The Cleveland police motto of “putting people first” is not just a catchy mission statement. It forms part of their whole ethos.

In Cleveland, we now have at least one dedicated police officer in place for each neighbourhood across the force area, based in well known public buildings. As the chief constable said recently:

“The public and their elected representatives have made it clear that they want a more visible presence on the streets and greater contact with officers dedicated to their area. Neighbourhood policing is delivering that improved service to our communities.

There has been a growth in public confidence across the force in officers they see on a regular basis and can easily contact.

With a neighbourhood policing team to cover every ward within the force area, both uniformed police officers and community support officers are now allocated to their own regular beats.”

Sean Price's comments were echoed by our police authority chair, Councillor Dave McLuckie, who recently said:

“In all our consultations and discussions with local people we know that what they value most is a visible police presence on their streets and in their communities—and that is what neighbourhood policing is all about.

As an authority we have been clear in putting the objective of maximising resources for front-line policing as a top priority—and this is reflected in the fact that in the current year the force will have the highest numbers of officers in its history, achieved with the support of our local authority partners, all of whom play a key role in tackling crime and disorder.”

Middlesbrough demonstrates the importance of visibility to a successful neighbourhood policing model. It is key to gaining public confidence.

The council and other private and voluntary agencies have helped the police immeasurably by allowing their premises and facilities to be used by the police neighbourhood teams as drop-in offices and venues for ward surgeries. In my own area of Middlesbrough, the council has allowed the use of community centres in Park End and Marton and libraries in Hemlington, Coulby Newham and Easterside. The teams have also worked with local churches by using church halls in Stainton and West Marton and businesses such as Spar have enabled the police to use their facilities as a community policing base in areas such as Nunthorpe.

Local housing associations are also helping. The Anchor housing trust has allowed the Marton neighbourhood policing team to use its community centre in Gypsy lane, Marton, and the Guinness Trust has opened up its centre in Coulby Newham. The Sure Start initiative has also helped by basing neighbourhood police teams in its centres in Hemlington and Beechwood, which gives local mothers and young women the opportunity to talk to the police about issues of concern to them.

That approach to community policing means that special initiatives managed by the police can be targeted at very small neighbourhood areas and tailored to meet community concerns. A good example of the local partnerships can be seen in the outlying estate of Hemlington, which has social exclusion problems and a history of antisocial behaviour on the part of a small, but persistent number of youths. Police have teamed up with colleagues from Middlesbrough council, youth services and housing organisations in a bid to clamp down on that antisocial behaviour. A couple of weeks ago, a dispersal order was put in place so that youngsters can be moved on, taken home or even arrested if they are behaving in an antisocial or criminal way. The partners hope that the young people will instead make use of the facilities at the nearby Hemlington recreation centre, such as its skate and play parks, youth shelter, football pitch and tennis court. These are early days, but I have high hopes that the exercise will yield positive results. The role of the council in the partnership should not be understated.

The mayor of Middlesbrough, Ray Mallon, is a former police officer, and he pioneered the concept of zero tolerance. He has been re-elected twice and his leadership has made a great contribution to the town. Since coming to office, he has introduced new initiatives and projects to fight crime and social disorder.

The council’s lead member for community safety, Barry Coppinger, has also recently hit the headlines with new crime-busting policies and projects. The most significant and recent example was the initiative to combine a CCTV system with live audio microphones that enable controllers to warn offenders. That might have seemed like a gimmick to some, but it works. Moreover, that initiative has been developed by a neighbourhood “community company”, thereby allowing local people to manage and control its development. It has also created new jobs for local people in personal and premises security. The task now is to cement that partnership and to build on its achievements to a level where people in Middlesbrough can live without the fear of crime.

In order to realise that goal, we must ensure that support from central Government continues. Such programmes must also not be seen as the preserve of the Home Office—other Departments must also be part of the process. The Department for Education and Skills, for example, has a key role to play in supporting projects aimed at disaffected young people and backing programmes to combat bullying and truancy. That will have a knock-on effect on the level of crime and antisocial behaviour on our streets. The new Ministry of Justice and the Department for Communities and Local Government should also pay regard to what is being achieved in Middlesbrough. It helps little if the police and the council are tackling crime only for it to be seen that sentencing policy fails to complement the tough approach that must be taken to isolate and deal with the core of troublemakers.

The Department for Communities and Local Government should be aware that there is a clear link between neighbourhood design and architecture and crime. Like many other towns and cities, Middlesbrough has ambitious plans for redesigning estates and building new ones, and to replace both the planning mistakes of the 1960s and outdated Victorian terraces. In the new communities and estates that will spring up, the need to design-out crime must be the central feature. DCLG must be prepared to be guided by local communities and Middlesbrough partnerships.

I invite a cross-departmental group of Ministers to visit Middlesbrough to meet the people I have mentioned, who are implementing the partnership model and serving their communities. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland (Dr. Kumar) on securing this debate on policing. He is always an eloquent and effective champion for his constituency and his police force. Indeed, he has raised such issues with me many times. I should say at the outset that if he contacts my office, I am more than happy to visit Middlesbrough at a time appropriate to him and his colleagues, in order to see the work that he has outlined for us this evening.

I take this opportunity to congratulate Cleveland’s chief constable, Sean Price, whom I know personally from his time as a senior police officer in Nottinghamshire, where his work was very effective. I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating him on the performance improvements that he has brought to the Cleveland area and the steady progress that he continues to make.

I also welcome the opportunity to reflect on the progress made not only by Cleveland police but by police forces across the country. My hon. Friend has highlighted the progress that Cleveland has made in introducing neighbourhood policing, which has been very effective. I am an enthusiastic supporter of neighbourhood policing and the tremendous benefits that it brings to our communities. I want to say something about that, but first I want to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Councillor Dave McLuckie on his work, and in congratulating Ray Mallon, the mayor of Middlesbrough, whose contribution my hon. Friend spoke of. What we are seeing is that partnership is crucial if we are to achieve our aims, and it is clear that in Middlesbrough such partnership has been very strong.

We should bear in mind the work not only of Dave McLuckie and Ray Mallon, but of the council and the various housing associations and schools. My hon. Friend referred to the difference that has been made in Hemlington. It is also important that we see the full use of the powers that have been made available to police forces, local authorities and other bodies in tackling antisocial behaviour. I was very pleased to hear about the use of a dispersal order, which is a very effective way of tackling antisocial behaviour.

My hon. Friend mentioned the level of support that Cleveland police currently receives from the Home Office and what it can expect in future. He will know that the Government are committed to providing a well-funded police force in Cleveland and in England and Wales as a whole. I do not think that our commitment to that can be called into question. For 2007-08, Cleveland, like all forces, received an increase in general grant funding of 3.6 per cent., above the rate of inflation, which comes on top of a sustained increase in funding. My hon. Friend will probably like to know that since 2000-01, Cleveland’s total grants have increased by £30 million, which equates to 14.9 per cent. in real terms.

That money has been spent well. As at 30 September 2006, Cleveland had 1,681 officers—222 more than in March 1997. There were also 116 more civilian staff than a decade ago, which has of course helped to release officers for front-line duties, which I know is where my hon. Friend’s constituents want to see them. I am pleased to hear that so many officers are providing that visible presence on the street. Last September, there were also 111 police community support officers—an innovation under this Government. That figure has also increased, and I shall say a little more about neighbourhood policing and PCSOs in due course.

However, it is important that we do not just focus on inputs but look at the results, which have also been impressive in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Between 2002-03 and 2005-06, overall recorded crime in Cleveland fell by 2.5 per cent., representing nearly 2,000 fewer victims of crime a year. Especially impressive was the performance on burglary, which fell by almost half in that period. The results in the Middlesbrough basic command unit, which serves my hon. Friend’s constituents, are equally noteworthy. Between 2003-04 and 2005-06, recorded domestic burglary fell by 13 per cent. and robbery by a staggering 54 per cent., so the investment is making a huge difference to my hon. Friend’s constituents.

Middlesbrough is also one of just 40 respect areas nationally—identified for their strong track record in tackling antisocial behaviour and its causes. The local crime and disorder reduction partnership has made good use of the full range of tools and powers available to tackle antisocial behaviour. In 2005-06, it used 137 acceptable behaviour contracts and in 2005 it took out 34 antisocial behaviour orders. We know that those powers work and that their use has brought important respite to communities living with the burden of antisocial behaviour. As my hon. Friend said, Middlesbrough has also made good use of other powers such as dispersal orders, crack house closures and parenting orders.

Importantly, action is being taken across the breadth of the respect programme. Middlesbrough is one of 77 areas with funding for an expert practitioner to co-ordinate parenting services for families involved in or at risk of antisocial behaviour, while the council and partners are implementing a family intervention project to tackle the behaviour of the most antisocial families in the area.

The area has also led the way in experimenting with talking CCTV to promote good, and challenge bad, behaviour. I congratulate my hon. Friend on saying that talking CCTV is not a gimmick, because I completely agree with him. Indeed, on Monday my officials were in Middlesbrough to attend the launch of the council’s scheme selectively to license private sector landlords in an area of the town where antisocial behaviour has been an issue. It is only the second council in the country to have such a scheme in place—another example of the work it is doing

The range of action is encouraging and I urge the council, police and other local partners to keep up their proactive approach to tackling antisocial behaviour and its causes so that residents in Middlesbrough can enjoy their neighbourhoods. I pay tribute to all of those in Middlesbrough and Cleveland generally whose efforts have led to those excellent results.

I know that my hon. Friend is interested in future funding arrangements. I have to tell him that no decisions have yet been taken on police funding for the three years of the comprehensive spending review. It is no secret that the financial climate will become tighter. However, the funding increases that we have given in the last few years have provided a very solid foundation on which the police can build as we move into a period of consolidation.

I was very pleased to hear my hon. Friend talk so warmly about neighbourhood policing and I too would like to congratulate Cleveland on the progress it has made in rolling out neighbourhood policing across the force. All of us know of the demand for a visible, accessible and responsive police force, with a presence on the streets, and that is what neighbourhood policing is designed to achieve. I understand that there are now 15 dedicated neighbourhood policing teams across the Cleveland police area, which includes 173 police sergeants and constables and 126 PCSOs. In my hon. Friend’s area in Middlesbrough, I am advised that there are four neighbourhood policing teams, which include 61 police sergeants and constables and 34 PCSOs. Those teams cover areas that are coterminous with the clusters of community councils that are the main resident representation body in each local authority ward area.

The progress made by Cleveland is being repeated across all 43 forces and we remain on track to deliver on our commitment to provide a dedicated neighbourhood policing team for every community by April 2008—a significant achievement. In fact, we recently reached a significant milestone in the neighbourhood policing programme: forces across England and Wales increased PCSO numbers to 16,000—a tremendous achievement. The police service doubled PCSO numbers over a seven-month period and I take this opportunity to congratulate everyone who worked so hard to make that happen. In addition, more than 12,000 police constables and sergeants are dedicated to neighbourhood policing in England and Wales.

I know that my hon. Friend is concerned about continued support for his police service and we shall do all we can to ensure that every police force can maintain a strong and visible presence on the street. It is of course a matter for chief constables, such as Sean Price, to determine the best staffing mix for their neighbourhood policing teams, taking into account local circumstances. We have extended to police forces the freedom to determine their own arrangements, while providing greater sustainability for neighbourhood policing in the future. My hon. Friend will know that those changes had an unintended impact on Cleveland, which we have done our best to address by providing an allocation for new PCSO recruitment in 2007-08 as an exceptional arrangement. That shows our commitment to support the measures in Middlesbrough that my hon. Friend described. The outcome is that the Cleveland police force has been allocated £2.6 million towards the cost of neighbourhood policing in 2007-08, which is an increase of 63 per cent. over funding in 2006-07—the highest in the country.

The force will have at least 166 PCSOs in 2008, contributing to the roll-out of neighbourhood policing across Cleveland. It will not be expected to increase PCSO numbers further, although it is free to do so if it wants, but it would need to look to partners for funding, in line with other forces. That is important because, as my hon. Friend pointed out, community safety is a shared responsibility and local decision making, with the involvement of the community and local partners, is crucial to the success of neighbourhood policing. Wherever I go, I realise that co-operative working by the police, the council, health authorities, schools and residents is fundamental to delivering not just effective neighbourhood policing but neighbourhood management.

As my hon. Friend pointed out, in Middlesbrough—as in other areas—people need to see that broken windows, smashed-up bus shelters, graffiti or litter are sorted out quickly. If they see that graffiti is cleaned off quickly, broken street furniture is dealt with and litter is swept from the streets, other aspects of neighbourhood policing will also be seen and people will believe that things are improving in their area. The effectiveness of the neighbourhood management model in Middlesbrough that my hon. Friend described—the effective working partnerships—means that we can have a combined approach to tackling some of the quality of life issues that confront people. As we all know from our constituents, when people open their doors they want to be proud of their neighbourhood and to have a visible police presence. I congratulate all those in Middlesbrough who have made that possible in their area.

I shall finish with some more general remarks about the future. In March 2007, the Home Secretary announced the establishment of an independent review of policing in England and Wales, to be led by Sir Ronnie Flanagan. It will focus on four specific aspects, which will help areas such as Middlesbrough. It will further reduce bureaucracy, focusing resources on the front line and freeing up police officer time. It will embed neighbourhood policing in areas such as Middlesbrough, ensuring that it becomes a permanent part of the policing landscape. Local accountability will better ensure that the public drive local policing priorities; Middlesbrough is leading the way, with local people helping the police to determine those priorities. It will also focus on how the service can best use its resources to meet all the challenges that it faces. The report will be produced at the end of this year and there will be an interim report in August. My hon. Friend will recognise that that will be highly relevant to the matters that he has raised today.

I repeat my thanks to my hon. Friend for securing this extremely useful debate and the way in which he put forward the interests of his constituents. He has demonstrated that the only way to move forward on issues relating to crime and antisocial behaviour is for everyone to work together. By working together, real progress can be made. I congratulate everyone in Middlesbrough and the whole Cleveland area on the work that they have done.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at ten minutes to Eight o’clock.