PCSOs have played a key role in policing our communities in recent years and they should play a greater role in the future, which is why the Policing and Crime Bill sets out a series of reforms that will allow chief constables to designate them with a wider range of powers. Obviously, decisions on the size and composition of a police force’s workforce are for individual chief officers and police and crime commissioners.
St Ives town will be well known to the Minister from his former role as Housing Minister. I am sure that he is glad to be rid of that role, but he has a new problem in St Ives. Sergeant Friday is a popular and influential neighbourhood police officer and a valued member of the local policing team in St Ives. Some 5,000 people support him in his current role, and yet he will soon be moved by Devon and Cornwall police to, in effect, a back-office role. What can the Minister do to support local community policing in St Ives and safeguard front-line policing roles?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on highlighting an issue that is clearly important to his constituents. This must be an impressive PCSO and sergeant for so many of them to get behind him and sign his form. Obviously, those kinds of operational decisions are for the force’s chief constable, but I will visit my hon. Friend’s area soon and hope I get a chance to meet a sergeant who can endeavour to get that kind of support from his local community.
In Wrexham town centre we have fewer police and more antisocial behaviour under this Government. PCSOs, introduced by a Labour Government, are very welcome and perform a valuable role, but there is a disturbing lack of understanding and clarity about their powers. Will the review that the Government should undertake make clear to the general public and to offenders how important PCSOs are?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about PCSOs being important. They play a key role, which is why I am pleased that their number has increased by about 40% in his part of the world since 2010. It is also important that the Policing and Crime Bill will give chief constables the power to look at what is right for their area and to give powers to PCSOs and other volunteers to do the work that is appropriate for their local area.
I was with one of the few remaining PCSOs in Kettering on Friday for a walkabout in the town, and it would appear that, were it not for the funding provided by Kettering Borough Council, of which I am proud to be a member, there would be no PCSOs at all in the borough of Kettering. Does the Policing Minister agree that PCSOs are vital for developing the intelligence picture locally, and that without them it would be difficult to see how front-line officers could do that?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I was a council leader in local government when PCSOs were first introduced, and my council funded them even back then. They play an important part in the remit and powers of chief constables and, indeed, PCCs to make sure that they gather the intelligence they need to prevent crime, which is obviously our first priority.
The Minister must be aware of the survey conducted by Unison which shows that 78% of PCSOs say that they have become less visible, that their units have got smaller and that they have stopped doing patrolling and preventive work and are just doing call-backs on crime for other police officers. Is it not true that PCSOs are no longer doing what we created them for, and that, as a result, our communities feel abandoned by the police?
I disagree with the right hon. Lady. She needs to think about the fact that crime is changing, so the way in which police forces fight crime needs to reflect the modern world that we live in and the crime that is happening in local areas. That is why it is absolutely right that the Government have moved crime fighting to be locally driven, with PCCs and chief constables having the powers that they need to fight crime locally in the way they see best.