Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.
At a recent event in Birmingham, hundreds of young people from the Second City revealed just how concerned they are about spiralling crime rates. The findings of the Brum Youth Trends Summit, organised by a social enterprise, revealed that 64% of young people feel either unsafe or that the police don’t protect them, an increase of almost 20% from the previous year. The findings came as young people face growing threats to their safety, such as rising knife crime and homelessness.
This was not surprising, given that there were 84,039 violent crimes recorded by West Midlands Police in the year to September 2019, a 27% rise in a year, from 65,914 a year before.
The summit’s findings showed, however, that fear of crime in the West Midlands affects all generations, young and old, in all of our communities.
Crime, anti-social behaviour, and resourcing our police force are key concerns right across the conurbation, from leafy Sutton Coldfield to the urban Black Country.
As Mayor, oversight of policing does not sit with me – only Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan have that responsibility in Manchester and London. Yet I know that residents expect their Mayor to have an opinion on the matters they care the most about – and I fully understand their concerns over crime.
Since December 2017 I have been lobbying the Government to provide more resources for West Midlands Police, who protect and serve 2.9million inhabitants across Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton – England and Wales’s second biggest police force behind the Met.
Now things are changing. The new Government is delivering that investment in spades, in a new era for policing that began here in the West Midlands.
It was in Edgbaston, Birmingham that Boris Johnson – in one of his first acts as Prime Minister -announced that an extra 20,000 new police officers were to be recruited. Since then, the Government has been decisive in addressing the police funding issue.
Last week West Midlands Police were handed an 8.7% increase in funding, the third highest in the country. Across the UK the amount of funding available to the policing system for 2020 to 2021 will increase by £1.1 billion, totalling £15.2 billion and will build on a number of existing government commitments to tackle crime.
In the West Midlands, that equates to an extra £49.6million for local policing. By next March, 6,000 of the 20,000 additional police will be out working in communities – with at least 366 of those new recruits hitting the streets of the West Midlands.
Our region will also benefit from a share of £39 million ring-fenced nationally to tackle serious violence. Another £20 million has been set aside to deal with ‘county lines’ drug dealing. Birmingham was recently identified as one of the UK’s three hotspots for this scourge of 21st Century life.
This is not a simple tweak to a funding formula. This is a bold and significant change which will provide very considerable resources to our police going forward.
However, there is scope to get even more from this investment locally, by making better use of the resources we have at our disposal and taking a more collaborative, practical approach to crime and policing. After all, whenever the Government releases money to the regions, it is our duty to ensure that every penny is well spent.
In May, there will be an election to select a new Police and Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands. So far, the position has always been Labour-held, and their record has not been good.
As we enter this new era of police funding, this role provides the opportunity to direct resources to deal with the real priorities identified by local people.
That means bolstering community policing and ensuring a visible and tangible police presence in local communities, providing reassurance for local people and a deterrent to the criminal element.
In Jay Singh-Sohal, the Conservatives have a candidate who will do that.
A Brummie born and bred, Jay not only grasps the complexities of policing one of the most densely populated areas in Europe, he also understands the concerns of local people, and the priorities they expect to see put at the forefront of crime fighting.
As a serving Captain in the Army Reserve, he also has the organisational drive and clear vision to get his message across to communities across the conurbation.
A Sikh raised in Handsworth, Jay is the epitome of the new brand of urban Conservatism we are successfully building here in the West Midlands. He has never stood for public office before, but his grounding in business, media and the armed services have shaped a driven individual who will tackle the challenges of policing in a business-like way.
He is already committed to a new plan that will make visible, local police presence the centrepiece of his term as PCC. For a start, that means halting Labour’s planned closure of police stations in communities across the region, for a period of reassessment.
And crucially, just as the Mayor’s office has been successful by bringing together the communities and agencies of the West Midlands, Jay understands that collaborative working is the secret to tackling crime in such a large and diverse region.
The Government is showing the way on policing. We need a PCC locally who can be rigorous in ensuring that every pound is spent effectively, on frontline resource to reduce crime and serve communities.
We also need a PCC who can work with Government to make the case for our police to get even more resources. The role of West Midlands Mayor has shown that with a single accountable person working positively with government, investment can be brought in.
Finally, we need a PCC who can work with local councils to lever in their support for tackling crime – like Dudley Council, which has sought to progress match funding for PCSO officers in the borough.
This is not about posturing, it’s about delivering. Jay’s priority will be police, not politics. It’s about providing real change on the ground. The extra firepower we have been given by Government in this funding round will make this possible.
For those who haven’t had enough of elections, 7th May will bring three in the West Midlands. Local people will not only be choosing their local councillors, the candidates for Mayor and PCC will be on the ballot papers too.
There are few issues more important than crime, and we must engage with this election both locally and nationally to deliver a Conservative PCC for the West Midlands. The Government is providing the resources to kick-start a new era in policing – it’s up to us in the regions to grasp the opportunity to make our citizens’ lives safer and happier.
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