Adam Tugwell, a Conservative Councillor in Tewkesbury, explains how the government’s bureaucratic approach to crime affects things at a council level.
As we footstep around our wards, it is clearly evident at the doorstep
that fighting crime and our favourite buzzwords ‘antisocial behaviour’,
have become a key priority to the local voting public. Whatever the
statistics tell us, the perception is sadly far removed from the place
that our current Whitehall Government would have us all believe.
The Prime Minister would have the electorate know that he is the new
champion of administrative efficiency and that under his (serious)
stewardship, the clogged-up arteries of British law-enforcement will
soon flow brilliantly (red) once again, quickly reaching the parts that
his predecessor couldn’t (or wouldn’t) reach.
So how does this new efficiency actually filter down to operations and
what does it look like to the man ‘on the street’ – or perhaps more
importantly, what does the delivery look like?
Many of you reading this article will be aware of the existence of
CSP’s (Community Safety Partnerships) and their role in the Labour
Governments attempts to tackle crime. CSP’s are usually made up of
representation from the local District or Unitary, the Police, Fire and
Rescue and the various NHS Trusts which operate within the ‘Partnership
Sitting through a meeting, you will soon realise just how bureaucratic
these groups are and witness reports from sub groups and specialists on
how certain problems are being tackled, a serialised history of what
the local Police have been doing, and of course, the latest legislation
and direction from the Government.
Now, it is easy for members of the public to look at their local District, let’s say in terms of Planning for instance, and assume that that’s where the buck stops. Not so and those of you who have followed events in Tewkesbury since the flooding will be only too well aware of the problems being faced because of centrally set Planning ‘guidelines’ and ‘requirements’ in relation to future development.
In reality, what this equates to is one size fits all mentality from the Government, and this approach is clearly one which works well in the eyes of the detached Ministers working hard to look good up in Westminster. What many seem not to realise is just how much of a poisoned chalice our Local Authorities and their counterparts have been handed as a result.
CSP’s and the fight against crime, just like most things in Local Government are in many ways, little more than Punch and Judy shows at the mercy of a Government which seemingly gives with one hand to Local Councils and then takes away using alarming efficiency with the other.
On 5 October 2007, a note was circulated to CSP’s from the Cabinet Office titled ‘Connecting Communities with the fight against crime’ which quoted the Home Secretary as saying ‘I am determined to accelerate this work by freeing local partners to be more responsive to the crime issues that matter most to the communities they serve.’
Now, you have to admit that this sounds really good. After all, let’s imagine real Police Officers back out on the beat, freed from the toils of bureaucracy and the fear of making an arrest because of the mountains of paperwork which inevitably follows: Wow Jacqui, what can we say… sounds like you really are doing your best to be a proper Conservative aren’t you?
Hang on just a minute, sound is of course sound and we all now the old adage about empty vessels…
As a Member Representative on our local CSP, I made a quick note of the attendees at our last Meeting in October and out of about 20 there, 5 were Policeman consisting of 1 Chief Inspector, 2 Inspectors and 2 Constables, one of whom works some of his time dedicated to the local CSP. All whom I believe to be excellent Officers, I found myself quietly wondering what else they could be doing…
And so, to the first Agenda item. Yes you’ve guessed it, more assessments, a requirement to develop a new statutory ‘Plan’ for tackling local crime, (take a quick look at the accompanying document) with an absurd deadline and which will have to be completed by consultants as there is not the manpower within the local CSP to do it (it’s no longer called ‘strategy’ by the way). Then, there is the requirement for even more senior officers to be in attendance at future meetings where all this new bureaucracy will be discussed in finer detail.
(Note: by senior, this means a Superintendent for the Police and you can guess the rest in respect of the other participating organisations.)
So when coupled with the fact that Gloucestershire has opted not to pursue Unitary Status, this means that the great and the good are now expected by our Whitehall Chieftains, to attend about 6 different CSP meetings every 12 weeks, to talk about targets, quotas and the brilliant work that Community Support Officers are doing instead of appropriately trained Police Constables, whilst the ‘professional’ variety spend their time acting out the role of an overpaid clerk.
I’ll say no more.
So, there you have it. Yet again, the Government inflicting idealism on lower level tiers of Government without a.) Consideration for the real impact of their actions on the streets and b.) The real cost of all these politically driven exercises on the manpower and resources of just about every localised statutory organisation in the land…
Labour are not capable of drawing themselves away from the artificial and greedy need for statistics and records. Such a need has steadily been suffocating local government, the emergency services and the NHS for many years, and despite sound bites to the contrary it doesn’t appear to be slowing any.
Out here in Local Government Land, we can only suggest that whilst thinking about the policies which will rightly win the seats of our next Conservative Government, our Parliamentary Team could do well to consider their local members too.