Captain Jay Singh-Sohal works in Strategic Communications for M&C Saatchi and serves as a captain in the Army Reserve. He is the Conservative candidate for West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner.
It’s now been over a year since I was selected as the Conservative candidate for the Police and Crime Commissioner role in the West Midlands. While the national emergency with Covid 19 has delayed last May’s elections to 2021, I feel as motivated as ever to deliver the change we need in my home region.
That’s because the West Midlands is crying out for a new approach and leadership when it comes to local policing. Labour has been in the role for the entire eight years that it has existed, and over this period we have seen a rise in the local precept as well as a rise in crime.
Ahead of lockdown, crime was already increasing with knife crime and violence of particular concern. Meanwhile, suspects in the West Midlands are far less likely to be charged or issued with a summons than they were five years ago, with fewer than one in 14 crimes reported to police resulting in a court appearance.
Currently, the West Midlands is yet to see the benefit of the extra police officers the government has funded. We had 366 allocated for the first year, but in the nine months to June 2020 only 27 have been recruited in the region. Why? Meanwhile, the threat to police stations continues with zero clarity on what will happen to those earmarked for closure this year in Aldridge, Sutton Coldfield, Solihull, Tipton, and Wednesfield. All Conservative areas. What a coincidence!
Priti Patel, our Home Secretary, has delivered the bold and robust measures needed to tackle crime and accompanied this with extra funding. The West Midlands has certainly benefited with an increase of nearly £50m taking the total funding for 2020/21 to just over £620m. It’s a vast amount of resources with which to set local priorities and targets that tackle rising violence, knife crime, county-lines drugs, theft, and burglary.
What it now needs is a Conservative to target these resources effectively. The fundamental truth in the West Midlands is that the approach to setting the police budget to tackle crime has to change. The current Labour incumbent is obsessed with using the powerful role to play party politics, constantly lamenting “austerity” cuts, shirking responsibility and favouring particular communities over others. He’s even placed himself as an unofficial opposition to our successful Mayor Andy Street and got involved in issues outside of his brief.
What we need is more policing and less politics. A fresh approach built around my key policy pledges of stopping police station closures and increasing frontline policing meant we were winning the argument in the West Midlands, and still can. And so as I reflect upon what has changed since a year ago, the ground appears to be fairly similar to where we were in 2019. Although the journey has been anything but ordinary.
When I first considered the PCC role, I, like many other approved Prospective Parliamentary Candidates, was awaiting a general election. What convinced me to commit to the police and crime role was the opportunity to deliver a better public service for our six million residents living across twenty-eight Parliamentary constituencies in seven metropolitan boroughs.
Knocking on doors and speaking to residents I have found them ever-ready to give me a chance with their vote, because as a Conservative I put taxpayers money and duty above partisanship. It also helps that the incumbent is retiring and Labour have selected a Momentum candidate to replace him, a man who joined a Black Lives Matter rally in Birmingham during lockdown – to bend the knee alongside those who seek to defund the police.
I stand as one of a new generation of pragmatists looking to make positive change happen. I’m half the age of the current Labour PCC and representative of a third of my region that is Black And Minority Ethnic, so I bring new ideas as well as a deeper understanding of issues affecting diverse communities regionally as well as nationally.
I also draw upon more than a decade in the Armed Forces as an active Army Reservist, I see the PCC role as a continuation of my duty to serve in this way – providing the leadership, new thinking, energy and innovation that we now require to tackle crime.
Indeed, when this year’s elections were cancelled back in March, I did not hesitate in voluntarily mobilising with the Army on Operation Rescript, the military response to the pandemic. Seeing the impact Coronavirus was having from the privileged position of my special role brought home the severity of the situation as well as the knock on effect it would have on law and order. On many occasions, I saw the challenge presented to the government as well as local Commissioners. In some instances, I lamented that some PCCs were not being more effective by stepping forward, being more visible in their communities and helping guide their forces to deal with rule-breakers.
It’s become cliched to say everything’s changed because of Covid 19. But returning to the “civilian” fold in July and with lockdown easing, I certainly felt it. There are heightened tensions in diverse communities over the policing of lockdown as well as tensions over alleged racial profiling. But I’ve also seen a great amount of togetherness in so many communities like mine – both the Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield and the Indian community. I take pride that many have rallied, helping and serving others during this ordeal.
But I fear for what time spent in lockdown has meant for people’s mental health in particular, both in terms of their wellbeing and potential knock-on effect into crime. It is a hidden danger which we might not realise straight away, yet not a day goes by when I am not concerned about the manner in which the continuing rising crime levels in the West Midlands are manifesting.
Recently, the cross-party Youth Violence Commission reported that there could be a knife crime spike as children who’ve witnessed domestic violence are released from lockdown. While we are seeing lawlessness post-lockdown, with almost a weekly occurrence of shootings in the West Midlands, police officers attacked and the elderly and vulnerable burgled in more horrendous ways. Illegal raves are on the up, which Nicola Richards, the MP for West Bromwich East, and I recently highlighted on social media. West Midlands Police responded by breaking up 125 parties last weekend including one in Birmingham attended by 600 people breaking social distancing rules.
While all this goes on, there is once more a clear lack of leadership from my region’s Labour Police and Crime Commissioner, who offers neither a response nor a strategy nor plan for how to tackle these issues. He is missing from the scene, anonymous to the diverse communities affected by his failed policies who need engagement and reassurance that they and their families will be kept safe.
There is no doubt in my mind from the evidence I’ve seen that we need an increased police presence in our communities and a robust response to crimes ranging from violence to anti-social behaviour. So as I mark a year as PCC candidate, I have reaffirmed my commitment once more to keeping police stations in Aldridge, Solihull, Sutton Coldfield, Tipton, and Wednesfield if elected. All face closure by Labour, but I would work with local and community groups to get more out of them while increasing trust and engagement with the police within.
It’s far too easy for Labour to blame the government, and sit back and watch the repercussions of rising crime unfold. This is not leadership. It is a dereliction of duty. So for me, the May 2021 PCC elections cannot come soon enough; the West Midlands is crying out for change.