PCC candidate Chris Nelson has written a letter which has appeared in both the Gloucestershire Echo and the Gloucester Citizen, addressing the increase in crime statistics in Gloucestershire.
I write in response to Chris Brierley’s very long ‘letter’ published on 12 August. As the Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for Gloucestershire he should really not be so complacent about his primary role in fighting crime. Rather surprisingly, he mocks my honest and strongly held desire to fight crime and implies we have nothing much to worry about in rural Gloucestershire. Residents know otherwise, particularly those living in our multiple crime hotspots – which are not just in our urban areas.
He says it is important to have “context” and the “full facts” when trying to assess the Commissioner’s poor performance. He is so right. Sadly, his career as a BBC political journalist has helped him become a master of the black arts and media spin, enabling him to accuse others of the same faults he so richly demonstrated in his own letter.
Some more facts and statistics to help the reader assess who is spinning and who is telling the whole truth. I reported in my last letter that crime in the County had gone up 16%, yet nationally it had gone down 9%. We now have the highest rate of Anti-Social Behaviour and Residential Burglaries in the whole of the South West (one reason for that is in 17/18, the Cotswolds had the lowest crime clear up rate for Residential Burglaries in the whole country, at just 3.4%; this situation had not improved in 18/19, with just 4% of Residential Burglaries in the County resulting in someone being charged or summoned to court).
But perhaps more importantly, since the Commissioner took over in late 2012, crime in our County has gone up 35%, but nationally the increase has been much less, at 23%. Yet every force has had to cope with the same percentage cut in officer numbers due to the years of enforced austerity. So why this disparity? Why is our Commissioner under-performing?
This disparity with the national crime picture is not, as Mr Brierley acknowledges, simply because our force has at last started to improve its record as one of the worst performing forces in England and Wales for recording crime. There are other, even more fundamental reasons at play. In particular, the Commissioner was too slow to work with the Chief Constable to improve the effectiveness of our force – it took over 3 years to raise the standard of force effectiveness from ‘Requires Improvement’ (the third lowest grade out of 4) to ‘Good’ (the next grade up). This is because he has been slow to prioritise crime fighting above everything else.
I acknowledge that Gloucestershire is not the ‘wild west’ of crime but conversely, over emphasising how relatively safe we are increases the risk that our force will not prioritise fighting crime in our multiple crime hotspots (and being the 9th safest county in the country does not sound quite so good when you remember how poor our force is in actually recording crime).
This misty-eyed view of how safe we are perhaps explains why our Commissioner failed to even bid for a share of the £25M recently on offer from Government to deal with things like Residential Burglary, a scandalous waste of an opportunity to make our streets safer.
Maybe the reason our Commissioner is not 100% focussed on fighting crime is because he prefers to concentrate on his ivory tower building projects - meaning that he has not put every spare penny in his budget into recruiting more officers, as many other Conservative commissioners have done. As a so called Independent he often hides in his own ‘ivory tower’ and sees little need for cross party community and partnership working. It is a great shame that our Commissioner has such a poor working relationship with our County MPs and County Council. His relentless drive to take over the corporate governance of our County run Fire Service and his superior and autocratic manner with Councillors has undermined the scope for finding new efficiencies across police and County facilities, money that could be used to recruit more officers and fight our crime hotspots.
I hope the Home Secretary’s recently announced review of Police and Crime Commissioners will introduce more accountability into the process so that badly performing and out of touch Commissioner’s like ours in Gloucestershire can be more easily held to account, rather than just at elections.