Sunday 14 August 2011

H&F Conservatives Told They Must Restore The Sergeants And Give Us More Police

Just a few weeks ago, on the 17th July, it was announced that our Borough’s Safer Neighbourhood Police Teams (SNTs) will face a cut from 16 to 12 sergeants. The Cabinet Member responsible for policing in Hammersmith and Fulham is Cllr. Greg Smith (Con). He gave this quote “In these difficult economic times everyone has to do more for less and to be only losing four Safer Neighbourhoods Sergeants at a time when other boroughs are losing more is good news for Hammersmith and Fulham."

Good news?.. Really? Other similar "good news" cuts were made to crime fighting in the Council's budget last February. 

Last week Hammersmith and Fulham's brave police officers did an excellent job tackling disturbances whenever they arose around the Borough. They were supported from police officers who came from as far away as Wales and Hampshire.

The Borough will still need extra police when this has all died down. My Opposition Labour colleagues and I have been calling for that since long before the riots happened. We campaigned against police cuts in 2007, pledged more police in 2009 and explained how we would pay for them in our manifesto in 2010. Now, there are wide spread calls for more cops. Restoring the four police sergeants, who had played such a critical front line roles, should just be the start of having a more comprehensive strategy to tackle crime and disorder in our Borough.

Five years ago when Cllr. Greg Smith took on this important cabinet job he actually enjoyed the Labour Opposition’s support. He promised extra police and up to 80% cuts in crime. Now he appears to have been reduced to being an apologist for police cuts and rising crime. That strategy is in tatters. A telling incident occurred at the Cabinet Meeting on 18th April this year. Cllr. Smith and his colleague, the then Cabinet Member for Housing, explained that council homes are being sold off on an unspecified council estate because they thought crime was out of control and there had been a murder. That is an extremely odd crime reduction strategy and one that hadn’t been officially admitted in any published council documents. When Cllr. Smith was asked if this was indicative of his failure to deliver on his publicly stated crime pledges he became furious and responded with a particularly ill-advised four letter expletive. He appears to be under a lot of pressure.

Last year, crime rose again in Hammersmith and Fulham. The public expect those in power to focus on the future and what they will do next. So to begin, Cllr. Smith must get the Council he helps to run, to fund and restore the sergeant positions. I would suggest that money should come from savings elsewhere such as:  
  • Saving at least £600,000.00 by cutting council directors, super tri-borough directors and assistant directors jobs
  • Saving at least £1 million by getting rid of high paid consultants. The council admits it has failed to monitor consultancy contracts and has unknowingly paid out vast amounts of public money without being aware the sums were so high.
  • Saving at least £1.25 million by cutting the council's press office, shutting down the three glossy council magazines and ending the council's controversial propaganda budget.
  • Halting the £35 million new Town Hall offices scheme
There's many more savings that could be delivered. It is therefore eminently possible to invest more in crime fighting if the political will is there. I hope that Cllr. Smith and his colleagues find a new determination to do that. Currently it's likely that we will hear lots of tough talk in the coming days. But as the saying goes, “Talk is cheap.”

We had hoped to debate much of this at the last full council meeting on 29th June. But the Conservative led local authority packed the agenda and voted against our council motion without a single word being said. So, just for the record, should Labour win control of the Council in 2014, I stand by our promises and confirm we will invest more in crime prevention and policing than the current Conservative run Council. We will restore the sergeants and provide all of the Borough’s sixteen wards with extra 24/7 police task squad protection.

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