Events have not been kind to Northumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Kim McGuinness, since she launched her campaign to be elected North East Mayor in 2024.
Northumbria Police has been found to be responding to fewer than half of incidents of anti-social behaviour (ASB) and, at the other end of the crime spectrum, the force’s new Chief Constable has said they need to get on top of serious knife crime – suggesting they are not there already.
McGuinness blames the government for cutting police numbers, but that is an argument that will eventually run out of steam following last’s week’s government announcement that, at national level, numbers are back up to 2010 levels.
The proportion of ASB incidents to which Northumbria Police has responded has slipped from 60% in 2019 to only 45% in 2022, according to Freedom of Information (FoI) statistics obtained by the Liberal Democrats
In 2019 there were 46,762 incidents of ASB in the Northumbria area, of which 28,113 were attended by police officers. By 2022 the number of incidents had fallen to 42,044 but the number attended had dropped still further to 18,985.
The LibDems received responses to FoI requests to 38 of the 45 UK police forces. Northumbria slipped from 8th out of the 38 for attendance at ASB incidents to 11th, though it was still doing better than the national average, which was 41% in 2019 and 37% in 2022. It was doing relatively well but going in the wrong direction.
Northumbria’s new Chief Constable, Vanessa Jardine, told ChrornicleLive on 28 April that, following high-profile murder probes in the region, including the deaths of three teenagers in alleged stabbings, the police must get ahead of serious violent crime.
She told the paper:
“There have been some heart-breaking, tragic incidents and my sympathies go out to all the family and friends of people who have lost loved ones. We need to be getting ahead [of serious violent crime].”
According to a House of Commons library briefing from December 2022, total police officer strength in the UK decreased from 2010 to 2018 but has since been increasing. In England and Wales, all 43 police forces except Warwickshire had had an increase in officer numbers in the year to 31 March 2022.
The Home Office claims that the government has delivered on its manifesto promise to recruit an extra 20,000 police officers by March 2023. Critics say this does no more than restore the number to the 2010 level, but the government says the new total of nearly 150,000 is more than 3,500 above 2010.
Gavin Stephens, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council said:
“It is an incredible achievement to have recruited more than 46,000 officers, giving us more than 20,000 additional officers over the last three years. Those that joined at the start of the [recruitment] programme are now completing training and making a difference every day in forces across England and Wales.”
In Northumbria, the number of officers fell steadily between 2015 and the end of October 2019, the year of Ms McGuiness’s first election, from 3,369 to 3,058. But by September 2022 it had risen again to 3,656 (headcount) or 3,622) (full time equivalent – FTE).
However, the number has still not recovered to that recorded in 2010, when it was still increasing and stood at 4,187 (FTE) compared with 4,111 (FTE) a year earlier.
Placing the blame for Norhumbria’s falling number of ASB responses on the government, McGuinness told ChronicleLive:
“What we have here is the reality of plummeting police budgets. We have lost 1,100 officers and £148m out of our budget since 2010 and of course this will negatively impact communities. To fight crime and prevent ASB you have to invest in frontline policing, it’s as simple as that.
“Our police resources are stretched beyond belief and we need the government to hand back the 485 officers it owes since 2010 – that’s how we can deliver effective, efficient policing.”
On her mayoral campaign website McGuinness says something rather different, though not strictly contradictory:
“I’ve delivered hundreds more police officers, invested in young people, backed youth services and healthy role models and funded the Community Hubs that are bringing back Sure Start by stealth. I know how to use the limited funds the Tories give us to invest directly in our communities.”
McGuinness’s campaign for North East Mayor, if successful, would put her at the head of a North East Combined Authority (NECA) covering Northumberland, Tyne & Wear and County Durham expected to be established in May 2024. To stand in the mayoral election next May she must first be selected as Labour candidate, a position also being sought by North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll.
The PCC has had at least one opportunity to set out her stall to her first target audience, the Labour Party members who will select their candidate. Writing in Labour List on 25 April, she focused on devolution, attacking the Conservative model as unable to make the difference it should.
But she gave only lukewarm support to North of Tyne Combined Authority headed by her rival, Mayor Driscoll, and to the new £4.2bn NECA deal negotiated with the government by the area’s seven council leaders, of whom five are Labour, and Mayor Driscoll. She wrote:
“Recently, our local authority leaders signed a new devolution deal that will be the first step to controlling our own destiny, and they are to be congratulated on getting a better deal than some other areas. But one local leader has said it is laughable to suggest this deal comes even close to offsetting Conservative cuts to council services. An MP described it as ‘the crumbs off the table’
“For the last three and a half years, we’ve had a small devolution deal in place in part of the North East [North of Tyne], with the existing mayor’s office now set to be scrapped and a new mayor elected. To date, devolution here has had a mixed track record.”