In 2014 I said I was retiring. I meant it.
I was 67 and I’d been in politics for much of my life. I’d been a councillor, an MP and a Minister in Tony Blair’s government, as well as a head teacher and working closely with several charities.
So when the phone rang only months later, following the untimely death of the previous PCC Bob Jones, and I was asked to stand as the Police and Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands, it was unplanned, unexpected and certainly not in my script.
But I am pleased I said ‘yes’.
Over the last six years, nearly seven due to the delayed elections because of the Covid pandemic, I have been privileged to hold an elected position which is directly accountable to more people than any other political post in the country, with the exception being the Mayor of London.
Behind any politician is a team of highly professional, dedicated civil servants, and, in my case, police officers too. They all want to make a difference and improve people’s lives. For that, I am immensely grateful and proud. Their achievements are too long to list.
Together the staff in my office, the individuals on my Strategic Policing Board and I have scrutinised West Midlands Police at every turn. We have praised where praise is due, but we have asked the tough questions and demanded answers and improvements where shortcomings existed. In fact, my last meeting in pubic with the Chief Constable is on Tuesday.
But my team has gone above and beyond police governance. We’ve intervened where we’ve seen problems. We’ve called for change where change is needed.
Violence has been a persistent and growing problem for the Home Office and nearly all PCCs. Knife crime has been rising for a number of years and has doubled in our region since 2012. In the West Midlands I am proud to say we have been tackling the underlying causes of violence for many years, well aware that you cannot arrest your way out of the problem.
In 2015 I launched the Violence Prevention Alliance. Amongst the initiatives it pioneered was the one that placed youth workers in Accident and Emergency departments, so they could reach out to young people with unexplained and unreported injuries to support them from a life of violence.
In 2017 we launched the Gangs and Violence Commission. This was a community led response to the knife crime epidemic sweeping our streets, which I backed with £2 million. Both of these initiatives preceded the government national roll out of Violence Reduction Units in 2019, which, of course, we supported from day one and have arguably the most effective one in the country.
During my time in office I have ensured there are violence mentoring classes taking place in both primary and secondary schools, gang intervention teams de-escalating violence on our streets, knife awareness classes in schools, knife bins installed in local communities and support for victims already affected by the trauma it causes.
I led a national campaign to demand motor manufacturers do more to protect keyless vehicles from thieves. One of the most notable responses, I am proud to say, has been from local manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover, which, recent statistics show, has managed to help reduce the number of its vehicles being stolen by 40% since 2019. How? By making simple, relatively cheap, technological changes to its vehicles. The brilliant engineers at JLR should be very proud.
I’m proud to say the police cadet scheme has gone from strength to strength, with the first units opened in the most challenging areas of the region. They give young people an opportunity to take part in activities that help them mature and grow, serve their community, whilst also removing perceived barriers between young people and the police. I’m delighted to say the number of cadets should reach 500 in the next few weeks.
Despite all of these achievements, the next Police and Crime Commissioner faces significant challenges and needs to be even more alert to very real threats on the horizon.
After a year of lockdown the economy is in a precarious position. It is on life support. Many businesses are only just staying afloat. Furlough is set to end in a matter of months and compared to the U.S. there has only been a small economic stimulus which will fail to get our economy firing again.
I am deeply concerned that when this happens it will send shock waves through our economy, the likes of which you and I haven’t seen in our life time. Young men and women will be worst hit. Unemployment will rise. Poverty spiral. West Midlands Police has already warned this could lead to crime rising. A tidal wave of violence is a very real possibility. Stabbings could escalate, gun crime could soar, drug gangs could flourish and the foundations of our society rocked.
We must not let this happen.
The new police and crime commissioner must treat serious violent crime as their top priority. West Midlands Police, who have 2,000 fewer officers than in 2010, could still have their hardest days ahead.
I was first elected to office more than 50 years ago and in that time I have never been so concerned about the future of our young people.
I would urge the new PCC to not only monitor and track the force and its response to serious violence, but to also work around the clock to tackle the causes of crime. They must reach out to communities, help young people understand the importance of the choices they make and successfully rehabilitate offenders.
Of course to do this they will need a government who also wants to prevent crime. A government which builds bridges with communities and young people, not just prisons to lock them up in. We need a government that understands that a stitch in time saves nine. A government prepared to invest in education, so our young people can catch up on the time lost during the pandemic. A government that delivers jobs for all. A government who believes everyone has the right to walk the streets without fear of violence.
I’m afraid, at the moment, we don’t have this.
However, I can promise the new Police and Crime Commissioner one thing. They have behind them a team of police officers and staff who are the very best. A group of men and women who are increasingly looking like the diverse group of people they serve in the West Midlands. More needs to be done on this issue and that is why I have set the Chief Constable a target of recruiting 1,000 people from under-represented communities.
Thanks to a wide ranging efficiency programme the force has been recognised by Her Majesty’s Inspectors as one the most efficient in the country. It means more time on the streets tackling crime. The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner will support them too. Day and night. However uncertain the road ahead might be, I can guarantee that with the support of the hard working men and women in their office and at West Midlands Police, no challenge is unsurmountable.
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