The Police and Crime Plan is an important document, it addresses the issues that matter to you and what Northumbria Police work to.
From October 2016 until the end of January 2017, I have been consulting with local residents about the refresh of the Police & Crime Plan, the document that sets out your priorities that Northumbria Police deliver. I have also been finding out your thoughts about police funding – as to deliver your priorities I have to ensure we have funding in place.
Throughout all meetings and online surveys, as in previous years, you have told me that neighbourhood policing is your priority – it’s mine too.
Central government budget cuts have continued to hit Northumbria police force hard. Since 2010, Northumbria has had to make £123.4m of cuts and efficiencies to manage the reductions imposed by government, this has resulted in the loss of over 600 police officers and over 1000 support staff. We have to plan for further savings of £31.7m over the next four years – that’s £155.1m in total to 2020/21. Tough decisions have been taken, and thanks to prudent financial planning, we have been able to recruit 173 police officers during 2016/17
The recruitment of police officers is what you have told me you want to see happen and that is what I have delivered. New police officers on our streets further delivers our commitment to neighbourhood policing.
When calculating the overall policing budget for Northumbria, the Government had anticipated that the police precept of the council tax would rise by £5 per year. There was no negotiation with government, if we wanted to maintain our vital neighbourhood policing services, we would have to accept this decision. Prudent financial planning and increased efficiency, combined with this increase, which works out at about 1p per day increase for most homes, has allowed us to protect the services that matter to you the most.
As well as bringing in new officers to serve your community, we continue to train officers and work with partners to tackle new emerging crimes such as cybercrime and child sexual exploitation. Northumbria Police will continue to invest in technology to tackle those who try to commit cybercrime, often affecting older and vulnerable residents.
Throughout the year, like all other police forces, Northumbria has regular inspections by HMIC, these reports always show Northumbria’s commitment to the communities we serve – this will never change. Where there are recommendations we build upon them to ensure an even better service.
The extra money generated through the police precept will fund the priorities that you have set out in the Police & Crime Plan, which you can read about further on in this newsletter.
At the beginning of January, I joined police and crime commissioners across the country calling on Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to scrap the fee charged to domestic abuse victims seeking legal aid.
Due to recent legislation changes, domestic abuse victims now have to apply for legal aid. However to qualify for support they need to provide specific evidence to prove that they have been subjected to such abuse. One of the accepted forms of evidence is a letter from a GP – a letter that some GPs are charging fees to provide.
The concerns raised by Deputy Labour Leader Tom Watson’s “scrap the fee” campaign have been echoed by a group of 16 Labour PCCs, including myself, who have added our names to the letter to Jeremy Hunt and Justice Secretary, Liz Truss.
This fee must be abolished – it’s as simple as that. I’m completely committed to ensuring victims of domestic abuse have the support they need and find it appalling they must pay to prove they have been a victim to be eligible for legal aid. It is often the case that victims flee with very few personal belongings and many have limited access to funds. Without legal aid some victims simply cannot afford court proceedings against their perpetrator. It’s vital that nothing stands in the way of justice for these victims.
In Northumbria, we have also been working with Council Leaders to support this issue.
Deputy Labour Leader Tom Watson showed his appreciation to PCCs by saying “I’m delighted that police and crime commissioners across the country have backed my scrap the fee campaign – I learned about the GP fee when I visited a centre for victims of domestic abuse in Wythenshawe. I couldn’t believe it”.
People suffering domestic abuse are already incredibly vulnerable. We should be taking action to help them, not demanding payment for a letter they need to access justice. Nearly half of women take no action as a result of not being able to apply for legal aid. That’s appalling. Help for victims of domestic violence should never come at a price”.
Not all GPs apply these charges, and the amounts being charged vary. But to ensure that victims receive a consistent, equitable, and fair service across the UK, the campaign is calling for the service to be provided under the NHS so the fees are abolished.