Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Tackling Crime in Esher & Walton

Last week a headline in the local paper ran: ‘Malicious youths hurl plant pots in Walton assault’. It was exactly the kind of mindless attack that is seized upon to demonstrate increasing anti-social behaviour, and declining order on our streets. But does it reflect the bigger picture across Esher and Walton?

The truth is that Esher and Walton has relatively low crime. But, there are some concerning trends. According to local statistics, violent attacks have doubled in Elmbridge since 2001, whilst harassment has trebled. Over the last year there have been spikes in property-related offences, which may be related to the recession. Bottom line: there is no cause for complacency.

Yet, tackling crime in the area has been made much more difficult, because Gordon Brown has choked funding for Surrey policing. Surrey Police Authority estimates a 39% reduction in their real term resources since 1997. When the council recently tried to make up some of the difference through council tax, it was capped by central government and ordered to repay the bills – it will cost a ludicrous £1.2 million to repay local taxpayers £1.6 million! So if crime has gone up in your neighbourhood, you know exactly who is responsible.

Funding aside, Britain is crying out for police reform. As Chief of Staff to Shadow Home and Justice Secretaries, over the past three years, I have helped build the Conservative police reform agenda. We need to cut the red-tape that ties officers to their desks, when the public want them on the street preventing crime and reassuring the community. Whitehall targets are another obstacle, warping law enforcement priorities. Fortunately, Surrey Chief Constable, Mark Rowley, has bucked the trend, promoting ‘a fundamental move away from target-driven policing towards a common sense approach, where officers can use their discretion to better serve local communities’. We also need to revise the health and safety rules that barred uniformed officers from rescuing ten-year old Jordon Lyons, as he drowned in a park pond trying to save his sister. No-one wants the police exposed to unnecessary risk, but the current health and safety culture just makes the police less healthy and the public less safe. The overall objective must be to cut out the over-weaning bureaucracy, and support dedicated police officers doing their job.

As important as police reform and law enforcement are, the rise in violence and anti-social behaviour in this country has also been fuelled by wider social problems. We need a clear and consistent approach to drugs – both law enforcement and rehabilitation. We need to do far more to support families staying together, parental discipline being the best check on anti-social behaviour. (It is staggering that the average couple is £12,000 better of each year, under Labour’s tax and welfare system, if they split up.) And we need to restore stronger discipline in the classroom.

So, it was a real breath of fresh air to visit the Sunbury and Walton Sea Cadets last week, as they drilled in preparation for Remembrance Sunday (see below).

The commanding officer, Lt Phil Hunter, and his team take youngsters from all over the area and teach them how to sail, canoe, cook and other life skills. The cadets are a charity run by dedicated volunteers. Lt Hunter demands strict discipline, smart dress and bans bad language. He encourages greater self-confidence by stretching the cadets. His team have accepted youngsters who were taking drugs, or on the brink of getting sucked into crime, and helped them turn their lives around.

We need wholesale police reform under a Conservative government, and a far more robust approach to law enforcement. But we also need to support parents and community groups - like the Sunbury and Walton cadets - instil ambition, self-esteem and pride in youngsters. As your candidate, this is just the kind of inspirational local charity I would support.


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