Row after Northumberland council chief says Government cuts were not to blame for drop in police numbers

The Conservative leader of Northumberland County Council has attracted criticism after suggesting Government cuts are not the reason for fewer bobbies on the beat.

Thursday, 7th November 2019, 2:07 pm
Updated Saturday, 9th November 2019, 9:12 am
Coun Peter Jackson (left) and Northumbria PCC Kim McGuinness (right)
Coun Peter Jackson (left) and Northumbria PCC Kim McGuinness (right)

There was disbelief from some at a full council meeting on November 6, as Coun Peter Jackson raised concerns about fewer police officers on the street, but claimed the force’s budget had not really changed in recent years.

There were raised eyebrows from Labour councillors at his comments, which came in response to a question from Coun Georgina Hill.

And the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Labour’s Kim McGuinness, reacted to say that it was ‘incredible’ that he was ‘trying to ignore the impact of his party’s decade-long experiment with austerity’.

Coun Hill, who came second when she stood as an independent in July’s PCC by-election, had asked if the council could do more to help ensure proper scrutiny of Northumbria Police.

Coun Jackson responded: “The short answer is yes, I do agree we should do more to hold Northumbria Police to account, but that’s not actually saying that we don’t do quite a lot already.”

He explained that he had made arrangements to have a face-to-face meeting with the new PCC and that there was daily partnership working between council and police officers alongside other opportunities, for example, police attending local area council meetings.

However, he continued: “Policing in Northumberland has become more of an issue, because we’re all finding more and more problems in the areas that we represent. I’ve heard some fairly bad stories of things that have happened across our county over the last year or so.

“A lot of it seems to boil down to the fact that we don’t have as many police officers on the beat in Northumberland. That brings me to the point of why we don’t have as many police officers on the beat.

“If you look at the published accounts of Northumbria Police over the last four or five years, you will find that their budget per year is not much different to what it was five years ago, so my question is why are we in Northumberland suffering from fewer police patrolling our streets and our rural highways?

“It’s a bit like what used to happen in this county council, we used to blame budget cuts for everything and now we don’t, we just plan things properly.

“Why on earth we have suffered in Northumberland in particular from this reduction in the number of police officers is beyond me, because the figures don’t show that should be necessary to run a police force.”

Responding to his comments the next day, PCC Kim McGuinness said: “It is incredible to see a Tory council leader trying to ignore the impact of his party’s decade-long experiment with austerity.

“The Government cut police numbers so badly that we lost more than 1,100 police officers from our ranks, it would be economically illiterate to say you want more police in rural areas but to then ignore the budget cuts that caused this.

“The Chief Constable himself told the public in an open letter last year that the force has lost more than £142million and that the police simply have fewer resources available to fight crime as a result of austerity.

“The public will have to make their own mind up over who they trust on this, the police on the frontline or a Tory in a council chamber.

“However, I welcome the chance to meet with Peter and set out what the force is doing in Northumberland and how we can all work together for the benefit of the residents of Northumberland and the wider force area.”

At the meeting, Coun Hill also raised concerns about the role of the Northumbria Police and Crime Panel, describing the last meeting, which she attended, as ’embarrassing’ in terms of any scrutiny, ‘probably because quite simply it was made up of Labour councillors who weren’t going to hold the Labour PCC to account or in fact if it had been the other way round – if it was predominantly Conservative and a Conservative PCC’.