Thursday, 12 November 2009

Labour's answer to crime and disorder: less cash, but a new website

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending one of Brighton and Hove's most vibrant community meetings: the St James's Street Area Local Action Team.

Every month, residents, traders, local councillors, council officers and neighbourhood police gather to discuss ways to make the area safer - to find ways of working together reduce crime an anti-social behaviour in the area.

The packed agenda included heated discussions about cycling, whether or not to lock New Steine Gardens at night, the impact of Southern Gas's plan to close the street next year for weeks digging up the road, and the disturbance residents are suffering at the hands of those leaving the area's many pubs and bars late at night.

But I could scarcely believe my ears when a council officer informed the meeting that Brighton and Hove had been selected to take part in a new pilot scheme designed to improve community safety.

We were all invited to visit a new Home Office website and enter details of where we felt safe, and unsafe, and why.

It was explained that the information entered would be used by the Home Office and the council to help them better target resources - but that actually there weren't any new resources associated with the scheme at all, so it'll just be another tool for shifting around the cash that's already there.

Sussex's police chief Martin Richards has warned that we face cuts, effectively, of £35m -and that police officers might have to be laid off to make ends meet. Police stations could even face closure as the cuts bite.

Tory members of Sussex Police Authority have voted to make things even worse, by increasing savings: putting tax revenue in the bank 'for a rainy day' - in other words choosing to make the cuts even deeper, ignoring the rain streaming down the windows.

The council's community safety team is under intense financial pressure too. The Tory administration has pledged to make the lowest Council Tax rise in the city's history, just as the Government is, effectively, cutting the amount of money it gives us here in Brighton and Hove.

The City Council's budget for next is yet to be published, but there are bound to be cuts somewhere.

But we've got a new website to help us weather the storm of cuts. Great. What we need is more cash for neighbourhood policing: more community engagement, more uniformed patrols on the streets - and more neighbourhood empowerment. Not another chocolate teapot which will uselessly gather information residents have been giving the police and Council, to little avail, for years.

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