For those of us who are busy implementing the government’s plans to improve community safety and bolster law and order, the current spat around our outstanding Home Secretary comes as a distraction to the business in hand. From the outset, I should make one thing clear: Priti Patel is not hard to work with.
Her messaging is clear, she has drive and energy, and she has imbued the law enforcement agencies with a sense of purpose and pace which is refreshing. And she delivers all that with a style which is open and engaging.
What a difference she is making. Already we have had the largest increase in Police funding in ten years. The Police Uplift Programme, expanding the Police Service in England and Wales by 20,000 officers over three years, is ahead of schedule and already making a tangible impact on the levels of crime on our streets. Burglary, theft and anti-social behaviour were all falling in our county before the COVID-19 pandemic hit; crime as a whole is now down. The performance of law enforcement agencies through the lockdown has been effective. The Police approach of engagement, explanation and encouragement before needing to enforce was endorsed by over 80% of our residents in our local surveys. And of course, the first lockdown was completely effective in reducing the number of deaths from the virus – to zero over the summer here – and protecting the NHS.
At the same time, the government has not forgotten those who are suffering through this extraordinary period. We have had additional funding to help the victims of domestic and sexual abuse, and have been able to support charities who may otherwise have struggled to continue to offer the help these victims rely on. The work we do to protect vulnerable children from being preyed on by gangs has gone on. I have been out with Priti myself to see first-hand how summer holiday clubs have reached out and cared for kids who would otherwise have been isolated and at risk.
Even during the pandemic, the Home Secretary has ensured we remain focused on dealing with major crime. Close working between the National Crime Agency and Policing delivered a successful operation which rolled up several drugs gangs in September and resulted in over 700 arrests. We have also been able to do more to prevent crime. The Home Office’s Safer Streets Fund launched in the spring has provided ways of making high crime areas more resilient and tougher for criminals.
A particular challenge which faces the Home Secretary is how to get a grip on the national law enforcement programmes run out of Whitehall. As is so often the case, the centrally run technology programmes are largely currently over budget and behind schedule. Priti very much has the support of policing agencies across the country in her efforts to pick this up and deliver value for money, and the new national boards which she has set up are already improving transparency and enabling us to prioritise.
The Home Office is one of the great departments of state. One of the government’s core commitments in last year’s elections was to improve community safety, through investment in and new powers for law enforcement. Moving the system so as to deliver that, requires great focus and energy. I can see how moving with the necessary pace and purpose may not be comfortable for those who are not in sympathy with those goals. I am, and I personally really enjoy working with Priti Patel.
Roger Hirst, Police, Fire & Crime Commissioner for Essex
Vice-Chair, Association of Police & Crime Commissioners