Southwark Council says it can’t fund more police officers on our streets – despite calls to help our beleaguered safer neighbourhood teams.
Back in April, the Lib Dem’s manifesto pledged an extra two million pounds of police funding from the council’s own budget, matched by the Mayor of London, if they won May’s local elections, following the example of other cash-strapped forces looking for funding outside the usual central government grants.
Last year, Southwark lost on average a police officer every week and, since then, Southwark has seen a crime wave of serious youth violence and gang-related shootings and stabbings.
As the News has reported, the community-based police officers responsible for building up long-term relationships with people living and working in their patch are under more pressure than ever.
A merger with the Lambeth Police force, officers being moved on after less than a year in post, and a series of high-profile critical incidents across London have all taken these officers away from the relationship-building work needed to not only tackle crime, but prevent it.
The chair of Camberwell Green’s Safer Neighbourhood Ward Panel, Mark Webb, is backing calls for council to reconsider its stance on directly funding the police, whose budget usually comes from central government.
He claims other councils ‘the length and breadth of the country manage to do it with ease’, telling the News: “Tower Hamlets Council fund many of their police officers (39 at the last count).
“There’s 1,100 police and community support officers being funded in England by residents, schools, councils and shopping centres. Thirty-four parish councils fund police officers.
“West Yorkshire Police have 132 police officers and 450 PCSO’s on their force who are council funded.
“Kent Police have 51 officers all council funded. Avon & Somerset 50. Lancashire; 141. Cheshire; 120. Blue Water Shopping Centre in Kent: a team of 11.
“Can’t Southwark Council fund Police Officers in Camberwell, Walworth and Peckham?
“Other councils the length and breath of the country manage to do it with ease. Why can’t Southwark do the same?”
Southwark Liberal Democrat leader Anood Al-Samerai said: “Southwark loses a police officer every week, even as crime goes up.
“The Labour-run council say they’re powerless to do anything about this, but they’re not.
“Southwark Liberal Democrats have shown that the council can, and should, fund extra police officers.
“Independent council officers have accepted our plans to pay for them in full, without affecting other front-line services.
“Labour are always able to find money for their pet-projects, whether it’s a million-pound gift to the Tate, a big team of spin-doctors to make them look good, or to give their councillors lavish ‘golden goodbyes’ when they stop doing their job.
“It’s about priorities and Labour have the wrong ones.”
Southwark Council’s Evelyn Akoto, cabinet member for community safety and public health said: “The responsibility for funding the police properly lies with the Government, but the Lib Dems want to put the blame on the council so they get off the hook for having made the cuts in the first place.
“We’ve been fighting police cuts for eight years, unlike the Lib Dems who were happy to prop up the Tory Government when it was slashing police budgets and making our communities less safe.
“The Lib Dems need to face up to reality: complex problems like knife crime and youth violence won’t be solved by the council paying for a few more police officers.
“Instead of attacking the council, the Lib Dems should back the work that we’re doing to make our borough a safer place.
“We are already funding additional police officers for Southwark through the Met Patrol Plus scheme.
“This includes a joint enforcement team focusing on the night time economy that sees police officers working alongside council enforcement officers to get the best outcomes for residents and businesses in Southwark.
“We’ll continue to review our use of the Met Patrol Plus scheme, but we as face a ninth consecutive year of cuts from central Government, we can’t pour more and more money we don’t have into funding the police.”
In response to a request by the News to comment on whether extra funding could be made available to fund more officers in Southwark, deputy mayor for policing and crime, Sophie Linden, said: “Neighbourhood police are our local eyes and ears and are vital to keeping Southwark safe, improving public trust and confidence in our police service.
“That is why Sadiq delivered on a pledge for at least two dedicated PCs and a dedicated police community support officer, which are now in place in every London neighbourhood.
“While this is an increase on what the mayor inherited, we are clear that we desperately need more neighbourhood police and proactive teams to target offenders in Southwark and right across the capital.
“The stark reality is that the government has enforced £1 billion of savings on the Metropolitan police that has led to officer numbers dipping below 30,000 for the first time in more than a decade.
“Despite what Theresa May says, we cannot do more with less and it’s time she realised that cuts really do have consequences.”