When I wrote about the threatening atmosphere ( Northampton Town Centre – Why Risk It?) we experienced in Northampton on the 23rd January I expected some reaction and certainly wasn’t disappointed or surprised.
I wasn’t disappointed that a number of people agreed with my views and said they rarely went into town even during the day not only because of the poor shopping offer but in the evening because they didn’t feel safe.
I wasn’t surprised Northampton Conservatives cried foul and pursued a vitriolic approach in its condemnation of what I had written.
Their censure was based on their bitter and deep-seated feeling that I had ‘rigged’ or taken the UKCrimeStats.com – Northamptonshire Police data for recorded violent crimes and robberies out of context.
They claimed that I was wrong and that because of theirs and the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioners actions and policies the Town Centre was safer now than four years ago.
Their criticism was based on an anger that I was talking the ‘town down’ for political reasons, that it was all nonsense and that the number of visitors to Northampton in the last four years under the Leadership of Cllr David Mackintosh had increased by hundreds of thousands which was proof of their success.
Footfall in the Northampton Town Centre is an issue that will perhaps be the subject of another MackCon Blog.
Given the coordinated structure of the criticism I doubt if the vitriol and abuse from the Northampton Conservatives was from individuals acting on their own initiative.
As many who have tried will confirm it is difficult if not impossible to argue with people who are so convinced even in the face of the evidence that they are right.
It appears the Northampton Conservatives have their own version of reality when it comes to the level of violent crime and robberies recorded as having taken place in Northampton, a version that is dictated by the Leader of the Council.
The fact is that over the past three years we have been constantly told that Northampton is improving, and that it has seen a remarkable fall in crime and especially violent crime due to the successful policies of the Borough Council and the Police and Crime Commissioner.
Local reporting and evidence from the UK Crime Statistics don’t support such claims though I admit the recent revelations that some police forces have been under-recording crime calls into question the validity and reliability of any of the information.
And again I reiterate that I in no way criticise the professionalism and commitment of the Northamptonshire Police who have to work within a politically motivated policy and funding framework not of their choosing or design.
I should say I have found it somewhat amusing that the Northampton Conservatives have criticised me for using stories reported in the local weekly newspaper as examples of recent reported and presumably recorded crimes and more so when you consider that the Police and Crime Commissioner has recruited a good portion of who used to be Chronicle and Echo staff
Staff I have to say who are not only excellent reporters but who when they were employed by the Chronicle and Echo proved to be first class investigative journalists who didn’t always take at face value without question what they were told.
Even Cllr Mackintosh and his friends must surely acknowledge that the media team at Wootton Hall have an inside knowledge of the expectations and requirements of the Johnston Press’ and have tailored releases appropriately.
So it’s very clear that there are two sides of this issue,
My concerns and claims, supported by the Northamptonshire Police crime statistics, that violent crime and robberies has increased and certainly hasn’t fallen as claimed by the Northampton Conservatives by over 30% in the past three years,
and their version that what I was saying was nonsense which basically supports the Cllr Mackintosh mantra, “Trust Us, Northampton Has Never Been Safer”.
Fast forward a week, and how frustrating it must have been for the Conservatives and Cllr Mackintosh to hear that the police have felt the need to announce what they called ‘intensive patrolling by the force’ in Northampton Town Centre where the highest number of violent crime is taking place.
The argument that a violent crime which results in a serious injury should be viewed differently to one that leads to minor injuries is nonsense because what to one person is a minor injury to another is a serious and especially the psychological impact on an individual who has been subjected to violence or the threat of violence.
Interestingly the Conservative friends of Cllr Mackintosh also seem to have ignored their own Borough Council performance statistics which stated that there had been a 25.1% increase in violence related offences.
I’m pleased that the police action in the past week has been a success but it still begs the question why the PCC who based his election on promises to reduce violent crime by 50% has left the police under-resourced to achieve his aims.
I find it patronising for him to say he has told the police there has to be a Zero Tolerance attitude to violence inferring by such statements that the police needed telling.
As it happens I know a lot of serving police officers working in Northampton and can only say they are only to well aware of the dangers of violence on the streets and don’t need a professional politician telling them to take a Zero Tolerance approach.
The police are not to blame for the lack of officers available to protect the public but it does beg the question just how safe is Northampton Town Centre?
And why now after almost four years have Cllr Mackintosh and Mr Simmonds decided to take action?
Could it be that having been found to have failed with increasing not decreasing violent crime and having spurned an opportunity in the face of all of the evidence to reduce violent crime in the town centre they feel they had to do something?
The opportunity to reduce incidents came from a trial carried out in 2011 when Bridge Street was closed over the weekend from Friday night to Monday morning.
There is no doubt that where you have large numbers of young people under the influence of alcohol jostling each other in a confined space such as when queuing to get into a night club violence is more likely to take place.
Allowing young people to ‘ spread out’ and use the whole of Bridge Street over the weekends for the three-month trial period saw a fall of almost 40% in the number of violent incidents.
As the Leader of the Borough Council at the time I shared and supported the view of the Police and the Northampton Borough Council Community Safety Team to recommend the permanent closure of Bridge Street to traffic over the weekend.
Sadly it was a County Council decision whether to issue and implement a traffic order to close Bridge Street and the County Council Cabinet which included Cllr Mackintosh who also incidentally sat on the Northampton Community Safety Board and was aware of the evidence decided to ignore it and reject the recommendation.
Guess who was the policy advisor to the County Council Cabinet at the time?
Rather than criticise those of us who have been very consistent on the importance of supporting the police and reducing crime by working to prevent the next victim the Northampton Conservatives should perhaps accept responsibility for the decision they have made which has turned the town centre into a place where people feel threatened.
They could start by challenging and asking for an explanation from Cllr Mackintosh and the PCC Adam Simmonds why they have broken their promises.
Promises such as not cutting police numbers and then cutting them from 130 Constables to 69, Sergeants 28 to 18 and PCSOs 127 to 122 between November 2012 and November 2014.
Promises like reducing the back room costs of policing and then increasing the ‘office staff’ cost by almost £1 million, including
Promises by Councillor Mackintosh to support the police and then as a Cabinet Member on the County Council, and on becoming Leader of the Borough Council immediately cutting police funding by over £500,000.
How many front line police staff would £1.5 million a year pay for, and how much safer would Northampton be as a result?
It was the Conservative Leader of the Council, again wearing his other hat at County, who agreed to the cuts in street-lighting across the Borough addicting to the fear of crime amongst the public.
Is it any wonder that large numbers of people and their families feel unsafe and have therefore chosen not to risk coming into Northampton at night and why should anyone trust anything they say given their record of failing to support the police.
When will the PCC and Leader of the Borough Council recognise and take steps to repair the damage their actions and policies has created.
They won’t of course accept responsibility which is why I am a supporter of scrapping the post of Police and Crime Commissioner and replacing it with a panel of independent individuals and elected councillors.
I’ve no doubt that some of the Conservative Councillors who have so vehemently criticised me for raising the issue of increasing violence in the town centre will already be jostling for a place on a future police and crime panel as an opportunity to collect another ‘fat cheque’.
My solution to that is simple.
Councillors who sit on a future police and crime panels or whatever replaces the PCC should receive no allowances for doing so,
After all they already collect Councillor Allowances so why should the tax payer pay them twice to do a role they are elected to undertake, namely the protection of the public.
As a slight digression and admittedly its conjecture,
Would it be at all surprising to anyone in Northampton when the PCC post is deleted to find Adam Simmonds return to a highly paid post with NCC advising the Conservatives or a job in Conservative Central Office?
The reality for all of us is that the Northampton Town Centre is perceived by the public as being far less safe than when Cllr Mackintosh and Adam Simmonds came into post and no matter how much spin they use people know from their own experience when they are being conned.
So Councillor Mackintosh “Who exactly did you say cannot be trusted”?
To all of those Northampton Conservatives who continue to embarrass themselves by claiming they have made the town safer, all I can say is,
“You may be happy to ignore the embarrassment you have brought on yourself but you have disgraced and failed the rest of us”.