Easter weekend was a tough one for knife and street crime in Eastbourne. Police were called to an incident in Seaside Road outside the Ali Baba kebab shop on Monday evening. A 42 years old woman was assaulted and taken to hospital. She received treatment for a knife slash to her face (April 22). On the same day a 15-year-old child was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder following a ‘deliberate’ traffic collision on Larkspur Drive in Shinewater on Saturday. A 23 years old motorcyclist was airlifted to hospital having sustained serious injuries including a stab wound. On the Friday night 19th April there was a robbery in Beatty Road, Langney Point when a man entered the Co-Op brandishing a weapon and demanding money from the staff.
It is poignant that these incidents were happening as the very first ‘Stephen Lawrence Day’ was being launched on 22nd April. This day was in celebration the life and legacy of Stephen Lawrence, who was killed 26 years earlier in a savage, racist knife attack at just 18 years old. Sussex Police had asked all their officers and staff to take five minutes during the day to reflect on Stephen’s murder. But clearly more than reflections are needed to combat the problems here. And, whereas the injection of 100 extra Sussex Police Community Support Officers into neighbourhood policing this year is welcome, it doesn’t go far enough. Let’s consider the bigger picture. The Tories have recklessly gambled with people’s safety by slashing our police services. Since 2010, the Tories (along with the Lib Dems in Coalition) have slashed billions in funding and cut tens of thousands of police right across the country. Across Sussex this amounts to 21,000 police officers slashed; 634 police officers slashed; and 162 police community support officers slashed. Such cuts translate into a rise in crime figures:-Weapons possession up 17%; Violence up 11%; Robbery up 3%.
So, rather than an increase in police resources, the Tories have actually taken thousands of bobbies off the beat leaving our communities exposed. Easter crime incidents in Eastbourne can testify to this. The Tories have broken their promise to protect the police front line.
Add to this their negligent lack of investment in our community services. Last August we saw the funding crisis hit East Sussex County Council. The Tories continue to make reductions in Local Authority Revenue Support Grant funding. This has led to the cutting of our vital public local services. ESCC were forced to restrict services to the most vulnerable residents only. Under its “core offer”, many of its services were set to be severely cut or shut down completely. And things don’t get better. In February the budget for 2019-20 was set by our cash-strapped council with a further £5.1m cuts from its services agreed. Going forward the council has warned that even with these savings it will still face a funding gap of £21m by April 2022.
So, with police cuts along with local services cuts, the Tories have created the ‘perfect storm’; the very conditions in which crime can thrive, leaving people in our communities more vulnerable to violence and harm.
What do our young people think about this? According to a recent poll our local youth are very concerned. Seventeen schools across the county took part in the Youth Parliament ‘Make Your Mark’ consultation. 12,000 total votes were cast. Eastbourne schools Cavendish, Ratton and Willingdon Community College were amongst those taking part. Knife crime was the top concern for these youth. Ending knife crime was their top priority.
And what are the local plans to address their concern? Sussex police and crime commissioner, Katy Bourne, tells us about her successful £900,000 Government’s Early Intervention Youth Funding bid to implement the REBOOT programme across the whole of Sussex. (The REBOOT programme follows a pilot in Hastings last year). PCSOs will play an integral role. The programme will offer a personalised, strengths-based, one-to-one support package for young people, who have been identified as being at risk of engaging in serious violence and gang behaviour. With the support of a Personal Coach, they will identify which Sussex activities would be most beneficial in helping them overcome some of the issues they face. But with such drastic funding cuts is it any wonder why local people are asking where the activities are for the young people? Do they exist? Conservative Katy Bourne may be pleased with her bid success but Eastbourne’s allocation of that bid is a mere £17,268.99. This won’t go very far.
Local people in some of our wards are telling us about the problems for young people. As we were out canvassing in Hampden Park recently, we were stopped by a concerned adult who told us there is just not enough for the youth to do. ‘They hang around the children’s playground in the evening and watch the drug dealers driving around in flash cars’ Some kids as young as 12 years old are being drawn into wanting the bite of that cherry.
And with little to do, perhaps some of the youth are left to ‘falling in with the wrong crowd’ and finding their fun in anti-social ways. We have the ongoing difficulties in the Old Town area with car vandalism and graffiti. This included, last year, the appalling racist slogans daubed on cars and front doors (think Stephen Lawrence Day). The Old Town Facebook Group thought it was young people. No evidence of course. And this Easter school holidays Tuesday (April 23), police were called out to two car fires in Oulton Close in Shinewater. Being treated a suspected arson. No evidence it was young people of course.
As the police grapple with rising knife crime, they have recently won nearly £100m extra funding for an emergency increase in the number of officers in the worst hit areas. But Police Federation Chair, John Apter, warned this amount was ‘nowhere near enough’. And, as Sara Thornton stepped down from 4 years tenure (in March) as chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, she said she was “worried we have crossed the boundary between being efficient and making cuts.” She said conditions in areas where there is gang-related drug violence had worsened in the last decade. “Undoubtedly [there is a] lack of infrastructure in the communities that [perpetrators] come from, whether that’s in terms of youth provision, whether it’s in terms of keeping them in school rather than putting them in pupil referral units, whether it’s about social care, whether it’s about a whole range of opportunities, [they] are just not there in the way they were 10 years ago.
Our police service needs to be properly funded. Our local youth services and our wider community and social services need to be properly funded. So, as a starter towards this, Labour in Government will 1) recruit 10,000 more police officers to work on community beats that’s equivalent to at least one more for every neighbourhood in the county; and 2) end the austerity cuts and properly invest in the services that our communities and young people needs. Our children deserve better than what 9 years of austerity has delivered. They have been abandoned to their own devices by an uncaring government. Margaret Thatcher once famously said there is no such thing as society. The decline in community cohesion is a direct consequence of policies based on this ideological fallacy. We need a change in government and we need it soon.