Although 853 have beaten me to write up the exchange I had with Labour Cabinet Member Cllr J Smith at last week’s Council meeting, I think the substance of the debate and my reflections on the various meeting I attended with City Hall representatives deserve a fuller review.
Firstly, let’s be absolutely clear that the failure of the Council to oppose the closure of Eltham Police Station is a disgraceful dereliction of duty. In fact I think it is worth going further and pointing out that the Labour Councillors simply failed to engage with the process – not a single one attended the formal consultation meeting or seems to have signed a letter objecting to the closure. Quite simply when Labour Councillors moan that crime is rising, it is now important to remember that it will be rising in Eltham because they failed to argue for our police station to stay open.
As a backbench Councillor I do not have access to the Officer support or in-depth data which any Labour Cabinet Member would have, but still I produced a longer, more focused letter of response than the Chief Executive of Greenwich Council. In fact, my letter of objection on behalf of Eltham residents was sent early enough that the Deputy Mayor for Crime and Policing for the whole of London Sophie Linden actually invited me to a meeting to discuss my objections. Given the Council response was submitted on the day before the deadline there was no chance of a similar meeting for the whole Borough, although it is hard to see why it would have been necessary given the Council’s broad agreement with the Mayor’s policy.
Please do compare the two letters as I think it is instructive about how much thought Greenwich Council’s ruling Labour Party put into their response.
The Council’s response to the Mayor of London’s plans: Response to Public Access and Engagement consultation
My response to the Mayor of London’s plans: Eltham Police Station response SD
The Council’s response (as there does not appear to be a Labour one at all) has been signed off by the Chief Executive and broadly just expresses some mild concern over the Mayor’s plans. In fact, I think it is worth considering the implications of Cllr Smith’s comments as quoted in the 853 blog:
“Are we going to lecture the police and the Mayor of London on how they manage their budget cuts? No we’re not.”
In which case, what is the point in responding at all? In fact the Mayor of London simply has to be challenged as the figures in the consultation document are opaque, of dubious origin and in one meeting I was told when I challenged the numbers provided for visits to police stations that the decision was not all about the numbers, as apparently they were only part of the decision. So although I had proved that Eltham Police Station was as busy if not busier than other nearby police stations that were to be kept open this did not matter to the Mayor of London.
Why is Eltham Police Station closing?
From the two consultation meetings I attended it became quite clear that in fact the decision to sell-off Eltham Police Station (and the other sites) was to allow the Mayor to fund a better computer system for the police, iPads and body cameras. So, Londoners are selling an asset which can only be realised once (through its sale) to provide IT equipment which will invariably need replacing in a few years time. When I raised this I was told not to worry, they had struck a deal! What does that mean? Have they managed to avoid all the basic problems of selling capital assets to raise money for a revenue costs – no, they have not and it feels to me like the Mayor of London is taking a decision which will work in the short term (i.e. while he is in power) but in the long-term will be disastrous for residents and police services across London.
The future of policing in Eltham
So what is the Mayor of London’s (and by extension the Council’s) vision for policing in Eltham? Based on what I have heard it is this:
- No police station but hopefully Police Officers with an operating base to store their equipment at the Eltham Centre. This relies on the Council (or GLL who run the building) providing the space for free, otherwise the Officers will be based in Plumstead and have to come to Eltham on the bus each day.
- No way of reporting crimes except by phone or online. At the Eltham consultation meeting the Borough Commander explained how to use the 101 phone line to report crimes but was met with a barrage of complaints about how no one ever answers it. Similarly online reporting suffered from lack of response and I assume Officers will be sitting in the Eltham Centre answering emails on their iPads.
- Almost no police presence in communities or investigation of crimes. This is a leap, but it felt to me like what we were discussing was the withdrawal of the police from our community and the fact that they would only investigate the most serious crimes. It was a seriously worrying vision for policing in Eltham.
So what should the Council do?
For me it is quite clear that accepting Mayor Khan’s vision of policing across London generally and in Eltham in particular would be a mistake. The Council has to question, challenge and ensure that we get the best deal for Eltham.
Given the scenarios ahead and the fact the Council has money to invest in capital projects I would like to see them purchase Eltham Police Station so that it can be available for the Metropolitan Police to buy back when they realise that this whole plan is a massive mistake which residents don’t want. The Eltham Police could then have the ground floor of this building and retain a front counter if they wanted while the Council could use the offices upstairs for their functions, to rent out to start-up businesses (maybe using contacts from the Greenwich Enterprise Board based in the Orangery) or in some other way to contribute to maintenance costs.
Dermot Poston, who was on the Council most of the time from 1969 to 2014, told me once that local government went through cycles and he had seen Education departments created, replaced by Children’s Services, back to Education and then returned to Children’s Services over the years. This sell off of police stations has a similar feel to me – the vast majority of residents want police officers based in their local communities and someone to speak to face to face so we will want police stations again in the future. The Council needs to intervene to preserve Eltham Police Station for the future when another Mayor (or a second term Mayor Khan) realises the error they have made and wants to re-open front counters for residents to speak personally to the people who police our communities.
To add your name to the petiton started by Cllr Charlie Davis opposing the closure of Eltham Police Station please go to: https://www.change.org/p/save-eltham-police-station
A resident has contacted me to let me know that my predictions of a less present police force are already a plan and pointed out that the new Crime Assessment Policy changes to the way victims’ reports of a crime are assessed. These changes are expected to see 150,000 fewer offences being investigated each year. The new guidelines say:
- BURGLARIES should only be probed if culprits have used violence or tricked their way in;
- CRIMES involving a loss of under £50 should not be investigated unless there is an identified suspect;
- OFFICERS need not probe low-level incidents of grievous bodily harm or car crime unless there is an identifiable suspect;
- CCTV should only be analysed if the crime occurs in a 20-minute time frame and sharp images showing a suspect can be collected immediately.
You can see more here: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/4690869/cops-to-stop-probing-hundreds-of-thousands-of-crimes-to-400m/.
Other links you might want to consider with regard to the Mayor of London’s policy on the police include: http://glaconservatives.co.uk/news/mayor-ditches-police-numbers-target-weeks-after-raising-council-tax/