Mike Hill MP: The harsh facts of Government cuts impacting on policing in Hartlepool

Mike Hill, MP, with Hartlepool Chief Inspector Nigel Burrell and PCC Barry Coppinger.
Mike Hill, MP, with Hartlepool Chief Inspector Nigel Burrell and PCC Barry Coppinger.

Walking down Park Road last Monday on the way to the train station, I turned the corner at Titan House and almost got flattened by a cyclist.

I’ve noticed over a period of time that people on bicycles are regularly cycling on the pavements, completely ignoring red traffic lights at junctions and riding without lights.

At school I took my Cycling Proficiency test, as did everybody else and learnt to respect the Highway Code. Since when did that code say cyclists should use the pavements, putting pedestrians at risk?

Don’t get me wrong, I know that the majority of cyclists do ride safely and with due consideration to the public and other traffic, but dangerous cycling is becoming a growing trend. Back in the day they would have been firmly stopped from doing so by the police.

Which brings me to the main topic of this week’s column; policing our streets and looking after our neighbourhoods.

Last week the BBC broadcast a report which showed Cleveland police officers stretched to the limit as they tried to deal with a number of incidents across Hartlepool.

The report contained stark facts about the lack of police numbers on the ground and straight away hit a nerve throughout the country.

For the national press, who quickly picked the story up, Hartlepool became a lens through which underfunding of policing across England was focused.

We could have been any northern town for their purposes, struggling with ever increasing pressures with too few numbers, but of course, as usual, this was Hartlepool back in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Or was it? For once something in me says perhaps it was the right thing to do to let the nation know just how bad things have got here.

The film didn’t denigrate the town, our people or our hard working police officers and PCSOs; it didn’t even denigrate those who volunteer to walk the streets of Foggy Furze at night keeping an eye out for their neighbours.

On the contrary, it sparked a debate nationwide about police resources and the fact that the Government’s austerity agenda has seen the depletion of officer numbers up and down the UK. In Cleveland’s case that’s 500 officers in the last eight years and 50 PCSOs.

Unusually for a Chief Constable, Mike Veale from Cleveland Police has come out fighting.

He recognises the lack of Bobbies on the beat is a real issue and says, ‘It is absolutely right that local people expect safe streets and secure homes’.

He also says policing has become more much difficult; stretching resources even further through looking after children online and dealing with cyber crime but, as he also says, ‘These are complex issues and whilst simply crying austerity is not good enough, no one in policing today can claim it isn’t a factor’.

This week a woman was mugged whilst waiting for a bus by a cyclist.

Last week the Boys’ Brigade told me that a priority for them was safer streets; yes young people concerned for their safety and echoing the Hartlepool victim in the BBC film who had items stolen from his van.

Parliament’s Petitions Committee, of which I’m a member, has received a petition on the subject of van theft which has so far gathered 35,176 signatures – reflecting the fact that it’s a country wide issue.

I therefore support the plea to the Home Office made by the Chief Constable – give the police the tools and they will do the job.