EARLIER this year I visited several businesses in my childhood home of Birstall, all with a similarly heartbreaking story to tell.
A story of criminals targeting their businesses, in some cases repeatedly, and if there was nothing to steal they would simply wreak havoc, leaving thousands of pounds worth of damage in their wake.
We’ve since seen a similar pattern of repeated break-ins over a short period of time elsewhere in my constituency in the town of Batley, equally devastating in its impact.
Hard-working people who have put their hearts and souls into their businesses, only to see it torn asunder for the sake of a few hundred pounds. Often much less.
The devastation, anxiety and stress this causes is profound. Not to mention the erosion of confidence for prospective new businesses considering taking the plunge in these uncertain times.
Nor is it limited to just businesses.
All too often constituents contact my office, desperate for action to be taken against the nuisance bikers speeding past their homes at all hours, or the gangs of youths marauding around the estates doing exactly as they please.
I’ve even been told by people that they no longer feel safe in their own homes. No one should have to feel this way.
These are issues that are all too familiar across West Yorkshire and the nation, with colleagues often sharing remarkably similar tales from their constituencies.
I know the police and other local agencies work incredibly hard to tackle these crimes with the limited resources at their disposal.
But they’re fighting with one hand tied behind their back. West Yorkshire Police alone has lost £140m in central government funding since 2010. We’ve lost over 1,000 police officers in West Yorkshire since 2010, over 20,000 nationally.
As Theresa May prepares to leave Downing Street, this is what will form part of her legacy. A legacy of cuts the West Yorkshire Police Federation recently said has “brought the service to its knees”. The Conservatives cannot, with a straight face, claim to be the party of law and order any longer.
Even Home Secretary Sajid Javid – one of the few people with the power to put more police officers on our streets – said he’ll recruit thousands more officers if he becomes Prime Minister.
A paradoxical pledge, but a damming indictment of this Government’s record nonetheless.
That’s why I was pleased to lead a Westminster Hall debate this week where we detailed the impact that this dereliction of duty is having on our communities. I took no pleasure from doing so, but it was a conversation that we needed to have.
Between April 2018 and March 2019, we had 2,686 incidents of anti-social behaviour reported across Batley and Spen. Over 2,700 incidents of burglary, criminal damage or arson. Most worryingly of all, there was almost 4,500 reported incidents of violence and sexual offences.
Across the country, violent crime has more than doubled over the past five years to a record level. At the same time, charge rates for serious crimes have fallen dramatically as under-resourced police struggle to investigate.
Just a few weeks ago, I visited a local pub which had suffered a horrifying, violent raid. It was, of course, deeply traumatic for all involved. The landlord and landlady showed tremendous bravery in how they dealt with the aftermath, and I know they were overwhelmed by the outpouring of support locally.
What they now need to see is justice. We cannot allow a lack of resources get in the way of it being delivered.
All of this is not to say that my constituency, and the nation more widely, has suddenly become lawless. Thankfully, for the most part, people go about their lives without having to deal with the profound consequences of crime.
But it leaves a lasting mark on those who do. And it can also lead to anger. Anger at the police, the local authority, the courts and many more.
I share this anger, and choose to direct it towards the very people who’ve slashed the number of police on our streets, decimated youth services and cut local authorities to the bone.
The Tory government must be held to account on this terrible legacy.
I know that there’s no silver bullet to solve the deepening issues that blight many of our communities. We desperately need more resources, but I realise ploughing money into policing won’t miraculously solve all our problems. We need to be open to talking about crime and what solutions are out there, and I hope my debate this week will begin that conversation. Our ailing towns and communities simply can’t afford to wait for the Government to wake from its slumber.
Tracy Brabin is the Labour MP for Batley and Spen.