CHANCELLOR Philip Hammond says that it is “not his job” to tell the police what to do. His breathtaking arrogance – in the face of calls for more funding for police forces in the Spring Statement on Wednesday – will be of no comfort to those who find themselves the victims of crime.
It will bring no reassurance to my friend, who’s a shop assistant in our local supermarket. Only a few weeks ago she was caught up in a robbery at work. Men jumped out of a car wielding weapons and ambushed the security personnel who deliver and pick up cash.
This was at around 2pm in the afternoon. Minutes later my elderly father pulled up in the car park and went to the Post Office next door, and an hour later I met my teenage daughter and her friend at the same spot. It pays not to use your imagination in situations like this.
But these are our daily lives and once unthinkable incidents are, frankly, becoming frighteningly commonplace. The same day as the supermarket robbery, the shop assistants in a local general store were held at knifepoint.
Then last week, most heartbreakingly of all, another friend had her car broken into overnight on her own drive. Ignoring the small change in dashboard, the thieves made off with the dance class gear belonging to her daughters.
In the scheme of things, this may not sound that important, but these two young girls, both hugely promising dancers, are traumatised. Their parents must now find around £400 to replace everything which was lost. And poignantly, somehow find a way to restore the youngest’s precious collection of unicorns, which were taken along with the ballet shoes, tap shoes, tights and leotards.
This is not the Wild West. This is Barnsley. Although I’m the first to admit that we’re a town not without its problems, it is still largely a respectable and hard-working place.
Everything I’ve told you about has happened in neighbourhoods which are hardly grand or affluent. These are not crimes targeted at rich people in fancy houses driving top-of-the-range cars. These are ordinary men, women and families. Neither are they especially deprived areas, just streets and roads and estates as you would find in any other town, anywhere across the North of England.
Without sounding too dramatic, it’s beginning to feel as if we are being attacked from within. And I’ve never felt like that before in my life, even when I lived alone in the middle of London in the 1990s.
This is what Mr Hammond is failing to grasp with his high-handed insistence that police forces must not expect any addition to their existing budgets.
Brexit was always going to overshadow this Spring Statement, but the terrifying rise in murderous knife crime alone in the last 12 months has pushed police resources and how they are deployed to the front of the agenda.
However, in a recent interview with the radio station LBC, he said police commissioners and chief constables across the country simply needed to divert resources from “lower priority areas of policing” in order to tackle serious crimes, including knife crime.
He also left listeners puzzling – and senior officers fuming – with his cryptic cliché: “If your house is on fire, you stop painting it and you go and get a bucket and start pouring water on the fire.”
This is of zero help whatsoever to police leaders, who must constantly do more with less. With forces already stretched to the limit, criminals take advantage, knowing that there is statistically less chance of being apprehended and brought to justice. And the public? Vulnerable and angry.
On that note, here’s my final – and very cautionary – tale. I also heard about the girl who had her puppy stolen from her garden, reportedly by people who intended to sell it and use the profit to buy drugs.
As the drama unfolded on social media, it became clear that the victim of the crime, and her friends, and family had no intention of calling the police, because they couldn’t see the point – a stolen puppy would hardly be high on their list of priorities just now. It appears however, that several neighbours joined forces and took matters into their own hands, shall we say.
The puppy was swiftly returned to its rightful owner. ‘All’s well that ends well,’ as cliché-fond Philip Hammond might say, but once again he would be hugely missing the point.
We are peering over the brink of a lawless society where criminals operate entirely to their own rules and ordinary people have no protection. Does he not see that his refusal to act on what police leaders tell him is making the crime and anti-social behaviour situation even worse? That’s not economics, it’s simple common sense. And responsible government.