Rt Hon Alun Michael is the Labour & Co-operative Police and Crime Commissioner for South Wales. At today's Unleashing Community Power conference, he explores what a co-operative approach to safer communities looks like in practice.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it also takes time to build safe and confident communities. We need a long-term approach which is at once impatient for change but prepared to tackle the serious underlying long-term inter-generational problems that have caused the crime, disorder and anti-social behaviour that plague our communities today.

To succeed, we have to apply two key principles:

  • The first is “Partnership and Co-operation. No one agency or profession can succeed alone, and it really is true to say that “by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone”.
  • The second is a Public Health approach to crime and anti-social behaviour.  Unless you take a clinical approach to understanding causes you will be applying sticking plaster to gaping wounds – and it takes systematic incremental work to make a real difference.

Tory austerity

The devastating effects of Tory austerity on our local communities has seen in Wales our block grant from Westminster cut by £5bn.

Across the UK we’ve seen the Tories cut the Police grant by a third since Theresa May became Home Secretary. When we hear the current Home Secretary Sajid Javid that he wants 20,000 extra police, it shows you how out of touch Conservative Ministers are with communities across the UK.

The police are superb at responding to the immediate, but they are under enormous pressure because of the disaster that is Tory austerity. The only way to end it is to elect a Labour & Co-operative Government committed to the traditions and values of the Co-operative movement, but in the meantime Police & Crime Commissioners have to work with the reality of today – and that’s why the elections next May are so important.  We are the bulwark for our communities against the risks and damage of Austerity.

We can’t arrest our way out of this

With demand increasing, and becoming ever more complex, you’ll often hear senior officers say that “we can’t arrest our way out of this” and they are right.

In South Wales officers at every level have a well-developed understanding of vulnerability, whether on the part of victims, those affected by domestic violence or exploitation, or on the part of offenders who are often both perpetrator and victim.  That hasn’t happened by accident.

It’s because co-operation and a public health approach aren’t soft options – they are the essentials if we are to be truly “tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime”.  And that’s why these are the two principles that I have been applying – with significant success – as a Police & Crime Commissioner and before that as a Youth Worker and then as a Labour Government Minister.

Understanding Partnerships

Co-operation was the underlying principle of the Community Safety Partnership approach that I introduced in the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act.  It requires the police and the council in every area to lead a partnership of all relevant agencies to first understand and then to tackle crime in their area – and in particular it established Youth Offending Teams which have been a great success story, along with the Youth Justice Board to provide oversight and “best practice”.  But overstretched councils and police teams have been forced to cut the staff and resources going into Community Safety and everybody has to “do more with less” – because those working in this field are highly committed and unwilling to give in.  That’s why I’m delighted to be working with Welsh Labour Ministers to refresh community safety.

It’s now 25 years since a surgeon – Professor Jonathan Shepherd – came to my surgery with a ground-breaking insight.  He described having two in-trays of operations to rebuild faces after injury – one of people injured in road traffic accidents and one of people injured through violence.  “The first is going down because of incremental changes over the past 50 years – seatbelts, breathalysers, better brakes, tyres, airbags, traffic calming……” he told me.  “The other is going up – so why can’t we take an incremental evidence-based approach to reducing violence?”

By bringing together the Council and the Police with Jon and his team, we started a process that is known as the Cardiff Model which has cut violence and harm in the night-time economy.  It’s not a story of overnight success but it IS a story of incremental improvement and safety for the public on the streets of our capital city.

Line of Duty

A few weeks ago a Minister talked in a speech about Line of Duty and afterwards I challenged him to give us a script that would enable us to make prevention equally exciting – because the fact is that the stuff of police drama is all about what the police have to do to respond when society as a whole and a raft of different agencies have failed to prevent bad stuff happening in the first place.  And the bad stuff grows and spreads incrementally too, like a plague, if we fail to recognise the trend and do things to apply public health solutions.

Joint public health approach

My best ally in my work is Public Health Wales, who published a stunning report that demonstrates that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) cause a range of bad outcomes later in life.  In one sense we’ve always known that – but the research went further and quantified the harm.  And if it’s too late to prevent ACEs happening we can at least act to ameliorate their impact – promoting health and safety instead of depending only on treatment and arrests.

So I was delighted to hear the Home Secretary “singing my tune” by calling for a public health approach to violence… but shocked when the Department for Health in England recently suggested removing the requirement on local health bodies to invest through a ring-fenced public health budget. Less investment by the NHS in a public health approach is crazy, and we need a joint public health approach which tackles underlying causes of bad health and social ills instead of confining that approach to disease or even cutting back. Labour Commissioners have together written to him asking that the proposal be withdrawn, and I’m pleased that my leadership takes placed in Wales where a Labour and Co-operative Health Minister, Vaughan Gething, would never take such a short-sighted approach.

Electing Labour and Co-operative Commissioners can make the difference by creating and supporting Safe Confident Communities in your area – and prepare the ground for a Labour & Co-operative Government that can rebuild our country.

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Safer Stronger Communities
Read our current thoughts on what a co-operative agenda for community safety looks like for Councillors and Police and Crime Commissioners.