Britain’s justice minister has told how he sympathises with Lancashire Police chiefs struggling to stem a rise in crime after swingeing cuts to staff – but said they needed to adapt to the conditions.
Chris Grayling was speaking on a visit to Blackpool to see two community projects which aim to increase the use of restorative justice and help prisoners adjust to productive lives back in society.
Asked about recent crime figures, reported in The Gazette, which show crime up three per cent in Blackpool, six per cent up in Fylde and 10 per cent in Wyre in the past year, he said he understood that the county force was facing huge challenges.
He said: “None of us came into politics wanting to face the financial challenges we have had over the past years, but that is the reality and we have had to make cuts.
“There are many parts of the country showing it is possible to run the force well with fewer staff. It is a challenge but they have to adapt and use innovative, new ways of working.
“We have fewer people working in the police than five years ago but overall in the country crime is falling.”
Lancashire Police has already slashed £54m from its budget since 2011 because of central funding cuts, with a further £20 of savings to come.
Since 2009, almost 700 police officer posts have gone, with the threat more will go.
The minister and Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard visited the Redeeming Our Communities (ROC) project at All Saints Anchorsholme to see its work in restorative justice.
Restorative justice is where perpetrators of minor offences are brought together with victims to make amends, instead of a prosecution, and where police, voluntary groups and churches work together to improve the community.
He then went on to Blackpool to see the work at WoodHub, where carers can come in for respite from home and prisoners gain joinery skills working for Blackpool Carers Centre’s project to restore and make new furniture to sell in its shops. He said: “These are excellent projects. The WoodHub gives prisoners in the last weeks of their sentence important opportunities to learn skills and integrate. I was also impressed with the ROC project looking at the restorative justice approach which may be better in many cases for minor crimes than going down the prosecution route.
MP Mr Maynard said: “These schemes tick so many boxes for helping carers – we are the carer capital of Britain with the highest number of people with long term health issues – and helping social cohesion and tackling crime.
“They are both innovative new projects and both deserve highlighting.”
Michelle Smith, chief executive at Blackpool Carers Centre, said: “It was good to have the minister come to see the work we do here.”