Soho Residents' Update

The below has been taken from the spring 2019 issue of The Soho Clarion 

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The all too brief oasis of calm that was the Christmas break is now a regrettably distant speck in the memory. The Brexit debate is again front and centre, picking up where it left off in December and finding ever more creative ways to wrong-foot MPs on both sides of the House. The unpredictability of modern politics will quickly make a fool of anyone unwise enough to forecast the possible permutations of our departure from the EU, so you will forgive me for sparing myself the near-certain embarrassment of speculating on events that I am sure will have long since moved on by the time this edition goes to print!

Away from the daily whirlwind of Westminster, readers will recall that in my last contribution to the Clarion I paid particular attention to the troubling crime issues we are facing in pockets of the city – not least Soho – and promised to keep everyone updated with any developments that arose.

Following our letters to the Met’s Commissioner, in which we stressed the urgent need to arrest and reverse the city’s worrying increase in drug and rough sleeping-related anti-social behaviour, I and our Council leader secured assurances from the Commissioner that she is taking a personal interest in these complex problems, particularly in the West End. Ongoing close collaboration between the Council and Westminster’s chief superintendent was also promised, as well as local intelligence sharing in partnership with Soho’s businesses and residents’ groups.

Of course, for the police to be as effective as possible it needs to be properly resourced, which is why in the months leading up to December’s police funding announcement I wrote to the Policing Minister and met with the Prime Minister to make the case for an enhanced funding settlement for the Met. Pleasingly, an additional £172 million has now been made available for 2019/20, which reflects the unique crime pressures faced here in the capital.

Though important, more funding alone will not solve the problems we see on our streets and it is up to the Commissioner and the Mayor of London to decide how resources and frontline police are best deployed. The Met acknowledges that it will not be able to meet the challenges of policing a global city like London without significantly changing how it manages it resources. Accordingly, it has taken the decision to streamline its 32 borough-based policing models into 12 Basic Command Units (BCU); the hope being that this will provide greater resourcing flexibility while also reducing demand for its services.

Consequentially, the issues we are seeing in Soho, and the city as a whole, are set against a backdrop of significant transition for the Met. By the time this has gone to print, the merging of Westminster’s, Kensington & Chelsea’s and Hammersmith & Fulham’s three policing models into the Central West BCU will have ‘gone live’, and this was the main topic of conversation when I met with chief inspector Andy Brittain in the middle of January.

A significant concern of mine about the merger not easily assuaged is that we will have 243 fewer officers across all three boroughs as a result of the consolidation, at a time when we want to see more police out patrolling our streets on foot. Central West has successfully argued for extra Dedicated Ward Officers in the West End, which is welcomed given the importance of community-focused policing. Nevertheless, the fact remains that once the BCU is in operation the West End’s daytime policing teams will see a significant reduction in officer numbers, which is troubling when one considers just how large a demand generator the area is.

Likewise, I was particularly interested to know the Met’s plan for dealing with the West End’s night-time economy – so vital to Soho – and Chief inspector Brittain was quick to reassure me that we would see an increase on the police numbers that the Met was able to provide during the prior period of transition, and that these officers will be dedicated to patrolling the West End on foot. Will this be substantial enough to also cope with the significant residential population too? Time will tell.

It has been readily accepted by the Met that this project will be very difficult. Being the last group of boroughs to undergo this merger has meant that Central West is beneficiary of all the lessons learnt from previous experiences and hopefully means we avoid many of teething problems that beset other BCUs. There will also be a minimum 3 – 6 month period of  ‘stabilisation’ from when Central West becomes operational, which will entail close monitoring of performance indicators and the offer of additional support until the BCU consistently performs to expectations.

Chief inspector Brittain assured me that a very close eye will be kept on the crime situation around the West End and that his commitment to keeping the area safe is shared just as strongly by the Met hierarchy. This is commendable and I am extremely grateful to the chief inspector for making himself available to address any persisting concerns that I receive in the months after going ‘live’. However, when public safety is at stake, commitments and public meetings alone will not be enough. What is important at this critical time is that the police deliver results for the residents and businesses of Soho, and I will been watching its performance with great interest indeed.

Of course, I am always keen to work closely with residents and can only do so effectively when I know about the issues affecting their lives, so please never hesitate to get in touch to share your thoughts with my team and me via fieldm@parliament.uk .