Monday night’s adjournment debate on ‘Policing in Devon and Cornwall’ was an opportunity to raise the exceptional challenges faced by Devon and Cornwall Police due to issues within the two counties relating to tourism, rurality and being a peninsula.
The debate was led by St Austell and Newquay MP Steve Double, who told Policing Minister Kit Malthouse he had discovered that his constituency had more overnight stays from visitors than any other. The force area is the largest geographically in England, its road network is mostly rural and it received less funding per head of population than other forces.
Alison Hernandez, Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, has been campaigning for more resources for her force to recognise a unique ‘summer surge’ of visitors to her force area. Last week she launched a new £500,000 fund as part of her Safe Summer Scheme to help combat alcohol related antisocial behaviour in 20 areas this summer, many of them popular with tourists.
She said the session, which was joined by several Devon and Cornwall MPs, meant the summer policing challenge faced by her force was now a matter of parliamentary record.
“I would like to thank Mr Double for leading this debate and it is great that the Force’s excellent work has been recognised as it finds innovative ways to cope with its annual influx of visitors. I am pleased that Mr Malthouse recognised the force’s hard work along with leadership from our Chief Constable, Shaun Sawyer. This is testament to the vital work the Force undertakes with partners, the relationship it has with the public and the community spirit in Devon and Cornwall,” she said.
“But I am pleased that he also acknowledged our unique challenges. The Government’s levelling up agenda is a great opportunity to recognise the challenges rural areas face particularly in the South West. Of course I welcome the extra 20,000 police officers that the Government has promised – 141 for Devon and Cornwall as part of the first phase this year – but it is vital that we receive a good share of the remaining 14,000 over the next couple of years.
“Devon and Cornwall experiences the highest level of domestic visitors in terms of overnight stays, second only to London when international tourists are included, with an estimated 45 million overnight stays. There is also the additional challenge of the Isles of Scilly – five inhabited islands, 25 miles off the mainland. Of course, we welcome visitors – our region relies on the hospitality industry heavily – but we must ensure our force is properly resourced to ensure we can keep our residents and additional visitors safe.
“I look forward to inviting Mr Malthouse and MPs to our peninsula in the Summer so they can see first hand the challenges we face.”
It is estimated that Devon and Cornwall experience a 10% rise in traffic between May and August with a 10% rise in reported accidents between May and July while overall recorded crime increases by 4-6% in May and June and 10% in July and August.
The force area is the largest in England, covering more than 4,000 square miles with 13,600 miles of road, the most in the country, 85% of which are rural. It also has more coastline than any other force.
During the debate, Mr Double said that the increase in officer numbers funded by the national uplift was welcome but further recruitment should be used to ensure residents of the force area were adequately policed.
“If we are truly to deliver on the Government’s levelling-up agenda across the board, we need rural areas such as Devon and Cornwall to get a better share of new police officers in future,” he said.
“An allocation model based on population, for instance, would provide a truer reflection of the universal service demands placed on policing, given that the vast majority of all emergency calls do not in fact result in a recorded crime, particularly if such calculations include the increase we face through tourism.”
Mr Double also spoke about the funding formula for policing and urged the Government to review how it allocates funding to rural forces.
“I would again draw the minister’s attention to the fact that funding for Devon and Cornwall Police is 9p per day less than the England and Wales average, and that when we factor in the adjustment to the population for tourist numbers, it is 13p per day,” he said.
“That situation needs to be addressed, so I seek confirmation from the minister that any future review of police funding will factor in these different elements and ensure that police funding better reflects the position on the ground and the challenges that the police force actually faces.”
Mr Malthouse paid tribute to the work of the force in dealing with the problems posed by an influx of visitors and the coronavirus epidemic and confirmed the intention to announce the next round of allocations from the national uplift programme later this month. He also gave personal thanks to Devon and Cornwall’s Deputy Chief Constable Paul Netherton for his national leadership in co-ordinating local responses to the pandemic through the network of Local Resilience Forums.
The Police and Crime Commissioner’s Councillor Advocate scheme, which connects local authority members to their neighbourhood policing teams and which has around 170 members across Devon and Cornwall, was singled out for praise during the debate by Totnes MP Anthony Mangnall.