HYPOCRISY: Bring back extra PCSO funding say opposition councillors
Leeds Civic Hall
A senior Conservative Leeds city councillor has accused the authority of hypocrisy over its decision to cut its funding for police community support officers.
But the council’s ruling Labour group hit back, claiming the decision to cut £600,000 towards extra PCSOs in this year’s budget was down to a decade of funding cuts from Tory-controlled central Government.
The discussion took place in this month’s full Leeds City Council meeting, in which Conservative group leader Coun Andrew Carter put forward a motion calling on the authority to reinstate the funding.
But, while many councillors from smaller parties agreed that PCSO funding should be reinstated, they did not support the motion as it contained a paragraph about cracking down on protesters.
Coun Carter told the meeting: “We will push (the leader) a bit further on law and order and get him to reverse the cuts to PCSOs, and invest more in other areas of law and order.
“This white paper isn’t just about the reduction in funding for PCSOs, it is about much much more.”
He then produced a news story with the headline “Leeds restaurant moves due to shocking street violence”.
“That’s down on Kirkgate,” he said. “It goes onto say that they have seen two murders, lack of enforcement and lack of police presence.
“Of course, PCSOs alone won’t solve that.
“When you consider the fact that this council has a growth budget of around two and a half billion pounds, 600 and odd thousand pounds should be findable, especially when two thirds of that is what we spend on trade union conveners.
“On top of that, we have the city of culture, which is still soaking up millions of pounds.
“It is about combating this toxic atmosphere that is abroad, in public life at the moment. It is about combating hate speech, it is about making sure that our staff are safe from abuse, it is about elected members from all parties being properly protected.
“I am sure that we all agree on that.
“It is about all our communities feeling safe with what is relatively a small amount of money.
“It seems to me that it is impossible for you to continue to preach to putting more resources back into combating criminality, and then to reduce the number of PCSOs.”
Leeds City Council’s ruling Labour group announced in its February budget that it expected to save around £625,000 from the scrapping of the its subsidy for Police and Community Support Officers.
Last month’s spending review by Chancellor Rishi Sunak committed an extra £540m by 2025 to recruit the final 8,000 officers to meet the Government’s commitment to employ 20,000 additional police officers.
Coun Carter’s motion also took aim at protesters, claiming those using “extreme” methods cause disruption to the economy and to the public.
Proposing an amendment, Coun David Blackburn (Green) said: “There is lots within the motion I agree with, but the bits I can’t, I am amending.
“I remember around 30 years ago, myself and Coun John Illingworth and a number of people were involved in blocking Kirkstall Road during rush hour. I can see Coun Carter sending his police to arrest us.
“I don’t regard John as a terrorist, and I’m not one either.”
Coun Ann Blackburn (Green) added: “I know some of the protesters have been irritating a lot of people in other parts of the country by blocking roads. But at the end of the day, it is what they are protesting about.
“People have a right to protest, and I can’t go along with that paragraph.”
Coun Jonathan Bentley (Lib Dem) said: “We support this only up to a point. We certainly condemn the administration’s decision to axe the PCSO funding. I know the real life consequences of that from our residents.
“There are enough powers for the police to deal with disruptive protesters. The concern is this is the thin end of the wedge, that it becomes restricting real protest. There have been enough attacks on democracy without adding this one.
“If people had more confidence in Government, and they didn’t think politicians were all about themselves and changing the rules when they want to, they may protest less.”
Coun Debra Coupar (Lab) is the deputy leader of Leeds City Council. She said: “To hear the opposition speak, you would think we didn’t have any in the city – but we have. We have lots of them in the city, and we are talking about the extra funding for extra PCSOs.
“In Leeds, we had a three year match funding agreement with West Yorkshire Police for PCSOs.
“During that three years, we saw our funding cut massively, and we saw the funding for West Yorkshire Police cut massively. The fact is, when those three years came to an end, there was no money available to continue with what we were doing.
“Essentially, the Government didn’t value the funding enough to ensure we or West Yorkshire Police can afford to fund it.
“The Government are not recruiting more, they are in the process of getting numbers back up to where they were when Labour was in power. Putting back numbers that you cut is not recruiting more, and it is disingenuous to suggest that it is.”
Words: Richard Beecham, Local Democracy Reporter
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