This article was published as part of my campaign to become a Police & Crime Commissioner candidate
I went shopping for clothes in Leyburn at the weekend. Of itself, an unremarkable activity. Mrs W. seems to enjoy it, although I struggle to see the attraction – especially when it comes to clothing. Shopping for clothes involves taking numerous jumpers, shirts, etc off a shelf or rail, unfolding them if needs be, holding them up against yourself and then folding them again.
I missed the bit of teenager training that involved folding clothes (I may not be alone amongst men in this, ladies) so I find it to be a boring activity at home. I do not think the level of enjoyment improves if I have to drive across the countryside to visit shops and fold things. Actually, it is something I actively try to avoid if it involves going to a city, where there will be armies of people randomly unfolding and folding jumpers in big shops.
These also have the added disadvantage of people who spot something in a colour they like – even though it might be wholly unsuitable for them – and suddenly stop, so you have to be constantly on your guard to avoid bumping into the back of them, because they will look at you as though you should have intuitively been aware of their attraction to an item on display. (They will usually unfold it, look at it, fold it again and move on.)
It follows that I don’t go shopping for clothes very often. In fact, so infrequently, that if I make a purchase in three separate shops, I will be contacted by the anti-fraud section of my debit card provider, which is reassuring, if a little inconvenient.
On Saturday, Mrs W. announced that I needed new clothes. This, I have learned over thirty years, is a conversation with only one ending. The only thing I am going to achieve is a possible influence on the location. Being trained to negotiate with terrorists in a former life gives you a number of skills that can be deployed in the domestic environment and by using these to the full, I managed to get Leyburn selected as the destination for our expedition in the retail jungle.
I like Leyburn. Which, I hasten to add, is not a slight on other towns nearby, the journey is pleasant, it has a decent menswear shop and unusually around here, one can buy country clothing in my size. (Most men’s country wear is stocked in sizes to suit folk far larger than me.) The “clincher” in the negotiations was the chance to call in on some good friends who live in the town and who would present the opportunity to catch up after the shopping was completed.
I have known my role in the process of clothes purchase for some time. I am allowed to offer comments on comfort or fit, but not colour. This dates back to the emptying of my clothing drawers shortly after Mrs W. and I got together, which was accompanied by a rather uncharitable comment about the “Rainbow Warrior”. I stand and have recently unfolded things held up against me, get sent to a changing room to put things on and then walk up and down the shop (I’m actually quite good at this, but it’s not a career I would choose) and generally do as I’m told until the selection is complete.
I then get to pay – which seems to happen whoever is getting the clothing – and I must say this is the point where I reinforce my love of Yorkshire. I know that sometimes the local culture is described in an uncharitable manner, but everyone is expected to know the value of money round here. Try asking for a discount in the South and you will be consigned to the funny farm. Up here, the reverse is true and my request for the (excellent) assistant to “sprinkle some Pixie Dust on the numbers” generated a further reduction on the “closing down for refurbishment” prices.
Wardrobe requirements fulfilled, off we went to see our friends, who were delighted we had called by. I’m not going to identify them, but they are closely involved in the community, although not in a political context. They are aware of what is going on, bright, well read and equally well informed. I haven’t a clue what their political views are and I wouldn’t ask – indeed I don’t really care – they are friends in the truest sense.
I hadn’t seen them since I announced my intention to apply for the Conservative candidacy for the elected Police & Crime Commissioner post, so they were interested in what the Commissioner would do, how the process would go and what I intended to achieve on their behalf if elected. For the reasons outlined above, their questions were relevant, penetrative and informed.
They shared my view that there needs to be a focus on the Operational Policing requirement and that bureaucracy and bureaucrats need to be cut to achieve this. But the key issue that surprised them about what has happened over the last few years was based on a question I have started asking quite a lot of well-informed people lately.
Obviously the location varies. The question is simple and this time it was - “How many Police Officers do you think are on patrol in Richmondshire at night?”
My friends gave this considerable thought. They even asked what I meant by “at night” to which I replied “after midnight” They then talked amongst themselves for a minute or two. Eventually, they agreed on a number. “Forty” they said. (They had come down from 100 during their discussion.)
When I said the actual number would be far less than this - I am told that it is two, but appreciate the number may vary, so I tend to invite people to look at the force website and do some long division about areas, shifts, rest days and annual leave, my friends were surprised, to say the least. They said – “But if they arrest someone, they have to go all the way to Northallerton to get them into custody.” (I told you they were well-informed!)
This conversation and the many others I am having in similar vein once again reinforced why I am embarking on my candidacy. Reducing Police Officer numbers in North Yorkshire to 1970’s levels will mean there are simply not enough to provide the critical mass to deliver the Patrol and Detective workforce.
My friends appreciate, like many others, that Government funding for public services is being reduced. They have a business which supports tourism in Leyburn and they know the austerity measures mean that the investments they have recently made have been helped by borrowing at interest rates lower than those which the Government of Italy can obtain.
What they cannot understand is that local choices in Policing have impacted so hard on the number of Police Officers – even before the Government started the spending cuts – choices that plan to reduce Police Officers by a further 141, but only 10 bureaucrats over the next two years. Choices that have 5 people in a “Directorate of Communications” (Up from two in the “Press Office” when I retired). Nine people in the Police Authority office (again up from two, but I don’t think you will find a more “back” back office). Choices that maintain the number of PCSO’s, despite their limited capability in an operational environment.
It is these, local, choices that must be changed. Changed to choices that boost effectiveness, increase efficiency and drive value for money. But it’s got to happen to get Policing in the City of York and County of North Yorkshire back doing what it was created for – making people feel safe. Conversations like the one I had at the weekend make me more determined to do it.