The comments, led by Conservative councillors, came during a full Leeds City Council meeting this week, following a decision in the current year’s budget which led to the loss of numerous police community support officers.
But the council’s ruling Labour group say they kept to a three year agreement to fund extra PCSOs, adding that it was central government’s job to fund police services, not councils.
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The debate came during a discussion on the council’s Safer, Stronger Communities plan for 2021-2024, which aims to use partnership work with police and other agencies to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour.
Presenting the report at a full Leeds City Council meeting, deputy leader Debra Coupar (Lab) said: “The deployment of PCSOs is an operational decision for the police and not one we have control over. We had a three year match-funding agreement for PCSOs, and we stuck to that agreement.
“During those three years we saw funding cut and funding for West Yorkshire Police cut. When those three years came to an end there was no money available to continue what we were doing.”
However, opposition councillors were unimpressed, claiming money could have been found to continue the funding for extra PCSOs. The authority cut £625,000 to help fund extra officers when setting its 2021/22 budget last February.
Coun Amanda Carter (Con) said: “It was a decision voted on by the Labour Party in this council and was opposed by all the opposition parties.
“You can’t tell me they don’t have an effect. It wasn’t the Government cutting the numbers, it was you. Government has continually put money into Leeds and across the country.
“Violent crime is rising nationwide and across the world. The safer communities plan has a lot of good points, but the rejection of PCSOs is not one of them. You could have easily found £625,000. It would not have affected any frontline services.”
She also mentioned the scrapping of the managed zone – an area in Holbeck in which street sex workers were able to ply for trade without fear of arrest within certain hours – adding: “We shamed you into stopping [it]. You should have had an exit strategy.
“The women are not there because they don’t have any money – they are there because they are addicted to drugs and alcohol. Much more needed to be done to help those vulnerable women.”
Fellow Conservative councillor Sam Firth added: “The Labour Party are all at sea, and for one reason – because they are in a silo and not talking to the communities that they care about
£625,000 was cut in this year’s budget for PCSOs. Not only that, but we removed the guarantee of 37 PCSOs in the city, down to a minimum of eight.
“At the same time they voted for this, they also voted to continue to spend £468,000 for trade union conveners. That is equivalent to 75 per cent of that same police funding.
“Why should we cut our police and then you have your union reps? They should be paid for by you.”
Leeds City Council spends the money on union representatives to help them carry out their duties and receive training.
Conservative group deputy leader Coun Alan Lamb told the Labour group: “The reason there are fewer PCSOs protecting our communities is because of your choices. Not because of the government. It is down to you. Take ownership of it.”
Coun David Blackburn (Green) said: “It is important that we have PCSOs on the ground. Since we introduced them, we have helped the police deliver in areas where we haven’t got high level crime but we have antisocial behaviour.
“Somewhere or other, those funds have to be found.”
Liberal Democrats group leader Coun Stewart Golton said: “It’s true that there is a responsibility on Government to fund public services to the right degree – one of the most fundamental is to keep the public safe through our police service.
“To say we can’t afford to pay for PCSOs in our communities is a symptom of that priorities have gone badly wrong in how the council spends its money.”
Responding to the criticisms, Coun Coupar said: “I have a newsflash for councillors – police funding is down to the national Government. It’s not down to local councils to fund.
“We have in the past when we have had the funding to be able to do so added extra policing and resources to that. Have you seen how much the Government has cut from our budget in recent years, or do we have to remind you again at every single meeting.
Addressing Conservative councillors, she said: “You say we are forgetting about the communities – you are forgetting that was additional capacity. There are plenty of PCSOs in and around our city doing the job they are paid to do.
“We clearly did have an exit strategy for the managed approach, and we did not remove any support or resources from that area.
“This isn’t a report for the previous 12 months – this is about the strategy for the next three years.”
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