I visited a small town the other day. You’ll know the type. One of our loveliest.
It’s a market town on one of Wales’s great rivers. At its heart is a crossroads, a pub – or two — small shops, a school and – of course – a rugby club.
One of the great joys of this job is meeting people. We dropped by some shops and I asked about shoplifting.
“Oh yes,” came the reply, “we’ve had a fair bit of that.”
And here we see the wonderful stoicism of mid-Wales…
“I haven’t reported it. I don’t want to waste the police’s time.”
The shop knew who was doing it. They knew the family and didn’t want to ruin them. Court and the legal process takes far too long, so they had a word and hoped it would stop.
I often hear the same thing on these visits. “We’re lucky here. Crime is low. It’s pretty safe.” It is and I’m glad.
I’m no slave to statistics, but all the indicators show overall crime is down. That is testament to the fantastic work of the police across Wales. We cannot thank them enough.
But what I also hear is what we aren’t getting right. That too is the same across the country, whether we are talking about towns in mid Wales, ports in North Wales, manufacturing towns on the border, the Valleys or in Cardiff.
Antisocial behaviour blights lives. People fight. Drugs and drink fuel crime. And crime undermines people’s confidence. It brings businesses to their knees.
We don’t hear about a lot of it because people don’t report it. And when they do, we are too slow to deal with it.
I asked the police later about our shoplifting.
“Well,” came the answer, “the police see a detectable crime there… It’s an easy win. You don’t care too much about the family of the offender. You get a detection and that’s a tick from the boss.”
We have spent so long judging our police by numbers, we’ve forgotten about people.
That needs to change. And it is changing.
Thanks to this government’s reforms we have the opportunity to free the police to do their job. Communities now have new powers to decide the punishment of minor offenders.
The opportunity is there to make our homes safer to cut bureaucracy, to save money, to employ the right people to get the job done, to drive some common sense into the Byzantine mind of the criminal justice system.
And the difference?
The difference is your Police and Crime Commissioner.
They have responsibility not just for the police but for victims services, local justice, community safety.
They have funding and the power to raise the taxes for it.
They set the priorities for which those taxes are used.
They hire the Chief Constable — and others — to deliver those priorities.
And if you don’t like them, you know who they are.
But, before you sharpen your knives for me let me make the case for the defence!
Let me tell you what have we done in Dyfed Powys, thanks to your support and sound, Conservative values…
We’ve made savings. We are doing our bit to put the national finances back on track.
We’ve cut the cost of senior salaries. We’ve cut bureaucracy and expensive governance.
We’ve boosted the front line to protect homes and families. We are increasing the number of officers by 30. We are maintaining our PCSOs.
We’ve axed targets and freed the police to focus on their core mission.
That is not true in some nearby forces – I’ll let you guess where.
We are reigning in precept rises, so taxpayers in some of the country’s poorest areas have more to keep. We have more to do there.
That is also not true of some nearby forces. I’ll let you guess where.
We have a completely independent Residents’ Panel — ordinary people — to check on police complaints and keep confidence in standards.
We are investing more in tackling antisocial behaviour, more in mobile IT, more in closer work with mental health nurses — so the most vulnerable at their most vulnerable don’t end up in police cells but in hospital — more in rural policing, more on keeping our roads safe.
And, friends, while Europe faces the threat of a resurgent Russian bear to the east, fear not. You can tell our erstwhile European President – if anyone knows his name or what he looks like, does anyone? Does is matter? – it’s alright.
We have Europe’s western seaboard covered.
I have scrapped the £5000 we were spending on Carmarthenshire Council’s propaganda rag. No Socialist statist pap here.
We have more to do.
Over the next 12 months we will develop restorative justice so our police and communities have accessed to swift, fair redress for minor crimes.
At its best restorative justice is the modern equivalent of a clip round the ear — a quick punishment, which satisfies the victim and tells the offender they’re a scallywag without the taint of a criminal record.
We are investing now to encourage people to report domestic abuse — no one should suffer in silence.
We are joining services together to ensure we help victims deal with the criminal process.
Why can we do this?
Because we have strong local accountability. Because we’ve put people in charge.
That is what devolution is about.
We can talk about devolved policing, Carwyn, but it’s happening right here.
We know the power of devolution. We know it works best when it empowers people, not clumsy institutions.
While you are busy resitting your GCSEs and trying to ignore the stretchers piling up in hospital corridors, we are delivering better local service, lower costs and safer homes.
So I look forward to the Conservative Party giving Wales a choice.
A choice that, so long as our hospitals aren’t fixed, so long as our once proud education system is on its knees, so long as Cardiff Bay politicos continue to smother all enterprise, so long as they refuse to accept the basic responsibility of raising their own money,
Policing will stay where it needs to be: rooted in local communities and bound to the strengths and security of our national government in Westminster.
And the best way we can secure that?
To return a majority Conservative government that puts people first, that trusts communities, and that believes — like we do — in the people of Wales.
2014 Welsh Conservative Conference
Speech delivered on 12 April 2014