Rising concern over increasingly violent incidents on Stourbridge streets erupted into anger online after the town’s MP Margot James Tweeted a link to a part-time West Midlands Police ‘webchat’ crime reporting portal in response to demands from residents for action.
The MP’s suggestion to her 21,000 Twitter followers was made just 48 hours before an alleged samurai sword attack in the town that left two people with serious injuries and a separate ‘car-jacking’ attempt with a machete in broad daylight.
After the incidents hit national headlines, Ms James sparked further derision when she posted: ‘This is not the publicity we want’.
Ms James’ responses revived long-simmering disquiet over the closure of the town’s police station, driven by year-on-year government cuts that the Stourbridge MP has backed through five Budgets.
The MP did not oppose the police station’s sell-off to developers, declaring at the time that it would make little difference to the town. She said: ” I am not going to fight it as I think it will have a very minimal impact. I would rather see reductions to the bricks and mortar of the police’s assets rather than to front-line officers.”
After local people protested on her social media channels about the latest incidents, Ms James attempted to quell the criticism in a later Facebook post, saying that she had had ‘discussions’ with West Midlands Police (WMP) about the situation but gave no more details.
The MP conceded that there are ‘fewer police in Stourbridge than there used to be’. But she implied that the problem lay with the WMP’s allocation decisions, saying that officers have been shifted to Dudley Borough areas with higher crime problems than Stourbridge.
She insisted: “I support efforts being made to secure more money from the Treasury.” Ms James said she was to meet the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) David Jamieson to push for a ‘rebalancing’ of resources. In her Facebook post she accused him of ignoring her previous similar requests and said he should ‘do more to help this cause.’
On the same day, however, PCC Mr Jamieson told Sky News that funding cuts to West Midlands Police of £175 million have led to a loss of over 2,000 officers, seriously overloading those remaining. He pointed to a Police Federation report that shows almost 90 per cent of officers say the force is understaffed.
Since 2014, Ms James has voted for year-on-year funding cuts to local public services, culminating in Dudley Borough possibly joining a projected half of all local authorities in England that will receive no central government funding support at all in 2019-20.
One constituent reacted to Ms James’ statements about policing and crime by telling her: “Your Government MUST take responsibility and reverse these cuts. It’s no good saving money if we’re being put in danger of violent crime. The evidence is clear that there are too few resources available to the Police.’