Last Thursday, Andy Burnham was challenged on his performance on policing by audience members at a Mayor’s Question Time in Oldham, including one who suggested he resign if he did not produce better results.
An audience member asked if Burnham took responsibility for Greater Manchester Police being placed in special measures during his tenure as Mayor, and asked what he in particular had done to reduce levels of crime.
Burnham said his role was to hold the police to account in order to get results for the people of Manchester and that his change in the leadership of GMP was a significant part of that.
Burnham cited the change of culture within Greater Manchester Police following the forced resignation of Chief Constable of GMP Ian Hopkins and his replacement with Stephen Watson in December 2020.
He said GMP were now taking a more proactive approach to tackling crime giving such examples as all burglaries being attended in person and doubling the number of arrests in the Greater Manchester area.
However, the audience member responded saying the changes had only come once GMP had been placed into special measures.
Burnham also cited his commissioning of an investigation into child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester within days of becoming Mayor in 2017.
Operation Green Jacket is an investigation into failures of prevention and investigation of sexual exploitation cases between 2004 and 2005.
The report is to be published on the week of 24th of January 2022 after being delayed by the pandemic.
Several members of the audience raised concerns about the report, suggesting it did not reach back far enough and missed significant historic cases of sexual abuse.
Others expressed concern that the report would be neutered by political correctness and that the success of police in investigating sexual abuse cases seriously was based upon a proper vetting policy of officers.
But Burnham said: “That review, I thought it might reveal that they stopped the Manchester inquiry because of reasons of political correctness but actually that wasn’t what came through…it was a question of priorities.
“Young women, girls reporting sexual abuse were not treated with the seriousness, the respect, that they deserved.
“When you shine a spotlight on things it’s never easy, and there are people who would rather that didn’t happen but I’ve never done that in my political career.
“I reopened Hillsborough for that reason, because I don’t believe you should ever just say ‘Oh well you put a lid on that and move on’. If people are still asking questions, those questions need to be answered.”
Baroness Beverley Hughes, Deputy Mayor added that a 150 person team dedicated to cases of child sexual exploitation had been set up to investigate newly uncovered and current cases.
But a member of the audience claimed that a case of child abuse he had reported months prior had never been referred to the local police team and had gone no further than a phone interview.
Deputy Chief Constable Terry Woods, who also answered questions at the meeting, said he would speak with the audience member about the specifics of the case and amend the situation.
Andy Burnham added that although improvements to processes have been made the Mayor’s office and the police are always listening to organisations and individuals about cases where the process needs to be improved.
The initial question on policing regarded whether the size of the police force of Chadderton, a town within the Oldham area, which consists of only five officers for the population of 35,000, was enough.
In response, Andy Burnham said that since his first election to the role of Mayor in 2017 every year more police had been recruited.
Andy Burnham said: “If you’re going to say to me that that’s enough, I’m going to say that no it’s not and we need more, and we are still in the process of recruiting more, and more will be recruited in the coming year.”
Deputy Chief Constable Terry Woods was also present to answer questions on the growth of GMP.
He said: “[GMP] are growing this year by 450 police officers in the year…We can do a lot with 450 officers”
However not all members of the audience were satisfied with Burnham and Woods’ answers.
One asked if, like the North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner who resigned in October after his comments about the Sarah Everard case, Burnham would consider resigning if GMP did not improve.
Burnham responded: “You hold me to account at the next election if the things I was saying […] haven’t come through. But if you look at my record, there are more police officers on the street.”
Burnham also said that central government cuts to police funding had more severely impacted Greater Manchester because of its lower intake of council tax funding compared to other more affluent areas of the UK.
Questions also focused on attacks on taxis and vandalism of Metrolink services causing trams to be taken out of service.
One audience member referenced the death of Ali Asghar, 39, a taxi driver who died two weeks after he was ‘violently assaulted’ outside a petrol station in Rochdale.
He said that he heard about attacks like this every day and it is causing a shortage of taxi drivers because they are afraid to work and the police are doing nothing.
Woods said: “Taxis are crucial to the economy, no doubt about it. At night time, without taxis, there would be far more issues on the street.
“We’re very grateful to the service, it is something that the Chief and I are very alive to and very supportive of.”
He said there are ringfenced officers dedicated exclusively to Manchester Transport Police in order to deal with issues relating to transport in Greater Manchester.
Audience members also raised questions on the rail plan accepted by Andy Burnham which limited some services to try and deal with congestion of rail lines, mental health provisions for children and frontline workers in the NHS and emergency services, and the clean air zones designed to reduce air pollution.
The full video of Mayor’s Question Time from Oldham is available on the Mayor of Greater Manchester’s YouTube channel.