‘Trust in the police needs to be higher’: Greater Manchester mayoral candidates discuss GMP

The Greater Manchester Mayoral candidates yesterday discussed how they would change Greater Manchester Police, if elected, at the mayoral hustings.

The current mayor Andy Burnham defended his choices as Police and Crime Commissioner whilst other candidates argued GMP had poor management and poor treatment of women and girls in custody.

The debate took place at Manchester Evening News’ Greater Manchester mayoral hustings ahead of the election on 2 May 2024, in which Burnham is running for a third term in office.

When asked about how they would tackle issues at GMP, particularly related to women and girls, Burnham said: “I recognise that trust in the police needs to be higher than it currently is. I recognise that, and that is part of what I’ve done with the Dame Vera Baird review.”

The review, which was commissioned following a report by Sky News into how three women were treated in custody by GMP, was in February announced by Kate Green, deputy mayor for policing, crime, criminal justice and fire, to have been delayed again – its initial release having been scheduled for autumn 2023.

He added: “When I came in as mayor, although people criticise me on this as well, I instigated a major review into child sexual exploitation and the handling of it in Greater Manchester, which has been working through its stages during my time. So I have held our police force to account.”

Burnham also pointed to statistics from his time as mayor, a role he has held since 2017, stating that GMP is the fastest improving police force in the country, with overall crime down over the last two years by 6%.

On the report’s delay, the Reform UK candidate Dan Barker said: “I think that stinks, the fact that that should have been out there in the public domain and you could have all voted on the results of whatever that reading said. 

“I don’t think we’re very complimentary about the police force or the Police and Crime Commissioner’s handling of it. So I would get to grips with that straight away. I suspect what it’s going to harbour is another endemic problem with GMP around how we treat women and girls in custody, and it’s not good enough.”

Barker defected from the Conservatives in March and now represents Reform UK, pledging that as mayor his priorities would be reducing crime and implementing a ‘brownfield first’ policy when creating affordable housing.

The Conservative candidate Laura Evans butted heads with Burnham over poor management of GMP, claiming that the new chief constable was imposed by the government, which Burnham disputed – repeating twice the phrase ‘let’s have it factual’.

Regarding policy, Evans said: “We’ve got grooming gangs running riot. We’ve got people who don’t feel comfortable when they go out on the street. We must take this head on.

“We must improve the situation for people and the way to do it is to take it on the shoulder and say you’re going to lead from the front you are going to take control of it.”

Green Party candidate Hannah Spencer poked fun at the spat, stating that it shows the need for ‘a breath of fresh air in politics’, as it results in people getting ‘too wrapped up in infighting’.

Her policy, in regards to policing, would be to have an independent body looking at police complaints against serving officers to stop them ‘marking their own homework’ – and to reinstate the serious sexual offences unit.

She said: “I would prioritise reopening that because I think closing it is a really, really damaging message that we are not taking this seriously.”

The Liberal Democrat candidate Jake Austin, who was elected as councillor for Hazel Grove in Stockport last year, agreed with Burnham on the improvements that need to be made at the force, stating that ‘trust in policing is at an all time low’.

He said: “Greater Manchester Police is improving. But I would say when you’re coming from rock bottom improvement is the only way to go.

“Being a police officer is hard work and there are a lot of good, strong police officers doing a good job, but there is still the cultural problem within our policing system that needs to be eradicated. That can only be done with independent scrutiny, which I will bring.”

He stated that his commitment would be to not cut police and fire services if elected.

The sixth mayoral candidate, independent Nick Buckley, was not present.

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