Some crimes are falling but crime is changing. Photo: Getty
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To hide behind falling crime rates is to fail victims of crime

New forms of crime are on the up.

The assertion from government that “crime is down”, which means, it says, that its reforms are working, offers a misleading view of crime in England and Wales today. Crime fell by 43 per cent under Labour. That was because we built neighbourhood policing, putting 17,000 extra police officers and 16,000 PCSOs on the beat. Additionally, trends worldwide have shown decreasing levels of some crimes due to reasons which include changing demography and volume crime decreasing as cars were made more difficult to steal and houses to burgle.

Yet the government is using this to support its claims that its reforms to policing are working when the opposite is the case.

It is essential that crime statistics are accurate so the public is aware of the true picture and Chief Constables can plan their resources to meet the challenges of crime.  Additionally, statistics give us insight into crime trends so we can see patterns, gauge performance and, crucially, hold police forces to account.

However, valid statistical evidence in policing has been somewhat difficult to come by in recent years. An inquiry launched by the House of Commons Public Administration Committee found that there was under-recording of crime and the official statistics could not be trusted. Indeed the UK Statistics Authority stripped Police Recorded Crime (PRC) data of the “National Statistics” gold standard when evidence came to light that suggested the data did not represent a full and accurate picture of crime in England and Wales.

As a result, what we are now seeing is a mixed picture between PRC and the Office of National Statistics’ Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW), a survey of 50,000 households. PRC is showing an increase in crime in many police forces, including sexual offences up by 22 per cent, violent crime up by 16 per cent and public order offences up by 10 per cent. While on the other hand, the CSEW is showing a steady decline in crime. Yet the CSEW has been criticised for not recording some offences, such as shoplifting, and does not question some of the most vulnerable people who may be repeatedly victimised, such as those who are homeless. To say that the Home Office is basing its claim that crime is falling on rocky ground would be an understatement.

In addition, while it is true that those traditional forms of crime like vandalism, vehicle-related theft and burglary have been seeing a steady decline since their peak just under 20 years ago, crime is changing.

There may be fewer bank robbers and car thieves but there is a new wave of criminality sweeping forward from those who hide behind desktops carrying out sophisticated forms of cyber crime and online fraud.

As internet access in the UK increases, and its use becomes ever easier, so too do criminal activities online. In fact, the National Crime Agency last year stated, "If there is a single cross-cutting issue that has changed the landscape for serious and organised crime and our response against it, it is the growth in scale and speed of internet communication technologies." Furthermore, research conducted by a US-based company, FireEye, noted that cyber attacks against Britain in the first half of last year were far more numerous than any other state in Europe or the Middle East.

According to an ONS survey released in July 2014, the number of fraud offences could total between 3.6m and 3.8m incidents of crime per year. It is estimated that if bank and credit card fraud were included in the CSEW, the total number of criminal offences would jump by a quarter.

Apart from the world of online and cyber criminality, other forms of criminality are imposing ever greater demands on the police service, from the tackling of the obscenity of child sexual exploitation and abuse to the threat of terrorism. The exploitation and abuse of children is, as we now know, on a massively greater scale than was reflected in crime recording.

In summary, some crimes are falling but crime is changing and new forms of criminality are soaring just when the police officer numbers have suffered the biggest cuts in Europe. The time has come for a mature conversation about the changing nature of crime and how we may tackle it. To hide behind crime rates that are based on dodgy statistics, claiming that you can cut tens of thousands of police officers and cut crime, is to fail victims of crime.

Jack Dromey is shadow policing minister and MP for Birmingham, Erdington

Jack Dromey is shadow policing minister.

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Calum Kerr on Governing the Digital Economy

With the publication of the UK Digital Strategy we’ve seen another instalment in the UK Government’s ongoing effort to emphasise its digital credentials.

As the SNP’s Digital Spokesperson, there are moves here that are clearly welcome, especially in the area of skills and a recognition of the need for large scale investment in fibre infrastructure.

But for a government that wants Britain to become the “leading country for people to use digital” it should be doing far more to lead on the field that underpins so much of a prosperous digital economy: personal data.

If you want a picture of how government should not approach personal data, just look at the Concentrix scandal.

Last year my constituency office, like countless others across the country, was inundated by cases from distressed Tax Credit claimants, who found their payments had been stopped for spurious reasons.

This scandal had its roots in the UK’s current patchwork approach to personal data. As a private contractor, Concentrix had bought data on a commercial basis and then used it to try and find undeclared partners living with claimants.

In one particularly absurd case, a woman who lived in housing provided by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had to resort to using a foodbank during the appeals process in order to prove that she did not live with Joseph Rowntree: the Quaker philanthropist who died in 1925.

In total some 45,000 claimants were affected and 86 per cent of the resulting appeals saw the initial decision overturned.

This shows just how badly things can go wrong if the right regulatory regimes are not in place.

In part this problem is a structural one. Just as the corporate world has elevated IT to board level and is beginning to re-configure the interface between digital skills and the wider workforce, government needs to emulate practices that put technology and innovation right at the heart of the operation.

To fully leverage the benefits of tech in government and to get a world-class data regime in place, we need to establish a set of foundational values about data rights and citizenship.

Sitting on the committee of the Digital Economy Bill, I couldn’t help but notice how the elements relating to data sharing, including with private companies, were rushed through.

The lack of informed consent within the Bill will almost certainly have to be looked at again as the Government moves towards implementing the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

This is an example of why we need democratic oversight and an open conversation, starting from first principles, about how a citizen’s data can be accessed.

Personally, I’d like Scotland and the UK to follow the example of the Republic of Estonia, by placing transparency and the rights of the citizen at the heart of the matter, so that anyone can access the data the government holds on them with ease.

This contrasts with the mentality exposed by the Concentrix scandal: all too often people who come into contact with the state are treated as service users or customers, rather than as citizens.

This paternalistic approach needs to change.  As we begin to move towards the transformative implementation of the internet of things and 5G, trust will be paramount.

Once we have that foundation, we can start to grapple with some of the most pressing and fascinating questions that the information age presents.

We’ll need that trust if we want smart cities that make urban living sustainable using big data, if the potential of AI is to be truly tapped into and if the benefits of digital healthcare are really going to be maximised.

Clearly getting accepted ethical codes of practice in place is of immense significance, but there’s a whole lot more that government could be doing to be proactive in this space.

Last month Denmark appointed the world’s first Digital Ambassador and I think there is a compelling case for an independent Department of Technology working across all government departments.

This kind of levelling-up really needs to be seen as a necessity, because one thing that we can all agree on is that that we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to developing the link between government and the data driven digital economy. 

In January, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the New Statesman convened a discussion on this topic with parliamentarians from each of the three main political parties and other experts.  This article is one of a series from three of the MPs who took part, with an  introduction from James Johns of HPE, Labour MP, Angela Eagle’s view and Conservative MP, Matt Warman’s view

Calum Kerr is SNP Westminster Spokesperson for Digital