Full report: Lancaster businesses meet to discuss anti-social behaviour and shoplifting in the city
On a cold and grey Lancaster morning, business and public sector leaders met with police representatives to discuss crime and anti-social behaviour in the city.
Lancaster BID's breakfast meeting at The Kings Arms Hotel on January 16 focused on anti-social behaviour and crime within the city centre, with a panel responding to questions from business owners.
The meeting follows an "upsurge" of anti-social behaviour in the city centre in January, but BID representatives said the meeting had been planned for three months.
Nick Wilkinson, business owner and chair of Lancaster BID, said: "I'm very aware of the issues having worked in Lancaster all my life and seeing things progressively getting worse.
"This session was to hear about what businesses have experienced around anti-social behaviour, and to let people know that a lot of work is already underway."
Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw outlined cuts to policing over the last 10 years.
He pointed out that Lancashire Constabulary had lost £86m from its policing budget, along with 750 officers.
He said: "When I rock up into the shopping centre in Lancaster, what you're going to say to me is 'more bobbies'.
"We know that crime is on the increase - violent crime, knife crime, homicides.
"There have been 30 homicides in Lancashire over the last year, and we budget for 12.
"The police receive 1.1m calls a year to its 101 and 999 numbers, so it's important to understand the pressure on the service.
"For our contact managers, it's always a judgement call on every single call they take.
"Social care and youth services have been taken away, and the average time it takes to deal with calls has gone up by a third.
"You have to put these things into context.
"But there is light at the end of the tunnel. This year we increased the (council tax) police precept and this has resulted in 40-50 extra officers.
"The big question is how can we engage and work together. We have a collective responsibility to make this work."
Sgt Lindsay Brown, of Lancaster Police told the meeting that a special task force of officers has been present in the city centre for the last few weeks.
This has included mounted police.
He said: "In January we saw an upsurge in juvenile anti social behaviour. We've had mounted police in Market Square, and we'll have this presence for a month.
"Long term solutions include a criminal behaviour order on one of the shoplifters who I'm sure many of you will know, which will seek to ban that individual from entering the city centre."
Paul Smith, manager at St Nic's Arcade, said: "I think this will make a big difference. We've noticed a lack of police around the city centre and a lack of response.
"So the increase in police presence will make a big difference to business. Shoplifting is a daily occurrence."
Issues for business owners included police response to thefts under £500. Sgt Brown said that officers had to prioritise and would be sent to the jobs with the highest risk.
He compared the risks involved with attending someone attempting to take their own life versus a shoplifting offence.
But he stressed that business owners should still report every incident.
The manager at Boots in St Nic's said the figures on shoplifting weren't representative of reality.
She said that the shop had "almost stopped reporting" shoplifting offences because of the lack of response and said the shop lost thousands of pounds a week due to shoplifting.
She added: "We should start reporting everything. Then you would understand what a massive problem this is. We need to highlight what is happening in the town."
Sgt Brown said that the police understood the shoplifting problem, as well as the 101 response issue, but repeated that it was a question of responding based on risk with limited resources.
He recommended reporting incidents online on the Lancashire Police website to avoid lengthy waits on the phone.
He added: "This is also about shops making sure they have their CCTV working, and that staff are able to download images when an officer does come out."
Homelessness was also discussed at the meeting, with one person asking for the "true number" of homeless people in the city centre.
Coun Caroline Jackson, from Lancaster City Council, who has responsibility for housing, said there were 13-14 entrenched rough sleepers in the city, which could be up to 20 during the winter, as Lancaster is known as a "friendly town", and homeless people know that as well.
"Often we're giving to people who are homeless, but keeping them off the streets is often the most challenging thing.
"A very high proportion also have mental health problems.
"We have a new homelessness strategy, which we're working on with the NHS, for people that come off the streets.
"It's about doing things for individuals.
"There are small things that people can do in association with us."
One question focused on the city looking "tired and dirty" with sleeping bags on the steps of Lancaster City Museum in Market Square.
Mark Davies, director for communities and environment at Lancaster City Council, said: "We all want to make Lancaster a great place to visit and to make it welcoming.
"Our cleansing team work hard to keep the city looking clean and tidy, and people do notice that.
"There are issues with sleeping apparel such as duvets and blankets being left out.
"One person will have three or four blankets, which get wet, and we have lots of people who give out blankets and coats.
"We do remove sleeping equipment if it appears to be unattended, but rather than throw it away, we hold on to it and will give it back.
"We're dealing with people here and we have to take the sensitive approach."
One attendee suggested having lockers for homeless people to store items during the day, which was welcomed by the panel.
Another business said that they had experienced problems with rats due to sleeping bags and food being left out the back of their shop, while another business owner said there were major issues with people "defecating and urinating" in alleyways.
Another business owner said: "It's been a relief to turn up in the morning and not have to remove Tom, Dick and Harry from the doorway. I know some of the homeless people more than you do, but I do think we need to be more active in getting them somewhere to go."
Another question asked whether PCSOs should be given more powers to deal with people.
Tim Tomlinson, pub landlord and chair of Lancaster Pubwatch, said: "We've got a good relationship with PCSOs. Problems are relatively few and far between in Lancaster. The pubs work together and PCSOs are the front line. What we need is visibility. PCSOs provide us with a lot of information that helps us to tackle potential troublemakers. They do an excellent job."
Mr Tomlinson said that youth and juvenile anti-social behaviour in the city centre had been an issue, and that mounted police had made an impact on this.
He suggested a Pubwatch style database for shops, and detailed ways in which this could be achieved.
Sgt Brown added: "We're getting additional officers this year and next year, and there will be officers training in Lancaster and Morecambe.
"So while they're out training, police will be a lot more visible."
Mark Davies added: "There must be a way to come up with different solutions. Businesses can't do it on their own, the council can't do it on their own, and the police can't do it on their own. We need to work together. We hope there will be some solutions. Just doing the same thing isn't going to work."
Dame Sue Black, pro-vice chancellor for engagement at Lancaster University, who chaired the meeting, said that one of the things she had noticed since coming to Lancaster is that people "like to talk".
She said: "Keep talking, keep having ideas.
"It's about owning it. If we can resolve it together, we won't need to have another meeting like this."