How bad is crime in the West Midlands?
Plus: SNOBS is moving to Broad Street and a Birmingham writer tackles the concept of 'taste' in the modern world
Good afternoon readers, and welcome to your first-ever Monday Briefing from The Dispatch.
The Monday Briefing is our big digest of great things to do, read, listen to and to know about in the coming week. I’ve also picked out a Home of the Week for any people looking to buy (it’s tough out there) and rounded up some important headlines from across the West Midlands.
Our Big Story today takes a closer look at claims made by mayor Andy Street last week. He told The Dispatch that the West Midlands is among the worst regions for crime and violent crime in the country, after announcing that he wants to take over responsibility for the police. Is he right? We look at the numbers.
Talking of numbers, there are now an astonishing 2,254 of you on our mailing list, up from 1,604 on Friday. 650 newbies in three days! The growth we’re seeing at the moment is remarkable, verging on miraculous. Huge thanks to everyone who has shared us with friends and colleagues - please do so again by forwarding this edition or using that button below to spread the word on social media or down your group chats. We’ve also seen a couple of people sharing the link to our site in their local Facebook groups, which has gained us loads of new readers. If you’re active in a Facebook group, please let them know about us.
Our first-ever weekend read by the magnificent Kirsty Bosley revisited somewhere which holds a special place in her heart and that of the Wolverhampton community: the Express and Star newspaper. We got some fantastic responses to the piece, including readers sharing their own memories of the newspaper. One reader called Matthew called Kirsty’s piece “both powerful and poignant” and lots of people shared it on Twitter/X. “Terrific (and very sad) piece about Wolverhampton’s @ExpressandStar - a local institution (like Beatties, Monmore Green and Slade). Still read it most days,” tweeted politics professor Andy Westwood.
This week’s weather 🌦️
🌤️ Tuesday: Cool, dry, and a bit cloudy with long sunny spells. Max 12C.
🍃 Wednesday: Light rain with a moderate breeze. Max 12C.
🍃 Thursday: Light rain and a moderate breeze again. Max 11C.
☔ Friday: Drizzle and a gentle breeze. Max 11C.
🌦️ Weekend: Sunny on Saturday and a light rain on Sunday, with a gentle breeze both days. Max 12C.
We get our weather news from the BBC.
The big story: is Andy Street right about crime in the West Midlands?
Top line: The West Midlands is the fourth-worst region in England and Wales for crime rates and third worst for violent crime. This is the backdrop to which our mayor (a Conservative) and the current police and crime commissioner (Labour) are battling it out for who should have responsibility over the police.
Context: Last week Andy Street wrote to home secretary Suella Braverman to request that the region’s police and crime commissioner (PCC) role be brought under the mayor’s responsibility. Until the recent Levelling Up bill, metro mayors needed to get the support of council leaders who sit on combined authorities to make the change - this is what Andy Burnham has done in Manchester.
However, so far Street hasn’t taken this approach - likely because four out of the seven main councils on the West Midlands Combined Authority are Labour-run and Andy Street is, as we said before, a Conservative.
As you read in our report last week, things got pretty heated between the two men.
Street claimed that the West Midlands was among the worst regions for crime and violent crime. He also said that over the last eight years, recorded crimes have “more than doubled” (360,336 in June 2023 up from 177,831 in 2015) according to the ONS. He said “enough is enough” and “something has to change”.
The incumbent PCC, Labour’s Simon Foster, accused Street of being undemocratic by not allowing residents to elect their preferred PCC. He said the mayor is “attempting to achieve through the backdoor, what his party have been incapable of achieving through the ballot box”.
On Saturday, Street revealed that if he wins the mayoral election next May, he will put a stop to the closure of 30 police stations which had been announced by Foster. Foster publicly asked Street how he would pay for this, where the money would come from, and if it would mean losing officers but Street has not responded.
Assistant PCC Tom McNeil posted a video criticising Street and the Conservatives for “annihilating policing in the West Midlands”. He repeated the claim that West Midlands Police has 1,000 fewer officers than it did in 2010. He also pointed out that the Conservatives have cut criminal justice agency budgets by 25% leading to “record backlogs”.
Data check: We looked at data from the Office for National Statistics to check the mayor’s claims on crime and they seem to check out.
123.6 crimes were committed per 1,000 residents in the last year. This makes the West Midlands the fourth worst in the country behind Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, and Cleveland.
Violent crime is an even sorrier picture, with the region in the third worst position: 50.7 such crimes per 1,000 residents occurred last year up to June 2023.
Bear in mind, these figures show us recorded crimes, so the actual rate of crime committed (particularly when it comes to less serious ones) is likely to be higher. Also, it’s worth remembering that how crimes are recorded changes over time, making it difficult to compare different time periods with accuracy.
We also checked the data for police officer numbers and found that in 2010, West Midlands Police had 8,626 officers and today there are 7,954 — a loss of 672 over 13 years. McNeil and Foster point to 2010 because that was when the numbers began to fall.
Report card: In the government’s most recent inspection of West Midlands Police (in 2021-22), Inspector of Constabulary Wendy Williams wrote: “I am satisfied with some aspects of the performance of West Midlands Police in keeping people safe and reducing crime, but there are areas where the force needs to improve.”
Who is to blame? Street argues that rising crime is down to poor oversight of the police, hence why he should take over, arguing that it will allow for a more “unified” approach. Foster and McNeil say that the region’s policing has suffered due to deep cuts both to the number of officers and also other services which affect policing like youth services, housing, and children’s centres. They add that rising poverty and associated issues are the main drivers of crime, pointing out that jobs and growth are Street’s remit.
Bottom line: Even for expert criminologists, it’s often very difficult to pinpoint what drives increases in crime, although declining officer numbers and cuts to local services both make sense as contributing factors. Street clearly believes policing can improve in the West Midlands, and is willing to risk his political capital taking responsibility for the force. Watch this space.
Callout: We’re going to be reporting on this story more in the months ahead, trying to dig into the drivers of crime across our region. If you work in law enforcement or you have some information or expertise to contribute, please get in touch — we won’t name you in our stories unless you explicitly want to be named.
Photo of the week
Brum in Brief
Iconic Birmingham nightclub Snobs is moving to Broad Street. It will be the second move the infamous dancing spot has made in its history, this time to make way for the demolition of the Ringway Centre. Currently at 51 Smallbrook Queensway, next year the nightclub will take over the premises which is currently Velvet Rooms on Broad Street. Owner Wayne Tracey said: “I’m so pleased to have found such a great position of Broad Street where we can continue the great name, brand, reputation and nightlife that everyone in Birmingham knows as Snobs.”
Life-sized edible likenesses of Ozzy Osbourne and King Charles featured in the NEC’s Cake International show at the weekend. The spectacular images show the painstakingly detailed creations by ‘sugar artists’ from around the world. As well as the prince of darkness and our reigning monarch, there were delicious depictions of scenes from TV show Stranger Things, Mexican festival dia de los muertos, and hit 90’s family film Mrs Doubtfire.
Flatpack Film Festival is looking for filmmakers and creatives from underrepresented communities to apply for funding. The festival has become a firm favourite on the city’s cultural calendar, with screenings and events at locations across the city every spring. The successful applicants will be given a budget of £1,000 to produce their project for the festival in May.
And finally, “what would be considered a high salary to work and live in Birmingham?” £50k? £80k? That question has sparked a lively discussion on the Brum Reddit page, which is always full of newcomers to the city trying to get their bearings and irritating the forum’s jaded natives.
Want to write for us? We’ve been bowled over by how many great pitches we’ve already had from local journalists and writers, but we’re very keen to expand our roster of great freelancers further. If you have an idea you’d like to write for us, please get in touch.
Our media picks
🎧 Birmingham’s Burger Bar Boys are the focus of a new six-part series by the BBC’s Gangster podcast. Investigative journalist Livvy Haydock charts the rise and fall of the gang, which formed in a fast-food restaurant in the aftermath of the Handsworth riots in the 1980s. Featured are interviews with victims, an undercover police officer, and the daughter of one of the Johnson crew’s founding members whose twin sister was killed during a shooting on New Year’s Day 2003. The first two episodes are available to listen to now.
📖 Northfield’s-own Nathalie Olah has a new book out all about Bad Taste and The Guardian has reviewed it here. Richard Godwin explains the text is an update of French theorist Pierre Bordieu’s 1979 work Distinction, and writes: “Olah has her own class trajectory to bring to this tale. Born into a working-class family in Birmingham, she got into university, acquired highbrow literary tastes, found precarious work in the east London ‘creative’ industries – but no financial security.”
📰 The different approaches to historic architecture in Birmingham and Sheffield are addressed in this interesting piece for Building Design online. Author Joe Holyoak argues the city should be reusing old, unfashionable buildings not demolishing and rebuilding them. “Terms used by councillors to describe the Ringway Centre, which is one of the Twentieth Century Society’s 2023 top ten Buildings at Risk, included “architecturally ugly”, “historic only as old and outdated”, and “a concrete mess”. Sheffield, with an intelligent developer on board, makes a good decision and takes a big step forward.”
Home of the week
This cute and cosy one-bedroom flat in Birmingham city centre, near Fiveways, is available for £145,000.
Things to do this week
🎤 Sommar bar on Waterloo Street hosts a free, weekly stand-up comedy gig on Mondays. Resident MC Alex Egan hosts, featuring professional funny people from the UK circuit. 7.30pm start.
🎭 Spooky theatre production Murder in the Dark begins at the Alexandra on Tuesday. Starring TV’s Tom Chambers, the play is said to be “spine-tingling”. The show is on Tues-Sat at 7.30pm and Weds and Sat at 2.30pm. Tickets start at £13.
🕯️Walk around the back-to-back houses in Birmingham city centre by candlelight on Thursday and learn about the people who lived there over the past 200 years. Tickets are £7 for National Trust members and £11 for non-members. Steep steps are involved, warm clothing is recommended and tea and cake are provided. 6pm start.
🌳 For anyone concerned with the climate crisis and keen to hear from voices on the frontlines of resistance, the We Make Tomorrow climate justice conference is from 10.15am to 3pm on Sunday at the Midlands Arts Centre. Speakers include local and national activists, plus a visitor from the movement in a Global South country. Tickets range from £3-£10.