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Friday interview: Let’s be clear, not everybody is an older white bloke…

Kim McGuinness is Northumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner. Here, she explains to HLN about her role, her love for the region, engaging with the next generation and the impact of COVID-19.

by Jo Dunbar

Former Labour councillor Kim McGuinness was elected to be Police and Crime Commissioner – following in the footsteps of Vera Baird – in July 2019. In her role, Kim is tasked with ensuring the region’s police force work effectively as well as working to deliver a crime prevention plan. Kim was due to stand for election in May this year but due to Coronavirus, the elections have been delayed until 2021.

Tell us about the fund you set up in the light of lockdown.

Obviously I have oversight with the police in my role as PCC, but I also commission a huge number of services for victims, youth services and things that prevent crime. When lockdown began, a lot of them were very worried about their service users. They were also worried about their capability to deliver within an insecure funding landscape. I set the fund up to equip the services to be able to deliver from a distance point of view but also to make sure they survive beyond this. The fund was initially for £200,000 but we awarded over £300,000. You do what you can do with the resources that you have and thankfully I was able to fund that.

A lot has been reported about rising domestic violence figures. How has the force responded to that?

From Berwick to Sunderland, we have brought the people who work in the domestic and sexual violence network together to work out what the problems are and how to solve them. The police have been very proactive in identifying who might be at risk and offering additional support whether that’s being at the end of a webchat or offering refuge support to right through to removing a perpetrator. Sometimes it’s not violence, it’s abuse and being in lockdown can mean being imprisoned with your perpetrator.

One of my frustrations was that at the very beginning of this the government were very clear that you could leave your home once a day to take exercise, to go to the supermarket or help a vulnerable person but what they didn’t say is that you can leave if you are at risk in your own home.

And your newest domestic abuse innovation launched this week…

On Monday we launched a new campaign to be eyes and ears. Because of COVID-19, we are all at home a lot more. We are more likely to know what is going on in our streets and we urge the community to make it their business. The vast majority of people suffering domestic abuse disclose first to a friend of a family member rather than to the police or a service. We all wanted a campaign to speak directly to the neighbour who can hear the intimidating voice on the other side of the fence, or the mother worried about why her daughter’s stopped texting.

We have to make sure the message is widely known then understand that reports might come in from a range of places. I have also launched another fund of £120,000 for young people who are victims of domestic abuse to look for innovative solutions to support those children either directly impacted or experiencing domestic abuse in the home.

I take as much opportunity as I can to speak to young women.

Tell us how the COVID-19 crisis impacted on you personally.

I was meant to get married in April: a lot of people had huge life events, and as sad I was not to have that day, I will get that day. I think you have to keep it completely in perspective. The things that we lost as a couple are so small in the greater scheme of things. Both my parents have had COVID-19, it was really awful. They were the lucky ones – they didn’t get taken into hospital. My Dad had it severely, but he didn’t have the breathing difficulties. But even when it is classed as mild, it’s nasty, and it was scary. The reason I am willing to talk about it, and my mam has talked about it, is that we need to hear first hand from people that stopping the spread is something worth staying home for.

How about professionally?

Obviously there has been a huge body of work responding to COVID-19 and supporting the force with everything they need: additional PPE, testing, we lobbied for that really hard and I’m proud we got those things in place. To look at recovery for communities and how what will be a difficult economic recovery and how it will impact upon us socially and with the risk of deprivation. Those were the problems we were trying to solve anyway so it heightens the need to do it. I feel the world hopped forward in a modern way of working, and for people’s capability to work flexibly, it’s taught us an awful lot.

What made you get involved with politics?

I have always been personally political in the sense that when I was at uni, I was very keen to get people to vote. I was involved in student politics but on the fringes. I never had any desire for holding an elected office. I moved away from the region for work and I spent about five years desperate to get back. Eventually, I did and I got involved in a bit of campaigning for the 2015 general election. It came around to the local elections and people started to say, ‘You should stand’ and I would say ‘Oh no, don’t be ridiculous, I can’t do that. I’m not ready, I don’t have time.’ All the usual stuff that predominately women say. It took a conversation with my MP, Catherine McKinnell and she said, “Look, women like us have to do this.” So, I stood; first of all for a council position, and the following year I stood in a ward next to where I grew up – and I won.

Was it a natural step to move into crime prevention work?

My interest in politics has always been around fairness and social justice and the place and the people. I love where I am from, I love the people here. I never planned to stand for Police and Crime Commissioner, but I realised what the powers of the role were, and I really want to do that work around preventing crime.

This is one of the safest regions in the country. You are less likely to come to personal harm in Northumberland than anywhere else. To me, it’s our job to keep it that way. It’s a very diverse region and while we don’t have the same knife crime problem as in London, it is there, and we need to recognise a different response that is Northumbria-specific. We also have rural crime that people in cities don’t think about. I am committed to recruiting and growing the force but also being ready for the future; working with technology so we can keep up with the crimes of tomorrow.

This is one of the safest regions in the country. It’s our job to keep it that way.

How do you switch off from such a demanding role?

I’d love to be able to say I can switch off completely. This job can be all-consuming. I make a concerted effort to have downtime and take the dog out. My New Year’s resolution was to try and read a bit more for pleasure. To step away from the papers and the news a bit more. I do think it’s important I am accessible so trying to strike a balance between being aware and available but having time to refresh.

You’re clearly proud to be from the region…

The North East is an industrious, innovative region. We’ve got leading businesses; incredible public services; during times when it was difficult financially, we coped really well. I think it is very much a Keep Calm and Carry On region and we do have a lot going for us; a lot of skills and a lot of talent so we should be shouting about that on a national stage.

Much was made of the fact that you were elected at the age of 34.

Nobody would ever say to a 34-year-old bloke, ‘You’re too young to do this job.’ That is definitely still a problem in politics. I think it’s very important that politicians reflect the people they represent. Let’s be clear, not everybody is an older white bloke. Therefore, it’s really important that we have women in politics, younger people in politics. It’s all relative, I’m actually not really that young!

Do you feel a responsibility to show girls a positive female role model?

I take as much opportunity as I can to speak to young women and work with girls and live those values. To show that absolutely you should be aspiring to do this. Just because I stumbled into it accidentally doesn’t mean other people shouldn’t have a plan.

North East favourites

The Brandling Villa is my local and a dog friendly pub – increasingly I find I frequent dog-friendly places!

I love to take Errol my Labrador for a beach walk – somewhere like Embleton, Warkworth or Bamburgh.

Arlo’s on Brentwood Avenue in Jesmond for brunch.

21 is my all-time favourite for a fancy dinner.

The Running Fox for afternoon tea.

Colman’s in South Shields for fish and chips.

I try to shop local: The Grainger Market is fantastic and for clothes I love Bumble Bee on Brentwood Avenue and Have to Love in Gosforth. Buying in boutiques limits the chances of you turning up at meetings and someone else is wearing your dress!

I love Open Cast, a fantastic women’s theatre group – I would see anything they put on.

 

Photo Credit: New Girl in Toon

Credits

For more information about Kim’s domestic abuse is everyone’s business campaign, click here. 

 To learn more about Kim and her role as Police and Crime Commissioner, visit http://www.northumbria-pcc.gov.uk/.

You can follow Kim on Twitter @KiMcGuinness or @NorthumbriaPCC and find her on Instagram @pcc_kim_mcguinness or @kim_newcastle.

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