Plans for private police officers to patrol three of the most expensive and privileged areas of London have been criticised by both national and local politicians.
The My Local Bobby (MLB) scheme plans to place them on the streets of Knightsbridge, Mayfair and Belgravia.
Headed by Tony Nash, the Metropolitan Police's former commander in the London borough of Newham and former detective chief inspector David McKelvey, MLB has said 20 of its "bobbies", all trained former police officers, will take to the streets from next month, covering an estimated 250 households.
It comes days after a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary found the shortage of detectives and investigators amounted to a “national crisis”. It claimed only 19 per cent of the public saw a beat officer in the past month.
Mr Nash told The Sunday Times his company will be protecting residents in order to “fill the gaps”.
But a central London MP and the opposition leader at Westminster council, have told The Independent that the “crowdfunding” plan appears to be prioritising money making over filling in any gaps.
The Metropolitan Police has also emphatically refuted reports that MLB has signed a "memorandum of understanding" with the force, as reported by The Sunday Times, which would allow it to dip into the national police database.
Tulip Siddiq, MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, and briefly in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow team before resigning over a three-line whip on Brexit, told The Independent: “Though I don’t blame the residents who are resorting to private wealth to plug gaps, such crowdfunding is clearly not an option for the vast majority – including many of my constituents who would love to see more police on the streets.
Labour leader of the opposition at Westminster council, Adam Hug, added: “While the Met is facing extreme pressures because of funding cuts, this is clearly an attempt to get local businesses to pay for a security service.
“Those are also not the areas that you would priorities to tackle crimes and give reassurance to residents at risk of crime. If businesses want to pay for a security guard service, that is up to them within reason, but there must not be a confusion about what these private patrols are able to deliver."
“The Government must use the budget to sustainably fund the police, so situations like this don’t keep arising.”
Central government is cutting £200m from police forces in England and Wales.
Westminster does have the highest current crime rate in London, recording 4,192 offences in January alone, almost double the second highest of 2,455 in Camden.
But Knightsbridge and Belgravia witnessed just 99 of those Westminster offences in January, compared to 1,270 in the West End.
The Kensington and Chelsea borough, home to Knightsbridge and Belgravia, is home to the highest property prices, which average at around £1.3m. The City of Westminster, home to Mayfair, is second with an annual price of approximately £1m.
Defending his company in The Sunday Times, Mr Nash said: “There is real talent in the police but it is stretched. We will be hoping to fill the gaps and enhance the service.”
After three months it hopes to take funding from local companies and individuals, but the private team will only have the same rights as average citizens to make arrests and will only be able to mount private prosecutions.
A Met Police spokesman stressed that any residents with concerns about policing should "contact their local Safer Neighbourhoods Team".
A statement added: “The Met has no knowledge of the memorandum of understanding referred to in the The Sunday Times article on Sunday, 5 March, with the information provided.
“Access to the Police National Database is very restricted due to the sensitive nature of the information stored. The Met has not given access to the PND to any private companies and has no plans to do so."
The Independent has contacted the Mayor of London's office, the MLB and The Sunday Times press team for comment. (independent.co.uk)