I beg to move,
That this House
notes the Association of Chief Police Officers’
statement that there will be 12,000 fewer police officers because of the Government’s cuts to central government funding for the police;
considers that chief constables across England and Wales are being put in an impossible position by the Government’s 20 per cent. cut to central government funding;
notes that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) said the police budget could be reduced ‘at best’
by 12 per cent. and that ‘a cut beyond 12 per cent. would almost certainly reduce police availability’;
further notes that HMIC has said that 95 per cent. of police officers do not work in back office roles;
regrets that because of the Government’s 20 per cent. cut frontline police officers are being lost in every region of England and in Wales;
is deeply concerned by recent statements from police forces and authorities that show the level of cuts being forced upon them by the Government, amounting to 1,158 police officers in the South West, 1,428 police officers in the South East, 1,215 police officers in the East of England, 579 police officers in Wales, 783 police officers in the East Midlands, 1,573 police officers in the West Midlands, 573 in the North East, 3,175 in the North West, 1,242 in Yorkshire and the Humber and 1,200 in London;
calls on the Government to think again;
and rejects the cuts to frontline police officers the Government is forcing upon police forces.
We come to this debate rather later than any of us had expected, and I congratulate those Members who have managed to sit through all four statements and an urgent question in order to be present for it.
This debate offers a chance for the House to reflect on the full scale of the cuts in policing the Home Secretary agreed and announced last October, a chance for Members on both sides of the House to consider what this means for their constituents, and a chance to urge the Home Secretary to pause and think again, because if Government Ministers can do that for trees and for hospitals, then this is her moment. It is time the Government stopped to think about the damage they are doing to the nation’s policing before it is too late.
Does this debate also present the previous Administration with the chance to say sorry for the huge economic mess we were left in, which is why tough decisions are now having to be taken in policing and other areas?
In fact, at the time of the election unemployment was falling, the economy was growing and borrowing was lower than expected, whereas nearly 12 months on we have seen borrowing come in higher than expected, unemployment continue to rise and growth stall. The hon. Gentleman should, perhaps, consider those points when he thinks about the impact these foolish decisions are having on public services.
I was contacted last week by a local beat officer from the west midlands, and I want to read out what he said about the job he did:
“When I arrived it was a run-down, deprived area frequented by pimps, prostitutes, druggies and drug dealers. By working with the community we were able to change it into an area where the residents were happy to walk the streets at all times of the day and night. Crime was reduced and the feel-good factor returned. The local community saw me every day. If I wasn’t there, they would phone me. I was able to rebuild trust and confidence in the police. I was the single point of reference for them.
In 2010 I was awarded the ‘coppers’ copper award’ by the Police Federation…this spoke of my professionalism and dedication. Now I am being forced out and will not be replaced. Residents are up in arms and have even started a petition to keep me. These people know that in a very short space of time” their area
“will return to what it used to be and they are frightened.
I believe I am good value for money...My presence prevents crime and antisocial behaviour. It makes people feel good. I’m totally devastated to be leaving as I feel that I have a number of good years in front of me doing the job I’m good at. I took an oath in 1979 and have stuck to it. Ultimately the people who will suffer are the public.”
Those are the words of one beat officer in the west midlands, who is at the sharp end. That is what it is really like on the front line of the Government’s 20% cuts in policing, and there is much more such evidence from across the country.
One of the sharp-end decisions this Government have had to take is to deal with the economic legacy to which my hon. Friend Mr Ellwood referred. Is the biggest Budget deficit in the developed world part of that golden economic legacy that the right hon. Lady believes her party left to our country and Government?
The hon. Lady chose not to comment on the more than 100 police officers being lost from the Wiltshire force, as well as the more than 100 support jobs being lost from that force. I look forward to seeing her put that in her leaflet for the next election. As I have already pointed out, at the time of the election borrowing was, in fact, lower than expected and unemployment was falling. By cutting too far, too fast, the hon. Lady’s party is going to make it harder to cut the deficit, with more people on the dole and more spent on unemployment benefit.
From Nottinghamshire, another officer writes:
“Since 2006 when I took this office road casualties have fallen by 33%...that’s saved over £90 million in costs...I haven’t achieved this by myself for sure but we’ve contributed massively to that effort and now they want to get rid of me.”
Hampshire police have been forced to cut their domestic violence units. In Lancashire, they are reducing air-support cover. In Dorset, they are cutting traffic policing by 33%. In north Wales, they have cut back on the handlers and sniffer dogs for explosives. In the west midlands, neighbourhood policing teams are being lost.
I thank the right hon. Lady for giving way. Under the 12% cuts she proposes, what does she consider to be the right ratio between the numbers of senior management staff and bobbies on the beat, whose comments she is quoting in her speech? Cambridgeshire police has a sergeant for every four constables, an inspector for every three sergeants, and a chief inspector or officer of more senior grade for every one-and-a-half inspectors. Does she consider that to be the right ratio between the number of senior police figures and those on the beat?
Of course we want to see more police officers out on the beat, and, in fact, that was the consequence of the policies of the Labour Government over many years. We also believe it is right for forces to do everything they can to improve their efficiency and to make sure they are supporting officers. However, in force after force and area after area we are seeing police officers, not just police staff, being lost: 12,500 officers to go. These are not our figures; they are figures from the Association of Chief Police Officers and individual police forces and police authorities across the country. There will be 12,500 fewer officers and 15,000 fewer support staff. That is the equivalent of the combined police strength of Yorkshire and Humberside, or the equivalent of the forces of Durham, Cumbria, North Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Surrey and Dorset combined.
I will give way to the hon. Lady if she thinks it is really possible to make cuts of that scale to police forces and still have no impact on the front-line services that communities across the country receive.
I am most grateful to the right hon. Lady for her generosity in giving way for a second time. I am very interested in the statistics she is quoting, and I ask her for the source of the data she just gave suggesting that 100 officers were going in Wiltshire, because I have very frequent conversations with the chief constable of Wiltshire, and that is not a number that either he or I would recognise. Please can she tell us the source of the data?
All the figures we have seen and released have come either from chief constables, police forces or police authorities. That is also where the figures of 12,500 fewer officers and 15,000 fewer support staff have come from. I know that Ministers have repeatedly refused to acknowledge those figures, but I hope they will take the opportunity of today’s debate to admit that police officer posts are being cut across the country. That is what happens when you cut too far, too fast. Of course the police can make efficiency savings; they should strive to do more and do better, and should make savings in procurement, on overtime and by changing the way they do things. That does mean cuts to their budgets, but by forcing cuts of 20%, with the steepest cuts occurring in the first two years so that there is no time to adjust and plan, the Government have lost any sense of balance and any grip on the reality of what such cuts will mean for communities across the country.
“The other issue has been political—if I can say it—almost an obsession with the number of police officers, which meant that we've kept that number artificially high. We have had lots of police officers doing administrative posts just to hit that number.”?
As the Home Secretary will know, chief constables have been put in an impossible position. They are rightly trying to do everything they can to deliver strong policing within the budgets they have been given and to reassure the communities for which they have to provide services, but the rug is being pulled from underneath them. If the Home Secretary now believes that police numbers are artificially too high and higher than they ought to be, she is the first Conservative Home Secretary in history to say that the problem with the police force is that police numbers are too high.
The right hon. Lady referred to chief constables. Chief Constable Steve Finnigan of the Lancashire constabulary, who is the ACPO lead on police performance management, was asked whether he would have to reduce front-line policing in order to meet the Government’s budget cuts. He replied: “I absolutely am.” He has also said:
“Let me be really clear. With the scale of the cuts that we are experiencing…we can do an awful lot of work around the back office…but we cannot leave the front line untouched.”
That is because of the scale of the cuts and it is what chief constables are saying across the country.
Is my right hon. Friend not amazed that at a time when we are cutting front-line policing, the Government intend to spend more than £40 million electing police commissioners that nobody wants? The Government have failed to put forward an argument as to why they are required.
My hon. Friend makes an important point, because that money could be spent on keeping some of the 2,000 police officers who have been told that they will be forced to take early retirement as a result of the scale of the cuts. Electing 43 police and crime commissioners seems to be the only crime policy that the Government have. They are electing 43 new politicians in place of the thousands of police officers across the country who are to go.
My hon. Friend is right to mention the concerns of the chief constable of South Yorkshire. He is reported as having recently raised concerns about what would happen to crime in many areas as a result of the scale of the cuts in the Government’s plans. The cuts go way beyond the 12% that Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary said could be made through genuine efficiency savings over several years, and they go way beyond the 12% cuts that the previous Labour Home Secretary identified and promised to implement over a Parliament—they are more than 15% in real terms in the first two years alone. The Government are cutting more in the first two years than Labour proposed to cut over a Parliament.
Does the right hon. Lady not feel any need to apologise for the state in which Labour left this country? We had the worst deficit in the G20—worse than Ireland and Greece. We are now trying to do something about it, but she criticises every saving. What is the matter with Labour? Do Labour Members not understand that everybody and every economic organisation across the world is saying that we need a deficit reduction package and that what she is saying is nonsense?
Government Members have obviously been primed by the Whips today to join the debate but not make any points about policing. They are obviously afraid to discuss the consequences of the cuts for policing and crime in communities across the country, and they are starting to sound like a stuck record. They are cutting too far, too fast, and it is having serious consequences for our economy, the level of unemployment, and police forces. They are going too far, too fast, and communities will pay the price.
The charge against the Home Secretary, as she sits in the dock aided and abetted by the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, is serious. She is the first Conservative Home Secretary in history to champion cuts to the police as a way to cut crime. What is her defence? First, she tried to claim that she was not at the scene of the crime, and that it was the Chancellor who cut her budget and not her. She then tried to claim that no crime had been committed, saying
“lower budgets do not automatically have to mean lower police numbers.”
Faced with the incriminating evidence of 12,500 fewer police, she changed her story:
Her accomplice, meanwhile, said that savings could all come from the back office and the newly defined “middle office”.
The expert witnesses from HMIC have blown that defence away. Instead of proving that cuts could all be made from the back office, they showed that 95% of police officers do not work in the back office. Instead of identifying a wasteful middle office, they said that that office carried out 60% of intelligence support, included the CID specialist crime units, and worked on tackling hate crime, vice, drugs and burglary. Even the Conservative councillor who chairs the Norfolk police authority has switched sides to give evidence for the prosecution. He stated:
“I have to fundamentally disagree with the Minister’s assertion that we can find further efficiencies in the so-called ‘back office’…you can’t take £24.5 million out of our annual spend and still deliver the policing service to the same current standards.”
In my local area, the police tell me that their back office is already cut to the bone. We are reaching a point—[ Interruption. ] That is what I have been told. Government Members may laugh, but that is what police officers have told me. We now have the ridiculous situation of front-line police officers taking time to do things such as empty the bins in a police station in my constituency. That was done by the back office, but it is no longer a back-office function as the back office is not there. The police are spending time emptying bins rather than being on the street fighting crime. How on earth is that justifiable?
That is a hugely important point, because the scale of the cuts to the back office is having an impact on the front line. The sheer scale and pace of the cuts that hon. Members are making and supporting are having an impact. Making the police implement those cuts so fast makes it hard for them to plan, make reforms and change services. Instead, they are having to make deep cuts that hit services as well.
Does my right hon. Friend recall that last year, when I was the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism, we proposed £1.5 billion-worth of cuts and the then Conservative Opposition did not vote against those cuts or propose the extra £1 billion that they are now taking out, and the Liberal Democrats asked for 3,000 more police officers on the beat? Will my right hon. Friend update us on where we are on that promise?
My right hon. Friend is right. We had identified a series of areas where savings could be made while still protecting front-line services. It is true, as the lonely Liberal Democrat on the Benches today will concede, that the Liberal Democrats had called for 3,000 more police officers, rather than voting to cut 12,500 police officers in constituencies across the country.
The Home Secretary has tried a final line of defence. She hopes that the Merseyside force will come to her rescue as a character witness. She claims that if every force improved its visibility as well as Merseyside has done, more officers would be available. We agree that forces should increase their visibility, as many started to do when we introduced neighbourhood policing, and that they should learn from the best. But Merseyside’s testimony does not help the Home Secretary’s case, because it is losing more than 800 police officers, along with an estimated 1,000 staff. Its evidence shows that, despite its good work, it is already being forced to make cuts in front-line services, including to officers in visible jobs, who are already losing their jobs, and it is also cutting the antisocial behaviour task force.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way, and I apologise for being a little late arriving for the debate. Is she aware that the second phase of redundancies in the West Midlands police force will cost an extra £10 million a year over the next two to three years?
I was not aware of the further plans in the West Midlands police force. It is certainly true that many of the cuts in police numbers cover only the first year or two, and many forces are concerned about the consequences in future years as well.
My right hon. Friend will know that Merseyside police force made the biggest efficiency savings in the country before it received its grant settlement. That means that 800 police officers and 1,200 police support staff will now not be employed, and we are still waiting to find out how many policy community support officers will lose their jobs. Is she as worried as I am that police officers in domestic violence units, undercover police units, child protection units and race hate crime units are no longer to be considered front-line police?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. She will know from her constituency the impact that the cuts are having on communities across Merseyside. While Merseyside has certainly done excellent work in getting as many police on the beat as possible and in ensuring that its officers are as available as possible, as well as making very substantial efficiency savings, it is now being penalised. Its services are being hit, and it is the local communities in Merseyside that are paying the price. The truth is that the Home Secretary is making visibility more difficult to achieve in Merseyside, not easier.
It is the same story in Warwickshire, where the force is having to take police officers off the front line to cover critical support jobs that have gone, and South Yorkshire’s chief constable has said:
“A reduction in back officer support will put an increased burden on operational officers, detracting them from frontline duties.”
HMIC said in July last year that
“a cut beyond 12 per cent would almost certainly reduce police availability”.
Does the right hon. Lady accept that HMIC also said last year, in a report commissioned by her Government, that only 11% of police officers were available to the general public at any one time? Does she not accept that there are efficiencies that can properly be made, and that this Government are cutting forms and bureaucracy that have taken up hundreds of thousands of hours of police time? Those are the kind of efficiency savings that can be made.
We have always said that efficiency savings can be made. That is why we set out 12% reductions, but HMIC said that
“a cut beyond 12 per cent would almost certainly reduce police availability”.
The hon. Gentleman also cited the HMIC figure on visibility, but he is misusing the figures. In fact, HMIC said in its most recent report that it is right that forces should try to increase visibility, but pointed out that policing is a 24/7 service. The report stated:
“HMIC estimate that between five and six officers are needed in order to provide one on duty 24/7…This suggests that, overall, the police are operating at the upper end of the efficiency range.”
That is not my conclusion, but that of the independent HMIC.
Chief constables are being put in an impossible position. They are doing their best within their budgets to deliver strong policing and to reassure the public, but the rug is being pulled out from underneath them. Whichever way we look at it, the evidence from the police and the expert witnesses is clear. The sheer scale and pace of the cuts mean that front-line services, and not just front-line numbers, are being hit. The Home Secretary and her co-defendants can change their story as much as they like, but every claim collapses under interrogation. The evidence from the police and the expert witnesses is damning, and the mood among the jury, as Lord Ashcroft’s polling proves, is already hostile, even though the cuts have barely started to bite. It is little wonder that the Ministers are backing softer sentencing; they know that they are going to be found guilty as charged.
Whatever Ministers say at the Dispatch Box, in their offices and in the TV studios, they are a long way from the reality in the police stations and out on the beat. They are out of touch. They think that if they talk fast enough and loudly enough in management-speak about efficiency, bureaucracy, visibility, availability, back office, middle office and even Middle Earth, it will somehow make the real cuts go away, but it will not. This is all a far cry from their pre-election promises. The Prime Minister promised that the front line would be protected. The Lib Dems wanted 3,000 more officers, not 12,000 fewer. Even the Policing Minister told his local paper, just a year before the election:
“I will continue to press for more PCSOs and police officers”.
So much for that, then.
As for Ministers’ claims that there would be no link between the cuts in police numbers and crime, influential members of their own coalition see things rather differently. Before the election, Mr Clegg said that
“putting 2,700 more police on the beat in England and Wales will lead to 27,500 more arrests and an extra 24,500 crimes being solved.”
I am not sure that I would sign up to his level of precision, but he made his point. And one prominent Tory Front Bencher said the following:
“The case can certainly be made that the increase in police officers in the last few years has had a positive effect both on providing reassurance to the public and on reducing some crimes…I am making an argument in favour of an increase in police numbers”.—[Hansard, 3 May 2007; Vol. 459, c. 1671-73.]
Who said that, in this House? The current Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice.
Let us listen to the concerns from the top police. The South Yorkshire chief constable has warned of the impact of higher unemployment, shorter sentences, cuts in probation and cuts in police on increasing crime. The Kent chief constable has said that a 20% cut was
“quite a significant drawback into police numbers, both civilian staff and police numbers, and clearly there’s a potential impact that crime will rise.”
I am a member of the Kent police authority, and the chief constable of Kent has also said that he sees this as an opportunity to deliver a more efficient and effective force. He is increasing the number of neighbourhood officers by more than 75%.
I welcome anything that the Kent chief constable is able to do to support neighbourhood policing, but the hon. Gentleman will know that Kent police are having to lose more than 500 officers and about 1,000 support staff. That means that they will be under pressure in a number of different areas.
What on earth has happened to the Conservative party? The traditional party of policing and crime is throwing it all away. They have left the Liberal Democrats in charge of policing powers and sentencing policy, and they have left the management consultants in charge of the police. They are taking serious risks with crime and communities as a result. Over the 13 years of a Labour Government, crime fell by more than 40%, but most of us think that it is still too high. We want it to come down further. But instead of building on our progress, the Government are putting it at risk.
The Government’s amendment today
“welcomes the Government’s comprehensive proposals to cut crime”,
but what are those proposals? In 13 years of falling crime, Labour increased the number of police officers and got more of them on to the front line, increased the powers of the police through ASBOs and other measures, increased the use of CCTV and DNA, increased crime prevention through youth services and intensive family support, strengthened sentencing and, yes, sent more people to prison. What are this Government doing? They are making cuts in the number of police officers and cuts in the number on the front line. They are cutting the powers of the police and ending ASBOs. They are cutting the use of CCTV and DNA. They are cutting prevention, youth services and specialist family support. They are cutting sentencing, cutting prison places and cutting probation, all at the same time. They are increasing unemployment and child poverty, too. Those do not sound like crime-cutting proposals to me.
The Government are whipping up a perfect storm. None of us knows when it will blow, but they should think again before it is too late. Let me say this to them: they used to be the party of law and order once. Not now.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “House”
to the end of the Question and add:
“welcomes the Government’s comprehensive proposals to cut crime and increase the democratic accountability of policing while dealing with the largest peacetime deficit in history;
supports the Government’s determination to help the police make savings to protect frontline services;
congratulates the police forces that are increasing the number of officers visible and available to the public;
notes that the Opposition’s spending plans require reductions in police spending;
and regrets its refusal to support sensible savings or to set out an alternative.”
I want to start by saying that in this country we have the finest police in the world. The tragic events in Omagh at the weekend have yet again shown the bravery of police officers serving in all parts of the United Kingdom. They put their lives on the line day in, day out, and I am sure that the whole House will join with me in paying tribute to the courage, dedication and commitment of all our police officers.
I am delighted that we are having this debate today. Of course, Yvette Cooper wanted to hold it last time there was an Opposition day, but she was overruled by the shadow Chancellor—not for the first time, I understand. From looking at the text of the Opposition motion and listening to the right hon. Lady’s speech, one might think that they had not planned to make any cuts to policing budgets, but in fact Labour’s overall spending plans involved £14 billion of cuts to Government spending this year, including cuts to the policing budget. The Opposition just will not tell Parliament, the police or the public how they would make them.
I gently suggest that if the right hon. Gentleman is going to make an intervention it might help if he gets his facts right. He has the wrong figures. Indeed, I notice a difference between him and the shadow Home Secretary, who said she would make 12% cuts. The right hon. Gentleman talks about cuts of £1.5 billion—more like 15% or 16%. What we have done and what the Opposition have singularly failed to do is set out a detailed and comprehensive plan to free the police, give accountability back to the people, bring in real reforms and make real savings.
We struck a tough but fair settlement for the police in the spending review. Let us look at the figures. In real terms, the average reduction in central Government funding for the police will be about 5.5% a year, but given that police pay constitutes 80% of all police revenue spending and the likelihood that police pay will be frozen for two years along with that of the rest of the public sector, the reductions in police force budgets will be less severe than the real-terms figures imply.
In cash terms, the average reduction for forces’ grants will be 4% in the first year, 5% in the second, 2% in the third and 1% in the fourth. Again, that does not include the local council tax contribution, which on average makes up a quarter of all police funding. In fact, if we assume that the council tax precept rises in line with the Office for Budget Responsibility’s expectations, in cash terms the police face an average cut of 6% over four years. Those figures show that the reductions are challenging but achievable.
No. I was merely pointing out the fact that the Opposition appear to keep forgetting, which is that police forces have two sources of funding: from central Government and from the precept.
I am absolutely clear that such savings will be achieved only if we reform and modernise our police service, which Labour consistently dodged and ducked during its time in office. We should be absolutely clear that, as the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford has admitted today, Labour would not have protected police budgets but would have had to make the same savings as we are.
Government and his answer was no. Now, the right hon. Lady claims she would be able to protect police numbers. Despite Labour’s denials, we know the truth—they would have made cuts to the police budget, just as we are.
A theme is developing. A call is made for an Opposition day debate on one of the great offices of state and Labour Members come to the House, demanding that difficult decisions are overturned while completely forgetting why we must make those difficult decisions in the first place—[ Interruption. ] Aside from the cuts, one big issue that affected the police in Dorset was the amount of red tape, which meant that officers were spending only 14% of their time on the beat. Is that right? Can we not change it?
My hon. Friend makes two extremely important points. First, judging by the replies from the shadow Home Secretary to a number of interventions from my hon. Friends—as well as the noise just made by Labour Members from a sedentary position—all those on the Labour Benches fail to recognise the state in which they left this country’s economy, with the biggest deficit in our peacetime history. By the necessary measures we have taken to cut public spending, we have taken this country’s economy out of the danger zone. My hon. Friend also makes an important point about bureaucracy. Central to our reforms is the need to get central Government out of the way and to start trusting the police again.
The Home Secretary claimed that our plans would have been the same as hers. By what maths does she make 12% over a Parliament the same as 15% in the first two years and 20% over a Parliament, which is what she is doing?
The right hon. Lady is absolutely clear that if Labour had been in government, it would have made cuts. We are making cuts. My point was very simple: she is claiming today that it would have been possible for a Labour Government to have protected police numbers. It would not have been possible, as the last Labour Home Secretary admitted during the election campaign. The right hon. Lady must consider that very carefully.
The one thing that the previous Labour Government failed to do was to address the bureaucracy that ties up our police officers in filling in forms rather than doing the job that they want to do and that the public want them to do out on the streets. Indeed, the former president of the Police Federation and the previous Government’s own police bureaucracy fighter, Jan Berry, said that as a result of their
“diktats the service has been reduced to a bureaucratic, target-chasing, points-obsessed arm of Whitehall”.
We have done away with the diktats, we have scrapped the central targets, and we are ripping up the red tape. Instead, we are putting our trust back in the police and we are making them accountable to the people who really matter—the public.
On Friday, my constituent—a very senior officer in West Yorkshire police—came to see me at my surgery and asked me to put on the record in this debate his deeply rooted view that the Government’s police spending cuts will damage the service. What does the Home Secretary have to say to my constituent?
I would suggest that the hon. Lady says two things to her constituent. First, she should make it clear why the Government are having to make cuts in public spending—they are a result of the decisions taken by the previous Labour Government. Secondly, she should also make clear the commitment that Chief Constable Sir Norman Bettison has given to what he calls the central drivers of the way in which West Yorkshire police will deal with the budget changes. He states that the first is that
“local policing will not suffer, the sort of policing you see when you open your curtains and the emergency response of the police at the times when people are feeling vulnerable, under threat or have suffered some criminal act or tragedy.”
On bureaucracy, we have scrapped the so-called policing pledge and done away with the last remaining national targets and we have replaced them with a single objective: to cut crime. We are scrapping the stop-and-account form, cutting the reporting requirements for stop and search, and restoring discretion over certain charging decisions to the police, and that is just the start.
The right hon. Lady is obviously in touch with front-line police officers and they obviously correspond with her. How many front-line police officers have written to her or spoken to her to ask for the introduction of a police commissioner in their area?
I shall tell the hon. Gentleman what front-line police officers are saying to me. When I visited the Nottinghamshire police force, I saw a police officer who said to me proudly that he had been out and had made an arrest that morning and that he had had to come back and spend several hours filling in forms when, to use his words, what he wanted to do was to get back out on the streets again.
The Home Secretary is continuing the work started by the previous Government on bureaucracy, but this Government have a more ambitious plan to change the landscape of policing. Does she not accept that the abolition of bodies such as the National Policing Improvement Agency will result in a greater cost to local police authorities and the new commissioners? They will now have to pay for things, such as the databases, that they used to get for free.
Yes, we are getting rid of the NPIA and we are considering a number of the functions that it carries out as well as where they should best and most appropriately sit and we will make an announcement in due course. Of course, the overall cost to the public purse of such things is not likely to change much because the functions undertaken by the NPIA have been funded by the public purse. But there will be a question over the extent to which some of those functions are appropriately carried on at the centre or whether they are carried out elsewhere, potentially more efficiently and with an improved service as a result of moving them elsewhere.
No. I shall make some more progress.
I have made the point about the bureaucracy, but what we have done is just the start. Working with the police, we are looking at sweeping away a wide range of the red tape, bureaucracy and paperwork that get in the way of officers doing what they want to do—getting out on the streets and keeping us safe.
What does the home Secretary say to the police and Warwickshire and South Yorkshire and the HMIC, who have all said that the scale of cuts means that police officers will be doing more bureaucracy and will be less available because of the scale of the cuts and the support staff who used to do those jobs being lost?
The right hon. Lady just does not get the fact that this Government are getting rid of much of the bureaucracy that has been tying up the police in red tape and taking them off the job that they want to do—something that the previous Government singularly failed to do. I would have thought that Labour supported us in our efforts to get officers out from behind their desks and back on the streets, but when one of their several former shadow Home Secretaries was asked by the Home Affairs Committee:
“Do you think it would be better if police spent more time on patrol than they do on paperwork?”,
“I think that is too simplistic a question for me to give a sensible answer.”
Perhaps the right hon. Lady would like to tell us whether she agrees with the shadow Chancellor that the police should be behind their desks, filling in forms, or does she agree with me that they should be out on the street, fighting crime?
Will my right hon. Friend note that Jan Berry, the former president of the Police Federation, wrote only recently that one third of all effort was being duplicated or in some way wasted, and therefore that considerable savings could be made by a reduction in bureaucracy? One third—engineered or duplicated.
My hon. Friend has made an extremely important and valid point and an excellent contribution to the debate. It is exactly that point that was stopping the police doing the job they wanted to do.
Does my right hon. Friend share my incredulity on listening to those on the Opposition Benches? One would think that there had been nothing left to do in terms of improving efficiency, but is the Home Secretary aware that each of the 43 police forces buys its own uniform and its own cars separately?
I will make some progress before I give way to any other interventions.
Our reforms are also based on the premise that the police must be accountable not to civil servants in Whitehall, but to the communities that they serve. Last Thursday, the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill completed its passage through the House. It is our hope that it will complete its passage through the Lords and receive Royal Assent in time for elections for police and crime commissioners to take place next year.
During the Committee stage of the Bill, the Opposition helpfully conceded the principle that we need democratic reform in policing, but their idea is just to add elections on top of the existing ineffective structures by having elected police authority chairs, which would add to the costs without bringing any of the benefits. Under our proposals, police and crime commissioners will have the power to set the police budget, determine local policing priorities and hold their chief constables to account. If they do not cut crime and help keep their communities safe, they will face the ultimate sanction of rejection at the ballot box.
However, slashing Labour’s bureaucracy and increasing accountability is not enough. The police will have to take their fair share of the cuts across Government to clear up Labour’s financial mess, so direct savings and efficiencies are also needed.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary. Last week five west midlands police officers with a total service of 163 years spoke out about the harm that will be done to the front line on which they have served all their life. If the Home Secretary wants to hear the voice of front-line police officers, will she agree to meet those five police officers?
I am very happy to visit police forces, as I do, to talk to police officers across the board, and to hear directly what they are saying. When I next make a trip to the West Midlands force, I am very happy for the hon. Gentleman to arrange for me to meet those five officers. I am sure I will be meeting other officers as well.
It is important that we ensure that we make changes within our police force so that we have the police force that we need to face the 21st century, but it is also important that we make sure that taxpayers’ money is spent effectively. Our starting point for savings is the report by HMIC, “Valuing the Police” which estimated that £1.15 billion per year could be saved if only the least efficient forces brought themselves up to the average level of efficiency.
However, the fiscal deficit left by Labour is so dire that bringing all forces up to the average level is no longer enough—forces must go further. We must raise the performance of all our police forces up to the level not of the average, but of the most efficient forces. If forces improve productivity and adjust to the level of spend typical in the most efficient forces, we could add another £350 million to the £1.15 billion of savings that HMIC calculated.
This sort of thing is already happening. In Suffolk and Norfolk the police forces are creating a shared service platform for their back-office support functions, saving around £10 million per year. In Kent, as my hon. Friend Mark Reckless who serves on the Kent police authority made clear, the police are streamlining and rationalising support services, enabling them to put more into the front line. The Kent force is also collaborating with Essex police to make savings and allow more resources to be devoted to the front line.
In London the Metropolitan police are getting more officers to patrol alone, rather than in pairs, and are better matching resources to demand in neighbourhood policing, increasing officer availability to the public by 25%. In Gloucestershire the police are putting 15% more sergeants and constables into visible policing roles and increasing the numbers of officers on the beat, at the same time as they are making savings. These examples show that it can be done and it must be done.
There were other aspects that were outside the remit of the HMIC report. I know that members of the Opposition Front-Bench team have not read everything that was in that report, so let me spell it out to them. HMIC did not look at the savings that could be made by joining up police procurement and IT, for example. Currently, the police have 2,000 different IT systems across the 43 forces, employing 5,000 staff. As my hon. Friend Claire Perry said, the police currently procure items from uniforms to helicopters in 43 different ways. That makes no sense.
Working with the police, we have already secured their agreement that the right way forward is a national, joined-up approach, with better contracts, more joint purchasing, a smaller number of different IT systems and greater private sector involvement. With these changes we can save a further £350 million. Again, that is over and above the savings that HMIC identified.
The other major item that HMIC did not look at was pay. In an organisation like the police, where £11 billion goes on pay, there is no question but that pay restraint and pay reform must form part of the package. That is why we believe, subject to any recommendations from the Police Negotiating Board, that there should be a two-year pay freeze in policing, just as there has been across the whole of the public sector. This would add at least another £350 million of savings to those calculated by HMIC.
All these savings, together with those identified by HMIC, give us £2.2 billion of savings, just over the £2.1 billion reduction in central Government grant that must be made. And even that ignores the contribution from the local precept.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way a second time. The permanent secretary in her Department is before the Select Committee tomorrow and we will be asking her about procurement. I welcome what the right hon. Lady has said so far about centralising procurement, but is it not better for the Home Office to make recommendations on procurement across the 43 forces, rather than still to leave it to the forces to work out collaborations between themselves?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Our view is that it is important to get the balance right between what the centre does and what the local forces do. Of course we want to leave decision making with the local forces, but we are working with them and ensuring that they will collaborate on those aspects where it makes sense for them to do so in order to make the savings that enable them to reduce their budgets without affecting the front-line services that people want out there in the streets.
No Home Secretary wants to freeze or cut police officers’ pay packages, but with Labour’s record budget deficit these are extraordinary circumstances. That is why I commissioned Tom Winsor to undertake the most comprehensive review of police pay and conditions in more than 30 years—not because I want to make savings for their own sake, but because I want to protect police jobs and keep officers on the streets. We are doing everything we can to minimise the effect of the necessary spending reductions on pay. I have spelt out savings today, but we cannot avoid the fact that changes to pay and conditions have to be part of the package.
The Home Secretary is very generous. Following her comment on pay and trying to protect the police from the worst effects of the cuts, does she accept Winsor’s own comment that 40% of officers stand to lose as much as £4,000 a year as a result of the proposals she is putting forward?
Tom Winsor did not say that. He indicated that a percentage of officers could lose funding as a result of his proposals, which are about putting increased pay to those officers who are in front-line service or who are using certain specialist skills in their work. I want action on pay to be as fair as possible. We are determined not only to cut out waste and inefficiency, but to ensure that pay recognises and rewards front-line service and allows chief officers to put in place modern management practices.
The Opposition know that savings can and should be made by modernising police pay and conditions. Indeed, they have said so publicly. The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford and the former Policing Minister, Mr Hanson, have both said that Labour planned savings in the police overtime budget, but when Tom Winsor proposed those savings they attacked them. I am sure that not only police officers and staff but the public would prefer us to look at pay and conditions rather than lose thousands of posts. Given that the Opposition do not support reform of pay and conditions, losing more posts is exactly what they would do.
On the key issue of posts, the chief constable of South Yorkshire police, who has been mentioned a number of times in the debate, is facing a loss of 1,200 police and civilian posts. He is absolutely clear that there will be an enormous impact on front-line policing and has said that crime will rise in South Yorkshire. Given the Home Secretary’s concern that we should trust the police and their judgment, what would she say to him?
What I say to the hon. Gentleman is this: he is standing up saying that he wants to be able to save police jobs, so why have the Opposition singularly failed to support Tom Winsor’s proposals? Not only did they not support the proposals, but the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford said that in commissioning Tom Winsor’s report I was picking a fight with the police. It is absolutely clear that there are chief constables out there who recognise the impact that this could have. The chief constable of Thames Valley has said, “Tom Winsor’s report on terms and conditions provide us with recommendations that could cut the size of our pay bill if they are implemented. This will allow us to reassess the job reductions we had planned for future years and maybe to retain greater number of officers and staff.”
I have set out today that we have already identified savings over and above the reduction in central Government grant, so it is clear that savings can be made while front-line services are maintained and improved. The truth behind today’s debate is that the Labour party is engaged in opposition for opposition’s sake. They admit that there is a democratic deficit in policing but oppose our reforms to bring in democratic accountability. They said they would not be able to guarantee police numbers, but now they say that they would protect them. They say they would cut police spending, but now they oppose every single saving we have identified. They oppose a two-year pay freeze, meaning that their cuts would have to be deeper. They say that they would cut police overtime, but then they attack Tom Winsor when he proposes just that. They oppose reform of pay and conditions, meaning that under Labour more police jobs would have to go. This is not constructive opposition but shameless opportunism, and the public know it.
Only one side of the House has a clear plan to reform the police and cut crime. We are slashing bureaucracy, restoring discretion, increasing efficiency, giving power back to the people and, most of all, freeing the police to fight crime. Every one of those measures is opposed by the Labour party, which is why their motion deserves to fail.
I am amazed by the sheer complacency of the Home Secretary’s speech. She seems to have just landed from another planet. Given that we are experiencing the largest annual fall in police officer strength since figures were first published for March 1978—I depend on the House of Commons Library for that figure—it is obvious that the cuts are going too far, too deep and are happening too fast. I do not rely only on statistics to know that; I need only speak with senior police officers, experienced people who do not want to leave the police, who work on the streets in my constituency—colleagues can do the same in their constituencies—to know that we are losing people whose experience, knowledge and dedication are invaluable in the fight against crime.
The Home Secretary caricatured the position of the Opposition and previous Ministers, such as my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson. The cuts that the Government propose are roughly double the level that my right hon. Friend Alan Johnson described as painful but possible when he was Home Secretary. The fact that the cuts are front-loaded makes the pain even worse.
I do not blame the Policing Minister, because this is driven by a Chancellor and a Prime Minister who are on the rampage with economic cuts that they clearly believe in and that go beyond what is economically necessary. The Home Secretary should have done better in negotiations and given the Policing Minister the tools that are necessary to do his job well. It is a fascinating and challenging role, as some of us know from our time in that job. The police need the tools to do the job. I want to inject some realism into the debate about what we expect from the police and then focus on what we mean by front-line policing.
In recent months, the Home Secretary has muddled the issues by talking so much about visible policing, as if the test is whether each of us can see a couple of Dixon-style cops strolling up our streets with measured tread. Visibility can mean different things to different people, so let us look at look at some examples. I will start with my own city of Cardiff. Pretty much all the police officers were pulled off the streets across south Wales on
The police and the organisers of Unite Against Fascism and of the sporting events worked very hard to make it a peaceful day, and apart from a few idiots it went well. That was greatly to the credit of South Wales police, who took all necessary precautions. However, they could not be very visible in other parts of south Wales on such a day. It is challenging to police a successful capital city.
Despite such challenges, we have seen a major reduction in crime in Cardiff and across the South Wales police force area. Crime figures show that for 2009-10, crime overall fell by 11.7%, compared to 2008-09. More than 13,000 fewer people became victims of crimes such as burglary and vehicle crime. Robbery was down a massive 27%, with South Wales police the second most improved force in England and Wales.
That is not just down to the police; crime and disorder partnerships have helped, particularly through the violence reduction project in Cardiff, led by a medic, Professor
Jonathan Shepherd. Violence resulting in a victim needing treatment at an accident and emergency unit is down by more than 40% in Cardiff, so the reduction is not just down to the police, but that partnership approach cannot work without the police. Is that front-line work? Is it visible policing? The answer to both questions must be no, unless we distort the words far beyond their normal, common-sense meaning.
Let me give some other examples. First, it is vital that police officers do undercover work and work internationally to counter terrorism. Preventing an explosion does not get the headlines commanded by the sort of bombs that went off in London in July 2005, but that is exactly why it is important for such quiet but effective work to go on year in, year out.
Secondly, there is the need to combat organised crime: those who traffic drugs, people and human misery. Again, that is well organised criminal activity and international in scale, as some of us saw when we visited Turkey with the Home Affairs Committee a few weeks ago.
Thirdly, there is internet-related crime, which includes fraud on a massive scale and serious and well-organised child abuse.
Absolutely. Often, it is not very pleasant work. It is painstaking and time-consuming and requires a great deal of commitment, and often people put themselves in danger by undertaking such not very visible activity.
In each of the three areas that I have just mentioned, success commands little publicity. A day’s report of convictions is the best that they can expect, and that is trumped by the drip-feed of facts and fears as the media quite rightly report the crimes and warn us of the dangers. That is inevitable, because until a case is brought to court, publicity might undermine it, and that is a risk which cannot be taken. It means, however, that the public demand for reassurance and safety involves effectiveness, not just visibility. Success on its own does not give reassurance.
There is an issue of confidence, but crime is down. I have referred to the massive drop in violent crime in Cardiff, as measured by the number of people who need emergency treatment, but people do not feel safe. They worry about neighbourhood nuisance, graffiti and rudeness as much as about murder and terrorism, and that is why police accountability is challenging and why Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary was right to send a message to the Home Secretary last week, defining the front line as a complex and challenging place.
That report itself, however, raises some serious issues, because the four categories of police work as set out in the report—visible, specialist, middle office and back office—do not include the strategic partnership work to which I referred earlier, and it is not clear that the report includes the other examples that I have given either.
I was a member of the Justice Committee when it produced its report on justice reinvestment. That report points out that many of the services that can make an impact on cutting crime depend on resources outside the criminal justice system: mental health, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, skills, employment, housing and personal relationships. Harnessing those resources, however, requires greater engagement by the police, not less, so forcing the police to withdraw from such teamwork will lead to long-term costs, rather than to savings.
That is why I am sceptical of the HMIC report. It fails to refer to the words of Sir Robert Peel, stating that the purpose of policing is to prevent and reduce crime, words that were quoted by the Policing Minister when he gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee and in a number of other contexts. I applaud him for quoting that as the prime purpose of the police, but nowhere in the HMIC report does it refer to the work of crime reduction partnerships or to any findings from the Justice Committee’s report.
A time of financial constraint is the right time to be innovative and strategic and to go back to basic questions such as, “What is this all for?” The HMIC report does not do that. At the end of the day, cutting bureaucracy is indeed a worthy objective, but the Home Secretary will find that it is not as easy as she thinks; many previous Ministers have been dedicated to cutting bureaucracy. Increasing the visibility of the police, solving more crime, arresting more offenders and succeeding in a higher proportion of prosecutions are also worthy objectives, but they are means to an end, not an end in themselves, and that is why we need to spell out the danger of the cuts that go too deep, too fast and too far.
Several people have quoted the chief constable of the South Yorkshire force. I could quote any number of chief constables, but I will quote Meredydd Hughes, because I remember him as an effective front-line police officer in Llanrumney in my constituency earlier in his career. He said that the cuts questioned the sustainability of unprecedented reductions in crime over the last 15 years, and let us not forget how successful the previous Government were in driving down crime. He also said:
“A reduction in back office support will put an increased burden on operational officers detracting them from front-line duties.”
But, above all, he said:
“What is clear is that we will be unable to continue to provide the level of service that we do today in such areas as neighbourhood policing within diversionary and problem solving activities.”
I worry that the HMIC report does not say enough about diversion, prevention, crime reduction or problem-solving activities. They seem to have fallen outside the four categories that it chose, and we need to look at that report and its definition with very great care.
In Staffordshire, the protestations that the cuts should not hit front-line services simply sound absurd. From this November, the county, which has a Conservative-run council, is implementing a rule that will force serving police officers, irrespective of rank or experience, to retire once they have reached 30 years’ service. Does my right hon. Friend think that Staffordshire police will enforce regulation A19 lightly, or does he think that it has something to do with the severity and depth of the cuts?
I am certain that it has a lot to do with the severity and depth of the cuts, and my hon. Friend refers precisely to the experience in my force area which has been replicated throughout the country.
The point is that, at a time of severe cuts, many forces are having to take emergency action, rather than a considered approach that looks at the evidence of what works and makes sure that the police service increases its effectiveness and efficiency and is more successful, rather than less, in reducing crime. We have deep cause for concern. The cuts go too far.
I am grateful to have been called in this debate, so soon after last week’s proceedings on the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, to express some of the frustration that has reached me from police officers in the far west Dyfed Powys force and, indeed, from members of the public, who are increasingly concerned about seemingly being used as a political pawn in the debate. It is affecting that vital bond between the public and the police, and indeed the morale of police officers themselves.
In our debate last week, I drew a parallel with the ongoing consultation on the future of the coastguard service, simply to remind myself as well as the House that the great passion for that service—one that is crucial in west Wales at Milford Haven—is built on loyalty, public respect, a sense of ownership and the sense that the coastguard and, indeed, the police are somehow part of the fabric and the architecture of the community, and that people know that when they ring the coastguard, as with the police, they will get a trusted and, above all, local response. That is increasingly relevant in this debate.
As hon. Members know, the Dyfed Powys force covers a huge geographical area of rural west Wales, but it has its fair share of terrorist-related incidents, urban crime and industrial-related challenges. Above all, however, what the force possesses is an ancient relationship with the community, and the potential compromise of that relationship, as a result of the terms of the Opposition’s motion, is causing our officers and our public to waver between nervousness and distrust and, at times, contempt. Public confidence is very precious, and the idea that we can compromise it on the back of financial mismanagement over the past few years is the scandal at the heart of this debate, rather than the proposals put forward by the Government.
Several Members have referred to conversations that they have had with their local chief constables, and I will be no exception. Mr Ian Arundale, who is highly respected by the public in our area and by his own members of staff, has told me on more than one occasion that the proposals are challenging but need not compromise public safety.
The Opposition consistently contend that we are facing 20% cuts across the board, yet we know that the precept is not subject to those cuts, and that officers are likely to face a two-year pay freeze in the future, which means that in fact the cuts are far lower. Does my hon. Friend agree that a much more responsible approach is to make that clear, as that will be less worrisome to his constituents and mine?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. Indeed, responsibility and irresponsibility lie at the heart of this debate. I cannot think of a more irresponsible approach than to try to frighten the most vulnerable in society, and the police service itself, with spurious claims that cannot be backed up by fact.
Does the hon. Gentleman think that the chief constable of Lancashire, who is the ACPO lead on performance management, was being irresponsible or misleading when he said on the “Today” programme on
“we cannot leave the front line untouched and that is because of the scale of the cuts”?
The hon. Gentleman may also be interested in the comments of Mr Bradshaw, who said:
“I don’t think it’s possible to make a direct correlation between police numbers and crime reduction.”
It is being assumed that a reduced number of police officers means a reduced service. I would argue, as have chief constables across the land, including my own, that that is not as clear cut as the hon. Gentleman might suggest. In Dyfed Powys, there will be a different sort of policing as a consequence of these changes—it will look different, as I said last week. There will be a greater reliance on technology, and things will not be quite as they were before. However, it is irresponsible to suggest that the public are somehow endangered as a result, and that makes the motion something that the Opposition should be rather ashamed of.
The hon. Gentleman says that police numbers and crime are not linked. Is he therefore suggesting that if crime does not go up we should carry on cutting police numbers?
I fully follow the hon. Gentleman’s logic. The comment I made is attributed to a Member from his own party, and a similar comment was made by the former Home Secretary, so perhaps he will take it up with them when he has the opportunity.
I commend the approach of the Dyfed Powys force in its tackling of the challenges ahead. It had a simple strategy, which was to list its challenges as the things that it must do, the things that it could do, and the things that it must stop doing. Hon. Members may be interested to discover, as I was, that the last of those three lists is longer than Labour Members may care to consider. One such example was the victims of crime leaflet, a new Labour gimmick if ever there was one, which was abandoned by the Dyfed Powys police force as being a waste of officers’ time and the public’s time, and—guess what?—public satisfaction with the force went up at the same time as that measure was disposed of. That illustrates what I think, what my voters think, and what the police officers of Dyfed Powys think—that we would much rather have our police officers engaged in proper crime prevention and detection than in subsequently taking part in some sort of PR exercise to suit a political agenda.
Will the hon. Gentleman join me, and indeed the Government, in welcoming the comments of Baroness Newlove who said last week that the assets of criminals should be used more for the benefit of the community that they have harmed? How does he suggest that that happens in the Northumbria police area, where the asset recovery unit is going to be subject to the cuts that he is advocating?
The hon. Gentleman asks me to comment on a constabulary that is about as far away from my own as it is possible to go. All I can say on behalf of my own area is that we simply want our police officers to be solving crime and, better still, preventing crime—dealing with the realities of day-to-day life rather than engaging in spurious PR exercises and form filling of the sort that has dominated the political agenda for some time and that this Government are rightly seeking to reduce.
There is talk of its being easier simply not to replace chief superintendents—I almost said chief constables, which was a bit of a Freudian slip—after their 30-year service has come to an end. Of course there is a temptation to take that approach but, certainly in our case, it is balanced with the clear need seriously to address the issue of back-office support that other hon. Members have mentioned. That has been slightly misrepresented, because huge importance is attached to back-office police work as distinct from back-office administrative activity. Alun Michael was a little disingenuous in not making that clear separation.
I mentioned the 149 police officers being forced to resign after 30 years’ service in Staffordshire, but I did not mention the six police stations, including my own in Newcastle-under-Lyme, that are being closed because of the cuts. These are police stations that survived Margaret Thatcher and are now falling victim to Cameron-Clegg. Would the hon. Gentleman designate those as much-needed assets or merely back-office functions that can be reorganised willy-nilly?
The hon. Gentleman conveniently takes me on to my next point.
I do not think anybody on the Government Benches—obviously I cannot speak for the Home Secretary—has gone into these challenges with any great sense of glee based on any great ideology. It is grim reality time—responsibility time. I was fortunate enough to operate in the private sector before I came to this place. I was responsible for 90 employees and a budget of £5 million. Every single year I was forced to reduce that budget, every single year I went to my departmental head, every single year they said they could not do it, and every single year they said it would never be the same again and the end of civilisation as we know it, and—guess what?—after 10 years we had a lean, efficient machine that served its members responsibly and cost-effectively. What it boils down to—my own chief constable has said this publicly and privately—is that police officers are well capable of applying the same corporate disciplines in the police world that most people out there in the real world apply to their businesses. We should not automatically assume that a new approach to efficient policing will necessarily lead to compromises in safety.
The Government’s proposals take us back to relatively recent levels of funding, not to the dark ages. They remove a thick layer of bureaucracy that I thought everybody in this House was keen to see rid of, as well as members of the public and the police force. These proposals take police officers out of their offices and put them back where we need them: solving and preventing crime, and closer to their communities.
The scandal of this motion, and the reason I took part in this debate—I had no serious intention of doing so, but I was driven to it by frustration—is that it has nothing whatsoever to do with protecting vulnerable people in society or defending jobs in the police, and everything to do with furthering Labour’s political aims. To do that in the run-up to a Welsh Assembly election when so many things are at stake, and to do so at the expense of the fear of vulnerable people in society and police officers worried about their jobs, is an absolute scandal. For that reason alone, the motion should fail dismally.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to take part in this important debate.
In January, I met the acting chief constable of Northumbria police to discuss the significant challenges she now has to face. Owing to central Government cuts, Northumbria police have to identify more than £57 million of cuts to be made over the next three years. That will lead to fewer police on our streets. I recognise that some savings are inevitable, but the depth and extent of the cuts that this Government are imposing on our police force will have a long and lasting effect on our communities and my constituents. My local police authority has confirmed that 318 police officers will lose their jobs, and that 825 support staff jobs will be lost. That is 41% of all support staff. In total, the sad figure of 1,143 jobs will be lost across the region.
Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary warned that forces could make savings of up to 12% before front-line policing would be affected. This Government have arrogantly gone ahead with cutting central funding to the police by 20%, while continuing to claim that front-line services will be protected. Despite the cuts, Northumbria police are expected to maintain or even improve the services they provide. The numbers simply do not add up. I believe that this situation is impossible. I fail to see how Northumbria police’s track record of excellence and the quality of service that they provide to my constituents will not be challenged and compromised by the loss of staff.
Before entering this House, I was a trade union official for the GMB, as is stated in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. For a number of years, I had the privilege of representing GMB members employed by Northumbria police as support staff, so I understand the jobs that support staff do. I know how hard they work and how dedicated they are to providing an excellent service to the residents of the Northumbria police area.
That is substantially less than the Government propose. The key point is that it would be done over the course of a Parliament. These cuts are being implemented now—too fast and too deep.
The jobs that support staff do are crucial and important; they are not anonymous pen pushers. They do jobs such as taking calls from the public and directing them to the correct area within the force or escalating them to the correct level—for instance, if an accident has happened. Some are employed at the driver training school, which teaches all police officers specialist driving skills, such as how to drive safely at speed, before allowing them to drive a police car. Those are not jobs that do not have to be done, but essential jobs. If support staff do not do them, someone else will have to. They are not the type of jobs that can be got rid of.
Perhaps the hon. Lady can understand why the public are slightly confused about the numbers. Since 1994, police numbers have gone up by 16%, but back-room staff numbers have gone up by 54%. The public wonder about the productivity of the back-room staff because crime figures are not exactly moving in the right direction very quickly.
If back-room staff are freeing police officers to be out on the streets dealing with crime, they are doing an important job in bringing down crime. That is what my constituents say to me.
Staffing rationalisations, which I have heard much about from Government Members, have been ongoing for many years in police services. In my opinion, support staffing is down to a level where there is little, if any, slack. The cuts will take police officers off the streets to do support staff jobs. The result will be many fewer police doing front-line duties.
When Labour left office, there was a record number of police on the streets—nearly 17,000 more than in 1997—and 16,000 new police community support officers. Inevitably, the record number of police officers on our streets meant that crime fell dramatically. That is a record of which all Labour Members can be proud. The Government are unravelling all the work that was done to increase police numbers and as a result are putting the safety of our communities at risk.
The question I ask today is this: I know that my constituents value their police force, so why do this Government not? When the police do so much to protect our homes, families and communities it is only right that we show them just how valuable they are. At the moment, the Government are sending the police the opposite message from that of my constituents.
Over the last few weeks, many police officers who live and work in my constituency have contacted me. They are concerned about the additional and unnecessary pressure they will face as a result of the Government’s cuts. One serving police officer contacted me recently to say:
“The cuts to police officers and police staff will have a massive effect on our ability to police the streets throughout our force area. Our command team have no alternative but to face the press and pretend to them that we can make ourselves more efficient and improve the service we deliver. To say anything else would cause panic across our force area. This is the direct result of the massive cuts to police budgets imposed by the current government”.
I think that that sums it up. I ask the Government to consider the impossible position in which they are putting our police officers and chief constables.
For years, Sunderland has led the field in tackling domestic violence. The Safer Sunderland Partnership and its dedicated team have worked tirelessly and effectively to support women and children who are victims of and at risk from domestic violence. The Government cuts will put such specialist policing units under strain or facing closure. Sunderland’s safer communities team is losing its highly dedicated domestic violence co-ordinator. Our communities, and the women and children whom these services protect, cannot afford to take that risk. The Government do not seem to consider specialist services such as domestic violence, child abuse and serious organised crime units, or those involved in training, to be front-line services and they will not be exempt from the cuts. The Government may not consider such units to be important, but my constituents do and they greatly appreciate the work that they do to protect our community.
It is time that the Government faced up to reality and recognised the risks that they are taking with crime in our communities—risks that we cannot afford. They must review the level of cuts that they are imposing before it is too late.
The Government are facing up to reality. The most challenging financial circumstances that this country has faced since the second world war have made me acknowledge that the quality of policing cannot simply be about the number of police; it must also be about how well they are deployed. Government Members have always been clear that police forces can make savings, while protecting front-line services and prioritising the visibility and availability of policing.
There may be no agreement on that between the Government and the Opposition, but at least there is agreement on police budgets. Let us be clear: the Labour party admits that it would be cutting police funding, that it could not guarantee police numbers, and that it could not guarantee that police staff would not be lost. That is not only because of the cuts to police funding that it had proposed, but because, irrespective of the plethora of targets that operated when it was in power, it still could not dictate to chief constables exactly whom they did or did not employ.
At the moment, the police are crippled by bureaucracy and spend more time on paperwork than on patrol. That frustrates the police, who want to do their job, and the public, who want to see more police on the streets. The coalition Government are scrapping unnecessary bureaucracy to save police time. The Liberal Democrat and Conservative manifestos both said that we would reduce time-wasting bureaucracy, and that is exactly what we are doing. We are helping the police to make savings, and to ensure that resources are focused on the front line.
Would the hon. Gentleman not add cutting crime to that list? He has listed bureaucracy, but surely the purpose of the police is to cut crime. Will that be in his speech at some point?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. That is the second point on which we can agree: the police should, indeed, cut crime.
The police could also make savings from consolidating IT services, as the Home Secretary said. The police have no fewer than 2,000 separate IT systems. Surely that is a good place to look for savings. We can do much more with technology to help the police use their time more effectively, and all parties agree that we need to do much more to ensure smarter procurement.
Another point on which the coalition partners agree, but on which Labour opposes us, is the terms and conditions of police officers. The Government were right to set up the Winsor review of police pay and conditions, and of course the coalition Government will work in co-operation with the police negotiating bodies on the matter. To fight crime, we need a modern and flexible work force to help chief constables manage their resources properly, maximise officer time and improve the service to the public. We are clear, of course, that the police must be fairly compensated for their work, which is difficult and often dangerous, as we have been tragically reminded over the weekend following the callous murder of Ronan Kerr.
What are the key facts behind what the coalition Government are doing? It is true that Government funding for the police is being reduced, and will be reduced throughout this Parliament. However, as the Home Secretary said, the police also receive precept funding, and the Government’s freeze in police pay will make a substantial contribution to maintaining budgets.
I acknowledge that the picture across the country is complex, and it is clear from the reports that we are getting from different forces that some are finding the situation tougher to address than others. However, as Members have said, some police forces are actually increasing the number of front-line officers, such as Gloucestershire police, which is moving up to 15% of police officers into more visible roles. Many Members have quoted the HMIC report, which revealed that some forces have twice the visibility and availability of policing of others. It is clear that all forces can make improvements to the visibility of police officers.
The same report showed that a third of resources are not on the front line, and highlighted the great differences in the visibility of police officers at different times. Some 16% are visible on a Friday morning at 9 o’clock, but only 9% are visible and available on a Friday night. Again, it is clear that there are things that forces can do to increase the visibility of police without necessarily touching police numbers. They can provide police at the time when the public want to see them. I am sure all Members have been accosted by constituents who ask them why police officers and safer neighbourhood teams are out patrolling at 9 o’clock on a Monday morning rather than in the town centre at 9 o’clock on a Friday night. Improvements can therefore be made to rotas.
The Labour party’s record is worthy of some scrutiny. As Opposition Members may well know, in 2009 just 14% of all officers’ time was spent on patrol, compared with 22% on paperwork. In one year alone, from 2007 to 2008, the amount of time spent on paperwork increased by 22%. The Home Secretary referred to the comment of Peter Fahy, the chief constable of Greater Manchester police, that Labour had a political obsession with numbers of police.
I am grateful. In the light of the hon. Gentleman’s comments, does he regret the commitment that he stood on last May of 3,000 additional police officers?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point, and I apologise for pre-empting it. However, I said at the beginning of my speech that the circumstances that we are in have required all parties to reappraise any prior commitments in their manifestos. Quite simply, as the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury said, there is no money.
“I would estimate one-third of effort is either over-engineered, duplicated or adds no additional value.”
She was the person whom the previous Government chose to examine bureaucracy, and that was her assessment of police effort.
Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that it would have been sensible if Jan Berry had been asked to continue the work that she started? She produced an excellent report, but I understand that her work has now been transferred to the chief constable of the West Midlands, a serving chief constable. Surely it would have been better if Jan Berry had been allowed to monitor the results of her recommendations.
I thank the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. I am absolutely certain that the work that Jan Berry has already done will inform what the chief constable and the Government are doing to address bureaucracy.
A previous Labour Home Secretary, when he was asked in April 2010 whether he could guarantee that police numbers would not fall, said that he could not. The shadow Chancellor is on record as saying that under his plans,
“you will lose some non-uniformed back office staff”.
It is interesting that the shadow Home Secretary and the shadow Chancellor cannot even agree among themselves what their position on the Winsor review is. The former has attacked the Government for initiating the review, but the latter has said that overtime and shift work savings are something that
“any sensible government would look at”.
I suggest that they need to get their house in order first.
To clarify, we have criticised the Government many times for pre-empting the Winsor review, not for commissioning it. We have criticised them for announcing their views on the amount of money that should be cut, and for criticising the police in the newspapers, in advance of the Winsor review rather than after it.
I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman is inviting interventions, because we have said that it is right to examine how the police work. However, will he confirm that his party’s pledge of 3,000 additional officers was made when the now Deputy Prime Minister said that although financial circumstances were extremely difficult, the position of the police was so important that there would be 3,000 additional police officers as part of his party’s manifesto commitment?
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for intervening and putting on record the Labour party policy on policing—that it is right to examine how the police work. That is as close to a policy statement as we are going to get tonight.
The debate could have been an opportunity to discuss the coalition’s programme of police reform and budget reductions, and to contrast that with the Opposition’s track record and future plans. Regrettably, the Opposition did not grasp that opportunity. Instead, we had the usual “too fast and too deep” or, alternatively, “too far and too fast” line from the shadow Home Secretary, peppered with lame police and justice themed jokes, recycled from an earlier speech. When will she accept that saying that the coalition is going too far, too fast does not amount to a policy for the Labour party? If she wants to be taken seriously, she will have to work out her party’s policy before she next stands at the Dispatch Box.
The Government speak of reform of the police force: of front-line services and of back-office management. However, “reform” is a euphemism that the Government use for the most drastic cuts to one of our most vital public services.
Actions speak louder than words, and the public will judge the Government on their actions and their decision to cut the police budget by 20%. The Government speak of reform, but the reality is deep and damaging cuts, which will drastically affect the front line of our police force.
We should not underestimate the scale of the cuts. Almost a quarter of a million people are employed by 43 police forces in England and Wales. The Association of Chief Police Officers has put a figure on how the Government’s 20% cut is likely to translate into the number of officers on the street. It estimates that 28,000 jobs will be lost as a result of the cuts. Of those, 12,000 will be police officers and 16,000 will be so-called civilian staff. That represents a fall of around 12% in overall staff numbers, with 8% of officers losing their jobs.
The Government’s Winsor review states that the taxpayer will save £485 million over three years as a result of those cuts, but at what cost? Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has said that more than two thirds of all police force staff in England and Wales are employed in front-line roles, but that not all are necessarily visible. It stated that the front line is
“not just what you notice, but it’s also what you rely on.”
We must not make a clinical distinction between front-line and back-office policing. That is too crude. We must not confuse visibility with deployment.
HMIC found that 95% of police officers are either on the front line or working in important middle-office roles in—for example, intelligence gathering or operation planning. Even if the Government’s claim that cuts of 20% would affect only back-office roles were true, those middle and back-office roles are not simply disposable assets. Cuts to middle and back-office roles will inevitably have an effect on the ability of those on the front line to do their jobs.
The Prime Minister said:
“There is no reason for there to be fewer front-line officers.”—[Hansard, 30 March 2011; Vol. 526, c. 335.]
I would like to echo the words of Steve Finnigan, our chief constable. He said that preventing cuts from hitting the front line would prove challenging. He went further, saying that it would be impossible to protect the front line. He was asked this week whether the Government’s cuts mean that he will have to reduce front-line policing and he replied, “I absolutely am.” Chief Constable Finnigan is ACPO’s lead officer on performance management. Does the Home Secretary think that he is wrong? Does she think that Chief Constable Finnigan of ACPO and Lancashire police is not managing his force correctly?
The point is simple, and we are hearing it from forces throughout the country. We simply cannot make cuts of 20% without hitting front-line services. Our police force is one of our most vital public services. Those officers do some of the hardest jobs in the most demanding circumstances and the Government have wholly underestimated their commitment and dedication.
The Government’s so-called reforms will inevitably have an impact on the police service for years to come. The Government promised that there would be no centrally determined job losses—I suppose that that is technically true. Instead, the Government are responsible for the heavy front-loaded cuts, leaving the inevitable job losses in the hands of local authorities and the police.
The priority must be to protect the visibility and availability of police forces in our local communities. However, my constituents are far from optimistic about the so-called reforms. Lancashire Police Federation has said that, in the light of cuts, the force will be hit doubly with job losses and pay cuts, about which we have already heard.
I would like to finish, please. Plenty of other hon. Members wish to speak.
John O’Reilly, chairman of Lancashire Police Federation, said:
“Lancashire is a top performing force because of its workforce.”
John goes on to say that
“if the Government keep bashing us, all they are doing is opening up the door for criminals to make life more difficult.”
Figures put to the Lancashire police authority suggest a drastic reduction in the number of officers, which would put Lancashire’s officer strength at its lowest since 2003.
In the period since 2003, Lancashire has experienced the greatest fall in crime, and I would not like to go back to 2003 crime levels. However, the cuts will result in an eight-year low in the number of police officers on Lancashire’s streets.
Everyone supports sensible reform, but the Government are hitting our police forces hard, and it will be to the detriment of our local communities. My constituents are concerned that cuts to our already stretched police force will be an open invitation for criminals to commit more crime. Do the Government really think that crime levels will not rise with the police force stretched, understaffed and under-resourced? Do they honestly think that antisocial behaviour will not increase, and that the safety in our streets will not be put into question as a result of there being fewer officers on the beat?
Two thirds of the British public share those concerns and, to date, the Government have done nothing to put those concerns to rest. People are clearly concerned that reduced police funding will have detrimental effects, and at the same time, the Government are prepared to spend £40 million or thereabouts on electing police commissioners.
Furthermore, there has been a two-year delay on the decision on whether police community support officers will continue. My constituents are worried not only about police cuts, but about the Home Office budgets that affect PCSOs. This is not just a numbers game. The Government seem happy to cut our police force by a fifth, but have they paid any thought to the experience and expertise of the PCSOs who will be lost as a result of those cuts?
The Home Secretary must realise that she cannot make drastic cuts of 20% to the police budget without losing some of our most experienced and dedicated officers from the front line. The Government must think again on the scale and pace of the cuts. They are going too far, too fast.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this very important debate.
Since the start of this Parliament, we have had numerous Opposition day debates on a range of subjects, but the core of every debate is always the same—public spending and public sector reform—and the Labour party always falls back and repeats the same tired mantra that the coalition is cutting too fast and too far.
Of course, to date the Opposition have offered no alternative. They have no credible policies to speak of and there is still no ink on the Leader of the Opposition’s blank sheet of policy paper. Perhaps there is an untidy smudge, because after all, in February, he and the shadow Chancellor tried to instil some discipline in the shadow ministerial ranks by asking that all potential commitments be cleared by the Labour high command. That discipline, however, was in tatters in no time. Over the past few weeks, Labour has opposed £50 billion of savings proposed by the coalition, and made £12 billion—and rising—of unfunded spending commitments. That is no economic policy; it is voodoo economics.
To understand what Labour would have done had it been in government, we need to look back at its plans.
The coalition inherited planned spending cuts from Labour of £14 billion in 2011-12, and the coalition savings amount to £16 billion for the same period, which is a ratio of 9:10. It is all very well Labour Members moaning about the level and pace of cuts, and the front-loading of savings, but the fact is that they planned to do exactly the same.
It is all very well the shadow Home Secretary wailing about police numbers, but before the general election—a number of colleagues have alluded to this—her colleague, the former Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, made the point that he could not guarantee police numbers if Labour were re-elected and returned to office. It is all very well the shadow Home Secretary attacking the Winsor review, as she did again today, but her colleague, the former Police Minister, Mr Hanson, who is not in the Chamber, confirmed that Labour planned to cut police overtime if it returned to office. I do not understands—and I guess no Government Members understands—why the Labour party and the shadow Home Secretary oppose the Winsor review.
The shadow Home Secretary may well moan about cuts generally, but she should remember, as do many outside the House, that the Government of whom she was a member created the mess and the record deficit that the coalition is trying to fix. Just for the record, and because Labour Members still do not get it after 12 months in opposition, let us remember Labour’s legacy: the biggest deficit in the developed world, and £120 million paid out every day in interest alone by the British taxpayer. That is three and half times the total that we spend on policing in the UK.
Have the British people ever had an apology from Labour for creating that toxic financial mess? No. And what of the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of Labour’s decade of destructive debt? Mr Brown seems to have abandoned the House completely—I do not think that we have seen in him here in recent times—and in his utterances, the shadow Chancellor seems to be morphing into the Labour Prime Minister of the late ’70s, saying, “Deficit? What structural deficit?” That is where we have come to.
A few weeks ago, the shadow Home Secretary turned up in my constituency in a marginal ward to moan about cuts in front-line policing and to worry my constituents—what a surprise with local elections due in May. To get her facts she chose, rather unwisely, to listen to the apparatchiks, dinosaurs and deficit deniers who currently comprise the Labour party in Reading. [ Interruption. ] Oh, Stephen Twigg has met them! They are the same folk who managed, between 2002 and 2010, to increase Reading council’s debt from £41 million to an eye-watering £200 million, with no debt-reduction plan in sight—that sounds familiar does it not? There was £1 million of taxpayers’ money wasted on consultants here and £1.4 million to pay for full-time union officials there, but then Labour has always been very good at frittering away taxpayers’ money.
Had the shadow Home Secretary bothered to speak to the chief constable of Thames Valley police before her visit to Reading, she would have heard a different story. She could perhaps have Googled, as she is doing now, and seen the stories in the press from February. What is absolutely clear is that, despite having to make savings, Thames Valley police has made it clear that it will not cut the resources committed to neighbourhood policing and patrols. That is its commitment to visible policing—protecting the front line. It is finding savings by removing management layers and collaborating successfully with the neighbouring Hampshire police in key areas to save back and middle-office costs. Examples include a single, shared IT department that will save millions of pounds and shared firearms and dog training. It is collaborating with other forces in areas such as air support, witness protection, specialist operations and technical support. While finding savings and protecting the front line, Thames Valley police is also increasing the number of special constables, having recruited 570 in the past six months alone.
Thanks to Labour’s budget deficit, police forces and other public services are having to find savings, but we should also remember, as a number of my colleagues on the Government side have said, that many in the private sector have had to find savings of more than 3%, 4% or 5% a year for the past few years. It is, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said, possible, and Thames Valley police is demonstrating that it can find savings and protect the front line at the same time. Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to all the police officers and PCSOs in Reading who do such a great job and are so dedicated to serving the local community.
In conclusion, this is just another cynical Opposition motion. It demonstrates that Labour is not ready for a grown-up discussion about tackling its budget deficit and I will be voting against it this evening.
I shall concentrate my remarks on what is happening in my part of south London and in the Metropolitan police area, where there is a serious undermining of the credibility of senior police officers at the moment, because of their collusion with the Mayor and deputy Mayor in suggesting that there are no cuts to safer neighbourhoods teams.
First, let me say that I am truly obsessed by police numbers, and I am joined in that obsession by the 74,000 people who also live in my constituency—people who voted Labour, Conservative or Liberal, or who did not vote at all; men and women; people of all races; people who have come to this country recently and people who were born in this country, perhaps in south London. All those people are obsessed with police numbers because their top concern is their personal safety and their desire to feel safe from crime. I am talking about crime numbers and the fear of crime.
We in the House often forget that there has been a revolution in policing in the past 10 years. There has been a rowing back of the police policy of 50 years—the policy of getting off the street, out of the neighbourhood and into the panda car, to be with the blue light and not with the old lady on the street or the young guys down the street who did not know police officers’ names and increasingly came into conflict with them.
In the past 10 years we have seen an enormous change in the relationship between the Metropolitan police and the communities that make up London. All communities now want more police and they all believe that antisocial behaviour and crime need to be tackled. More people are also prepared to give evidence—to stand up and be brave in the face of some of the most shocking crimes that we have seen recently in London. Operation Trident, dealing with black crime, has also been a fantastic success.
However, that success does not come out of thin air; it comes from politicians—yes, politicians—making decisions about policing and saying, sometimes in the face of opposition from leading police officers, “We want to get back to community policing and we want to introduce safer neighbourhood police teams.” I give credit to the former Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend Mr Blunkett, for introducing safer neighbourhood teams and police community support officers. His decisions were sometimes derided, but those initiatives have brought about the biggest increase in confidence in policing and the biggest reduction in crime in modern times, all because of those simple things that we all know to be true, irrespective of our political ideologies.
For policing to work, it has to be about community. People have to know who their police officers are and to feel that they can give information to them, because the police can never sort out crime on their own. They need all of us with them, and that is what the safer neighbourhood teams were beginning to do. Were they perfect? Did they all do the right things? No, certainly not. Indeed, I have spent most of the last 10 years fighting with my safer neighbourhood teams, because I have not liked their shift patterns, nor have I agreed that they should be out more at 9 o’clock in the morning than at 9 o’clock at night, and that goes for Mondays as much as for Saturdays or Sundays. Indeed, when my dad was dying, I found the energy to sit all my safer neighbourhood teams down, along with all the trade unions, and say, “You have to change these practices.” Is the Home Secretary right to look at police practices? Yes, she is; but in doing that, she also has to say that we need to keep safer neighbourhood teams on our streets.
In my constituency those officers are declining in number, yet the area commander and the leadership of the Met deny that this is happening. Currently, eight out of my 10 safer neighbourhood teams are not fully staffed. They have gone down to one PC, and none has a full complement of police community support officers. That is not something that I have dreamt up or that a disgruntled police officer has told me—although many are willing to tell me—but something that can be found on the Merton police service’s website. Consultations begin all the time on what safer neighbourhood policing should look like, but the whole drift and drive are about reducing team numbers, merging and deciding that some areas are not worthy of their team, because they are not crime-ridden enough. However, as far as I am concerned, people in every ward pay their taxes and they deserve to have their neighbourhood police team.
If the Government and the Mayor believe that the cuts should fall on safer neighbourhood teams, let me say this: stand up and say it. Do not pretend and do not lie, because the consequences will be enormous, and if we row back on people’s confidence in the police, we will all have a problem.
I was watching the BBC’s nightly London news programme back in February when I saw my good friend Councillor Martin Whelton talking about how his safer neighbourhood team was being merged with the team in Longthornton, and how the two police panels had been merged. Later in the same news item I saw Mr Ian McPherson, the Assistant Commissioner—whom I have never met—explain that that was not happening. The local councillor on the ground and the members of the panels were saying, “Yes, this is happening,” but the Assistant Commissioner was saying, “No, it isn’t”, so I sought to clarify the situation. On
“I write further to my discussions with the Area Commander of Merton Police Service, Mr Wolfenden, and your interview on BBC London on Thursday February 17th, in which you suggested that there were no plans to reduce the size of Safer Neighbourhood Teams.
As my colleague, Councillor Martin Whelton, suggested in the news report from Mitcham, the evidence on the ground contradicts the content of your TV interview. I am personally aware that the Longthornton and Pollards Hill teams have now merged and only have one sergeant, both having only one PC. In addition, I am also aware that a PC was removed from the Lavender team and transferred to Graveney. As you will be aware, the concentration of crime and anti-social behaviour in the London Borough of Merton is within the Mitcham and Morden constituency, with high levels of crime and fear of crime in Lavender, Cricket Green, Figges Marsh and Pollards Hill. If you were to reorganise the police officers to match this need, those wards would be receiving greater, not less, cover.
I have also been informed by officers at all levels within the Merton Service, that there is no point to argue for the continuation of the ten teams in my constituency as this cannot be sustained due to the need to cut back on sergeants within the Metropolitan Police Service. The need to reduce the number of officers and the inability to sustain the Safer Neighbourhood Teams was also contained on the Merton Voluntary Service Council website, who themselves were informed that there needed to be cuts in sergeants and police officers.
Given the evidence on the ground, and concern of local councillors and residents, I would be very grateful if you might meet with me in my constituency to discuss these matters further. I am concerned that there are changes being undertaken on the ground that you do not appear to be aware of. I would be happy to arrange a meeting with councillors and concerned local residents where we could discuss these matters.”
That letter was written on
I would ask for a modicum of honesty in this matter. It is absolutely right to look at how a big public service like the police works. The desire for continuing efficiency is absolutely right, but the idea that police officers can be taken off the street and be put back in cars at the same time as continuing to reduce crime itself and, more importantly, the fear of crime is a complete lie and a fantasy. We should stop these lies.
This is the fourth time in my short career in the House that I have spoken in a policing debate and, sadly, the second time I have done so while a murder investigation is ongoing in my constituency. That makes it a good time for me to pay tribute to the police for their hard work. Large-scale and difficult investigations like this one after the senseless murder of young Jia Ashton in Somercotes a couple of weeks ago help us all to appreciate how hard a job the police sometimes have.
It is important to put our debate on policing into context. We are debating the subject in the shadow of the most difficult public finance situation in peacetime history. As we look through these large and confusing numbers, it is important to realise, as my hon. Friend Alok Sharma just explained, that the Opposition’s last financial plan when they were in government involved them in about 90% of the spending reductions for this financial year—a difference of only £2 billion, which they spent many times over. They cannot get away with saying that if they were in power we would not have to face the huge savings that need to be made or the huge cuts that need to be found. In fact, neither of the main parties at the last election pledged to make no reduction in police funding or police numbers. Moreover, the last Labour Home Secretary—we have already had three shadow Home Secretaries in this Parliament—admitted that police numbers would fall under Labour as well.
The public do not much enjoy listening to us throwing blame around the Chamber. They want to hear us talk about what the Government should be doing to ensure that we have the efficient and effective policing that we need. The Government might have passed a Bill stating that there would be no reductions in uniformed police officers, but I am not sure whether we could have recommended such a Bill or whether it would have worked or been at all sensible. We have all seen the awful trend of having uniformed officers working at back-office functions for which they are not trained and which they are probably overpaid to do. What we need is something different. We want the highly trained police officers to be out on the streets, not doing support or back-office roles, however we want to define them.
The Government clearly can and should do certain things. I would like to talk about three particular examples: the funding for each force, reforms to pay and conditions and taking steps to strip away bureaucracy. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is still in the Chamber. She has heard me say this before, but I think it is important to bear in mind the difference in funding levels. Let me point out yet again that for many years Derbyshire has lost about £5 million a year —which equates roughly to 160 officers—because the last Government did not implement their own funding formula establishing the requirement for each force.
I realise that it was not possible for any Government to solve the problem in the time available, but I urge the Home Secretary, when the next funding round arrives, either to start to implement the existing funding formula or to introduce a new one. It cannot be right for us to keep saying “Here is a formula; here is the amount that you want; oh, sorry, you cannot have it”. That simply is not sustainable. We are led to believe that some forces do not have to work under the same financial pressures as Derbyshire and several other authorities in the east midlands.
I may gain more agreement from my colleagues on the Front Bench when I speak of the need to reform pay and conditions. The point has been well made that at a time when more than 75% of police budgets is spent on pay, there is a clear link: if we do not reform pay and conditions, we shall have to accept a smaller head count. Although imposing a two-year pay freeze is not a pleasant task, reforming police allowances and overtime payments must be the way forward. I say that cautiously, as the police service parliamentary scheme enables me to spend Wednesdays touring Chesterfield with members of the police force. I hope that, if they read the report of my speech, they will understand what I was trying to say. I am happy to debate the issue with them.
I urge the Government to make some progress on the Winsor review. The last thing that any of us want is for police forces to have to make cuts and savings and then, when the final recommendations of the review are published, to discover that the problem was not as bad as had been feared, and that they need not have made those savings. A degree of certainty on pay and conditions and the pension position will help everyone. I do not think that any of us work at our best with a huge amount of uncertainty hanging over us for longer than necessary.
We also need to strip away bureaucracy, and during their 11 months in power the Government have made considerable progress in that regard. We all want as many man hours as possible to be spent on the front line. I believe that Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary defines the front line as officers
“who directly intervene to keep people safe and enforce the law”.
I do not know whether others agree with that definition, but it strikes me as a reasonable form of words.
The abolition of the police pledge, the reduction of bureaucracy and the granting of more discretion to the police to fight crime should be hugely welcomed. Talk of absolute police numbers is not the clearest way of discussing the issue; I think that what the public want to see is the right number of officers engaged in the right duties at the right times and in the right places, working in a smart manner.
One issue that the hon. Gentleman and, indeed, other Members should consider is the amount of time spent by safer neighbourhood teams on petrol stations. I was appalled to discover that one BP garage in one ward was using 20% of the safer neighbourhood team’s time to deal with drive-outs and shoplifting. I suggest that Members with petrol stations in their constituencies ask how much of the local safer neighbourhood teams’ time is being spent in that way because they have not, for instance, ensured that CCTV is up to scratch, and that staff are properly trained to prevent shoplifting from becoming rife.
The hon. Gentleman has made a sensible point. I hope that the Government’s decision not to increase fuel tax even more will not provide any further encouragement for thefts from petrol stations.
Various reports have been quoted as saying that in 2009 only 14% of police officers’ time was spent on patrol and 22% was spent on paperwork. That cannot be right: there must be scope for the police to work in a far smarter manner. According to Jan Berry’s report—which has been referred to—about a third of police time is ineffective, and that demonstrates the scope for savings.
I commend the work that Derbyshire police have done, and continue to do, in their “Moving Forward” savings programme. I recently had an opportunity to quiz the chief constable, the officer in charge of the change programme and various others about how they were approaching it, and to challenge them by suggesting some additional things that they could think about. I was impressed by how well on track they were, and how well they had thought everything through. They have managed to save £700,000 already by putting sergeants back in charge of evidence gathering and case preparation, and they have saved about £1 million through increasing regional collaboration, so there are things that all forces can do.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is also an emerging police willingness to work with other agencies in the community, and that they are doing that in a very exciting and innovative way, which is good for both public services and the improvement of the police force generally?
It would be impossible not to agree with that; it has to be the way forward for all the services that have interactions with each other to make those interactions more effective and to avoid the duplication that can arise.
People must feel that the police are on their side. In the election campaign, I suspect that the following concern was expressed to every one of us time and again: “What do the police do? We never see them. They only want to tackle innocent motorists, and they don’t tackle serious crimes.” That is why the introduction of elected police commissioners—I have the pleasure of serving on the Public Bill Committee dealing with that—is a hugely powerful step. It is a way of saying, “Look, here is someone who can ensure that what the police do is what the public actually want them to do, and not what the chief constable, or the Government, might want them to do. Here is someone who is accountable to the public for delivering on police priorities.”
Finally, let me say that it would have been a far more constructive use of parliamentary time if today we had debated those aspects of the Winsor review that we welcome or have concerns about. Instead, we have had what must be about the third debate on police funding, which has more to do with playing party games before the local elections than trying to improve the police force. Let us instead look at the challenges the police face, and work constructively to get the best and the most efficient, but also the most effective, police force that we can for all our constituents.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, may I point out to those Members still waiting to speak that the winding-up speeches will start at 9.40 pm and we simply will not have time to hear from everyone who wishes to contribute unless we have fewer interventions from those who have already spoken and each Member who speaks is considerate of the Member who is about to follow them? If that is the case, everybody will be able to make their points.
It is a pleasure to follow Nigel Mills. He made a thoughtful and reflective speech, which, frankly, is in complete contrast to all the other speeches delivered from the Government Benches this afternoon. I was astonished by how relaxed the other Conservative and Liberal Democrat speakers were about the scale of the police cuts we are experiencing as a direct consequence of decisions made by this Government—by the Conservative party, which used to be described as the party of law and order, and the Liberal Democrats, who advocated extra police officers on top of the additional officers Labour introduced throughout our period in government.
Between 1997 and last year, there was an increase of 17,000 in police numbers, and at one stroke this Government are making a reduction of 12,000. There is a very significant difference between that and the reductions we propose and absolutely acknowledge need to be made, as referred to in our motion, and as my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper made clear in her speech. The cuts under the 12% figure cited by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary would be very different from those under the 20% figure that this Government are imposing on police forces up and down the country.
I want to be brief in order to enable other Members to speak, so I will focus my remarks on the situation in Merseyside. Merseyside has already cut 200 officers and another 80 police staff. The force had a moratorium on recruitment during the previous financial year, and that continues. As a consequence, it anticipates a further reduction in officer numbers of 200. In other words, one in 12 officers in Merseyside will be lost in the space of just two years, and for the remaining period of this Parliament the force anticipates a total loss of 880 police officers and 1,000 police staff. In other words, one in five officers will go. I know from my discussions with the chief constable, with other senior officers and with front-line staff at the police stations in my constituency that they are doing their utmost to protect the front line, but they have said that because of the cuts in Government funding, front-line services will now be looked at.
The Home Secretary said that local police forces had the option of increasing the council tax, and when I challenged her on whether she was advocating that, she was careful in her response. I wish to reiterate something that I have said in previous debates: the capacity of a local police force to secure additional funding by increasing the precept varies enormously from one police force to another. The key determinant of that variation is how deprived the local community is. Half of Surrey’s funding for the police comes from central Government and half is raised locally, whereas 82% of Merseyside’s police funding comes from central Government and only 18% is determined by local council tax. It does not take a mathematician to work out that the capacity of Merseyside police to raise additional funds locally is considerably less than that of the police in Surrey and in other parts of the country. The Merseyside force has made great strides in recent years in improving its efficiency and the quality of its service. That is why, although it is making efficiencies and will make further efficiencies, it is simply not going to be possible for it to balance its books without cuts in the front-line service.
I hope that the Minister will be able to say something about the importance of the work done by the safer schools partnerships and, in particular, by police working in schools. The previous Government piloted this programme in 2002, when I was a Minister in the then Department for Education and Skills, and it was brought into the mainstream in 2006. I imagine that hon. Members on both sides of the House will have seen the very positive work done by police in schools, not only to tackle bullying but to ensure higher attendance levels and lower truancy rates in schools. Last year, “Robby the Bobby”, who is based at Lower Lane police station and who serves the Croxteth and Norris Green communities in my constituency, received the Queen’s police medal in the Queen’s birthday honours list. I want to pay tribute to him because he does great work, and I have seen that work. More importantly, however, I cite him because the work done by police in schools is so important. I would like to hear a reassurance from this Government that the safer schools programme is one to which they have the same commitment as the previous Government had.
The Minister has responded to me on this point previously, but I ask him to respond again on the issue of the differential impact of police cuts on the poorest communities. I request him specifically to meet a Merseyside delegation of MPs and those from the police authority to discuss the issue, because we could make a real difference to the front-line service in Merseyside if we could reconsider the scale of the cuts and the unfairness involved in how they have a greater impact in a community such as mine than they do in a community such as the one that he represents.
The main focus of tonight’s debate is on the fact that by going beyond the 12% figure that Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has set out, the Government are endangering the quality of front-line policing in all our constituencies, no matter which part of the country we represent. For that reason, I urge the Government to think again.
First, I should declare an interest as a member of the Kent police authority. In that capacity, I get very frustrated about some of the numbers that the Opposition throw around. The shadow Home Secretary said that Kent’s police force had said that it was going to cut more than 500 officers, but it has not said that. The projection, once made, of 500 was on the basis of an assumption that the cut in grant was going to be significantly worse than it actually turned out to be.
Stephen Twigg set up this great contrast between the 12% cut that Labour is very happy about and the 20% cut that we are supposedly imposing, but he does not draw attention to two key differences between those figures. First, the 20% reduction is a real reduction rather than a cash reduction, so a two-year pay freeze accounts for a significant portion of it and helps to explain totally appropriate front-loading, because that is the period in which the pay freeze will take place. In addition, the 20% does not allow for a precept, and assumes that the precept falls as much as the central grant. If we take those two factors into account, the reduction in central Government grant represents a more generous settlement than the one that HMIC said it would be possible to deliver. That reflects the importance that we place on policing and on police numbers.
The motion is predicated on the assumption that there will be a cut of 12,000 in the number of police officers because that is the number that ACPO has put out. However, that number was put out before Tom Winsor’s report was published. It is a very long report, and I look forward to reaching its conclusion over the recess, but I have read quite a lot of it already. Tom Winsor is saying that, even for 2012-13, on the basis of his recommendations, there will be a further £200 million of savings, over and above those that police authorities and chief constables have already been pushing towards. If we generously assume that there will be add-on costs of about £50,000 per police officer, that would give us enough money for 4,000 officers. If we implement what Tom Winsor suggests in his interim report, we would get the number down from 12,000 to 8,000.
That number will have to go through the national Police Negotiating Board, and there will doubtless be some pushback from the Police Federation and others, but in some areas Tom Winsor is actually being quite generous to the police in recognising the unique contribution that they make. Steve McCabe, who is no longer in his place, has suggested that 40% of officers would lose £4,000 on the basis of what Winsor has said, but that is quite wrong. Tom Winsor’s point was that, back in 1978, under Lord Edmund-Davies, a 9% shift allowance for unsocial hours was incorporated into the standard police pay. Tom Winsor went on to say that, logically, we should therefore reduce by 9% the pay for the 43% of officers whose role did not require them to work unsocial hours. Rather than recommending that, however, he has now left them as they are and proposed an additional 10% shift allowance for hours worked between 8 pm and 6 am.
Another area in which Tom Winsor has been very generous to the police is that of the new expertise and professional accreditation allowance. Most police have been operating on the assumption that the special priority payments, which were introduced in 2003 and which have been quite divisive, would not be continued. If we take into account the additional allowance, which will be more costly than the special priority payments, we shall see a net increase in pay, even though most officers probably assumed that they would not get a special priority payment. Perhaps there will be a bit of give and take in the negotiations but, in those two areas in particular, Tom Winsor’s proposals are more generous than many officers would have expected.
I should also like to touch on the ability of police forces to make savings. We also heard about this from my hon. Friend Simon Hart. Most organisations try to find savings and do things more efficiently year by year. In policing, however, there was an increase in grant every year from central Government. Police forces were able to increase their numbers, deal with particular issues and have more police tackling problem areas without having to find savings in other areas to fund those activities.
In Kent, we found a deputy chief constable who had been delivering a fantastic programme in Norfolk and finding very significant savings, all of which were able to be invested in the front line. Now, in tougher times, Kent is looking to strip out some of the inefficiencies. There might be too many people in central teams, or the intelligence area might be top heavy, so we will make savings in those areas. We are also going to work with Essex to form a single major and organised crime division, which will bring together a lot of the specialist areas. That will enable us to iron out the peaks and troughs in demand and deliver at least as good a service using fewer officers.
When I first joined Kent police authority, I was concerned that we were not going out to find the savings and ask the difficult questions. Partly that is because police authorities are not elected, so there is no direct connection with the electorate that requires delivering the best possible policing while minimising the precepts. If one finds savings, asks difficult questions and tries to get the police to do things in a different way from the one they are used to, and which they perhaps prefer, that will always be quite difficult and with no direct electoral accountability, there is not necessarily the motivation to do that.
In my police authority, in the past year or two at least, people have worked very hard to find savings and it has one of the lowest precepts in the country. I believe that in many police authorities across the country that have had consistent grant increases year on year, there is scope to find savings and to work together much more. There is no justification for having 43 different IT systems. A large amount of the police budget is police pay, but that is partly because the police deliver almost everything themselves with a direct labour force. In many areas of the public sector, we have found significant savings through outsourcing. Cleveland police has a control centre run by the private sector—it is outsourced—but it is quite rare in policing to make those more radical changes to deliver things as cheaply and efficiently as one can by going outside the police service. A direct electoral mandate would press people to deliver policing as well as they could for as little as they could. There is significant scope for savings and I believe that reductions can be made while protecting the front line and delivering the police service that the country deserves.
I pay tribute to our police service. It is quite remarkable how it has evolved over the years, learning sometimes difficult lessons of history from Scarman to Macpherson. Our Labour Government backed the police service and invested massively, with 17,000 more police officers and 16,000 police community support officers. An admirable model of community policing has led to a record fall in crime, and nowhere can that be seen better than in West Midlands police authority, under the leadership of Chief Constable Chris Sims.
I have seen at first hand just how effective our police service is. In Castle Vale, the neighbourhood tasking group deals with problems of antisocial behaviour and there is excellent dialogue between the police and the local community, so that the young kids now go and play in a park and the older residents, who were complaining, enjoy their environment. When there was an outbreak of robberies in shops in Stockland Green, the police mounted an excellent operation and effective intelligence led to the arrests of those responsible. When there were two terrible knife murders in my constituency, including that of one young man who died on his doorstep in the arms of his mother, a huge police operation, with support from the community, led to arrests.
The community values its community policing and there is complete dismay about the impact of the Government’s cuts on our police service, not least because the first duty of any Government is to ensure the safety and security of our communities. It is therefore simply wrong for the Government to impose massive front-loaded cuts on the West Midlands police service that will lead to 2,400 people going, including 300 police officers who are going right now under regulation A19. It is absolutely wrong that the high-need, high-unemployment west midlands is being hit more than twice as hard as the leafy glades of Surrey and that Ministers pretend that there is no impact on front-line policing. Policing is about much more than just those who are out on the front line: the police team working together is key. Some of the earlier references to areas such as child protection, domestic violence and counter-terrorism involve a great deal of inter-agency collaboration and intelligence gathering.
Having said that, we need to move beyond the numbers —not just how many are going, but who they are and why they matter. Sergeant Dave Hewitt, 32 years a police officer, being forced out at the age of 48, is a neighbourhood sergeant with an excellent team of neighbourhood police officers making their local community a safer place to live. Is he or is he not a front-line officer? Police Constable Ian Rees, 34 years a police officer, being forced out at the age of 55, is a motorway specialist making our motorways in the midlands a safer place to drive. Is he or is he not a front-line police officer?
Detective Constable Tony Fisher, 33 years a police officer, being forced out at the age of 50, is a specialist in dealing with serious robbery. Only in the past couple of years, he mounted an exercise to track down the individual who was robbing pensioners at cash points and put that man away, and rightly so, for 13 years. He also tracked down the gang that used machetes to rob shops, with the leader of that gang going away for 17 years, and rightly so. The community is a safer place, thanks to him. Is he or is he not a front-line police officer?
Detective Constable Tim Kennedy, 31 years a police officer, is a specialist in serious acquisitive crime—burglaries and cars—with one of the best detection records anywhere in the midlands. Is he or is he not a front-line police officer? Inspector Mark Stokes, 33 years a police officer, is a specialist in designing out crime, with an outstanding track record. On the Four Towers estate in Birmingham, for example, there has been a 98% fall in what was a serious level of crime, thanks to the work that he has done. Is he or is he not vital to the front line?
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for agreeing earlier that she will meet these A19 officers. She will find that they are the best in Birmingham and Britain. They will be sadly missed by the communities that they have served so well over many years. It is wrong—plain wrong—for the Government to say to the men and women being forced out under A19, “Thanks for your past loyalty. Thanks for your outstanding service. Here is your notice.” The Government have got to think again.
Notwithstanding the remarks that we have just heard from Jack Dromey, the Opposition, whose motion we are debating this evening, know that it is not possible to have any discussion about any public sector service without having some regard to the national economic context. Colleagues on the Government Benches have mentioned the £120 million a day that the Government are spending on interest, which puts into context the £35 million a day that we are currently spending on policing, the matter under debate. All sectors of public service must be subject to review, and no sector can be immune. Policing must play its part.
It is entirely appropriate that cost reduction should be accompanied by Government reform of the public services. No sector should be immune from the need to reform, and policing must play its part. I therefore reject the proposition in the Opposition motion that does nothing other than criticise the steps that the Government have taken. It offers no alternative proposal. The motion is completely silent on what the Opposition would do to make policing play its part in reducing the burden of public expenditure or reforms to the service. We might therefore assume that the Opposition are happy to carry on spending as they were before and make no change to public service, but we would be wrong, because Yvette Cooper has said that all departments, police included, would need “to make savings”. The former Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, has said that Labour in government would have cut spending and reduced police numbers.
What are the Government actually doing? They are making the police accountable to their communities, cutting increasing costs, removing targets and paperwork and, critically, restoring to police officers the discretion they once had. In my constituency of Rugby we are governed by Warwickshire police, a force in which, notwithstanding the Opposition’s remarks, police numbers fell between 2004 and 2009, so there have not been massive increases in police numbers under the Labour Government. Warwickshire police are currently vacating an expensive and unnecessary force headquarters to save costs, and the chief constable is doing the right thing by focusing on public protection, providing service to the community and increasing productivity on the front line.
One of the reasons I was keen to speak in the debate is that my brother is a sergeant in Warwickshire police with more than 20 years’ service. We often get together and speak about our respective roles. He tells me how he and his colleagues were frustrated by the previous Government’s tick-box approach and the massive increase in paperwork and bureaucracy that resulted in their spending less time on patrol than they did filling in forms. They were not doing what they had been trained to do—to protect the public. As a parliamentary candidate, I spent a Friday night accompanying an officer on patrol and saw just how much paperwork he had to complete.
The police look forward to many of the Government’s proposals and reforms, in particular the one to get rid of the stop and encounter form. Officers appreciate that services must accept some of the reduction in expenditure and in the cost burden of the public sector. There are three significant issues that they are having to deal with. First, the restructuring in costs will lead to fewer people being able to support them in the back office and the pay freeze. Secondly, the provisions of the Winsor report, to which my hon. Friend Mark Reckless has just referred, will change the way they operate and the structure of their pay. Thirdly, over and above those effects officers will also be affected by the Hutton report, which in time will lead to less generous pension provision. I must tell the Home Secretary and the policing Minister that the combination of those three factors means that the morale of our officers is lower than it has been for some time. They understand the need for change, but they feel that they are burdened by those three changes all coming along at one time.
I was delighted to hear the Home Secretary acknowledge in her opening remarks that we have the finest police service in the world. I hope that the Minister, in summing up, will express the regard in which the public hold the police, who are doing a difficult job at a difficult time. I hope that he will provide some reassurance to officers who are committed to service, such as my brother and his colleagues, that their commitment will be recognised. I hope that he will ensure that those officers who work hard and from time to time put themselves on the line can feel positive about the valuable role they play and can focus on the key task of protecting the public.
In conclusion, the Government are right to be taking their current action on policing. It represents just one of a series of very difficult decisions that they have been obliged to take over the past 11 months, all of which in the long term will provide better and more efficient services to the public of this country.
It is a pleasure to follow Mark Pawsey, who spoke about not only his constituency’s interest in the debate, but that of his family. He can report back to his brother that he was able to raise those concerns in such a debate.
It is commendable that both the Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary have sat through the entire debate, the feature of which is that Members on both sides have talked about not just the headline figures, but policing in their constituencies. On balance, Opposition Members have said that the cuts are going to affect policing negatively, and Government Members have said that the cuts are required to some extent because they can make the police more accountable, transparent and efficient.
In four weeks’ time, the right hon. Lady will celebrate her year in office as the first Conservative Home Secretary in 13 years. She has got used to the fact that when she enters the Chamber for policing debates, she does not get a standing ovation, but importantly we have heard what the Government propose to do and what the Opposition have said they would do in similar circumstances.
The Home Affairs Committee produced a report on police finances, and it was unanimous. Mark Reckless is our resident expert on policing matters along with my right hon. Friend Alun Michael, and the Committee concluded that there would be significantly fewer police service staff once the proposals were implemented. That is certainly backed up by all the other stakeholder organisations—be they ACPO, the Police Federation or other organisations that have commented on the matter. The key test for the Government is whether having fewer staff will make the police force more efficient.
I do not deny any incoming Government the right to put forward proposals to the British people and a scheme that they say will provide a better service for less money, but it will be some time before we find out what those key indicators are. As several Members have pointed out, crime is at a record low, and the question is, once the proposals are implemented, whether crime will rise. That is the challenge for this Government.
We also know that the Government’s proposals have still not been completed. There is an ambitious target not just on police finances, but on the new landscape of policing, and the election of police commissioners will have an impact on how policing operates—everyone accepts that it will. The new landscape will result in the abolition of the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the National Policing Improvement Agency, and the Home Affairs Committee is just about to undertake an inquiry into the likely new landscape.
I think that we will have to return to the subject once the Government have completed their template. As I have said, it is absolutely the right of an incoming Government to say that they propose to use taxpayers’ money in a way that will make the service more efficient, but my concern is that the template is not complete and, to some extent, the proposed cuts—or reductions, if we like to use that word—are a work in progress. We will not know the full effects until the rest of the landscape has been completed.
What the Government are doing on procurement and on the reduction in bureaucracy is excellent. The Home Secretary says that she has taken on board Jan Berry’s recommendations and appointed Chris Sims to take the matter forward, and that is a continuation of what the previous Government did. I see the previous Policing Minister, my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson, is present, and whenever he got to the Dispatch Box when Labour was in government, he talked about cutting red tape. We on the Select Committee hope to look at Jan Berry’s recommendations to see whether they have been implemented and whether red tape has been cut.
Tomorrow, as the Home Secretary knows, we have the new permanent secretary at the Home Office before the Committee. It is of course important to save money on procurement and I would like to have seen more done under the previous Government to bring procurement under much greater central control. The right hon. Lady talked about local decision making, but I understand that vehicles are now the subject of central planning, so the Home Office is saying, “You can buy these vehicles, because this is the best possible deal that we have been able to make.” If that can be done with vehicles, why not mobile phones or all other aspects of procurement? Of course we would like to see local police forces collaborate—the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood reminded me that a conference on procurement is coming up in the near future, co-sponsored by Essex and Kent police authorities—and we want local decision making, but I cannot understand why the Home Office does not produce a procurement catalogue that has the best possible prices available and encourage all local police forces to buy from it. That is something that we will have to look forward to in future.
My final point, which my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh made better than anyone else, is that we need to stop consulting only chief constables about what is happening. The people who really matter are the public. In his recent speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research, the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice rejected the idea of a royal commission on policing, citing Harold Wilson’s comment that royal commissions take minutes to set up but years to report. We do not need to wait years to hear about the expectations of the public, who must be consulted.
The Select Committee intends to consult the public in an online poll on the five key things that they want police officers and the police force to do. Once we have those conclusions, I hope that they will feed into the Government’s thinking on how the new landscape operates. Without consulting the public on their expectations, there is no point in having this debate. The chief constables have a vested interest—they want to protect their budgets. Police authorities want things to stay as they are, and everyone else involved has, to some extent, the same interest. However, it is the public to whom we are accountable on policing, and therefore, in the end, it is the public to whom we have to listen.
I join the Home Secretary in the tribute that she paid to the police for their hard work and courage, which we have seen, tragically, over the past couple of days.
This debate takes place at a time when the police feel undervalued and under attack by this Government. Let me start by laying out a few facts. There is a 20% cut from central Government, with the highest percentage of that cut falling in the first two years, and the Government implementing it with no real definition of the front line. That will mean the loss of over 12,000 police officers. In every region of England and Wales, police officers and staff will be lost in every community. This means the loss of over 15,000 police staff—again, right across our country in every single community. As we heard so eloquently from my hon. Friend Jack Dromey, it also means the loss of over 2,000 of the most experienced officers.
These officers are not going because chief officers want them to go—they are being forced to go because of the need to cut costs. The functions of most of these officers are not in the back office but on the front line. Front-line detectives are gone, with one detective saying “I don’t want to go and I’m absolutely gutted.” Front-line response officers are gone, along with neighbourhood sergeants, one commenting that the claim that cuts would not affect the front line was absolute rubbish. Firearms officers are gone from the front line, along with crime reduction officers and public order officers—and so the list goes on. These are just some of the front-line posts lost because of the cuts.
To listen to the Home Secretary, one would think that there is no impact on police officers—that there are no cuts on the front line—but her case is completely undermined by last week’s report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, which showed that 95% of police officers and police community support officers did not work in the back office, with only 5% doing so.
The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice scoffs, but I refer him to page 4 of the report, which shows clearly that the percentage of officers and PCSOs who are in the back office is 5%. If he wants to take issue with that, he must take issue with HMIC. That figure drives a coach and horses through the Home Office’s justification for its proposals. The proposals were undermined by Sir Denis O’Connor, the chief inspector of constabulary, who said that it would be difficult to protect the front line. The Government plough on regardless, oblivious to the growing chorus of anxiety and deaf to those who are expressing increasing concern and alarm. “We know best,” is the motto of the Home Secretary and the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice.
My right hon. and hon. Friends have pointed out the impact of the police cuts across the country. My right hon. Friend Alun Michael praised the work of specialist officers, but pointed out the threat to the reduction in violent crime. My hon. Friend Julie Elliott spoke about the impact on Northumbria, where there is a 41% cut in police staff. My hon. Friend Graham Jones pointed out the cuts to hundreds of police officers and police staff in the Lancashire constabulary. My hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh pointed out the importance of the introduction of neighbourhood policing and safer neighbourhood teams, which was one of the successes of the previous Government. The budgets pose a threat to those teams. My hon. Friend Stephen Twigg spoke about the impact of the cuts on Merseyside, where one in five officers is to go. My right hon. Friend Keith Vaz said that the jury is out on the current proposals. He was right to point out that crime is at a record low, but the question is whether it will keep falling. At a time when crime is at a record low, all this is put at risk.
As the chief constable of South Yorkshire police, Meredydd Hughes, warned in a paper to his police authority, front-line posts and specialist officers will be lost, and there will be real risks to crime levels. He said:
“A reduction in back office support will put an increased burden on operational officers detracting them from front-line duties.”
No doubt the Government will say, as they do when anybody disagrees with them, that he is just wrong. Well, I know Med Hughes and he is an excellent chief constable. He should be listened to and not dismissed. It is not just one chief constable. The chief constable of Lancashire police, Steve Finnigan, said on the “Today” programme last week, in answer to whether he would have to reduce front-line policing to meet the Government’s budget cuts, “I absolutely am.”
Of course, the protection of the front line is made so much more difficult by the loss of police staff. Who will do the necessary administrative tasks? Who will do the necessary probation work or the court reports? We have seen examples across the country of officers being needed to do such tasks and being pulled away from the public and the front line. No reorganisation on this scale will protect the front line. We have already seen that in Warwickshire. Reflecting on the job losses in his area, Ian Francis, the chair of Warwickshire police authority, said:
“The simple matter is yes, we are going to lose policemen from the front-line.”
The Police Federation, the Police Superintendents Association, chief officers and police authorities have all warned of the consequences of this Budget settlement. However, as with so many of their so-called reforms, the Government say that they know best. They believe that they know what is right and that they have to drive through all those who stand in the way of this so-called progress. Last week, the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice called those who oppose the Government’s accountability changes and other reforms elitist. Well, I say that the Government are elitist in their flagrant disregard for anyone who disagrees with them and anyone who stands in their way. The police and the public are deeply worried by the cuts to policing.
No one in this House of Commons, as far as I am aware, stood on a platform of having fewer police officers. The Liberals promised 3,000 more police officers—yet another broken promise. Individual Tory MPs up and down the country demanded more police officers. Tory MPs need to be sure what they are voting for, and so do Liberal Democrats.
I say to Simon Hart that 250 personnel will be gone in his police area. He should put that on the leaflet in the local election campaign. In Carshalton and Wallington, police officers and staff are going—that should be on the next Liberal Democrat “Focus” leaflet. In Reading West, 256 officers and 564 staff are going at Thames Valley police—its Member should put that on the next leaflet and say it is down to efficiency. Although Nigel Mills was more reasonable than others, he will still have to put on his election leaflets for the Amber Valley borough council election why he justifies 290 police officers and staff going in the area. I tell you what, Mr Speaker—I bet not many of them do put that on their leaflets.
Up and down the country, people are watching—[Interruption.] The Home Secretary should listen to this. People are watching a Tory-led Government cutting police numbers and crime prevention projects. They are looking at a Tory-led Government who cannot find money for the police but can finds of millions of pounds extra for a democratic experiment in electing police and crime commissioners that nobody wants and for which the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice has yet to produce one shred of evidence. [Interruption.] Are you enjoying this? The Government were so embarrassed that the responses to the consultation paper commissioned to show how many people were in favour of elected commissioners were not published. Shall I tell the House why? Because of the 900 people asked, so few were in favour that the Government were embarrassed to publish the responses.
The cuts to the police budget are too fast and too deep. The Home Secretary and the Prime Minister need to think again. They need to put aside ideology, listen to the many voices of concern and change course. The Government are looking to cut costs, but it is communities up and down the country that will pay the price of an arrogant Government failing to stand up for policing and failing to stand up for the police.
First, I join other hon. Members including the shadow Police Minister in paying tribute to the police for the job that they do for the whole country in every constituency, particularly at this time when, as the House did earlier, we remember PC Ronan Kerr, who tragically lost his life serving the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
We should always value the work that the police do and remember that they do a difficult and dangerous job, but none of that means that we can avoid the decisions that have been forced upon us by the need to deal with the deficit. My first point to Opposition Members is that they are silent about the savings that can be driven by police forces working together and individually that reach beyond the savings identified in the HMIC report. That report stated that savings of more than £1 billion a year were possible while front-line services were protected. It did not examine the potential savings that could be made through, for instance, police forces working together to procure goods and equipment—some £350 million on top of that figure.
As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary pointed out, there are 2,000 different IT systems in our forces, employing 5,000 staff. I welcome the comment of the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, Keith Vaz, that we were right to examine such procurement. He should know, and I know he does, that we have already laid regulations to drive collective procurement by forces to save money.
I repeat for the benefit of the Opposition, who have not heard or understood the point, that those savings are in addition to those identified by the inspectorate, and that they can be made by police forces working more effectively together. Yvette Cooper criticised that approach when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary talked about it earlier. Do the Opposition Front Benchers not support that collective approach to procuring goods and equipment, and why did they not take it in their 13 years in government?
Let us examine another matter on which the Opposition are completely silent, which is the proposed savings that we have set out in relation to pay. Any organisation in which three quarters of the costs rest in the pay bill has to look to control that bill when resources are tight. That is the responsible thing to do. That is why we have said that, in common with other public services, we expect the police to be subject to a two-year pay freeze. My hon. Friend Mark Reckless was right that that directly answers the point about the savings that we require forces to make being higher in the first and second years than in the third and the fourth. In those years, we propose that another £350 million should be saved through the pay freeze. Here is a question for the Opposition: do they support that pay freeze? If not, they would put more jobs at risk in policing. They are adopting an irresponsible approach.
What about the Winsor savings? Police officers should know that it is proposed to plough back the majority of the savings that Tom Winsor identified in his report on pay and conditions into new allowances to reward front-line service and specialist skills. We will consider those matters carefully in the recommendations of the Police Negotiating Board. Do the Opposition back those savings, for which police forces have not budgeted at the moment? Do they support those proposals in the Winsor review? Again, we do not know because the Opposition are silent on the matter.
Let me explain for the benefit of the Opposition that the total effect of the savings of more than £500 million, on top of the savings that HMIC identified, add up to 10,000 officers. In opposing the pay reforms, the Opposition put those 10,000 jobs at risk. That is why their position is untenable.
Several hon. Members mentioned the front line. Of course, it includes not only visible policing but investigative units. However, the Opposition have again completely missed the point. Vernon Coaker shouts “smoke and mirrors” from a sedentary position, but he uses a fair bit himself when he claims that 5% of officers are in the back office. Does he expect officers to do IT and payroll? Those are back-office functions. The inspectorate says, “Look at the back and middle offices—the support functions—not the front line.” How many police officers does the hon. Gentleman think are serving in the back and middle office? The same report tells him—I assume that he has read it. A fifth of officers and PCSOs are in the back and middle office. In case he cannot do the maths, that means that 30,000 police officers are not working on the front line, and we should begin looking for savings in the back and middle office so that we can protect front-line services.
The Opposition mentioned Northumbria police and claimed that there would be an impact on front-line services. Chief Constable Sue Sim said:
“I am absolutely committed to maintaining frontline policing and the services we offer to our communities.”
Every chief constable is saying the same. They are committed to doing everything they can to maintain front-line services.
As the chief inspector of constabulary said, we must consider a total redesign of the way in which policing is delivered in this country. We must look at forces sharing services and collaborating. We must consider radical solutions, which will enable a better service to be delivered. Is the Labour party in favour of police forces outsourcing their services to the private sector? That is another matter on which it is silent. Some forces have contracted our their control rooms and their custody suites. Those are defined as being in the so-called front line. Is the Labour party in favour of those cost-saving measures? There is deafening silence from the Opposition when they are faced with difficult questions about how to drive value for money.
There is silence again about bureaucracy. The Opposition spent 13 years tying up our police officers in red tape. All the shadow Chancellor could say about that when he was shadow Home Secretary is that he did not think it mattered that officers spent more time on paperwork than on patrol. Let me say to the Opposition that the Government think it does matter and we are determined to reduce red tape and improve productivity on the front line because we want police officers to be crime fighters, not form writers.
Let us look at another matter in which the Opposition seem simply uninterested: how resources are deployed. Labour is only ever interested in how much money is spent rather than in how well it is spent. Why, therefore, do Labour Members have not the slightest interest in the fact that officer visibility and availability in the best-performing forces are twice those of the poorest-performing forces within the existing resource? Apparently, they are not interested in that. Government Members have consistently made the point that, even as resources contract and even as forces find savings, they can and should prioritise visible and available policing, and good forces are doing so.
As we have heard from my hon. Friends, Kent is increasing numbers in neighbourhood policing teams, as is Gloucestershire, and Staffordshire is protecting them.
The Minister says that good police forces are doing all the things he wants, but what does he say about the Warwickshire, South Yorkshire and Merseyside police forces, and all forces that are being forced to take police officers off the front line? Does he think that those chief constables are doing a bad job?
The right hon. Lady just does not get it, does she? She does not understand the difference between how much is spent and the service that we get at the other end, because Labour measures the value of every public service by how much is being spent on it.
Let me tell the right hon. Lady what the South Yorkshire chief constable said in January this year. He said that
“the reduced level of government funding announced late last year was expected and I’m confident that our service to the public won’t necessarily decline over the next two years.”
Let us look at the sums. Labour Members always say that there will be 20% cuts in budgets.
I shall make a little more progress, and then give way.
The Labour party says that there will be 20% cuts in budgets—that is the language that Labour Members always use—but there will not be. No force will have a 20% cut in its budget, because forces raise money from their precept. Assuming reasonable rises in precept over the next four years, the cash reduction is 6%. Provided that forces do the right things, that is challenging but nevertheless deliverable.
“We will be unable to continue to provide the same level of service we do today in such areas like neighbourhood policing” and diversionary and problem-solving activities. He also said:
“A reduction in back office support will put an increased burden on operational officers detracting them from frontline duties.”
Is the South Yorkshire chief constable right or wrong?
It is the same tired stuff from the shadow Home Secretary, reading out local press cuttings from around the country. She should reflect on the fact that police officer numbers were falling under the previous Government by the time we got to the election. In their last year in office, officer numbers fell in 27 forces across England and Wales—did we hear a squeak from them about that?—and officer numbers fell in 13 police forces in the five years before 2009.
This is what the public need to know about Labour. It would cut police budgets by £1.5 billion—we heard that this evening—and yet Labour Members pretend that that would not mean fewer officers and staff. When asked in the election campaign, Labour refused to guarantee police numbers, yet Labour Members criticise the fall in numbers now. Labour Members say that cuts are too deep and front-loaded, yet they would be cutting £9 for every £10 we will cut next year; they claim that police and crime commissioners would cost too much, but their model would cost more; and they call Opposition debates and run their cynical campaigns, but they—
Question accordingly agreed to.
The Speaker declared the Main question, as amended, to be agreed to (
That this House welcomes the Government’s comprehensive proposals to cut crime and increase the democratic accountability of policing while dealing with the largest peacetime deficit in history; supports the Government’s determination to help the police make savings to protect frontline services; congratulates the police forces that are increasing the number of officers visible and available to the public; notes that the Opposition’s spending plans require reductions in police spending; and regrets its refusal to support sensible savings or to set out an alternative.