I beg to move,
That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2012-13 (HC 1797), which was laid before this House on
This Government inherited the largest budget deficit in our peacetime history. The deficit needs to be reduced, which means less spending across the public sector, and the police service must play its part. The reductions we are making in police funding are not through choice; they are a direct response to the situation in which the country was left. On
I will come to all those issues in the course of my remarks. Naturally, I intend to address all these issues.
Let me make a little more progress, and I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman later.
Following careful consideration of all those responses, I have decided that force level allocations will remain as announced in my written ministerial statement of
The Minister is talking about the level of cuts and maintaining the figures as originally set out. Does he accept that although it might not be his choice, it is the Government’s choice that the reductions are front-ended, and therefore place an additional burden which is more difficult for police forces to meet?
The profile of the reductions for police forces was set by the spending review. There are larger reductions in the first and second years than in the third and fourth years, and that reflects the overall need for the Government to get on top of the deficit and build credibility in this area. The position and allocations I have announced remain the same, so there are no surprises for police forces, which have been working on that basis since the spending review was announced.
The Minister talks about choices, but will he talk about consequences? South Yorkshire has been forced to cut more than 100 police officers since the election and will have to cut another 300. Will he rethink these Government funding cuts for the police instead of stripping us in south Yorkshire of the police we need?
I will come to the issue of police numbers, although the previous Home Secretary in the Government whom the right hon. Gentleman supported said just before the election that he could not guarantee the number of police officers. One of the points I will be making today is that the Opposition are committed to reductions in spending that mean they too would produce a situation in which police forces were losing officers—the question is how forces adapt to that. Anyway, I do not think we should just play the straightforward numbers game.
Does the Minister share my confusion about the fact that when police numbers in my police force in Humberside were cut by 137 in 2009 under the Labour Government, not a single Labour politician, local council or local MP criticised those cuts? Instead, they defended them, saying, “It’s not about numbers; it’s about what you do with your police officers.” Does my right hon. Friend think that is a bit weird?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. It is certainly true that we do not hear much of that from the Labour party now. Some 27 police forces were reducing police numbers at the time of the last election, but that is not frequently admitted by the Opposition.
One-off funding will additionally be provided to the Mayor’s office for policing and crime in 2012 from outside the police spending review settlement. That payment will help to maintain the operational capabilities of the Metropolitan police while they are policing the Olympics, the Paralympics, WorldPride and Her Majesty’s diamond jubilee celebrations. It will help to maintain resilience during this unique period and, crucially, it comes on top of the police spending review settlement, which means that no police force will see its funding reduced as a result.
If I heard the Minister correctly a few moments ago, he said that the cuts, while regrettable, were equitable. May I ask him to address an issue that we from the west midlands and some cities have been saying for some time? For forces that are more dependent on grant, the cuts are much greater and deeper than for other forces. Why is it that the West Midlands force is suffering a reduction of 7.3% while Surrey has an increase of 3.8%? Is that his definition of us all being in it together?
There is an equal share in the reduction in central Government funding, and the decision that confronted the Government, which we have discussed in the House before, was whether to adjust that reduction for the contribution that is made by the local taxpayer. I understand why the hon. Gentleman wants to make this point as a west midlands Member of Parliament, but had we followed his advice and given a smaller reduction to his force because it raises less money from the local taxpayer, we would have penalised the forces that raise more from the local taxpayer. Why should forces that have over the years increased the amount of local funding they receive be penalised more and why should their taxpayers be penalised more? Furthermore, police forces were expecting an even share of the reduction. For all those reasons, we thought that the proper and fairest course was to give an even reduction across the forces. The hon. Gentleman might not like that explanation, but it is a credible and proper response to the situation in which we found ourselves.
I appreciate that there are differences of opinion about the use of damping and I understand why some forces wish to see it phased out while others welcome its retention. I know that many police forces and authorities are keen to have more clarity about the damping arrangements for the last two years of this spending review period, and I want to reassure the House that I intend to consider this issue very carefully and will take into account the wide range of views before making a final decision later this year.
The Minister has repeatedly said that the front line does not have to be affected, but does he accept that the evidence is clear that it is being affected and that front-line officers are going each day?
The hon. Gentleman is making the mistake that I think is the mistake of the Labour party of equating the quality of the front-line service purely with numbers. I shall address precisely this issue later, and if he feels that I have not done that I will be happy for him to intervene on me again.
On capital funding, I have carefully considered the consultation responses and have decided to top-slice the Home Office police capital allocation to support the establishment of the National Police Air Service. That service will give all forces access to helicopter support 24 hours a day, 365 days year, in contrast with the current system in which some force’s helicopters are grounded for days at a time while being repaired. It will mean that 97% of the population of England and Wales will remain within 20 minutes’ flying time, and it will save the police service £15 million a year when fully operational.
The plan for the National Police Air Service has been led by Chief Constable Alex Marshall and has the full support of the Association of Chief Police Officers, the police service’s operational leaders and the vast majority of police authorities. The funding proposal I have set out is the right way to ensure that this key national service is established on a sound basis. Each force will face an equal percentage reduction in the previously indicated level of capital grant; this is the most transparent and equitable means of providing for the capital requirements of what will be a national service. All forces will benefit from the savings.
I welcome what the Minister has done on the helicopter issue, especially in using the powers to mandate South Yorkshire, but what about unexpected events? Last Saturday, the English Defence League marched through the middle of Leicester at a cost to the police authority of £800,000. Where does it get that money from at a time when budgets are very tight? It cannot prevent people from marching unless there are reasons to do so, but that puts it under huge pressure.
First, I note the right hon. Gentleman’s support for the National Police Air Service, which is important given his position as the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. This move is a significant step forward and shows that police forces can collaborate to improve the quality of service and reduce cost. On events that occur in police force areas and incur particular costs, there are established procedures under which police forces can apply to the Home Office for special grant. Forces and authorities are aware of the criteria for such grants and we will always consider such applications very carefully.
In Greater Manchester, we were genuinely grateful for the moneys that flowed from the Home Office as a consequence of the riots. However, will the Minister address this point about the front line? During the riots, the Home Secretary ordered that all leave be cancelled, and the thin blue line was very stretched. Can the Minister honestly say that with the current cutbacks, if there were large-scale disorder such as that last August, which nobody wants to see, the police service could cope, even with the cuts that are still coming?
I am absolutely confident that the police service could cope in those circumstances. In such situations, police forces will always rely on additional support from other services and will take special measures, such as the cancellation of leave, to maximise the resources available to them. The hon. Gentleman will have noted that the inspectorate of constabulary report on this issue did not suggest that the reduction in police spending and numbers was going to leave police forces more vulnerable in that regard. It talked about the importance of more effective and rapid deployment, and those are the issues on which we should focus.
I shall deal with precisely what the inspectorate said in a minute.
Funding for counter-terrorism policing has been prioritised in the police funding settlement to ensure that the police have the necessary resources to respond to the demands posed by the continuing terrorist threat. We have allocated £564 million to counter-terrorism for 2012-13, and that follows a considerable increase over previous years. Forces will receive their allocations shortly. Delivering a safe and secure Olympic and Paralympic games is a priority for the Government, and preparations remain on track. As we indicated last year, the Government are confident that the Olympic policing and wider security programme can be delivered in full for £475 million, although £600 million remains available if required.
We have set aside sufficient funding for the election this November of police and crime commissioners, who will ensure that the police become fully accountable and responsive to the demands of their local areas. That funding is additional money, which will not come from the police settlement. [Interruption.] As hon. Members seek to interrupt me from a sedentary position, let me observe that it is very gratifying to note the number of putative police and crime commissioners on the Opposition Benches. Indeed, more and more Labour Members of Parliament are jumping from the sinking ship every day in the hope of seeking refuge in elected local office.
I have said on a number of occasions that we do not expect the running costs of police and crime commissioners to be more than those of police authorities. The only additional cost will be the cost of elections, which will represent 0.1% of annual police spend. Having got itself into the position of opposing this democratic reform over the last 18 months, the Labour party is now putting up candidates, and some would-be candidates are on the Benches behind the right hon. Lady. I think that she needs to catch up: she cannot go on criticising this policy while at the same time fielding candidates.
I believe that the challenge of maintaining and improving policing as budgets fall is manageable, provided that forces do not treat this as “business as usual”. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has set out how forces can save over £1 billion a year if those that spend more than others reduce their costs just to the average. The savings identified were in such areas as legal services, estates—buildings, maintenance and services—criminal justice and custody, training, control rooms, business support, investigations, community safety and community relations. However, it is important to appreciate that the Government and forces are identifying savings well beyond the scope of HMIC’s report.
Pay accounts for the bulk of total police spending, which amounted to about £11 billion last year, so there is no doubt that pay reform and restraint must form part of the police savings package. That is why we have asked the police—along with the rest of the public sector—to accept a two-year pay freeze, which could save them at least £350 million a year. I note that the official Opposition now support that pay freeze. The first part of the Winsor review also made a number of recommendations, and the House will be aware of the Home Secretary’s recent announcement that the Government will approve the recommendations of the police arbitration tribunal. I note that the official Opposition also urged the Government to implement the tribunal’s findings. Once they have been fully implemented, those changes will save forces about £150 million a year.
I am listening with great interest to what the Minister has to say. He said that he did not believe that front-line policing was just about police numbers, but we believe that the front line will be badly affected by the cuts that he is making, especially in such places as Halton in Cheshire. Can he give a guarantee that the front-line response to incidents will not deteriorate over the period of this Parliament?
I believe that chief constables—including, notably, the chief constable of Cheshire—are committed to maintaining the quality of their front-line service, and to finding new ways of delivering that service, in the light of the reduced resource that they confront.
The police do important, often difficult and sometimes dangerous work, and we should continue to value police officers and staff. I appreciate that changes to pay and pensions are difficult for them, but reform is necessary. The changes in police pay will not reduce basic pay, and, crucially, will help to protect police jobs, keep officers on the streets, and fight crime. Together, the changes in pay and conditions will save half a billion pounds a year on top of HMIC’s savings.
The second way in which savings beyond those identified by HMIC can be achieved is through forces working together, harnessing their collective buying power and rationalising where duplication is wasteful and inefficient. The 43 forces of England and Wales have between them 2,000 different IT systems and 300 data centres, and employ 5,000 staff, yet—as officers frequently tell me—the IT systems in forces are still not good enough. We are therefore enabling forces to introduce better, more cost- effective IT arrangements, for instance through the proposed new ICT company.
My hon. Friend has made a good point. HMIC savings were predicated on forces becoming as efficient as the average. One of the points that the Government have been making is that there is no reason why we should not raise force performance to the level of the best. That is not some arbitrary target; we know that some forces are already achieving greater efficiency. We believe that there is a potential for at least £180 million of savings per annum through ICT. Forces have already made substantial savings. Police spend was some £73 million lower last year than in 2009-10, and there are opportunities for forces to go further. We are using the national buying power of the police service—indeed, the whole public sector—to do things better and more cheaply. We are requiring the police to procure more and more equipment together. Those changes alone could save a further £200 million per annum by 2014-15.
We do think it right to make savings from procurement, but will the Minister explain why, if all these things are happening, 16,000 police officers are still being lost? Will he also confirm that 4,000 officers have already gone from the front line alone since the election?
All these changes mean that there will be a smaller work force. The Government have always accepted that. Some £2 billion a year needs to be saved, and most of the spending is on personnel, although a significant proportion is not. The savings that I have described can be achieved through more efficient working and, in many cases, fewer personnel. The question is, what will be the impact on the service and the performance of the forces? That is what the right hon. Lady simply will not focus on.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way to me for the second time. Has he seen the evidence given to the Home Affairs Committee by Dame Helen Ghosh? We were pushing the recommendation that we had made in a previous report that there should be a catalogue—Dame Helen kept referring to it as an Argos catalogue, but something more up-market would be more appropriate—[Interruption.] I will not refer to John Lewis, for obvious reasons. The catalogue in question, which would be approved by the Home Office, would ensure that police forces did not procure separately, but obtained the best possible national deal.
I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman that that is effectively what we are doing. We are passing new regulations—we have just introduced the latest raft—which require forces to buy certain goods and items of equipment together. The savings that they are making are accumulating, and, as I have said, will eventually reach £200 million a year. I shall be happy to provide the Home Affairs Committee with an update on that, because I think it is a good story which shows that forces can make savings by working more effectively together. I note that the Opposition have conceded that savings can be made in that area. Those savings, too, are in addition to the savings identified by HMIC.
The third way in which the police can find savings beyond those originally identified by HMIC is through transformation of the way forces work. HMIC said that savings of £1 billion a year could be found if the high-spending forces simply reduced their costs in a range of functions to the average of that spent by a similar force. However, if all forces achieved the efficiency levels of the best forces nationally, that would save a further £350 million a year. Why should not all forces be as efficient as the best?
Outsourcing can also play a major role in effecting this transformation. The Government have been supporting Surrey and West Midlands forces and authorities in a joint programme exploring the value of business partnering. Broad areas of service can be covered, including a range of activities in, or supporting, front-line policing such as dealing with incidents, supporting victims, protecting individuals at risk and providing specialist services. This is not about traditional outsourcing; rather, it is about building a new strategic relationship between forces and the private sector. By harnessing private-sector innovation, specialist skills and economies of scale, forces can transform the way they deliver services and improve outcomes for the public. Every police authority in England and Wales bar one could join in, should they choose to do so. Under its own steam, Lincolnshire is about to sign a £200 million contract over 10 years with G4S. That contract for support services is available to the other forces named on the procurement notice.
These are highly significant developments that open up the possibility of new savings across policing. The published potential value of the Surrey and West Midlands contract is between £300 million and £3.5 billion. I look forward to hearing whether the Opposition believe that such business partnering is the right way forward for policing.
May I take the Minister back to my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary’s point that HMIC has calculated that police numbers will fall by 16,000? Has the Home Office estimated how many of the posts that will be lost will be from the back office, because we know that 4,000 jobs have been lost from the front line in the first year of the Minister’s cuts alone?
The HMIC report said there had been a 2% reduction in the number of front-line officers. Judging by the hon. Gentleman’s face, he has not read that report, and I suggest he does so.
Taken together, these reforms will result in far in excess of a 12% real-terms reduction in central Government funding. They will save over £2 billion a year. In fact, they will save more than the reduction in central Government grant of 20% in real terms. Let me repeat the following, therefore: the savings identified by HMIC are over £1 billion; the savings from pay are £0.5 billion; the savings from collective procurement and IT are £380 million; and the savings from bringing every force’s performance up to the level of the best are £350 million. The total savings, therefore, amount to over £2.3 billion, exceeding the reductions in police funding while protecting front-line services.
According to the Minister, everything is hunky-dory, because if his figures are to believed there will be no negative impact on services. Why, therefore, has the Lancashire chief constable now had to decide that his force will have to change its response times? He has said:
“If someone is absolutely insistent that they need to see an officer, they’ll see an officer. But…it might be that we negotiate either a delay or no deployment at all.”
That is clearly an example of an impact on front-line policing, and the service provided to people who live in Lancashire, as a result of the scale of the Government’s cuts.
I very much doubt that the chief constable of Lancashire police—who is one of the best chief constables in the country, and who heads a high-performing force—would accept the right hon. Lady’s characterisation of his decision. Her entire contention is that front-line services are bound to be damaged simply because police numbers are falling. That is the equation that Labour always makes, but the fact is that the latest official figures show recorded crime falling, and according to the British crime survey the crime level is stable. There are areas of concern, and chief constables are fully aware of that. We all need to work hard to stay on top of crime. However, the Opposition cannot claim that overall crime is rising, or that falling police numbers are causing crime to rise. They cannot claim that because it is not true.
In any case, Labour cannot attack falling police numbers as a result of these savings when it is committed to the same savings. The shadow Home Secretary backs over £1 billion-worth of savings as recommended by HMIC, but the shadow police Minister, Mr Hanson, has told this House that when he was in office he planned to save
“£500 million to £600 million from overtime and shift patterns”.—[Hansard, 13 December 2010; Vol. 520, c. 722.]
That is far more than the HMIC’s £90 million of savings from better management of staffing rotas and overtime. Further, 12 days ago the shadow Home Secretary finally admitted that Labour backed the pay freeze for police officers and staff that is worth £350 million, and she said that that was not just for the next year but for future years as well. To be added to the £1.2 billion of savings recommended by HMIC, the savings from overtime and the pay freeze are the £150 million of savings recommended by the police arbitration tribunal and endorsed by the Labour party. In total, therefore, Labour has backed more than £2 billion-worth of cuts to police funding. Let me say this plainly: the Opposition cannot attack the cuts when they back cuts on the same scale. They cannot go around criticising falling officer and staff numbers when their savings would result in a smaller work force, too.
The Minister can put up all the smokescreens he wants, but he knows that we will back a 12% reduction in the policing budgets over the course of the Parliament, not the 20% cut that he wants. Will he confirm that his 20% cuts are leading to 16,000 police officers being lost, and that HMIC took into account his pay freeze and all the savings that he has outlined when it projected that 16,000 police officer posts will be lost? Will he now ditch his 20% plan, change instead to our 12% plan, and save those 16,000 police officer posts?
The right hon. Lady has been caught out. The fact is that the HMIC savings did not include the pay freeze or the savings from collective procurement, which just a few minutes ago she said could be made. [Interruption.] Two weeks ago, she was forced to admit that she backed that pay freeze. Her colleague the shadow police Minister tried to disagree with that, but she has confirmed that she backs the pay freeze. Those savings are in addition to the £1 billion. [Interruption.] They are in addition to the 12%. [Interruption.] It is no use the right hon. Lady just hectoring. If she pays attention for a second, she will learn that these pay restraint savings are on top of the HMIC savings. That is the whole point. The Opposition are attacking the cuts while backing the same scale of cuts themselves; it is just that they will not admit that to police officers or the public.
Does the Minister agree that if he shifted from 20% to 12%, he could save thousands of police officer jobs across the country and improve front-line services? If he does agree with that, why will he not switch to the far more sensible 12%?
If the right hon. Lady agreed with that herself, why does she remain committed to these 20% cuts? That is what she is committed to: the HMIC savings plus the pay savings, the procurement savings, and the savings her shadow police Minister has identified through overtime. All of that adds up to far more than 12%. [Interruption.] She is shaking her head in denial, but that is the truth of the matter. The Opposition are pretending that they are not committed to the same level of cuts, but when pushed, they have to admit that they are. Police officers will know it, and the public will know it. The Opposition cannot credibly campaign against cuts when they remain committed to these levels of reductions in spending themselves.
According to the House of Commons Library, if we take the spending review presumption that police authorities will choose to increase the precept at the level forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility, there will not be a 20% reduction by 2015; instead, there will be only a 14% reduction in real terms.
My hon. Friend is, of course, right. If forces choose to increase the precept, under the OBR expectation, the reduction would be less than 20%. Even if all forces froze the precept for the next three years, the reductions in police force budgets would be less than 20%. There is not a single force in the country that is facing a 20% reduction in budget. This is another way in which the Opposition either fail to understand what is going on or seek to present a different picture to the public.
A few minutes ago, the Minister said that the crime figures were not rising, but in York they are. According to an answer from his junior Minister, the figure for York in the last year of the previous Labour Government was 14,480; it rose in the first year of the Conservative Government to 15,199. What, therefore, is the Minister’s strategy in areas such as mine, where he is cutting £5 million from our local police force budget, even though we need additional resources to counter the increase in crime since the Conservatives came to power?
I did say that there were areas of concern that forces would have to attend to. Overall, the figures were clear that recorded crime is down. If other forces are working within the available resources, why does the hon. Gentleman assume that the solution is to increase resourcing in his area? Perhaps the solution is better policing, better partnership and a focus on driving down crime in those areas. The question he must ask is:
if other forces and areas are doing it and have had the same level of funding reductions, why cannot his? Labour Members instantly assume that there is a need to increase spending, and it is precisely that attitude that got the country into this mess in the first place. They simply will not focus on how money is spent—only on the call for more money to be spent.
The Minister is being incredibly generous; he has given way many times, and it is appreciated. By their very nature, police community support officers provide front-line policing and support functions to the police. What is his estimate of the reduction in the number of PCSOs? They have been incredibly popular in the West Mercia area, yet the HMIC report says that we might lose up to 90. Does the Minister think that will happen?
The Government and I are strong supporters of PCSOs, and as I will mention in a minute, we continue to provide a substantial sum of money through the neighbourhood policing fund. In future, police and crime commissioners will decide how they wish to deploy that money, which will be rolled into the police main grant. I hope they will pay attention to views such as the hon. Gentleman expressed about the importance of PCSOs in providing a visible face of policing in neighbourhoods, and in offering that reassurance. They are a valuable addition to the police work force.
Therefore, although the Opposition do not want to admit it, there is agreement about the need for savings in the police budget, and it is about time we all started to focus on how money is spent. Of course, visibility and availability of police officers matters, but that is affected by how officers are deployed, shift patterns and bureaucracy. If officers waste time filling in forms or doing a task which could be done more efficiently, they are kept from front-line duties. That is why we have announced a package of measures that will cut police bureaucracy and save up to 3.3 million police hours a year—the equivalent of putting more than 1,500 police officers back on the streets. That is why we are piloting live links technology, so that police officers can give evidence from their stations rather than wasting their time hanging around in court.
However, police forces themselves can make the changes to improve front-line services within the available resources. HMIC’s report “Demanding Times” was clear about the need to match resources better with demand. It found that, on average, police forces had more officers visible and available on a Monday morning than on a Friday night, and the best forces had twice the visibility and availability of those at the bottom of the table. By changing shift patterns, targeting resources better, reducing time-wasting bureaucracy and using initiatives such as “hot-spots” or problem-oriented policing, forces can not only continue to deliver within reduced budgets, but continue to cut crime.
The evidence from HMIC also showed that a third of the police work force, including some 25,000 police officers and PCSOs—a quarter of all police officers, in fact—were employed in the back and middle offices. There is plenty of scope to make savings while protecting the front line, even if the overall number of officers has to fall, and this is what is happening. HMIC’s most recent data show that the proportion of the policing work force in the front line is expected to rise over the spending review period. The Government’s commitment to helping to protect visible policing is clear, not least in the neighbourhood policing fund, through which we are making £338 million available to ensure that forces can continue to provide a dedicated, consistent and visible presence in their communities through PCSOs. Crucially, maintaining the fund in 2012-13 will ensure that police and crime commissioners inherit a fully functioning neighbourhood policing framework in November. From that time, the decisions about such resourcing will be for them.
I thank the Minister for giving way. I have been listening very carefully and I am somewhat confused. My understanding was that the Government were saying there would be no cuts to front-line services, but he seems to be acknowledging that there may be a cut to PCSO and officer numbers. My officers tell me that it now takes them much longer to deal with any case that they have to attend, because they cannot then get through to report it. Each case should take 10 minutes to report, but it is actually taking an hour because of the cuts to back-room services. What is the Minister’s view of the fact that cases are taking much longer for police officers to resolve?
I certainly think it important that forces guard against what is sometimes called reverse civilianisation—the idea that reducing the number of staff will increase the demand on officers. It is about re-engineering policing to make sure that processes are more efficient. Actually, there has been a huge growth in the number of staff in police forces over the past 10 years, and there has been scope to reduce that. The simple point is, of course, that if the number of staff had not been reduced by rather more than the number of police officers, that would have impacted on the latter. There is balance to be achieved here. Furthermore, police officers cannot be made redundant anyway.
We have to get away from the idea that the quality of a front-line service can be measured only by the number of staff or how much money is spent on it. The National Audit Office’s report on mobile technology in policing, published two weeks ago, showed that under the last Government, £71 million was spent to deliver only a “basic level” of benefits. Four years later, the scheme has still not delivered value for money to the taxpayer. The NAO found that
“not enough consideration was given to how forces would use the mobile technology, how much local spending was required or how realistic were the announced deadlines”.
Let us hear less, in the constant demand to spend more money, about the focus on inputs, and rather more about value for money and how well this money is being spent.
The fact is that across the country, forces are reducing budgets while protecting, or indeed improving, front-line services. Hampshire, for example, is saving money and reducing crime, and has made a public commitment to retaining local visible policing levels. Thames Valley has reduced business support costs such as HR, removed a layer of management and is collaborating with other forces. It has saved money and is to re-deploy officers to front-line roles in neighbourhoods or on patrol. Kent police has better matched staffing levels with demand, increased police officer availability, restructured the way it provides policing services, collaborated with Essex police, streamlined support services and is realigning some of its specialist policing functions. As a result, it has been able to deploy more officers to uniformed street patrols. It has increased police visibility with the public, the head count of neighbourhood officers and staff has increased by 50%, and public satisfaction levels have increased.
It is therefore clear that, through changing the way forces do things, they can make savings and maintain or improve the service they provide to their communities.
The Policing Minister has been generous in giving way. He boasts about the improvements in getting more police officers on to the street and into front-line jobs. Will he therefore admit that it is a serious problem that, since the election, 4,000 front-line officers doing front-line jobs have gone?
I really think that “boasting” is a silly word to use about what I am saying these forces are doing. I am describing what chief constables have done in adjusting to reduced resources, reconfiguring how policing is delivered and protecting the front line. That is not a boast from the Government; it is an explanation of how policing services can be transformed. [ Interruption. ] I suggest—if the right hon. Lady will draw breath—that she would do well to meet some of these chief constables and hear how they are achieving these aims.
It is clear that forces, through changing the way they do things, can make savings and maintain or improve the service they provide to their communities. Our reforms will support this change: a police professional body, to be up and running by the end of the year, setting standards, improving training, equipping professionals to do the job and helping to reduce bureaucracy; a police ICT company to help the police deliver better value to forces for their ICT spend; and a new national crime agency, a powerful new crime-fighting force working across different police forces and agencies, defending our borders, co-ordinating action on economic crime and protecting children and vulnerable people. Police and crime commissioners will ensure that the police tackle local priorities and hold the chief constable to account, and they will drive value for money.
This is a coherent agenda to build a modern, flexible and responsive police service, delivering value for money for the taxpayer and fighting crime. I commend this motion to the House.
Today, the Government are asking Parliament to support an 8% real cut in their funding for police forces across the country next year. An 8% cut in one year alone is more than any other service is expected to make next year. Manchester’s chief constable has said that it will be
“the most difficult financial year for policing in living memory”.
Gloucestershire’s chief constable has said that his force now faces “a cliff edge”, and the Dyfed Powys police chief has said that he is
“genuinely concerned about how we will be able to effectively protect our communities and bring criminals to justice”.
Chief constables in Lancashire, Norfolk and South Yorkshire are all warning that the cuts will make it harder for them to fight crime—they are even warning that in some cases crime may rise as a result. Serious warnings are being sounded to the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice by chief constable after chief constable, but nobody in the Government is listening. Time and again, we have called on Ministers to think again and reopen the policing budget, but time and again they have refused to do so. Time and again, they have said that the police do not need the cash.
Some £31 million has been cut from Manchester’s force, with cuts of £33 million from the West Midlands police and £13 million from the Devon and Cornwall police. Big cuts are being made to force after force next year, except in London. Three months before the mayoral election, and three weeks after the polls show Boris Johnson falling behind, the Government suddenly decide to reopen the budget for London—they suddenly decide to come up with a pre-election £90 million bung. The London Mayor has spent years cutting the Met police and the number of officers in London, yet suddenly the Conservative party has panicked and is trying to bail him out. Suddenly, the party has noticed that the public are angry about the cuts that Boris Johnson has agreed to their safer neighbourhood teams, their CID units and their police officers based in schools.
I did explain why this coalition Government have increased the funding, and I should point out that both parties will be fielding candidates in the election. Will the right hon. Lady tell me clearly whether she supports the increase in funding for the Metropolitan police this year—yes or no?
We certainly support extra funding for the Metropolitan police and for forces in Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, Humberside and across the country, which the Minister has abandoned because those areas do not have an immediate election where a Tory candidate is starting to struggle and fall behind.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a scandal that the Government parties are bribing the London voters because there is a crucial election, while at the same time they are cutting funding to areas such as Merseyside and to other police authorities that face major problems? Those problems are now not going to get dealt with because of the cuts.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. This is happening from Merseyside to Norfolk and Gloucestershire; it is happening right across the country. We have been warning that the Government should reopen the funding formula for not only the Met, but other forces across the country, because the Minister’s plans are doing nothing for those other forces, which are facing those pressures. We have to wonder what the chief constables in other parts of the country have to do to get a break. Do they have to put on a blonde wig, jump on a bike and become a struggling Tory candidate to get the money they need? The Home Secretary should be more concerned about public safety than about the safety of Boris Johnson. This is a con for Londoners, it is a rip-off for the rest of the country and it is pork barrel politics at its worst.
As we made clear, we believe that the force should have a 12% cut over the course of the Parliament. So, yes, forces would face reductions and would have to make savings, but that figure has been supported by chief constables across the country, by work done by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and by work that the former Home Secretary did before the election. That is why we think that ours is a reasonable approach to take, as opposed to making the deepest cuts in police funding seen for a generation—cuts of 8% in one year alone and cuts of 20% altogether. The hon. Gentleman’s local force is losing 500 police officers as a result of his Government’s plans. Will he be putting that on his election leaflet?
Does the shadow Secretary of State therefore agree that it may be seen as a little dishonest of local Labour politicians, who did not oppose police cuts in Humberside in 2009, under a Labour Government, to be on the streets now campaigning against police cuts, given that she has just admitted to the House that if she were Secretary of State she would be cutting my local police force today?
Let us, again, be clear that Labour would not be cutting by 20%—we do not think that that is right. We think that the Government are going too far, too fast. They are hitting the economy and pushing it into reverse, but they are also hitting policing. The hon. Gentleman did not say whether he would be putting the cut of 500 police officers on his election leaflet, but I can tell him that we will be putting it on ours.
The right hon. Lady was a Chief Secretary to the Treasury, so I wonder whether she could assist me now. Will she confirm that the £1 billion of spending cuts that HMIC recommended, which she supports, and the half a billion pounds of pay freeze and pay reform through the Police Arbitration Tribunal decision, which she also supports—that is £1 billion plus half a billion—equals £1.5 billion, which is more than the spending reduction of 12% that she claims she is supporting?
No, we are very clear that we support a 12% reduction and not the 20% reduction that the Minister wants. I have to say to him that if his fantasy figures added up, no police force across the country would be reducing the number of front-line officers, but forces are doing that and 4,000 officers have already gone as a result of his figures and of what he is doing. All the smokescreens in the world that he puts up will not stack up, given that police officers are being lost across the country. The reason why we believe that 12% is the right figure is because we want to protect the 16,000 police officers that his Government are getting rid of. That is why we think that we should have a balanced approach to the policing funding for the future. It is true that a 12% reduction requires pay restraint, procurement reforms and cutting bureaucracy and back-office processes—all those things have to be done within the policing budget to deliver the 12% savings. That is what police officers and chief constables are doing right across the country, but he knows what the consequences will be if he pushes them beyond that 12% because we are already seeing them. Some 4,000 front-line officers have gone already and 16,000 are to go in total. Why does he still want to support that number of police officers going?
This is an important debate and I am not clear as to whether the right hon. Lady does not understand HMIC’s report or whether she is seeking to present the savings in a way that is not justified. She has just said that the 12% savings—HMIC’s savings, which she has supported—include pay restraint, but they do not, as is absolutely clear from reading the report. I strongly suggest to her that she goes away to read it. Will she now accept that the HMIC savings did not include pay restraint and that by supporting pay restraint of half a billion pounds, as she has done, she is therefore going further than HMIC’s savings? Why does she not understand that?
I am afraid that the Policing Minister is living in fantasy land. His figures simply do not add up, because 16,000 police officers are going as a result of his plans. We have made it clear that pay restraint was built into the Labour Government’s proposals from the beginning and we have supported it since; we need pay restraint to deliver the 12% savings. But if we want to protect the number of police officers, we need to have 12% savings and not 20% savings.
The Minister will also know that when HMIC carried out its report that projected that 16,000 officers would be lost, the pay freeze he introduced was already in place. So HMIC has taken into account his pay freeze in saying that 16,000 officers would go and front-line services would be hit. That is happening across the country.
The right hon. Gentleman needs to get in touch with what is happening in police forces across the country, because his coalition partners and Back Benchers are. What are they saying? Across the country—from London to Lancashire, from Norfolk to Devon—MPs are campaigning against cuts and against station closures. Listen to this, from an MP campaigning to stop station closures:
“With well-known faces out on the beat, and a high police visibility, residents clearly feel safer, and crime goes down. Residents…value and cherish their local police team, and don’t want to see their numbers cut.”
That is no rogue Back Bencher straying from the line—that was the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Lynne Featherstone. I apologise, Mr Deputy Speaker, because I did not notify the hon. Lady that I was going to refer to something that she, as a Home Office Minister, had said, which is a convention I like to respect. I had expected, however, that Home Office Ministers would be on the Front Bench to support the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, but it turns out that the Home Secretary cannot even convince her own team, never mind the country, that what she is doing to the police is right.
By the way, where is the Home Secretary? Where is she, on the day that she expects Parliament to vote for the biggest annual cut to police funding for generations?
I respect the right hon. Lady, but she must be aware—her memory cannot be failing her that much—that throughout the previous Parliament, the Minister of State responsible for policing always opened this debate and the shadow Minister, which was a post I held for a time, always responded. She knows that full well.
The hon. Gentleman will also know that in the previous Parliament the Government were not introducing the biggest cut to policing for generations and not taking responsibility for it. Last year, when a Minister in the Department for Communities and Local Government introduced the biggest cuts to council funding in a generation, the Secretary of State came to the House to debate it and to defend it. The Home Secretary has not done the same.
The Home Secretary has a history of hiding. Yesterday, she had to be forced to the House to tell us what she was doing about Abu Qatada, and when our borders were breached, she went to ground. We have not seen her do a proper TV or radio interview for nearly six months. She is hiding from the media and hiding from this House. We miss her. We have hardly seen her since her conference fiasco with Catgate. I know she is keen on all things feline, but even Macavity used to appear once in a while. We urge her to come back. Once again, we are left with the poor old Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, with his smokescreens and his fantasy figures—hung out to dry by the Home Secretary again.
The Minister obviously has not been talking to the Prime Minister, because today the Prime Minister claimed that the proportion of front-line police officers has increased. Today we heard from the Minister that the number of front-line officers might be cut, but the Prime Minister said that the proportion has increased. That is not true, is it? I ask the Minister to confirm whether he believes it is true that the proportion of front-line police officers has increased.
I am happy to intervene on the right hon. Lady at her request. She will find from HMIC’s work—she is not on good ground here—that it is discovering, in assessing forces, that the proportion of the policing work force on the front line has increased, is increasing and will be expected to increase over the spending review period. I would not stay on this ground if I were her.
Let us look at the published facts from HMIC, which considered the number of police officers lost in the first year of this Government. Some 4,600 police officers were lost in that year, so how many were in front-line jobs? According to the Minister, none of them should have been, but of those 4,600 officers, nearly 90% were in front-line jobs. Some 4,100 officers have gone from front-line jobs—from neighbourhood policing, CID units and traffic units. Those are the data in HMIC’s own report, and the Minister clearly has not looked at it.
If he has looked at it, will he stand up and confirm that the HMIC figures show that in the first year of this Government the proportion of front-line officers fell and 90% of the officers who went were from front-line jobs? I ask him to confirm those facts from HMIC.
Isn’t the proof in the pudding? I know from Merseyside that there are fewer police officers and will be fewer in the future. When coalition Members speak, I will bet that not one Tory MP will be able to get up and claim that police numbers in his area have not been cut and will not be cut in the future. That will be the test.
My hon. Friend is right. In every force across the country, chief constables have been put in an impossible position and as a result they are saying that they have to cut front-line services. That is the impact of the Government’s decisions. The Minister is not admitting the facts. He will not stand up again and confirm the facts from HMIC, which show that in the first year more than 4,000 front-line officers have gone from front-line jobs. That is the reality of what is happening.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the lack of candour from the Government is having a negative impact on police morale? If the Government do not support them, they are asking, who on earth will?
My hon. Friend is right. The ducking and diving from Ministers shows how out of touch they are with what is happening in police forces and communities across the country. Communities know what is happening, because they can see it. Police officers are being taken off the front line and the number of uniformed officers working in custody suites, for example, has gone up, not down. In Birmingham, uniformed officers have been taken off the front line in order to monitor CCTV and, in Leeds, police officers are having to go back into the station between incidents to type up their own case notes because the support staff have gone. Whereas those officers would previously have been able to move from incident to incident, rapidly responding, they are now having to go back into the office to do paperwork instead.
The right hon. Lady has played strongly on the fact that 16,000 police officers are leaving, with 4,000 leaving, as she claims, in the past year. How many were past retirement age and could therefore choose to go and how many were on active duty, as opposed to light duty in police stations, in which case they would not have been available for police commanders to use in proper policing?
HMIC’s assessment was that 4,100 of the 4,600 officers who went in the first year were from front-line jobs, according to the definition of front line that HMIC agreed with the Home Office. The hon. Gentleman also raises an important issue about people nearing retirement, and he will know that in practice chief constables in many parts of the country have been forced to push officers into early retirement when they did not want to go. A Staffordshire officer whom I am meeting tomorrow has said, “I would not have finished. I am not bitter, but very disappointed. The feeling is that there is no control over the mass exodus of experience—it is just going.” That is the reality of what is happening in forces across the country.
A number of very experienced officers in the West Midlands force have been told that they must leave, having completed their 30 years. Is it not important to bear in mind, however, what happened in August? Time and again during the terrible days of the riots, people were complaining that even with police numbers as they are there were not enough police around. They were pleading with the police to come in. If these cuts take place, if—unfortunately and tragically—we had riots once again, the situation will, as we know, be even worse.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We saw in the capital and major cities across the country that we needed police officers on the streets to take back the streets, calm the riots and prevent the damage that was being done, and it took 16,000 officers on the streets of London to calm the tensions and deal with the violence and the looting. Sixteen thousand officers is the number that this Government are cutting—the equivalent of every one of those police officers that it took to calm the streets of London on those awful August nights.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not only at times of riots, but on a Friday and Saturday, when knife crimes, street robberies and serious crimes of violence are occurring, that we need police officers on the front line? Not just at the acute time of riots, but week in, week out, we need officers on the streets.
My hon. Friend is right. Communities across the country know that. They want officers on the streets. They want to see police officers doing the job in their area. It is communities that will in the end pay the price for this Government’s decision. Time and again on Monday the Home Secretary told the House not just that there was no simple link, but that there was no direct link between police numbers and crime, yet look at the evidence from the Government’s favoured think-tank, Civitas, which said that
“there is a strong relationship between the size of police forces and national crime rates...A nation with fewer police is more likely to have a higher crime rate.”
“a 10 per cent increase in officers will lead to a reduction in crime of around 3 per cent (and vice versa)”?
That is the conclusion of the authoritative HMIC analysis of all the studies and the research that have been done, and this Government decide that they want to cut 16,000 officers at a time when personal crime is already going up by 11%.
Under the previous Conservative Government the North Yorkshire police received not one single additional police officer, and crime in our county almost trebled. Under the Labour Government there were dozens and dozens of additional police officers—more than 140—and crime started to come down. Now the police numbers are down by almost 100 and crime is rising again. Surely that makes the case.
My hon. Friend is right that we had thousands more police officers under the Labour Government. We also had a historic 40% reduction in crime.
The Conservative party used to get it. Here is what the Prime Minister himself wrote in the 2005 election manifesto for the Conservative party:
“Put more police on the streets and they’ll catch more criminals. It’s not rocket science, is it?”
No, it is not, yet now the Tory-led Government are doing the opposite. Once the party of law and order, they are cutting more from the police than from health, education, local councils or defence—more than from any other service. Personal crime, theft, robbery and violence are up by 11%, police officers down by 16,000—higher crime, fewer police, communities paying the price. This Government should cut crime instead of cutting police officers, and they should start by going back to the drawing board and voting against these plans today.
Speaking as a former special adviser to the Home Secretary at the time of the Sheehy reforms in the 1990s and as a shadow police Minister in the previous Parliament, I think it is worth putting on record that policing is about leadership and that leadership from the top at the Home Office has indeed been supplied by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and her deputy, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice. They have shown a great deal of skill in negotiating a very difficult settlement for the police. The Winsor review has been an important contribution to getting more for less from the police budget. One does not have to talk up the Home Secretary’s book on this; the facts are quite clear. Part 1 of Winsor, which went to arbitration, has gone through with the support now of the Police Federation, and that is no mean feat.
I shall not spend too much time rebutting the number crunching of Yvette Cooper. Even her own party accepts that there must be constraints on public spending, and that extends to the police force. Why? Because as a result of the economic crash in the previous Parliament, this country is now spending £120 million a day on debt interest alone. That cannot go on and public spending control is something that any responsible Government would have to put in place. The police force and the public understand that stark fact. I have yet to meet a police officer or a constituent who thinks the country can afford significant real-terms increases in police services.
On the total Government grants before us today, we see that the reduction in Government funding including specific grant allocations will be 4% in 2011-12 and 5% in 2012-13. They will be lower in 2013-14 at 2% and lower still in 2014-15 with a 1% reduction. Across local government there has been a reduction in the amount of funding allocated to specific grants, and some of the specific grants that police authorities have historically been used to receiving, such as the crime fighting fund and the basic command unit fund, have been absorbed into the police main grant.
Let us not forget that real-terms gross revenue had increased every year from 1996-97 to 2007-08. Those were very big sustained year-on-year increases. Sadly, they were spending increases that were allocated when we did not have the money on a sustainable basis. It was a boom time in the economy and the previous Government were spending money that they did not have.
My hon. Friend refers to the increases in spending in central Government grant, but does he recognise that much of the increase in spending locally came directly from local taxpayers through massive increases in the police precept—in my area 500% over the course of the previous Government—and that, similarly, is not sustainable and fair on local people?
Council tax as a proportion of the total police spend that all police authorities have will be about a quarter for 2011. It was half that—12%—in 2001-02, so the statistics bear out the experience that my hon. Friend has had in his police authority.
Returning to the historical increases, there was another interesting statistic that the Home Affairs Committee calculated. Between 2000 and 2008 the real-terms increase in total police spending was a whacking 20%, so I suggest, and I am sure Government Members would agree, that the police are looking at historically high real-terms spending figures over the past 10 years, compared with what they have ever had in the past. The shadow Policing Minister is chuntering from a sedentary position. Does he want to intervene?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He will know that there was a 43% reduction in the number of crimes and the number of victims over that time. The two might well be related.
I do not agree with the rather heroic numbers that the right hon. Gentleman gives for falls in crime, and I would not necessarily attribute that to brilliant Government policy. I would attribute it to hard work by police officers on the ground. He claims too much for himself, but that is not untypical of Labour politicians.
Funding was made available in the spending review to help police authorities deliver a council tax freeze in 2011-12. Should every authority participate in the freeze, it is estimated that they will receive a total of around £75 million in each of the next four years to compensate for the income that they would otherwise have raised from council tax increases, and funding for this is pencilled into the settlement.
Before moving on from the national police totals, I want to touch briefly on the claim made by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford that this is a 20% cut—she is obviously trying to get the soundbite off the runway. I think that she was referring to the published grant totals, but were she to look at total police spending and not just the grant figures, which means putting council tax into the equation and taking into account the Office for Budget Responsibility’s assumptions on forecast levels, she would see that the total police budget will clearly reduce spending by the end of this Parliament not by 20%, but by 14%, which is much nearer the 12% figure she coughed up for Labour’s plans. Therefore, we are not too far apart if we look at everything, rather than just the bits of the financial equation she was inducing us to look at. She gave us only half the picture.
My hon. Friend, in making his case, properly draws attention to the 14% real-terms cut, but does he recognise that, because of the pay freeze and reforms to police terms and conditions, the actual cut to policing services will be significantly less?
I certainly do. My right hon. Friend the Policing Minister gave a tour de force earlier when he explained in detail exactly how we might achieve more for just a little less spending. I reinforce the fact that between 2000 and 2008 there were heroic real-terms increases, and they have not gone away. We are not wiping away from the baseline the very high totals that were accrued, sadly, on the back of money that we subsequently discovered the country did not really have. Nevertheless, this is by no means some hacking-off-of-limbs strategy, and I think that it does a disservice to a grown-up debate to suggest that it is a bleeding-stump strategy.
I would like to say something about my local police force in Suffolk. Suffolk has the second lowest cost per head for policing out of the 43 forces in this country. It has an historically low crime rate, because by and large we are a very civilised and well-behaved county, which is why I am particularly proud to represent a Suffolk constituency. I acknowledge that the chief constable, Simon Ash, with whom I have a fruitful and friendly dialogue, is concerned about the effect that the spending constraints we are considering will have on his force. I do not agree with him, but it might be useful to remind ourselves of the composition of police spending in Suffolk.
The general grant from the Home Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government to Suffolk for 2011-12 was £76.9 million. Specific grants added to that were £4.4 million. The council tax precept was £41.4 million, and fees and other charges were £6.4 million. That means that just over £129 million was spent in the current financial year on keeping Suffolk safe. The savings that the force has made in the past two years are quite instructive. The actual savings for 2010-11 totalled £2.6 million—consider that as a percentage of the £129 million spent overall last year—and the forecast annual savings for the current financial year are even higher, at £3.9 million. Projected savings for the four years from 2012-13 to 2015-16 are as follows: £7.3 million, £3.7 million, 2.3 million and £0.9 million.
Approximately 60% of the savings in Suffolk over the comprehensive spending review period will be achieved through collaborative working and better procurement, particularly with Norfolk constabulary. That really bears out the statements that my right hon. Friend the Policing Minister made earlier. Suffolk is finding 60% of the savings not through vicious head count cuts to uniformed officers—over half the savings are the result of smarter thinking, which I think should have been done before now. In the last Parliament the totemic collaborative project was between Essex and Kent, which was the example everyone cited, but the Norfolk and Suffolk model undoubtedly equals that, because it is delivering the savings that should have been delivered many years ago.
What about the number of uniformed officers? This is extremely politically sensitive—some might even say toxic—and much has been made of it by Opposition Members and Front Benchers. To provide some perspective, in my police authority area the number of full-time equivalent uniformed officers, as at
The figures are not hugely welcome from my point of view, because I believe neither that we should increase council tax in Suffolk, nor that the chief constable needs to reduce the number of officers by the magnitude he suggests, and he argues that officers will have to be lost whichever route is taken. I firmly believe, and agree with the Government, that visible policing is not a direct function of the numbers alone. There is not a positive correlation of one between the number of officers and excellent policing.
The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford was perfectly right to say that we needed 16,000 officers on the streets when the London riots were at their zenith, but those were, by and large, extraordinary events. We certainly did not necessarily need more police officers in order to get 16,000 on the streets. Many of us thought that rather bad management by the then leadership of the Met meant that it took three days or so to get 16,000 uniformed officers on the street. They existed, as we have more than 140,000 uniformed officers in Great Britain, so getting 16,000 Met officers on the street was not purely a numbers game; they were there already.
If the hon. Gentleman is so clear in his mind that the number of police on the streets does not necessarily correlate with the effective combat of crime, will he explain why the Liberal Democrat election manifesto—I realise he was not responsible for it—promised 3,000 more police on the streets?
I am delighted to respond to both points.
First, I did not say that the number of police officers on the streets does not matter, but I will make it clear that the number of uniformed officers in any force does not equate to the number of police officers on the street; we absolutely can have more visible police hours on the street with a theoretically smaller number of police officers, and I shall explain how that comes about. Let me repeat: we can have more visible police hours on the street with fewer officers than we have now, and if the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton will bear with me, I will explain to the House how that is possible.
Secondly, on the Liberal Democrat manifesto, let me say why the party political to-ing and fro-ing is not terribly productive or profitable. The right hon. Gentleman’s party is campaigning—it would appear, from today’s debate—against the reductions in policing, which, it says, are cutting the number of uniformed officers and really will not do, but I just remind him of what the previous Labour Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, said on “The Daily Politics” just before the election. When he was asked whether Labour could guarantee that the number of police officers would not fall if it formed the next Government, he replied really rather elegantly, that no, he could not guarantee that police officer numbers would not fall. Most of us have a great deal of respect for the right hon. Gentleman, who has one other virtue, which is clear honesty. He was not guaranteeing that more officers would be paid for if Labour won the election; he was not even promising that the same number would be retained.
I shall explain briefly what I mean by “visible hours on the street”. There is a shocking statistic from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary—it was true under the previous Government and was still true last year—and it is that at any one time only 11% of the police officers in this country, of whom there are more than 140,000, are available for visible policing on the street. That is an amazing statistic: only one in 10.
The question is, how can we get more police visible on the street, given that there are more than 140,000 of them? There are two ways. First, we should reduce bureaucracy. Now, I do not suggest for one second that reducing bureaucracy will make up for the current tough public spending round, but the Government have already taken incredible steps in their first 18 months in office. They have abolished the policing pledge, the public service agreement targets, more than three dozen key performance indicators, the fatuous local area agreement targets and the stop and account form, which in fairness the previous Government had also proposed.
The current Government have also streamlined stop and search procedures. In addition, they have made changes to health and safety, and in addition to that they have abolished the quite nonsensical target, which police thought unnecessary, of drug tests for 95% of those arrested on trigger offences. That is quite an impressive reduction of bureaucracy in a first few months, and there is more.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the introduction of police and crime commissioners will also bring more rigorous oversight to police budgets? From the perspective of north Yorkshire, where our local police authority spent £250,000 on legal proceedings against the chief constable, that will be a welcome move later this year.
I am confident—it is my hope and, indeed, expectation—that with one person we will engender a greater and sharper sense of focus and accountability, which we lack under the current regime of 17-person police authorities.
Is my hon. Friend also aware that in a unanimous report the Home Affairs Committee came to the same conclusion, supported I believe by its five Labour members, that a single elected individual, instead of a diffuse police authority, will increase the focus on finding savings and is likely to drive out costs in policing?
Yes, and to those who say that a single individual will not necessarily have the skills to provide leadership and to be a good manager and forensic accountant, the straightforward rebuttal is that one would expect someone who was going to be up for re-election after four years to have their mind focused on what the electorate wanted and to bring in people who could help with that work. At the end of the day, the mandate given to an individual, and the knowledge that they are accountable to the people, should certainly focus the mind—not the minds of 17 people in a diffuse police authority, but the mind of one individual, who will certainly be accountable as police authorities are not so accountable at the moment.
On the ways in which a smaller number—not a hugely smaller number—of officers can deliver more police hours, I must say that they will be required to spend less time during the average shift in a police station and more time visibly on the streets. I have said that reducing bureaucracy is one way in which we can square that circle, but the Government’s future work, which I know my right hon. Friend the Policing Minister is driving forward personally, involves a streamlined crime recording procedure. The previous Government undertook such work, to which I shall be generous and pay tribute.
The four-force pilot involving Leicestershire, West Midlands, Shropshire and Surrey created a more streamlined and time-efficient way of recording incidents, with police officers given the discretion, over a certain range of offences, to write shorter reports. I should like to see that regime become absolutely standard throughout the 43 forces, so it would be useful to hear how many have adopted it.
There is more to be done on rolling back statutory charging. It is ridiculous that for quite a slew of offences a charging sergeant has to ring up the Crown Prosecution Service to get permission on some triable-either-way offences. It is fair to say that—
Order. I am very concerned that the hon. Gentleman is in danger of taking more time than the Front Benchers. That is not good for all those hon. Members who have waited a long time. We are on a time limited debate, which finishes at 3.47 pm and we have another 10 speakers to get in, so I hope that he is now coming to the end.
I take note of what you have said, Mr Deputy Speaker, and shall bring my remarks to a conclusion; they were coming to a conclusion anyway.
The second way in which we can get the police to spend more hours visible and out there, so that people are aware that they are around, is greater collaboration. I will not repeat some of the initiatives that the Government—this Home Secretary, this Policing Minister —have driven forward, but that work goes ahead in Suffolk, delivering the efficiency savings that can be ploughed back into the front line. As I said, the savings could amount to £1.5 billion out of the total police budget if all the forces became as efficient as the currently most efficient one. That money could be ploughed back into the front line to obviate the need for any significant reduction in uniformed officers.
The message must go forth from this debate that in a tough economic climate, the spending reductions against historically high levels of police funding are not fatal to the fight against crime. The police must do more with less. The public want them to; they want the police to spend more time on the streets and less time behind their desks. In that spirit of cheerful optimism, I commend the Government’s policy and announcement today.
I will now have to put a time limit on speeches. I am sorry to hon. Members waiting to speak; they must take the matter up with others. There is now to be a 10-minute limit, although that might have to be reduced.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I completely understand what you have just said, but again and again when I come to the Chamber for time-limited debates, I find that huge amounts of time are taken. The Minister spoke for three quarters of an hour in a three-hour debate. I believe that in future there should be restraint from Government Front Benchers in time-limited debates.
I do not want to get into an argument about either side. I understand that having a time limit is frustrating. A 10-minute time limit is being imposed. Members making speeches should take on board the fact that others are waiting to speak. I have brought in the time limit to try to get everybody in. That is the best that we can do. As I said, the limit may have to be reduced even further for later speakers.
The debate is of enormous import to the people of this country. A reference was made to chief constables having said that we had enough police to invade a small country. My constituents do not want to invade small countries; they want to feel secure on the streets of central Manchester and to know that their policing is adequate for their community.
The vast majority of my constituents are decent, law-abiding people, but crime is still too high in Greater Manchester. The differential impact of the spending cuts is of itself a matter of enormous concern in a community such as mine. To be honest, the perception is that the patterning of spending on the police is being dictated more by political preference than by the objective needs of police forces. Government Members have argued that the cuts are much less, but Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary’s own reference points for Greater Manchester police say that we will lose 20% of our uniformed police services between 2011 and 2015.
I pay tribute to the Greater Manchester chief constable and police authority. Greater Manchester has made enormous strides in recent years. As my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary said, it is possible to make reductions in police spending, but it is not possible to make indefinite such reductions. That is our problem.
Crime has been falling. In an earlier exchange, my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson, the shadow police Minister, rightly made the point that crime fell by 43% during the last Labour Government. That was a function, at least in part, of the increase in spending provided by that Government. It is not possible to say that cutting out 20% of the uniformed police in Greater Manchester will not have a detrimental effect on the police’s ability to detect and deter crime. One cannot argue about that with reference to efficiency savings.
Nor is it possible always to use the sleight of hand that says that only the front line matters. If the police are not supported by proper back-room staff—sometimes uniformed police, sometimes civilian—they simply cannot properly do the job that we expect of them. It is important for us to remember that and to recognise that there are strong limits.
As it happens, and happily, crime has continued to fall in Greater Manchester. That is a great tribute to the police service and those involved. However, the real concern is this: a number of things begin to come together. For example, we have seen the continuing rise in unemployment. I do not intend to discuss the causes of that. Whatever our arguments about the economy, most people accept that unemployment, a lagging indicator, is likely to continue to rise. We are seeing the largest number in a long time of young people unable to find employment. It is not certain, but we know from historical precedent that that will place pressure on those young people in terms of the potential for a rise in certain types of crime. Faced with that, police numbers still continue to drop, and frankly that is both reckless and irresponsible.
The Policing Minister is bravely sitting alone, unaccompanied by the Home Secretary and not surrounded by his colleagues. He has had to plough through and justify the fact that the Home Office caved in to the Treasury when the current comprehensive spending review settlement was made. As a consequence, we can ask the police service to make efficiency savings, but that will begin to peter out.
In the case of Greater Manchester, we know what will happen this year and next year; the real concern is that 2014-15 will be the point when we fall off the edge of the cliff. Neither the Policing Minister nor the Home Secretary nor the Prime Minister can give us any kind of reassurance that the police service will not then be in a state of enormous difficulty.
The chief constable of Greater Manchester is already on the record as having said that this year’s settlement means
“the most difficult financial year for policing in living memory”.
If this is the most difficult year, but we continue to see cuts year on year beyond that, we have to ask the Policing Minister and others to look at the situation. I know that he is not in a position to give a commitment that the situation will be reviewed, but if that indefinite abyss is to open up in front of us, we will have to have change from the Government. There will have to be a reversal of the speed and depth of the cuts that apply to communities across Greater Manchester.
I have said before to the Policing Minister that during the riots the police force across the country was stretched. Serving police officers rightly went from Greater Manchester to help in London. However, that meant that when the riots broke out in Manchester, some of our officers were helping out elsewhere. We had the advantage of being able to call in police officers from places as far away as Strathclyde, but while the riots broke out in Manchester Central and in Salford, there were strong rumours that there was the capacity for riots to break out elsewhere in Greater Manchester that night. Had that happened, the already thinly stretched line of police officers would have been stretched to the point of there being an enormous problem, even with the capacity to back-fill from other police force areas.
I do not want to predict a repeat, but notwithstanding the Minister’s view that there would not be problems, there is a concern in Greater Manchester that if there were a repeat—the riots did come out of nowhere—we would simply not have the capacity to deal with the situation. That issue has to be taken on board. However we magic the arithmetic, of the 140,000 police officers nationwide, 16,000 needed to be deployed in the capital to quell the riots. That would have left precious little margin for the rest of the country if things had begun to go wrong elsewhere. In policing our communities we must not only think about what happens on a regular Tuesday morning, but recognise that catastrophes happen. Those are real issues for us to take on board, whether in the west midlands, Greater Manchester and other metropolitan areas, or in rural areas.
The Minister rightly paid tribute to our serving police officers. During the riots, officers were asked to confront rioters and those dangerous situations, and it is easy to say that we expect an enormous amount from the men and women who serve in our police force. At the moment, however, morale is not good across the police service for a number of reasons. The police rightly believe that they are being asked to take not a pay freeze, but a real-terms pay cut, and that problem touches on morale. Perhaps such measures are needed during this period, but when they are added to the sense of grievance and uncertainty felt by the police because of what they—and large numbers of the public—regard as the arbitrary nature of the cuts, they amount to a serious impact on morale which we must register. If we praise our serving police officers when, as expected, they take the risks that society places on them, we as a community and a society must deal with morale when it is a problem.
I have had a contrary experience in my constituency. I had a meeting with Inspector Robert Thorpe in Ripon last week. He was relishing the challenge of doing more with less, and looking at productivity and at how he could play about with rotas and make his staff more productive. I pay tribute to his work, and I am sure that there are examples of such work in Manchester’s police force that the hon. Gentleman will highlight later in his speech.
Had the hon. Gentleman been listening to my speech, he would have heard that I spoke at the beginning about the great strides that have already been made by the chief constable, the police authority and the police to make the service more efficient. There is no doubt that numbers of people have gone, and that that process has been managed so far. My argument—the hon. Gentleman may wish to ask his own police force about this—is that there is a point beyond which we cannot go. The loss of 20% of Greater Manchester's uniformed police by 2015 and a similar loss in numbers of non-uniformed staff cannot happen without its impinging on our ability to provide the visible policing that the Minister and others claim to want.
People in Greater Manchester are desperately concerned that the cuts are too fast and too deep, and that when push comes to shove, problems will emerge not in the Prime Minister’s constituency but in the inner-city areas of Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham, and other equivalent areas. We are not getting the Boris bung that the Metropolitan police force has received, and Julian Smith ought to raise that issue with the Policing Minister. Historically, the Metropolitan police force has been better funded than the police in other metropolitan areas, and in a difficult financial year and when other metropolitan areas are being denied, it is hard for us once again to see London given an increase in spending. These cuts are too fast—
I will endeavour to stay well within your time stricture for this debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. I thought that the debate on police funding had shifted in recent days, and that the Labour party had recognised that it supports many of the measures that the coalition Government are introducing, such as the pay freeze, reforms to police overtime and the 12% savings as recognised in the HMIC report. We have also heard that the Labour party cannot guarantee to restore any of the budget reductions that the coalition Government have had to make.
I thought, therefore, that some solutions would perhaps be deployed today, that there would be some recognition that the measures taken and the budget cuts were necessary, and that the Government and the Opposition would try to find ways of making better use of police resources. Unfortunately, we heard nothing of the sort from the Labour party. It may be that on the Labour Benches there are prospective candidates for elected police and crime commissioners. If they are elected in November, they will be responsible for police strategy and budgets. Perhaps it is down to them to outline how they would make better use of police resources, because I am afraid that the shadow Home Secretary, who has just left her place, did not do that in her opening remarks.
This debate should be about how we can make better use of the resources that there are. I will give a few examples of how that can be achieved. I make no apologies for again mentioning the Safer Sutton partnership. The Minister has been to see how that works for himself. It is a fantastic example of the police working closely with the local authority and pooling resources. A concrete example of that work, which led to a saving and a better service, was when the local authority stopped providing parks police and took on safer neighbourhood teams to work in the parks. The Met was able to police the parks more cheaply than the local authority, and uniformed officers performed the roles. That was welcomed across the board and represented a saving for the local authority.
The Government could improve policing by relying more heavily on the evidence of what actually works. Again, I make no apologies for repeating this point in the Minister’s presence. Generalisations are often made about what leads to improvements in policing and to reductions in crime. I had an interesting e-mail exchange with Philip Davies, who is not in his place, in which he suggested that the level of crime dropped significantly as a result of a significant increase in incarceration. However, the evidence from the US is that, although it has seen a large increase in prison numbers, only 10% of the reduction in crime can be attributed to that increase. Far too many simplistic conclusions are drawn. We should develop a body of research—this is starting to happen—to look at what is and is not effective. Perhaps we could ensure that it is all held in one place. Chief constables and, when they are elected, police and crime commissioners should have to refer to that evidence to see whether it suggests that their proposals will be effective or less effective than they think.
We should focus on reinforcing policing by consent, which is central to this debate. We can have as many police officers as we want, but if there is general dissatisfaction or a collapse in discipline, as we saw during the riots, it will be difficult for the police to manage it. We need to boost people’s confidence in the police to ensure that we have policing by consent. That is why the Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate, Brian Paddick—who I am sure would not be in favour of a bung to Boris, as the Labour party has put it—has focused heavily on stop and search and its impact, particularly on black and ethnic minority communities. It reduces the willingness for there to be policing by consent in some of those communities.
We need to be able to draw in other resources. There are some good examples of that. In Bonnington square, the local community has got together to self-police an area where there has been a problem with muggings. That model could be extended. It does not draw heavily on police resources, apart from there being a need for the group to have direct contact with the police. If it can be built on existing community groups, rather than requiring groups to be established simply for that purpose, which may run the risk of vigilantism, that would be a sensible model. Again, that is Brian Paddick’s proposal—Paddick’s patrols he calls them. It could help us to do more with less in policing.
We need better use of existing resources, which is what the HMIC report is about. In London, I know that our Liberal Democrat colleagues are pressing very hard to get rid of some of the rather generous police perks for very senior officers, such as chauffeured cars, which would free up some resources to be used more effectively. For instance, such resources could be used to support safer neighbourhood teams and ensure that the number of sergeants in them is maintained.
My final point brings me back to the fact that we should not always assume that a particular policy has a direct impact in another area. The Government’s work on problem families could have a much greater impact on policing issues than any other measure that they could take. A focus on the relatively small number of families who, for whatever reason, require more input than others from various services could have a really beneficial long-term impact on crime levels.
We need to shift this debate from what I now acknowledge was a rather simplistic linear link between police numbers and crime levels, and instead consider what is most effective in preventing and tackling crime.
I accept what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, but may I take him back to the debate that we had before the election, when I stood at the Government Dispatch Box and he sat on the Opposition Benches? He argued that the settlement that I had put forward as Policing Minister was not sufficient, and said that he wanted 3,000 more police. What has changed in the subsequent years that now causes him not to want those police officers?
I have answered exactly the same question from the right hon. Gentleman in other debates recently, and I will give him the same answer as last time. First, the 3,000 police officers were part of a package to be paid for by getting rid of identity cards. Of course, that element has now understandably been subsumed into dealing with the huge deficit that we inherited from his party, which is why we no longer advocate additional police. Secondly, that has rightly put pressure on us to recognise that simple police numbers are not the solution and that it is actually about effective deployment. The coalition Government have recognised that, and the Liberal Democrats are pressing for it. I wonder whether the Labour party might want to follow that approach, too.
It is undeniable that under this Government, in the year and three quarters for which they have been in office, the police have suffered serious setbacks in funding and staffing, and are doomed to suffer far more. The excellent record of the Greater Manchester police force in crime reduction and detection is likely to suffer—it says so itself—to the severe detriment of our constituents, whom, in the end, this is about.
Yesterday evening, the chief constable of Greater Manchester came to the House of Commons to brief hon. Members about the situation that Greater Manchester police faces. We must consider it in the context of the crime reduction figures that it has achieved, which are exemplary, with reductions in every category. It is on target or within 10% of the target on all the main priority performance measures in the 2011-12 policing plan. There are excellent prospects of its achieving the end-of-year target for serious acquisitive crime, domestic burglary, vehicle crime and serious violent crime, and good prospects of its doing so for total crime, antisocial behaviour and theft.
Greater Manchester police’s detection rates are higher than this time last year in all priority areas, with good prospects of its achieving the end-of-year detection targets for serious acquisitive crime, domestic burglary, vehicle crime, serious sexual offences, robbery and rape. That is what it has achieved.
I will, although the hon. Gentleman has not been here for the debate and has just come into the Chamber a few minutes ago. If he wants to intervene on me, he can do so.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I did not intend to intervene in the debate, but his comments led me to do so. Should we not congratulate the chief constable of Greater Manchester police on delivering what he has delivered with less money, rather than complain about what is going on there?
The hon. Gentleman could have said that to the chief constable himself if he had bothered to turn up for the briefing yesterday evening.
The cuts that are going to take place will damage what Greater Manchester police has been able to achieve. There is a shortfall of £134 million over the four years to 2014-15, and funding is down for the predictable future. Already, there has been a fall of 4% in the number of police officers available to the force, and there will be a huge fall from 7,656 to 6,556 by 2015.
In considering what the feelings of Greater Manchester police are, I turn to Inspector Damian O’Reilly, one of the finest police officers in this country. He operates in my constituency and was the winner of the national award for community police officer of the year. He contacted me last evening and told me that I was welcome to quote him by name. He says that the cuts are
“cutting away at the muscle of the organisation, not just the fat…With cuts to pay and conditions we feel really undervalued.”
That is what one of the most outstanding police officers in the entire country has to say. He has a fantastic record of crime reduction and control, so his views are more authoritative than mine or those of anyone else in the Chamber.
Let us look at how other people are feeling about the cuts. I received a letter a few days ago from a police constable in my constituency. I will not mention her name, because I do not have her authority to do so, but she wrote:
“I have great concern in relation to the police pay and condition that I will be victim of this year, paying more in to my pension and working for longer hours for less pay…I work full time hours and have a mortgage to pay for, I am genuinely worried about my future with the police force and how it’s going to affect my financial status.”
With sentiments and misgivings of that kind, how can she and her colleagues be expected to continue to give their full heart and attention to preventing crime? Of course detecting crime is important, and Greater Manchester’s figures on that are excellent, but we need to prevent crime. If we send a police constable who feels like that out on to the streets, she will still work as hard as she possibly can. How should we feel about exploiting such people and not giving them the recompense and recognition to which they are undoubtedly entitled?
The issue is not simply police detection, but, as the previous speaker pointed out, social environment. In constituencies such as mine, where unemployment is at 10.3%, and youth unemployment is twice that, we are forcing kids out on to the streets. The overwhelming majority of young people are decent and law-abiding and will never commit a crime, but if they are out on the streets, with no facilities, having been forced out of higher education by the abolition of the education maintenance allowance, they are put in temptation’s way. It is essential that we stop that.
As the chief constable concurred in our discussion yesterday evening, although the sharp end of policing is important, so is the social background and context. He explained how his people work with social organisations both to reduce crime and to reclaim those who have committed crimes. If we shove young people into prison or detention when we could do other things to make them good citizens, they will learn how to be criminals. If they are out of prison and not committing offences, they can learn to be good citizens.
An organisation in my constituency called Reclaim does marvellous work to reclaim young people who have offended and give them socially useful tasks. It incorporates them into an organisation in which they know and respect one another. The police work with Reclaim, which is one of the most important bodies in stopping young people turning away from law and order and into crime. I very much hope that its recent application for £125,000 from the social action fund, administered by the Cabinet Office, will be favourably considered. Money spent on policing is important, and I deplore the cuts in the moneys available to spend on policing, but money to reclaim young people from potential lives of crime and make them into good, valuable, positive citizens with a social commitment is even more important.
The police, and certainly those in Greater Manchester, do a fine job. They have wonderful connections with the local population. Inspector O’Reilly does “report back” meetings, the most recent of which was attended by 600 people, which shows the extent to which the police are connecting with the people in Gorton and the rest of my constituency. They do a fine job and deserve far better.
My constituents want to feel safe when they go out on to the streets and in their homes. That is not being helped—it is being damaged—by this Government of cuts and stunts. The chief constable has said how valuable co-operation is, and I agree with him. I hope we can work together to reduce crime and to give the members of our police force the confidence that we in the House of Commons support them in the essential and often dangerous work that they do.
This has been an entertaining and enlightening debate. I apologise for having to leave it for a short period to attend a lobby.
I have listened to the debate with great interest. My gast has been flabbered on occasion as I heard Labour Back Benchers criticising police cuts, while the shadow Secretary of State confirmed in response to my question that she would cut my police force were she Home Secretary today. She also said that she would cut the police force of Sir Gerald Kaufman and every force in the country, with the possible exception of London—although she criticised extra funding for London, she also appeared to support it.
I was staggered to hear some of the things that Labour Members said, for precisely the reason I highlighted when I intervened on the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice. In 2009, police numbers in my police force—Humberside—fell by 137. As I said, we saw not a single Labour politician criticising that reduction on the streets or in the newspapers. In fact, they made the case for reducing those numbers by stating that reducing numbers did not necessarily mean reducing the impact of front-line policing. Labour Members now have the audacity to go out on the streets in parts of my area—although not in my constituency—gathering signatures for a petition against police cuts. I suspect the petition is not quite so honest as to say, “We do not support the Government’s cuts, but we support the Opposition’s cuts of at least 12%.”
I was obviously not a Member of the House in the previous Parliament, but I invite the hon. Gentleman to look at my voting record on police motions since I have been a Member.
I spent 10 years as a local authority councillor, representing an area in the city of Hull where there was a huge increase in antisocial behaviour. I spent most of my time campaigning to get more police on the streets. My primary concern throughout was visible, effective policing. I suspect that we—my constituents in my council ward and I—never obsessed about total numbers; we obsessed about getting people on to the streets to fight crime. I have the same obsession today.
I note the bizarre position of Labour politicians. They oppose cuts but have confirmed in the House that they would significantly cut the policing budget. They were also very supportive of cuts before the election. In the run-up to the general election, the probation service in Humberside had its budget cut by 20%, but not a single Labour politician was on the streets in Brigg and Goole or elsewhere in Humberside to criticise that. Perhaps—heaven forbid—people say one thing in government and another when they are in opposition.
On the previous Labour Government’s record on policing, I was intrigued by the intervention of Hugh Bayley, who spoke of those glory days of policing in North Yorkshire. The beauty of being a born-and-bred Yorkshireman—I have lived there all my life—is that I remember seeing on television, during those Labour years, North Yorkshire police force condemning its traffic officers and vehicles to the yards because it did not have enough money to pay for diesel.
Will the hon. Gentleman check the facts when he goes to the Library of the House after this debate? He will find that there were 126,000 police officers in 1997 and 144,000 to 145,000 in 2010, which is an increase of about 20,000 police officers on the beat and on the streets. He will also find that there was a reduction in crime of 43% over the period.
I am disappointed that the shadow Minister did not take that opportunity to explain why the same Labour politicians who now criticise police cuts in Humberside failed to utter a word in 2009 about the reduction in numbers. I will gladly give way again if he wishes to explain that to the House and my constituents, who I am sure are watching.
I turn to the record of policing and the crime figures, which people often bandy around. I am a cynic when it comes to crime figures because I think that what people see on the ground is different from recorded crime, although I note that I used to criticise crime figures while in opposition and that the Labour party is now criticising this Government’s crime figures—so perhaps we are all guilty of flip-flopping on this matter.
Nevertheless, I recall that when I was a local councillor trying to deal with a significant increase in the number of recorded cases of antisocial behaviour, police precepts in Humberside rose by 500%, and our local police force spent lots of money building police stations for its so-called neighbourhood policing agenda before abandoning or having to find alternative uses for them after changing their minds again.
I also recall £6 million of Humberside’s policing budget being spent on policing overtime, despite the huge waiting list of people wishing to be specials. I remember chairing the licensing committee when 24-hour drinking came in and seeing the huge impact that it had on city centre drinking in the city of Hull, as it was known then. No resources were provided for that.
I also recall a huge amount of central control. Despite what was said about policing numbers, in the area that I represented and in many rural areas of Humberside, across east Yorkshire and north Lincolnshire, under diktats from central Government, policing resources were drawn into Hull city centre and other town centres, at the insistence of the Home Office, in order to deal with volume crime. That left communities such as mine with no police cover during evenings and weekends.
I question whether these increases in police numbers resulted in an increase in the numbers of front-line officers. Perhaps it is a generational thing, but people always say to me, “You never see a police officer on the street.” People said that 10 years ago when I started as a councillor, but perhaps they said the same thing 10 years before. Perceptions vary, however, so I note that Labour’s record on policing and crime might not be quite as presented by some Opposition Members.
It is interesting that the shadow Home Secretary confirmed that she would cut police budgets across the country. That might be some welcome honesty in the politics of the Opposition—we do not often hear much clarity on their budgetary policies. Nevertheless, she admitted that she would cut the policing budget significantly, so we all seem to agree that we cannot continue to invest the same amount of money as we have in the past three years, and that we must find another way forward.
As the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice made clear, people need to work more closely together. Over the past 10 years in one east Yorkshire community, a new fire station, a new ambulance station and a new police station have been built—nobly, perhaps—but with public money and in isolation from each other, with all the extra costs that that entails. I meet with some resistance when I talk to the police, because although they talk about wanting to work together more closely, it is always with other police forces. I am not sure that they fully understand the need to work together more closely with other emergency services and local authorities.
It always struck me as a bit bonkers that we had a chief executive for the fire authority, a chief executive for the police authority and different financial officers. Surely those back-office costs could be merged. My chief constable, Tim Hollis, is an excellent chief constable and I support a lot of his work in Humberside, but although he is open to working together more closely, it concerns me a little that that seems to be about working with other police forces, because there are real opportunities to engage with local authorities in order to reduce some of these costs.
Local authorities have a role as well. One of the two local authorities that I represent, North Lincolnshire council, which, as Members will remember, was the only council to go from Labour control to Conservative control last May—thanks to all the gains in Brigg and Goole—is considering using some of the council’s budget to support community policing across my area in order to meet the policing challenges. Admittedly, that is not new—for several years from 2000, despite the apparently fantastic settlement from the Labour Government at the time, the Labour council in Hull still felt the need to put £1 million of council tax payers’ money into policing. Therefore, there is a role for local authorities.
We have a choice. We can stand up and do the cheap politics, while also wanting to cut the police budget significantly, or we can try to find local solutions. I would love it if we could pepper money around all over the shop and put police officers on every street corner—we would all like that to a lesser or greater extent—but in reality policing budgets are under pressure, so we can either moan from the sidelines or we can engage with our local police forces and local councils, and have them come up with solutions and ways of doing things smarter and more cheaply, and, if necessary, use some of the additional resources. Local authorities employ thousands of people, and there is the potential for working together more closely than has been the case, although I accept it happens in some areas. That will be the challenge for us all as we move forward.
We might not like the position that we are in, but we know why we are in it, although I have not felt the need to remind the House of it. We have to be grown-up about this. What concerns me most is that by making cheap politics out of it, people are undermining confidence in policing, which we all know is very important.
In August, Birmingham was hard hit by outrageous and unacceptable behaviour that saw communities terrorised, but led by our admirable chief constable, Chris Sims, police officers restored order. They were truly heroic. They were the thin blue line protecting communities from rioting and robbery.
What was absolutely wrong, however, was Conservative Ministers returning from holiday in their Bermuda shorts seeking to take the credit despite having had nothing to do with the work of restoring order to the streets. What was absolutely wrong was crazy talk about baton rounds, water cannon and bringing in the army, which would have led to a downward spiral into yet further violence. The police were right to reject such nonsense and instead defend the British model of community policing. They, themselves, have learned painful lessons from history, from Scarman, through Macpherson and onwards, that we can only police the community with the support of the community. It was Chris Sims who said that had it not been for that support, his officers would have struggled to restore order.
When Labour was in government, we, together with the police, made a real difference—they, on the one hand, evolving that unique model of British community policing, and us, on the other hand, investing in the police service, resulting in nearly 20,000 additional police officers and 16,000 extra police community support officers. The consequence was a 43% reduction in crime. We were the first Government in history to leave office with crime falling rather than rising.
What is also absolutely wrong—I ask Government Members to search their conscience on this—is to break a promise. The Liberal Democrat Leader said, “Vote for me and you will have 3,000 extra police officers on the beat.” Not one Conservative Member went to his or her constituents and said, “Vote for me and I’ll cut the number of police officers on the beat.”
The consequences in the west midlands are serious. Twelve hundred police officers are going. We have heard some creative accounting and fantasy figures, but may we return to the real world of what is happening at the sharp end? Some 634 officers have gone already, most of them forced out under regulation A19, and among them are some of the most outstanding police officers in Birmingham and Britain. There is Tim Kennedy, a detective with one of the best records of tackling acquisitive crime and a high detection rate; Tony Fisher, who put away, first, a robber who had stolen from pensioners at cash points for 13 years and then a machete-wielding robber of local shops for 17 years; Dave Hewitt, an outstanding neighbourhood sergeant; and Mark Stokes, the acknowledged national expert in designing out crime on our streets and estates. Sixteen officers are going from the counter-terrorism squad, including the head of counter-terrorism and the head of crime. All are being forced out against their will. They are some of the best officers I have had the privilege of working with—I am proud to call them friends—but they are being forced out at the age of 48 or 49.
To add insult to injury, some of the officers forced out under A19 were approached after the riots by G4S, which was brought in to help deal with the post-riots investigations, and asked whether they would like to come back and work as a police officer once again, but this time for G4S, actually costing the taxpayer more. We also had some absurdities, such as when the community in Quinton was told, “We’ll no longer be able to keep open the front office”—where the public come in and interface with the police—“but perhaps we could, if you were prepared to man the police station yourselves.” Where will it end? Next the Government will be asking local communities to arrest criminals themselves.
We have heard repeatedly from the Government—I quote the Home Secretary—that “We can make all these savings while protecting the front line.” However, let me set out what we have discovered is actually happening on the ground, right now, in the west midlands. Thirty-two front-line police officers—some of the best still serving—have been taken off the front line and put into the back room, because the police are having to cope with cuts on an unprecedented scale and at an unprecedented speed. As a consequence, there are two detectives in Birmingham South who are off the front line and into the back office; three in Sutton Coldfield—off the front line, into the back office; four in Birmingham South, Bournville neighbourhood—off the front line, into the back office; four in Coventry—off the front line, into the back office; eight in Dudley—off the front line, into the back office; and 11 in Solihull—off the front line, into the back office. They include one officer, in Birmingham South, Bournville, who has been taken off the front line and put into a back office to do filing, in the post-riots filing system.
I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman, and I do not doubt that those movements to the back office have been made, but that is exactly the kind of thing that the Government think is wrong. I wonder whether he could share with us the explanation of the chief constable, who is ultimately answerable for that movement of uniformed officers into the back office.
With the greatest of respect—I genuinely have great respect for the hon. Gentleman—it is wrong to cut the police and then blame them for those cuts. If we impose unprecedented cuts at reckless speed, we force the very best in the leadership of our police service into a nigh-on impossible situation. They are trying to manage that deeply difficult situation well, but it is one that will inevitably lead to perverse outcomes. That is the simple reality. Instead of quoting inspectors saying, “I relish the challenge,” as was done earlier, it is about time that this House listened to what is happening at the sharp end. Indeed, one of those front-line officers contacted me just yesterday. It was heartbreaking to hear a good man who has given all his life to our police service saying, “I never thought this would happen to me. I was dedicated to the job I was doing. I feel now that I’ve got no alternative but to leave the police service.”
Let me say this in conclusion. The police do not always get it right. I think all hon. Members will have experience of having to intervene locally, in dialogue with the police, in response to pressures from the community. However, I know from my experience that what the police always do—precisely because they are champions of community policing—is respond. If, however, they get it wrong, of course we should criticise and hold them to account. However, today we should also celebrate that British model of community policing.
Back before Christmas, I addressed a rally of 500 police officers in Birmingham, together with the national chairman of the Police Federation. As they said, one after the other, not in living memory have any Government lost so quickly the support of the police service in Britain. What those officers expressed, one after the other, was utter dismay. Of course there were concerns about pay and pensions, but there was also dismay about their fellow officers—their friends—being forced out under A19, and them having to work long and hard to compensate. However, those officers also said something else, and one of them put it very powerfully when he said, “Jack, I’ve never felt so downgraded or denigrated by any Government,” because in the promotion of the notion of police commissioners, we have had a constant undermining of the police. That is why our message today is it is time for the Government to listen to what local communities are saying—to think again, to change course, to stop undermining the police. They should back the police, not sack the police.
I, too, want to quote the phrase “not in living memory”. Not in living memory have any Government inherited such a financial mess as we, this coalition Government, have. We have had to take spending decisions very seriously. Opposition Members have made the point that perhaps we ought to share the responsibility, but the point that should be recognised is that hon. Members all sides would have had to make reductions.
The Opposition paint us as though we do not care about our police forces, but that is wrong. Devon and Cornwall police force does a very good job with excellent officers, but we know full well that we cannot carry on borrowing £1 in every £4 that we spend. We also know that if we do not have a pay freeze for officers, we will have to reduce their numbers even further, because we would not be able to maintain even the current numbers.
We have to grow up and say what the coalition Government are saying: yes, police forces do a great job, but we can afford only a certain amount of money. The Labour party makes much of the fact that it spent huge amounts on new headquarters across the country, but they were not paid for there and then. They are being paid for now, and will be in the future, adding to public expenditure. All those points have to be reinforced, because we could not carry on as we had been.
It is right—my hon. Friend Andrew Percy made this point—that it is down to the chief constables and police authorities in local areas to make reductions where they see fit. It is also down to the chief constables to ensure that front-line policing is maintained. I went out with my local police officers before the general election, and they said that if they make an arrest, they then have to do seven hours of paperwork. I hope that we are tackling that, and if we are not, I am sure that the Minister will tackle it, because there is no doubt that we can reduce bureaucracy and make much better use of police time. We have to accept that there is not the money in the Exchequer or anywhere else, whoever had got into power, because it was all wasted by the previous Government. That is why we have to take these actions. I would much prefer it if, instead of trying to pull apart what we are sensibly trying to do, the Opposition came to this Chamber with some genuinely concrete proposals for how we can move forward together.
I want to see as many community police officers out on the beat as possible. Indeed, every time the chief constable walked into a police station and found a lot of police officers there, would it not be a good idea—I know that some chief constables are doing this—if he asked why they were there and not out on the beat, policing and catching criminals, which is what we put them there for? There is a great deal more that can be done. There are many great police officers and very good police constables in this country, but we have to find the very best practices to get value for money. In the end, that is what it is about—value for money. The last Government were not about value for money; they were about throwing money around. Some of it went to the right places and some of it to the wrong places. Now we have to pick up the cudgel and make the money we have go further.
I look forward to the police looking at how they spend their budget. I think there is no need for big front-line cuts. If it is looked at dramatically and properly, we can police ourselves in the future very well. Yes, our constituents and the residents of our towns and villages are concerned about policing and crime statistics; they are always conscious of crime. Whatever side of the House we are on, we all know that. What the Government will do is ensure that they put the money in the right places so that policing carries on and we keep the crime statistics where they are and, hopefully, lower them in future, but at a rate that the country can afford, unlike under the last Government.
It is a pleasure to follow Neil Parish. Both he and my hon. Friend Jack Dromey spoke passionately about their local areas. Notwithstanding the debate over police numbers, I think we all recognise the huge amount of work being done at a local level. I shall start with a couple of local issues, before moving on to the wider national issues.
On the situation in Leicestershire, we will sadly see a reduction in the police grant of almost £4 million. When I spoke to Chief Constable Simon Cole this morning, he talked about a very complicated formula that first gave us the money but then took it away because of the dampening down element. He, like every police force, will struggle to meet the ambitions that he and others have to achieve the reductions that the Government have put in place.
Last Saturday’s events, when the English Defence League marched through Leicester, remind us that police authorities struggle not only because of the reductions but because of events occurring that cannot be predicted. I want to pay tribute to Simon Cole and to Leicester’s mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, for how they handled that march. The EDL is not welcome in Leicester, but it was given the opportunity to march because we believe in the fundamental principles of freedom of speech. The fact is that the 2,000 police officers who came out on to the streets will cost £800,000. With the possibility of an EDL march in Leeds, the people of Leeds—in the end, it is the taxpayer who will pay—are going to have to pay another large sum. When I intervened on the Minister, I know he said that applications for a special grant can be made, and we will ask him to help us with these costs, because these are not costs of our making; we had to police that demonstration.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington alluded to the recent riots, which reminded me that local police forces have been left with a shortfall. I have figures for the Metropolitan police. I am told that costs under the Riot (Damages) Act 1886 will be £198 million, with a further £78 million for operational policing costs; yet the Home Office will pay only £100 million and £52.7 million for the policing costs, so there is a shortfall of about £20 million for the Metropolitan police. I hope that the Minister will give some reassurance to areas such as Birmingham, and to a lesser extent to Leicester, where there were disorders rather than huge riots, but most particularly to London, that help will be forthcoming from the Home Office, as the Prime Minister promised when I put the point to him during his statement just after the riots. He said that the Government would meet the costs of all the extra issues that arose as a result of the riots; I can give the Minister the Hansard extract if necessary.
I do not want to talk about numbers, as the issue has been well rehearsed eloquently by right hon. and hon. Members of all parties, particularly by the shadow Home Secretary and the Minister. What I want to talk about is procurement, as this is an area in respect of which there will be common cause. IT procurement costs the public £1.2 billion annually. The Minister has told us that the Government are keen to ensure that savings are made. Forces currently have 2,000 separate and bespoke information and communication technology systems that are serviced by 5,000 different members of staff.
The National Audit Office recently published a report on the use of mobile phones, and I declare an interest in having a BlackBerry, although I am not certain that I use all its features. However, in my conversations with the BlackBerry people, they assure me that the BlackBerrys they have given to South Yorkshire police, for example, have resulted in savings of £6 million. This is not rocket science. It was a recommendation of the Select Committee in November 2008 when we said that sufficient funding should be
“made available as soon as possible to enable all frontline officers to have access to” hand-held devices. We talk about waste and procurement; that would have saved a huge amount of money. We still face a situation in which police officers of different police forces are buying these services from different suppliers and are operating different devices.
I understand that the system in South Yorkshire—I am sure the Minister will be familiar with it—allows the individual police officer to access the police national computer, the warrants database, the electoral roll, command and control, case study records, intelligence briefings, crime tasking, electronic witness statements and shift briefing. That is the sort of thing we need to give our police officers so that they do not spend their time dealing with the bureaucracy of which the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton spoke. We are all against bureaucracy; who wants the police to be filling in lots of pieces of paper?
If we look at new technology—I do not know whether a mobile phone is described as such these days—I believe this is the way for us to go forward. Nineteen forces have mobile phones for fewer than 50% of their officers, and according to the National Audit Office only one in five use it effectively. We give out the equipment, but perhaps do not train officers as effectively as we should.
I am all for the Minister mandating collaboration. I know that the Home Office and central Government are reluctant to tread on the toes of individual chief constables, but police and crime commissioners are going to be introduced in November, and I hope they will have a leading role to play on procurement. We need to be in a position not to allow all 43 forces to buy their own equipment. The Minister was here for Prime Minister’s questions when my hon. Friend Andrew Miller raised the issue that four police authorities were buying Hyundai police cars. Of course, my hon. Friend’s point was about British jobs given that they come from North Korea, but I saw the issue as being primarily one of why all our police cars are not the same; I wondered why, when I went to Kent, there was a different make of police car from those I saw in Leicestershire. This is a no brainer.
I am pleased with what the permanent secretary at the Home Office said. I was glad when she was not appointed the head of the home civil service—not because I do not think she is capable, as I think she is an extraordinarily capable woman, but because I think the permanent secretary to the Home Office is a big job to do. When she came before the Committee she talked about the so-called Argos catalogue—her choice of shop; I do not know whether Dame Helen goes there regularly. We have been pushing for a long time for a catalogue with nationally agreed prices from which everyone buys. Why the previous Labour Government did not do that, I do not know. My defence is that I was the Minister for Europe so I did not have a chance to be in the Home Office. My right hon. Friend Mr Hanson did a great job as a Minister, but this is a difficult task, as he will tell us.
The right hon. Gentleman’s Committee has done much under his leadership to raise awareness of the efficiencies that can be delivered by police forces from existing budgets. When he talks about mandating collaboration, is he suggesting that the whole of England and Wales should be divided up and that every force should be mandated to collaborate with a neighbouring force or neighbouring forces?
It could be that; of course legislation allows that to happen. The Minister has told us what he did about helicopters with the National Police Air Service. As I remember, South Yorkshire did not want to share its helicopters but the Government said, “You have to share, because a helicopter is quite an expensive piece of equipment.” I do not care where it is done, and I do not think we should hang ourselves on a hook as far as who should say what, but it is common sense to be in a position where we can do this. I think Dame Helen Ghosh gets it, and that is why the Committee will interview her on a regular basis about her commitment to procurement. We want to see not just the kind of savings we have had so far, but much bigger savings.
Finally, let me speak about police pay and conditions. We all have huge admiration for the police. Tom Winsor will be appearing before the Home Affairs Committee shortly, and I think the Minister needs to take the temperature of the Police Federation and ordinary police officers. He meets them every day and sees them on many occasions, so I cannot lecture him about this, but morale is very low and I think that Mr Winsor has gone too far. We need to be very careful when we deal with police pay and conditions. The previous Labour Government got it wrong—Jacqui Smith got it wrong and so did my right hon. Friend Mr Brown—when they did not allow the pay rise that the police ought to have been given when the arbitration committee decided that they should have that pay rise. This time, we should make sure that we carry police officers with us in making the massive changes that the Government are putting in place. That is vital because this is the biggest change to the policing landscape we have seen in this country since Sir Robert Peel’s time.
We should remunerate the police well, we should not be mean and vindictive to them and we should not get rid of the most experienced officers. That is something we are seeing in this House, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington mentioned, where some of our most experienced people are being told they have to go. When I say in this House, I do not mean Members of the House, luckily, as I have been here a long time, but those who guard the Palace of Westminster. We need to value that experience. I hope that the Minister will look again at pay and conditions and will try to bring Mr Winsor under a little bit of control. We are dealing not with railways—I know Mr Winsor was the rail regulator—but with real people in real jobs who protect our constituents. They are the people we lionise in times of crisis, and we should reward them properly for the work they do.
I begin by apologising, Mr Deputy Speaker, for not being here for the whole debate, as I have had duties elsewhere in the House today.
The problem with the police settlement is that it repeats a pattern that is becoming familiar: there is a sense that a streak of unfairness runs through whatever the Government turn their hand to, and that far from us all being in it together, there are very clear sets of arrangements that favour some at the expense of others. Let me take the example of the Met, which we all accept faces enormous pressures. It is about to be given £90 million of additional funding, which is enough to recruit about 1,000 additional officers, to help with its extra responsibilities next year. I do not deny that the Met will have extra responsibilities, but neither has it escaped my attention, or the attention of a number of my constituents, that the Conservative party and Boris Johnson have an election battle to face this year. That might well be influencing some of these decisions.
I would like the Minister to tell me why we in the west midlands do not need extra money next year. We have a visit from the Queen as part of the diamond jubilee, which will require additional policing, and we have Jamaican independence day. There is a significant Jamaican population across the west midlands and many events are planned that will require policing. In Birmingham there will be an all-day market in the city centre, which will require additional policing. Birmingham is to host the Jamaican and United States Olympic athletics teams, and that will require additional security and policing. West Midlands police are engaged in the advance policing for Euro 2012, and the further England progresses in the tournament, the greater will be their commitment.
Why are we in the west midlands not entitled to some additional funding for those commitments when the Met’s position has been recognised and provided for? Why should I be told that I am wrong to draw a comparison with what is happening in the context of the London mayoral election? I ask those questions because they are the questions that my constituents are asking me. They tell me that it is not fair. They do not think that we are all in it together; they think that they have been singled out for worse treatment than the Government are prepared to give the Met. The Minister knows perfectly well—because a delegation of west midlands Members of Parliament went to see him last year—that the West Midlands force is underfunded, and that if the police formula were applied fairly, we would receive a substantially larger grant than we are receiving now.
As my hon. Friend Jack Dromey pointed out earlier, there is a recruitment freeze in the west midlands. According to the latest estimate, by 2015 we shall have lost about 2,764 jobs, which is 450 more than the Minister would have been aware of at the time of the original projections. That means the loss of about 1,165 officers, 122 police community support officers and 1,477 ancillary staff. By March 2012, there will have been 88 compulsory redundancies. It is simply not true that that is not a problem, or that the situation can be easily managed. It is certainly not true that the West Midlands police authority and the chief constable have not been trying to deal with the problem. They have cut £40 million from their budget, they will cut a further £38 million from it next year, and they will cut £126 million over the four-year period.
I do not know how many major organisations policing an area of the size that the West Midlands authority is required to police could easily cut £126 million from their budgets over a four-year period without making any impact on the service that they provide, but I should be interested to hear from any such organisation. What I do know is that 80% of the police budget is made up of pay, and that if cuts on this scale must be made, jobs will inevitably be cut. That is obvious to most people. The fact that a Prime Minister can stand here and pretend that there is an increase in policing on our streets when everyone’s experience is to the contrary beggars belief.
Moreover—we have put this to the Minister repeatedly—because the cuts are front-loaded, they will limit the capacity for efficiency gains and business transformation. Those things could be achieved, and, indeed, West Midlands police are working towards achieving them. As far as I am aware, there is no sense that people in the west midlands do not want change, but some change takes time, especially if it is intended to deliver efficiency gains, and this change cannot be achieved within the time scale that the Minister is forcing on those people.
It is also not true that people in the west midlands do not accept that there is an argument for cuts. Even the chairman of the West Midlands Police Federation has stated clearly that, while recognising that 12% cuts will pose a challenge, he does not believe that they will have an immediate impact on front-line policing. However, he knows from experience and from his contact with his members—real police officers on the ground—that 20% cuts will pose an enormous challenge, and that it will not be possible to make them without cutting front-line services.
We need a bit more fairness in the way the money is shared around. If there are going to be cuts, then we should all be in this together, and the people of the west midlands have as much entitlement to policing and recognition of the policing challenges facing them as do the people living in the Met area. The Minister must look again at the impact on the front line in Birmingham and the rest of the west midlands. The transformations that he says he wants could be effected if he were to permit more time and space for the job to be done properly.
The Select Committee on Home Affairs has been conducting an inquiry into the private investigator business. It is unregulated, and it is clear that as the police are forced to withdraw from certain areas of life, the private sector will move in. That could make the situation worse, not better.
Has the Minister had a chance to look at the allegations coming out of Birmingham that the private sector has withdrawn from running Birmingham prison and has handed it over to two major gangs who have transferred their business from the streets of Birmingham to the prison’s cell blocks and landings? The people of the west midlands are certainly not asking for that kind of unregulated private sector. They are not against change, but they want change that is managed, fair and reasonable, and that will deliver security and safety. We will not get it at this pace and with this level of cuts, and with unfair advantages being given to the Met because other people have other issues on their minds.
I am glad that we have had this debate. As there are merely two minutes for each Front-Bench spokesman to respond, I will just reiterate the key points that have been made.
We are calling for the Government to reopen the Home Office funding settlement for police forces across England and Wales. As has been made clear in the contributions of my hon. Friend Tony Lloyd, my right hon. Friend Sir Gerald Kaufman and my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) and for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe), we do not believe that this settlement is sufficient to meet the needs of policing in the 21st century. Speaking from the Government Benches, the hon. Members for Bury St Edmunds (Mr Ruffley), for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) and for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) hold a different view, which I respect but disagree with.
The Labour party supports reductions of 12%, which HMIC recognises as deliverable. We are not against collaboration on voluntary mergers, overtime reductions and procurement of cars, uniforms, IT and air support, nor are we against deployment changes or the paperwork challenge. What we are against are the Government’s proposed cuts, which will lead to 16,000 police officer posts being lost and take some £700 million out of next year’s policing budget for England and Wales—and it has been signalled that there will be still further cuts in future years. The Minister knows that that will have a dramatic impact; no amount of smoke and mirrors will hide the fact that there will be a real and deep cut in the policing grant in England and Wales.
The Minister need not listen to me; I am a Labour politician, after all—the former Minister now supporting my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary. However, he should listen to the chief constable of Kent, who says:
“The cuts, if they are 20%, will take us back to 2001 so that’s quite a significant drawback into police numbers.”
The Minister should listen to the chief constable of Manchester who said that the current financial year is
“the most difficult financial year for policing in living memory.”
The Minister should listen to the chief constable of Gloucestershire who said:
“Here in Gloucestershire we are potentially in the middle of the perfect storm”, and added that it takes
“us to a metaphorical cliff-edge more quickly than others.”
The Minister should also listen to the chief constable of Dyfed Powys, who says that
“nobody should be under any illusions, we still have to cut costs significantly but at least the 5% increase in the precept would mean our situation won’t get any worse.”
When Labour left office, police numbers were at record levels—there were 16,500 more officers than in 1997 and there were also 16,000 new PCSOs—and crime fell by 43% under Labour. The Government settlement takes £700 million out of policing. This House should oppose it. The Opposition will certainly do so.
I strongly agree with the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, Keith Vaz, about the opportunity in respect of procurement. Last year, we put in place the first mandatory framework, covering some key services, including police cars, body armour and a wide range of commodity IT hardware and software. This will ensure that all forces use the specified frameworks—the right hon. Gentleman’s “shopping list”—so the full potential for savings in these categories, £27 million, can be achieved by 2014-15. We are consulting on going further to specify frameworks used by the service when buying further equipment, including vehicle light bars, digital interviewing equipment, translation services, mobile telephony and some e-consultancy. Savings of £34 million so far are projected to rise to £70 million by the end of this financial year, rising, as I said, to at least £200 million by 2014-15.
That is a really good example of what can be achieved, and it is noticeable that, with the exception of the right hon. Member for Leicester East, no Opposition Member talked about any of those issues. It was my hon. Friends who raised deployment issues—how well resources can be spent—and who talked about the things forces can do to adjust to the lower spending and to continue to deliver a high-quality service. Opposition Front Benchers continue to make absolutely no mention of these issues. We know now that they support the police arbitration tribunal report, the pay freeze, the overtime measures and the cuts they are criticising, but they have nothing to say about procurement, outsourcing and whether it is right to bring performance up to the standard of the best. Their mantra is—to use the shadow Minister’s words—to call on us to reopen the settlement. It is the same old story: calling on us to spend more money, and that is exactly what got the country into this mess in the first place.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am not sure whether you are aware of the fact, but one of the lifts on the Committee corridor is not working and that is leading to a long queue of Members seeking to arrive in the Lobby. I wonder whether you would consider extending the time available for this Division.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I certainly will take that into account before I ask for the doors to be locked. I appreciate that not every Member is as athletic as he is. He was able to sprint his way to the Chamber, but I will make allowances for the less athletic.
The House having divided: