Let us see what happens in the next few years, because many austerity measures are under way. The cuts have only just begun to hit, and, in the next few years, they will really hit people. Everyone knows that because of economic difficulties certain crimes will rise, including lesser crimes such as breaking into vehicles, stealing small items and selling them for quick money.
Although crime is falling, fewer crimes are being resolved. This aspect has not been touched on. In the north-west, at least 2,296 fewer offences of violence against the person have been solved. Previously, a much higher number of such offences were resolved. In the coming years, once the cuts in police numbers are implemented and the full impact is felt, a rising number of crimes will be left unresolved.
The Minister boasted that recruitment was not a problem and that the Government were doing everything they could to encourage recruitment and create a better police force, but that is not the impression that I get from police officers on the front line. Let me tell the House about Police Constable Turnbull, who came to see me in my constituency office. He said that he had joined the police force many years ago, full of hope and with a high level of dedication to duty. I know that he will continue in that way, but he said that morale in the force, especially among younger police officers, was at an all-time low. Officers are unhappy with all the cuts that are taking place.
In particular, the constable talked about the police pension, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East referred. New recruits know the terms and conditions on which they are coming in, and can decide whether to join the police force on that basis, but to take away people’s pension rights retrospectively, when they have spent 10, 15 or 20 years contributing towards their pension, is plainly unfair and will not help police morale. Morale affects performance—if people are happy, they perform better; if they are demoralised, their performance may be affected. I hope that will not happen, because we have an incredibly good police force, one of the best in the world. Sometimes we do not give the police enough credit for all the good work that they do.
“the most difficult financial year for policing in living memory”.
Things will only get worse, not better, so imagine what it will be like next year and the year after. Steve Finnigan, chief constable of Lancashire constabulary, has already been quoted, but it is worth reminding Ministers of what he said. As the Association of Chief Police Officers lead on police performance management, he was asked whether he would be reducing front-line policing in order to meet the Government’s budget cuts. He replied, “I absolutely am.” He has also said:
“Let me be really clear. With the scale of the cuts that we are experiencing . . .we can do an awful lot of work around the back office . . .but we cannot leave the front line untouched.”
Finally, I ask the Minister to consider this. Labour’s plan for cuts of 12% over the Parliament is a proportionate response to deal with the deficit. This is confirmed by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, who said that this, as well as the work of the previous Government, would deliver front-line services without a great deal of impact on them. Like my hon. Friend Andy McDonald, I ask the Government to re-examine their proposed course of action and to consider the Labour proposal.