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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I grew up with a huge amount of respect for the police service and the job it does in keeping our communities safe. When I was young, my dad served as a special constable with South Wales Police for a number of years, reinforcing my belief in the important job that our police officers, civilian staff and special constables do.
My constituency of Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney is made up of a number of small villages and communities, each with different needs and priorities. The need for support from the police service is significant in many of the communities I represent, but that support is under threat from the Government’s proposed cuts.
Prior to being elected to this place in May, I spent 20 years as a county councillor. During that time I and my colleagues worked closely with the police service—specifically the neighbourhood policing team—to resolve a multitude of community concerns. As councillors we held monthly advice surgeries with the local policing team, delivering a joined-up service to local residents. That approach worked well and served to resolve most concerns that invariably required a two-pronged approach.
Neighbourhood policing has had a hugely positive effect on communities, with constables and community support officers being able to build a rapport with the communities they serve. That in turn creates a greater sense of public safety and enables the police service to quickly target those who cause most problems. Neighbourhood policing also has benefits in reducing indirect costs for the public purse resulting from antisocial behaviour and low-level crime. By working at the grassroots in our communities, the police have been able to tackle the root causes of issues before they become major problems.
Unfortunately, due to the significant cuts over the past few years, neighbourhood policing teams are disappearing. Before they came to power, the Tories promised to protect front-line policing, but over the past five years they have cut about 17,000 police staff. In Wales, we have been fortunate that, despite the significant cuts to their budget, the Welsh Labour Government have funded the employment of 500 police community support officers.
The significant cuts to which police services have been subjected will put communities at greater risk. I know that in some large organisations, having fewer resources helps to create efficiency initially. I am sure that that is true of the police service, but the sustained cuts that we have seen and the further significant cuts that we face will serve only to weaken the service and impact on morale. There are many examples of how low the morale in the police service has become. I have heard at first hand of the most conscientious of officers leaving the service in the prime of their careers. That does not bode well.
We have all heard a variety of statistics, but stats have a habit of being interpreted in all sorts of ways. I prefer to listen to the people who know best—the people living in our communities and working at the grassroots of the service. Those people are saying that things are not getting better, but worse. This is hardly the time to cut investment. As we have heard, crime is not falling, but changing.
The Government’s proposals will take policing backwards in this country. My constituency is covered by two forces, Gwent and South Wales. With a 25% cut, we will see a 22% reduction in officer numbers in Gwent and an 18% reduction in South Wales. That can be compared with violent crime rates, which are up by 22% in Gwent and 28% in South Wales.
Community safety and law and order are too important to put at risk. The Government’s cuts will put our communities and residents in danger. I urge the Government to think carefully about the further cuts they are planning and the impact that those cuts will have on the lives of people in our towns and villages. Those cuts are not sensible. Most people do not live on gated estates; they live in ordinary communities and they need adequate protection from the police service. The proposed cuts will not allow the police service to give them that protection. I urge hon. Members to support the motion.