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The British police force is one of, if not the, most professional and efficient in the world. The Home Secretary said in her statement:
“As the House knows, the first duty of Government is the protection of the public, and that is a responsibility this Government take extremely seriously.”
If we look at the Government’s proposals, however, we see that that statement is a joke, and it does not square with her actions in capitulating to the Chancellor’s demands for more and more cuts. That is a disgrace.
The Home Secretary suggested earlier that the police should be given the tools to do the job, but that is the opposite of what is happening. She has been congratulated on the proposals in the draft Investigatory Powers Bill, but I am not prepared to congratulate a Home Secretary or a Government who are throwing caution to the wind by making cuts to everyday community policing.
Like my hon. Friend Stephen Twigg, I represent a constituency covered by Merseyside police, and I have regular contact with the police—on a professional level, I might add; the shoplifting claim was just an isolated incident! The police are feeling under siege, not from criminals but from the Government—the very people they look to for support and resource. My hon. Friend said that the Conservative party was once the party of law and order; it is now the party of law and order on the cheap.
What is the picture nationally? There are 17,000 fewer police officers compared with 2010, and 4,500 fewer PCSOs—the proposed cuts take the figure to 22,300. What about a fall in crime? Violent crime is up by 16% and knife crime by 9%, and all in the context of a £2.3 billion cut in funding since 2010, which is 25%. Twenty out of 27 forces say that their response times are going up—there is an average 17% increase in response time, rising to a 57% increase in response time in the worst hit areas. The number of rapes has gone up, not down, to 31,621, and numbers of other sexual offences have risen to 63,800. Violent crime is up by 25%, and levels of hate crime and cybercrime have risen. As my hon. Friend noted, the chief constable of Merseyside police has said that we cannot carry on doing more for less.
All this must be set in the context of major cuts to local government, probation services, other social services and partner agencies, including the voluntary sector. The issue of reserves is one of the fallacies and myths that the Tories persistently use about local government. The figures suggest that 88% of the reserves are earmarked for the next four to five years. The idea that they are being wasted—that they are lying around in some bank account or someone’s cocoa tin—is complete nonsense. Moreover, my local force does collaborate: the Merseyside fire service and the police have a combined command and control centre.
My area is to lose 20 PCSOs, who are familiar faces in the community. The concept of neighbourhood policing is going west. There has previously been consultation about whether three police stations in my area should be closed; we thought that we had put that one to bed, but it is to be revisited. The 7,350 police staff whom we had in 2010 are to be reduced to 5,773.