The Home Secretary can, if she wishes, misinterpret what the report says. I have reported the inspector’s warnings that she is ignoring. The Government are ignoring the warnings from the police and the mounting concern of the public that they no longer see their police.
Having cut the police service by 25% in the last Parliament, right up until the night before the comprehensive spending review, the Government were threatening to cut it by at least another 22%. With the Home Secretary failing to stand up for the police service, we were on the brink of catastrophe, but under pressure from Labour, the public and the police, the Chancellor staged, in what can only be described as a shambles, a last-minute U-turn and a promise was made. “Read my lips,” he intimated,
“I am today announcing that there will be no cuts in the police budget at all. There will be real-terms protection for police funding. The police protect us, and we are going to protect the police.”—[Hansard, 25 November 2015; Vol. 602, c. 1373.]
That promise to the public and the police has been broken. The Chancellor said he would protect the police, but now we know that police budgets are still being cut—a broken promise. It is just like in 2010 when the Prime Minister said that he would protect the frontline. Since then, 12,000 front-line officers have been lost—a broken promise. To add insult to injury, not only are the Tories continuing to slash police funding, but they expect the public to pay more to make up for it. The Tory sums rely on local people being charged an extra £389 million in council tax—a Tory police tax. The public are paying more for less.
The shadow Secretary of State, and my hon. Friend Jim McMahon and other Members spoke of the reality in the communities that they serve. Neighbourhood policing is being hollowed out: 18,000 officers have gone and 4,500 PCSOs have been lost in the last five bleak years. Some 1,300 have gone in the last six months alone—the equivalent of a whole force—and many more will go over the next 12 months. Hugh Orde was right when he said that a generation of progress is being reversed.
There has been a major increase in knife crime, which is up by 9%, and a 27% rise in violent crime, including a 14% increase in the murder rate; sexual offences have gone up by 36% and reported rape is at its highest level since 2003; and victims are being let down, with half of all cases being closed without a suspect being identified. Resources are diminishing just when demand is soaring. Police in the 21st century face the triple challenges of terrorism, cybercrime and child sexual exploitation. The threats to British security in the 21st century demand a modernised, more responsive and better equipped police service, not a smaller one.
The shambles of the comprehensive spending review was followed by the omnishambles over the funding formula, in which the Home Office used the wrong figures to misallocate hundreds of millions of pounds of police funding, meaning that the doomed review of the unfair funding formula has been delayed for a further year. “Sorry,” said the Policing Minister, “we used the wrong figures and we should have got it right.” That means that there is a stopgap settlement for only a year—more uncertainty and more unfairness. West Midlands police, my local force, and Northumbria police will continue to receive double the cuts that Surrey receives.
The truth is that police budgets have not been protected. The truth is that crime is not falling, but changing. People are now more likely to be mugged online than in the street, yet in the words of the Office for National Statistics,
“fraud and cyber crime are not currently included in the headline Crime Survey for England and Wales estimates”.
They will now be included. The ONS states:
“Preliminary results from this field trial indicate that there were an estimated 5.1 million incidents of fraud”.
When the statistics finally tell the truth on crime, we will see crime nearly doubled under this Government, robbing them of the alibi they have used over the past five years: “We have cut the police, but we have cut crime.”
In conclusion, the thin blue line is being stretched ever thinner. Our police service has been nothing short of heroic. The powerful contribution of my hon. Friend Mrs Lewell-Buck showed the day in, day out experience we all have. I see it in my constituency, ranging from, on the one hand, outstanding initiatives to engage young people, such as the formation by the police of a canoeing club that built excellent relationships with local young people and that helped to divert them from crime and helped to get information about those who were carrying out burglaries, to, on the other hand, the case of Lucy Lawton, a young mum who had her two children kidnapped by a fleeing bank robber—they were tracked down and the kids were returned to their distraught mother. These are good men and women, ordinary men and women doing extraordinary things, often in the most difficult circumstances, but they are being let down by this Government. Now is not the time to press ahead with the biggest cuts to any police service in Europe. The safety and security of our citizens comes first. That is why Labour, the party that built neighbourhood policing, will be the champion of neighbourhood policing and the champion of public safety and the police.