Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
I congratulate Tracy Brabin on her excellent maiden speech. I should also like to thank Holly Lynch for securing this debate and for doing so much work on this matter. I am sure the House will appreciate that assaults on police officers cannot be brushed off as an occupational hazard. Figures obtained from South Wales police show that a total of 631 days were lost due to work-related assaults in one year. North Wales police say that assaults on officers are a daily occurrence.
The first problem that we should address is the lack of accurate recording of assaults against police officers. The Plaid Cymru police and crime commissioner for the North Wales police force, Arfon Jones, has secured sufficient budget allocation to ensure that he can realise his manifesto pledge to supply every police officer with body-worn video equipment while on duty. Body-worn cameras collect evidence that has proved beneficial in securing domestic violence convictions as well as protecting individual officers from malicious complaints and physical assault. There is thus a justice result in having these cameras. It became evident to me, during the time that I was lucky enough to spend with Sergeant Alex Baker and other North Wales police officers on the police parliamentary scheme earlier this year, that body-worn cameras were greatly welcomed for those very reasons. Powerful initiatives such as these should be extended as a matter of good practice. The Government cannot use the police and crime commissioners as an excuse for shrugging off such a fundamental responsibility.
The other point that I want to make is about cuts to front-line policing. It is not a fair response on the part of the Government to say that police spending is now protected. The police are suffering from the previous budget cuts, whose effects are now becoming statistically evident. We have seen a reduction in police officer numbers of 1,300 in Wales since 2010. Last year’s police funding formula would have resulted in a £32 million cut to Welsh forces, which would have caused Welsh police severe difficulties, as I am sure Members can imagine. Last year’s review of police funding sought to place greater emphasis on socioeconomic data and more general crime figures, but such a formula does not properly consider the workload differences of each force.
Figures provided by Dyfed-Powys police indicate that funding for Welsh forces in line with population would result in an additional £25 million for Wales. Of course, if policing were devolved to Wales—a position supported by all four police and crime commissioners in Wales—the overall Barnett formula for funding public services would indeed be based on population. As an aside, I would observe that Welsh forces are facing these significant cuts only because control over policing is retained in Westminster. This is particularly important when we consider that policing is devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland, where the new formula will not apply.
When I have been out with the police, particularly the armed response and dog handler units, I learned about real concerns that the drive to work in alliance with neighbouring forces, arising from the long-term cuts agenda, would result in yet more police officers being put in dangerous situations without sufficient back-up. Of course, there are advantages to co-operation, especially for training, but there is also a tendency to locate officers in areas where the likelihood of certain types of crime is highest. That intrinsically disadvantages officers and the public in rural areas, where they can run the risk of finding themselves unreachable in emergency situations, which is beyond the pale.
In conclusion, I am in favour of the motion, but with one big caveat: that, in line with police and crime commissioners in Wales, policing is devolved and sufficiently funded to ensure that police officers are able to continue their excellent work in Wales.