I beg to move,
That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2017–18 (HC 944), which was laid before this House on
In addition to seeking approval of the police grant report, I think it is right to outline the context in which we find it, as it covers the continuation of our work of seeing through police reform and of working with the sector. This funding settlement provides fair and stable funding for the police and enables essential policing reform and transformation to go further and faster, so that we ensure that we help the vulnerable, cut crime and support our communities.
In December, I proposed a stable and fair funding settlement for the police in 2017-18. Today, I am seeking this House’s approval for the settlement. Last year, we protected police spending when precept is taken into account, and I am pleased to say that the 2017-18 police funding settlement maintains that protection for police spending.
Overall Government funding allocated to the police is £8,497 million—exactly as announced in the 2015 spending review. On
I am concerned that the Minister may have inadvertently misled the House. He said that he has been able to protect police budgets in real terms once the precept is taken into account, but that is not the case with Greater Manchester police. They still had to cut frontline policing even though they used the full precept power. Will the Minister now correct the record?
The right hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that Greater Manchester police are a good example of a force that has managed to increase its reserves. We should be clear that, across the sector, the police—including Greater Manchester police—have increased their reserves by more than £400 million. The reality is that for policing, when precept is taken into account, we are delivering on the spending review statement that the police funding settlement maintains protection for police spending. I reiterate that statement.
Our police forces do a great job and need funding to support their vital work. So-called traditional crimes have fallen by a third since 2010 to a record low. Families and communities are safer as a result. The police have helped deliver radical changes, including direct democratic accountability and transparency through the introduction of police and crime commissioners; the introduction of the College of Policing as the professional body for everyone in policing; cutting through bureaucracy and stripping away national targets; and increased collaboration among police leaders up and down the country to make savings, pool resources and provide a better service to the public.
I am not sure whether people in London will recognise the rosy picture that the Minister is painting. The Government are making £1 billion of savings. Does the Minister intend to shift more money away from London, as was planned in 2015—up to another £700 million? Will he fund the national and international capital city grant properly? That is £172 million short. With the Mayor, the Home Secretary is appointing a new commissioner. The Minister must realise that there are special responsibilities in London, which the Government should engage with.
This statement is as per the written ministerial statement in December; I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to our review of the police funding formula. That work is ongoing and the Metropolitan police are involved in it. I was with the Mayor this morning, and I do not recognise the figure of £700 million just mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. I have spent quite a lot of time with the Mayor in the past couple of days, addressing the issue of the new commissioner, and he has not yet outlined that figure to me. I look forward to hearing more about where the hon. Gentleman has come across that figure.
The 2017-18 police funding settlement provides stable and fair funding for PCCs to spend locally.
The Minister is making a lot of sense on this issue. As he will know, Bedfordshire, from a financial point of view, is one of the most structurally challenged police authorities. However, Kathryn Holloway, the police and crime commissioner, has found enough resources to put 100 new police officers on the frontline, so we can do very good things to increase frontline policing within this settlement. However, will the Minister tell us a little more about the timing of the review of the funding formula? That will make a big difference for Bedfordshire.
As my hon. Friend will appreciate, I am not in a position at the moment to outline what the new funding formula will look like—that work is still ongoing—but I am happy to give him a flavour of where we are on timing. My hon. Friend makes a good point. Police forces around the country have done really good and interesting work on reform, which is why the number of officers spending more time on the frontline has gone up by a few per cent. in the past few years. That is a good thing because we are using our resources properly in ensuring that our uniformed police officers are on the frontline working with and for their communities.
Some really good work is going on. As well as meeting the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, I have met the Bedfordshire PCC and chief constable to talk about some of the changes that they face, particularly as a county that has rural work as well as the focus of an urban centre in Luton. There are really good examples in Bedfordshire and elsewhere of how police forces work with other forces, as Bedfordshire does as part of the seven, and other agencies—the fire brigade, ambulance services and other public sector bodies—to bring about operational benefits that can bring savings and a better service for local communities.
I thank the Minister for his engagement with the North Yorkshire PCC on exactly these issues and the challenges of rural policing. May I urge him to consider the recommendations of his Department’s technical reference group, which has concluded that population is the best predictor of police demand and should therefore be a key part of any future funding formula for rural areas?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comment. I am happy to be engaging with the excellent PCCs in both Bedfordshire and North Yorkshire—the latter’s being Julia Mulligan, whom I saw earlier this week. She is another good example of a PCC working to deliver for the frontline and looking for savings to make sure that even better and wider services can be delivered for local communities.
I come back to the timeline, mentioned by my hon. Friend Richard Fuller, and will cover the point made by my hon. Friend
I am grateful to all the PCCs and chief constables who have taken time to be involved, feed into the work and come to see me. I have an open-door policy for anyone who wants to put forward ideas for the group. On the timeline, I have been clear from the beginning: this is a big, important piece of work and it is important that we get it right. Rather than setting timelines, I want to let the groups do their work and report to us. We will then have to make decisions on how to take things forward. I am keen for the work to get done, but I do not want to pressure the groups with a specific timeframe. Hon. Members will have to bear with us on that. It is important that we take the time to get this right, rather than rushing to get it implemented.
Although it is said that sparsity and rurality will be taken into account, may I push the Minister once again? He has been kind with his time when we have discussed the issue, but this is important for our area. If the allocation is made just on the basis of population, Suffolk will get £3 million less than Norfolk, although they are very similar counties that the Minister knows very well.
The Suffolk PCC and chief constable have lobbied me on that issue—in fact, the Suffolk PCC came in the past week or two to make that very point. There is a piece of work to do at the moment. The technical reference group and senior group will work through the issues and make those recommendations to us. I will not prejudge the outcome; it is right to let them and the experts do their work on what the fundamentals should be.
The settlement also includes extra resources for national programmes including the transformation fund, which enables forces to undertake essential policing reform. Last year, we provided a planning assumption to the House to help PCCs. We are meeting our planning assumption for stable force-level funding. That means that every PCC who maximises their local precept income this year and in 2017-18 will receive at least the same direct resource funding in cash that they received in 2015-16.
I can also report to the House that local council tax precept income has increased faster than expected. That means that we can not only meet our planning assumption on stable local funding for PCCs but increase our national investment in police reform and transformation faster than expected. That will ensure that police leaders are given the tools to support reform and the capability to respond to the changing nature of crime and to protect the vulnerable.
I hope that the Minister agrees that Durham has an outstanding Labour PCC in Ron Hogg and a first-rate chief constable, who is working hard not only to drive up standards but to make the force more efficient. Does the Minister recognise that forces such as Durham’s are hindered when it comes to raising the precept? Some 55% of properties in Durham are in band A, so an increase there would not generate a great deal of cash compared with what Surrey or somewhere else would receive.
I recognise that Durham has a very good police force with an excellent chief constable. I met the chief constable and PCC pretty recently when they came to outline some of the points that the hon. Gentleman has just made. There are differences around the country and we must recognise that different areas will have different abilities to raise money locally according to the precept and their council tax base. The hon. Gentleman is right. I represent a constituency in which about 80% of properties fall into the lower council tax bands, so I fully appreciate his point. But the funding settlement is not the only source of money for police forces.
The Minister is making sensible observations about the changing profile of crime and rural considerations, but will he think about the nature of crime and how it is different in rural areas? In agricultural areas outside Salisbury, there are crimes such as hare coursing. Difficult policing jobs that require police presence cannot be offset with technology. That must be understood in this review.
My hon. Friend, as always, make a very good point that outlines one of the realities of the way in which policing is changing. That is why it is important to have local decision making in policing, with locally accountable police and crime commissioners who understand the needs of their local areas and are able to direct their resources where they need them based on the demands of their area.
I want to make some more progress.
This year, we created the police transformation fund—the grant settlement is not the only source of money for policing—which has already provided investment to develop specialist capabilities to tackle cybercrime and other emerging crimes, and has provided a major uplift in firearms capability and capacity. The fund will increase by £40 million next year to £175 million. We will continue to allocate additional specific funding for counter-terrorism to ensure that critical national counter-terrorism capabilities are maintained. Counter-terrorism police funding continues to be protected and, in fact, will increase to £675 million in 2017-18. That reinforces our commitment to protect the public from the threat of terrorism. The House and the public can be in no doubt that the police will have the resources they need to do their crucial work, and will be given the investment necessary to provide a more modern and efficient police service.
I think my right hon. Friend will agree that we have the most professional armed police officers in the world. The statistics on fatalities bear that out. Does he agree that forces outside London must upscale their armed capacity to match the level that we have in London in view of the terror threat that affects the whole country?
This comes back to the point that it is important that local police and crime commissioners, working with their chief constables, are able to assess the operational needs for their area and to work across policing. The National Police Chiefs Council is doing very well in ensuring that police forces are working across areas, and that chief constables are working together for the benefit of the country. The Metropolitan police has a big part to play in that, being such a large part of policing in this country.
No, I want to make some progress.
There is a lot for the police to be proud of. However, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary’s police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy report this year raised a concern that some forces may have eased up on the pace of reform in the past year. The clear challenge from us to police leaders is to ensure that this is not the case in 2017-18 and, after talking to them, I think it is a challenge that they will relish. Maintaining funding should not mean that police leaders take their foot off the gas.
I assure the House that the Government will do their part to support forces to transform and become more efficient. I will update the House on the steps we are taking to give the police the tools they need to transform themselves. As I mentioned earlier, we are increasing the size of the transformation fund by more than £40 million, which will enable additional investment in cross-force specialist capabilities, exploiting new technology, driving efficiency and improving how we respond to changing threats.
The first year of the fund has demonstrated that it is supporting and incentivising policing to meet future challenges by being more efficient and effective, and building capability and capacity to respond to a changing mix in crime, as my hon. Friend John Glen outlined. The key to the success of this work is that it is sector led, through the Police Reform and Transformation Board; this is the police service transforming itself to meet the demands of the future, using tools provided by this Government.
Not at the moment.
With the foundations of the police-led process firmly in place, more can now be done to develop compelling investment proposals at scale. The fund should continue to allow the best ideas from across policing for transformational change to be developed and delivered.
In 2017-18, we will invest a further £32 million to continue a major uplift in firearms capability and capacity so that we can respond quickly and forcefully to any firearms attack. I expect to see ambitious proposals, endorsed by the National Crime Agency, to go further and increase our capability to tackle serious and organised crime, which is a growing, dynamic and diverse national security threat that costs the United Kingdom at least £24 billion a year. It leads to loss of life, preys on the vulnerable, creates negative role models in our communities and can deprive people of their security and prosperity. But we cannot simply rely on extra funding to drive police reform. We need to ensure that police forces have the right legislative tools to do the job and improve efficiency.
I thank the Minister for finally giving way. I am sure that he is aware that Durham is the most outstanding police force in the UK for efficiency. Why has that not been rewarded in the settlement? For example, changes to the funding formula this year mean that the force in Durham will have £700,000 less in its budget than it had last year.
I am slightly surprised by the hon. Gentleman’s opening comments because I have already accepted an intervention from him, along with many other interventions. He has actually made a good case for exactly why it is important that we do this police funding formula review—to ensure that we get a formula that is not based on the one that has been in place for decades and that many police forces are very unhappy with. We will deliver on our manifesto pledge to deliver a fair funding formula for police.
The public all over the country are noticing a reduction in visibility of neighbourhood policing and in responsiveness by the police. They will struggle to match what they see on the ground with the complacent statements that have been made in the House today. Let me remind the Minister—we need accuracy on this because police officers on the front line deserve it—that the promise of the 2015 spending review was “real-terms protection” for the police throughout this Parliament. Has he met that promise, yes or no?
As I have already outlined twice to the right hon. Gentleman, we have met the promise of the spending review. Police and crime commissioners who maximise their precept are in the same position. No matter how many times he asks the same question, he will get the same answer. I give way to Mr Hendrick.
I am sorry, if the hon. Gentleman will excuse me, I could not quite hear what Andy Burnham said. Would he like to intervene and outline that for us?
Order. I did not hear anything said that was out of order. If I did not hear it, I cannot act on it. At this point, Mr Hendrick is intervening, so we will hear that. If somebody wants to raise a point of order or whatever, he or she is free to do so, but I cannot comment on something that I did not hear.
When the Chancellor announced in 2016 that police budgets would continue to be protected in cash terms assuming council tax was maximised, I—like many others—welcomed the news. Last year’s cuts to grant funding were a uniform 0.6% and this year’s provisional settlement outlined a further 1.3% cut to direct resource funding. How does that square with what the Minister said?
I can only repeat what I said earlier: last year, we protected police spending when precept is taken into account. The overall level of government funding allocated to police is exactly as announced in the 2015 spending review at £8,497 million.
I am delighted that the Policing and Crime Act 2017 received Royal Assent on
My right hon. Friend knows that I strongly support his efforts to get collaboration and more efficiency. Does he accept, however, that these reviews of formulae very often do not take into account the capacity of different kinds of forces to make changes? Large urban authorities have huge capacity to make changes, but it is much more difficult for small rural police forces. Will he ensure that that is taken into account in the review?
My right hon. Friend makes a good point. I assure him that we are looking at all those factors as we work through the process. It is so important that the police chief constables, the police and crime commissioners and other parties are doing solid work on the ground to ensure that the process is fully informed. I have no doubt that we will be discussing and debating that in the House in due course.
Police and crime commissioners and chief constables are already collaborating to make savings and pool resources to improve effectiveness, without sacrificing local accountability and identity. That is a credit to them.
My right hon. Friend is making a cogent case, as he usually does. I encourage him to proceed in the way in which he has outlined because my local constabulary, Cambridgeshire, is working on things such as firearms, forensics, dogs and homicide, and it has become much more efficient. For example, the tragic Joanna Dennehy murders of two or three years ago would not have been solved as expeditiously as they were without cross-county collaboration between several police forces.
My hon. Friend is right. I met his chief constable and police and crime commissioner only this week and they showed me some of the excellent work being done there. It is one of the forces that is really driving forward and working to make sure that it delivers on the opportunities that the Act gives it to bring together the fire service and police force to create even further efficiencies and, importantly, better outcomes for residents in future.
Efficiency has increased, but that can take us only so far. My borough is paying for an extra 50 police officers. Londoners are paying £61 in their council tax every year just to make up for the shortfall in the money that should be given to cover national events such as the planned visit of the President of the United States. Will the Minister guarantee that, when he looks further at funding, he will look at what local and regional authorities are contributing at the moment?
I agree that it is important that as we go through the review work we look at the functions in a capital city that are different from those in other parts of the country. We do pay extra money into London, but we also have to bear in mind that London’s Metropolitan police is by far the best funded force in the country, accounting for just over 25% of all police funding. It is a very, very well-funded police force.
Not at the moment—I will make some progress.
We are making sure, through the Act, that we support greater collaboration. To do this, the Act contains provisions to enable police and crime commissioners to take on responsibility for local fire and rescue services, where the local case is made. This means that we can maximise the benefits of joint working between policing and fire services at a local level, drive innovative reform, and bring the same direct accountability to fire as exists for policing.
The police funding settlement for 2017-18 is not impacted by the ongoing police core grant distribution review, as the settlement retains the approach to distribution that we have used in recent years.
Does my right hon. Friend acknowledge that the situation will be different in different places? Wiltshire and Dorset recently went through a consolidation of the fire service into one entity. Another organisational change would not be welcome, because that would mean more money being spent on that reorganisation when we have just had one in the fire service. This needs to be done carefully, county by county.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point that highlights why it is important that this is driven locally. The Act is an enabling power, not a mandatory one. He is absolutely right that his own local PCC and the adjoining PCC are looking at how they can be more involved in the governance of fire without necessarily changing the excellent work that was done to find savings in the past year or so.
Some hon. Members have mentioned the core distribution review. While I am talking about police funding on the current formula for this year, it would be remiss of me not to outline that review a bit further and answer a few of the questions about it, as there is clearly widespread interest. We are continuing the process of detailed engagement. Under an open door policy, I am meeting all PCCs and forces who wish to discuss this issue. I can also assure the House that no new funding arrangements will be put in place without a full, proper public consultation.
I want to re-emphasise that the 2017-18 police funding settlement provides fair and stable funding for police forces. It increases funding for the police transformation fund to ensure that police leaders have been given the tools to support reform and the capabilities that they need to be able to respond to the changing nature of crime. We are protecting police spending and meeting our commitment to finish the job of police reform so that we are able to make sure that we, and the police, are helping the vulnerable, cutting crime and supporting our communities. I commend this motion to the House.
Labour Members deplore the approach that this Government have taken to police funding. They have broken their promise to Parliament that they would protect frontline policing. They have left police forces across the country without the money they need to keep our citizens safe from crime. With funding cut every single year, there are now 21,000 fewer police officers than there were in 2010. That is what this Government have done for policing.
Moreover, the Government have persistently failed to introduce a funding formula that is linked in any meaningful way to the different needs of different areas. When they did try to do so, it literally did not add up and had to be withdrawn. Now we see in today’s motion that for another year they are simply salami-slicing the police budget again, with real-terms cuts of 2.7% across the force, regardless of need. They decided they could not run their own funding model because, they said, it was broken, but they have not been able to build a new one despite trying for four years.
This is incompetence. It is the action of a panicked and out-of-touch Government forced to make bad decisions that bear little relation to community needs because of the lack of capacity that is a problem of their own creation.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the 4.9% real-terms cut in Gwent police and 5.3% real-terms cut in South Wales police will put frontline policing at risk in those areas? I have spent some time with frontline police as part of the police service parliamentary scheme, and the frontline officers I have met certainly do not recognise the rosy picture painted by the Minister.
I certainly do agree with my hon. Friend. I appreciate the work that he has done with the police service parliamentary scheme and understand that he understands what real policing is really all about.
No wonder that only last week the outgoing head of the Metropolitan police said:
“It’s getting difficult…The bottom line is that there will be less cops. I can’t see any other way…There’s only so much you can cut and make efficiencies and then you’ve got to have less police…I’m not sure that's wise”.
We do not believe it is wise either.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the pain has not been distributed equally across the country? In Durham we have lost 25% of our police officers since 2010. Nationally, the average is 12%, although Surrey, I understand, has lost only 1% of its officers.
I certainly agree. I think the method is shambolic.
I turn to broken promises. Let me give a bit of history. In 2011, David Cameron said:
“There is no reason for there to be fewer front-line officers.”—[Official Report,
Yet the number of police officers fell by almost 21,000 after he became Prime Minister. The total size of the police workforce has fallen by over 46,000 since 2010. Following a successful campaign from the Labour Benches led by my right hon. Friend Andy Burnham, the former Chancellor, Mr Osborne, told Parliament at the autumn statement in 2015 that
“now is not the time for further police cuts…There will be real-terms protection for police funding.”—[Official Report,
Today’s figures show that he has broken that promise to Parliament. In fact, between 2015-16 and, going forward, 2017-18, the total amount of real-terms Government grants for police forces has fallen by 4.4%. The real-terms cuts we have seen in the past two years come on top of real-terms cuts of £2.3 billion—25%—in the preceding five years, as shown by the National Audit Office.
The motion means that next year, after inflation, funding for London services will be cut by more than £48 million. The Northumbria police service will find itself in a position of having to increase the local tax burden by £6 million just to stand still, and funding for the South Wales police service will fall by over 5% in a single year.
This House has not been given an accurate picture. As my hon. Friend rightly says, the 2015 spending review promised real-terms protection. Local tax rises have not made up for Government cuts, so there are real-terms cuts to police services all over the country. Does she agree that, of all Government Ministers, the Policing Minister should tell the truth at the Dispatch Box?
That would be welcome.
Meanwhile, crime levels, which the Government keep telling us have fallen, are actually about twice what they were previously presumed to be, as we have learned since January, following the inclusion of cybercrime. In London, the proposed settlement does not include the full cost of policing ceremonial and other national events that take place there simply because it is our nation’s capital.
May I congratulate my hon. Friend on painting the correct picture, particularly in relation to London, which gets only half the money it should get nationally? Every Londoner pays a £61 subsidy through their council tax each year. One of the biggest costs relates to neighbourhood policing, which was destroyed under the previous Mayor of London and is being resurrected by the current Mayor, but that is happening under huge financial pressure and the Government’s failure to fund London properly.
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. A London citizen will end up paying more for national events through their council tax than anyone else. I am sure that my London colleagues will be pleased to know that the funding for trips such as that by President Trump will come out of their pockets.
The underfunding of our police services must stop. Our citizens deserve a police force that is fit for purpose, and our hardworking policemen and women deserve a Government who support them to do a job. The Minister is being disingenuous if he tries to imply that the cuts will not have a negative effect on our ability to police. In fact, we are starting to see real evidence that neighbourhood policing is suffering as a direct result of the Conservative party’s actions.
In its latest annual report, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary states:
“Neighbourhood policing is one area where the danger of across-the-board reductions in resources is apparent…As chief officers reduce their workforces, they will need to…include assurances that a smaller police workforce will not compromise public safety and explain any effect there might be on neighbourhood policing.”
I share those concerns. Neighbourhood policing matters. It is not just reassuring to local communities, but crucial for crime prevention. Unfortunately, however, I fear that the damage is already being done. Last year’s HMIC annual report went on to say that
“we found that there were too many forces where there were signs of an ever-larger proportion of the workforce being drawn into responding to incidents, leading to a reduction in crime prevention activity.”
I do not believe that the cuts that we are being asked to approve today will not lead to further reductions in neighbourhood policing. I can only assume that that is a price that the Minister is prepared to pay.
The problem is compounded by cuts to other frontline services. As local authority and mental health services are also pared back, it falls to the police to pick up the pieces when preventable problems become emergency incidents. That is a problem for police resourcing, but more than that it is a tragedy for the individuals, families and communities concerned.
The HMIC assessment continued:
“Society should no longer tolerate conditions in which these illnesses and disorders are neglected until they land at the feet of the police, in circumstances of violence, disorder and desperation.”
Under this Government, those desperate situations are tolerated because they have got their priorities wrong. As a result, police resources are used to respond to individual crises that do not count in the crime figures. Forces themselves estimate that crime accounts for only 22% of the number of emergency and priority incidents. When the Minister says that crime is falling, he is wrong. It is wrong to use that as the justification for funding cuts.
The Minister argues that it is okay to cut, because forces can raise local precepts to fill the gap, but that misses the point. Raising the precept, which most forces, for understandable reasons, are attempting to do, is simply a way of asking the public to pay more because of the Government’s political decision to give less from general taxation.
I am going to make progress. The Government are passing the buck on a monumental scale. More than that, it is unfair because some forces will be unable to raise as much as others.
I am going to make progress. The ability of forces to raise funding will depend on local circumstances and the prevailing level of council tax, neither of which necessarily bears any relation to policing needs. In fact, initial results from a current research project at the London School of Economics, which is examining the factors that drive demand for policing, suggest that, in general, crime levels are significantly higher where house prices are lower. If that is correct, it means that shifting towards greater funding through a council tax precept is precisely the opposite of what is required. The communities with the greatest need will have the least ability to meet that need through higher tax rises.
All of that suggests that the Government’s policy on policing is wrong. My real concern, however, is deeper: I do not think that the Government have any idea whether or not the cuts are jeopardising public safety. There is no analysis behind the proposals that we are being asked to approve today.
In its 2015 report on the financial sustainability of police forces, the NAO concluded that police forces have “insufficient understanding” of the demand for their services and what affects their costs. It said that that made it
“difficult for them to…show how much resource they need, and demonstrate that they are delivering value for money.”
If the National Audit Office finds it hard to work out whether the service is offering value for money, how can the Conservative party reassure us that the cuts are safe? Frankly, this is a mess.
We need to understand how the police force of the future will protect the public in a way that offers value for money for the taxpayer, but the Minister appears to have no idea how to do that. That is no wonder, for when the Government cannot even come up with a formula that funds the force fairly on current need, I can understand how considering how to respond to future needs must be way beyond their capability.
Even worse than that, the Government are ignoring the work that has already been done. In 2014 a group of senior police officers explored how policing should work in an environment of austerity. Their report, “Reshaping policing for the public”, discussed a wide restructuring of the police force to get greater bang for the taxpayers’ buck. However, I fear, as predicted by the police and crime commissioner for Northumbria, that the report just made its way on to a shelf in Whitehall and is collecting dust.
In summary, the Government present themselves as the party of law and order, but their policing policy is a shambles. They do not know what forces need or whether taxpayers’ money is being spent properly. They cannot say at what point efficiency gains become a threat to public safety. They blithely promise Parliament that they will protect the frontline, just as they take away the cash that is needed to do so. They pass the buck to local taxation, even though the areas that need more resources are those with the least ability to raise funds. In the absence of any credible policy, the Government just keep cutting year after year in the hope it will all be okay. But it is not okay. The Government’s incompetence lets down the taxpayer. Their broken promises about further cuts to frontline services let down the public and are insulting to the hard-working and brave police officers right across this country.
Before I start—and I shall not speak for long—it would be negligent of me not to thank the chief constable of Dorset, Debbie Simpson, and our police and crime commissioner, Martyn Underhill, the 1,200 brave officers who serve us and the 1,000-odd staff who support them so admirably across Dorset.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister, who has been given a difficult pack of cards and is dealing with it as best he can, bearing in mind the state of our economy, which we inherited, and the fact that, to run an effective NHS and police force, we need money. Dorset police has an overall budget requirement of £121.3 million. That sounds like a lot of money, but for a large county such as Dorset it is not. Dorset still receives, as my right hon. Friend the Minister knows, the second lowest grant per head of population—only Surrey receives less—and that has been the case for some years.
My comments are based on those of the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner, Mr Underhill. All police forces have faced the same cut in police grant for 2017-18, which equates to a cut of 1.4%. That is higher than last year because of top-slicing for national projects such as the police transformation fund and the emergency services network, which the Minister has mentioned. In Dorset, the 1.4% cut in central government grant results in a reduction of just over £800,000. In a letter to the police resources unit, the chief constable and Mr Underhill said that they were
“disappointed in the settlement provided to the Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset.”
As the House knows, each police force can raise funds through council tax. The elected police and crime commissioner in each police force area decides the level of police precept levied on residential council tax bills, but it must be limited to 2% or else a referendum will be triggered. After local consultation in Dorset and with a clear majority of nearly 80% to approve an increase, Mr Underhill agreed to increase council tax by 1.98% this year. However, the 1.4% cut in central funding means that the overall funding for Dorset remains static. Every year, the number of people paying council tax in Dorset increases. One might think that that was good news, because it increases the tax base. However, that tax base is the direct result of an increase in the number of properties in the county, which in turn places more pressure on the police service.
It is generally accepted that a new funding formula is needed, and the Minister has kindly said in the House that a new formula is being looked at. The Government, as I understand, want to replace the existing formula with a simplified one, and they are consulting on the arrangements. However, following the discovery of statistical errors in the funding proposals last year, the formula review was re-started. It is not yet finished, and I believe I heard the Minister say that he was not clear—perhaps he can help me when he sums up—about when that will happen. Meanwhile, Dorset still loses £1.9 million via formula damping because the 2009-10 review of the funding formula was never properly implemented.
To balance the books this year, the strategic alliance of Dorset police with Devon and Cornwall police—as the Minister said, the fact that it is looking far and wide to create more efficiencies will be welcomed—will be required to deliver savings of £3.9 million, and £12 million over the next three years. These are considerable sums of money, particularly when Dorset is way ahead of many police forces in cutting back-room staff and making itself more efficient. I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister is well aware of that point.
The comprehensive spending review in 2010 resulted, as we all know, in savings. They were due to the fact that the country was in a terrible state and there simply was not the money, so cuts had to be made. Thankfully, in November 2015 the new spending review protected police spending, but that was based on the assumption that council tax would rise every year. The actual settlement for 2016 was a cash reduction of 0.6%, and no details were given for future years. Future settlements protect police funding only on the basis that council tax will rise each and every year.
The provisional police settlement is once again only for a single year, unlike in other Departments, which give a four-year preparatory budget outline. That significantly compromises the ability of police forces to plan ahead. As we have heard from the Minister, the police are facing radical reviews and changes, and different crime patterns, particularly in areas such as mine in rural Dorset. We have heard, and I reiterate, that any new formula needs to provide stability, transparency and certainty, and it must recognise the needs of a predominantly rural police force such as the one in Dorset.
I have listened carefully to the argument that the hon. Gentleman has advanced, and I agree with much of what he is saying. On the basis of his analysis, would he say that the Government have honoured the promise that they made to the police at the 2015 spending review?
I think that the right hon. Gentleman is playing with figures slightly. In a sense, I believe that the Government have honoured that promise, but it depends, as I have said, on council tax being raised every single year. In some cases, it is not, and, as we have heard, the various different bands raise different amounts of money. The Minister is well aware of that, and he is doing his best.
Does my hon. Friend and neighbour agree that history suggests that complicated formulae invented by clever statisticians usually go horribly wrong? There is a great deal to be said in this instance, for the reasons that he advances of transparency, simplicity and stability, for tilting towards a formula based on population that we can all understand. Not only would that help Dorset, but it might help the country as a whole.
It is well known in the House that my right hon. Friend is an extremely intelligent man, but I did not know that he was able to foresee what I was about to say in my very next sentence. Perhaps he has read my speech; I do not know. That is exactly the point I was going to make next, and I thank him for his intervention. A fair settlement would use population, not crime statistics, as the basis of any formula. Another hon. Friend has mentioned sparsity and rurality, which are central to counties such as mine. The population measure is fair and robust, and it can be monitored. It is not influenced by police action. Crime statistics ignore things such as road safety and fear of crime, and they assume the same police response for every situation.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying about population, but is he saying that any future formula should not take into account poverty or demand in cities or in areas that have particular problems? If he is suggesting what I think he is suggesting, we will get the situation that we have in local government, where any understanding of poverty that relates to crime is taken out of the formula. That will benefit his constituents at the expense of mine.
The hon. Gentleman clearly does not know the make-up of my constituency. There is probably as much poverty hidden in the depths of Dorset as there is in his constituency. All I am saying is that Dorset needs a fairer share of the cake. Larger metropolitan areas can achieve far greater economies of scale in any funding—whether it be in education, the NHS or the police—than we can in Dorset.
We suffer from the fact that the police force has great difficulty in getting around a huge rural mass. People in my constituency and that of my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin do not often see a police officer. I am concerned by the comment, which I occasionally hear, that if one does not see a police officer, that is a very good thing. If the goodies say that, I am sure that the baddies say, “There are no police officers in rural Dorset. This is a nice soft touch—let’s go for a day out.” That, unfortunately, happens all too frequently.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the assumption is often made that rural areas are wealthy? In fact, rural deprivation is significant, but it often needs to be measured in different ways. Those in rural areas are often on below-average incomes, but they have higher costs. I think that that needs to be stressed.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Of course, in Dorset and in her constituency, the deprivation is spread over a vast area. With all due respect to Mr Jones, I suspect that the deprivation in his constituency is spread over a far more compact area and is, therefore, far easier to police. Dorset is a massive area that is not easy to police, and deprivation is spread right across it.
I will end—I said I would speak briefly—by raising with the Minister a few points that Mr Underhill made in a recent letter to me. First, rural communities already struggle to access services such as public transport, affordable housing and the like on a par with urban communities. Fear of crime is higher than in urban areas, and confidence in policing is lower in rural areas. That is not a criticism of Dorset police, which does the best job it can, but the fact is that people in rural areas do not often see a police officer. Rural communities do not feel that the police understand their concerns about hare coursing—my hon. Friend John Glen made a point about that—as well as about trespassing and poaching.
The hon. Gentleman is talking about confidence in the police. Just last night in my constituency, a convicted murderer, who was taken to the local hospital in a taxi, absconded because a taxi was called to return him back to prison. Is not the fact that police numbers are a factor in how prisoners are taken to and from appointments outside prison part of the problem of confidence that the hon. Gentleman is talking about, and do we not need a review of police numbers?
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says with his example. Now he mentions it, I think I have read about it, but I am not aware of all the details, so I am afraid I am not in a position to comment. However, I hear the concern that he has clearly expressed.
Finally, all the factors I have mentioned will only get worse if the funding for rural policing is reduced any further. I therefore beg the Minister, on behalf of Dorset police—as I say, they do a wonderful job for us—to take into account all those factors when the review is done, so that Dorset can at last get not more of the cake, but a fairer share of it.
I am delighted to follow Richard Drax. Although we represent very different constituencies, he made a thoughtful contribution, which exposed many of the flaws in the Minister’s arguments about police funding and showed that it has not in fact been protected.
In the September recess each year, I hold a community consultation across my constituency. I make that point because, with about 1,000 people coming along to about 50 meetings and with 1,000 or more people completing surveys, it is a useful time—once a year, every September—to take the temperature on the issues causing people concern and worrying them about their communities. Each year since 2012, the impact of cuts on local policing has grown as an issue. In last year’s consultation, it came up even more forcefully.
Between 1997 and 2010, patient and properly supported work on developing community policing and building partnerships had a real impact on people in such areas. It reduced crime, enhanced community safety, made people feel positive about and proud of the areas they live in and built trust in the police. However, that patient, careful work has been incrementally eroded since 2010, and communities have felt the consequences.
South Yorkshire police have had their problems over the years, and we have had to confront a number of specific issues. I am grateful to the Home Office and the previous Home Secretary for their support in addressing some of the additional costs and related issues. We now have strong leadership with both an outstanding police and crime commissioner, Alan Billings, and a newly appointed and outstanding chief constable, Stephen Watson. However, like forces across the country, their ability to provide the policing that our communities need is severely undermined by the funding made available by the Government.
I want to pay tribute to all the men and women in the South Yorkshire force, who do a tough job on behalf of all of us who live in the region, often at enormous personal risk. Their tough job has been made tougher by the cuts that they have had to come to terms with. My hon. Friends have commented on the numbers, and numbers are key. In 2011, we had a force of 5,849 full-time equivalent staff. For 2017-18, we are looking at a force of 4,967. When we break down the numbers further, we see an 18% fall in the number of frontline police. We have lost almost one in five of the people serving us on our streets, which in its impact on the force across the region is roughly the equivalent of every police officer in Doncaster having gone or been wiped out.
The number of police civilian staff is also down—by 24%. Police civilian staff do not often get the attention that they deserve, but they play a critical role in supporting frontline policing in roles such as civilian investigators, intelligence analysts, radio officers, detention officers and many more critical roles. One in four of those posts have been lost to the force. Police community support officers have played such a vital role in previous years in building up the relationship between communities and the police, developing trust and identifying the sources of crime and dealing with the situation before crimes happen, but we have lost 27% of them.
All that has an impact both on the communities that depend on policing and on those who provide the policing. Zuleika Payne, the acting chair of the South Yorkshire Police Federation, told me: “I represent a talented and committed group of people”—and she does—“who care deeply about the communities that they serve, but they feel increasingly that they’re doing their job with their hands handcuffed behind their backs.”
Not only that, but we are putting the police at risk. There is increasing reliance on single crewing where officers previously worked in pairs to deal with difficult situations. The Minister will be aware of the appalling and awful attack—a vicious axe attack—on Sheffield PC Lisa Bates. The whole community across South Yorkshire felt desperate about it. In that situation, Lisa was paired. As the Police Federation has pointed out to me, if she had been single crewing—that is increasingly what they face—she might now be dead. Such are the risks that cuts in numbers are creating not only for our communities, but for the people who serve them in our police force.
There are all the other issues that hon. Members have talked about—the Minister has acknowledged them—such as the growth in serious organised crime and cybercrime. Other pressures have been caused by the cuts made by other arms of the Government to partner organisations that work alongside the police in trying to build safe and secure communities. The police are increasingly picking up the consequences of pressures on social services and taking on an increasing role because of the crisis in mental health provision. The thin blue line in South Yorkshire, and across the country, is becoming the last line of protection in ever wider areas, and the situation is reaching breaking point.
The only service my hon. Friend did not mention in terms of the extra pressure being put on the police frontline is the ambulance service. I think that is the single greatest source of pressure on frontline policing and is actually putting police officers in very difficult situations that are beyond their training and competence. Does there not need to be an urgent review of the performance of the ambulance service, particularly of the pressure it is now placing on police officers on the frontline?
My right hon. Friend makes a very important point and he is absolutely right to seek such a review. We have seen the pressures on the ambulance service in some frightening cases, including the case raised recently by my hon. Friend Louise Haigh on the Floor of the House in terms of response times. My right hon. Friend is right to highlight the combination of problems and pressures that have been created.
My right hon. Friend tried to pin the Minister down on funding levels. Judging by the Minister’s response, I am sure that he is going to argue that a rise in the precept to offset proposed cuts in grants will compensate the South Yorkshire force for the £2.5 million loss in funding we face in this settlement. That, however, is disingenuous and the Minister knows it. Even putting aside the political double dealing of forcing local tax increases to fund national tax cuts for those who do not need them, flat cash funding is not real protection for police budgets. He knows that is the case. To meet the increase in wages and other pressures in South Yorkshire, we will still be seeing cuts of about £7 million to the local force. Local residents are being asked to pay more for a further decline in services.
We have seen what short-sighted policies have done to our prison service, with the Government now scrambling to overcome the problems that they have created. Surely we cannot let that happen to our police service, too. We need the Government to recognise the scale of the problem, to recognise that the settlement does not address it and to persuade the Chancellor to take action before it is too late.
It is a pleasure to follow Paul Blomfield.
As in all areas of public services, the police service has historically been underfunded in rural areas for too long. This has often been based a false perception about the nature of crime and policing in rural areas when compared with cities and other urban areas. The notion that crime in rural areas is little more than the occasional break-in to a garden shed or something of that nature is false. There is a direct comparison between the types and nature of crime in urban and rural areas. On a population pro rata basis, the number of crimes are also distinctly similar.
In addition, there are many specific challenges in policing rural areas, which often require a great police presence and boots on the ground. For example, Cornwall, in which my constituency is located, is an area that, alongside routine residential police matters, has record numbers of tourists, ever more busy roads and many other issues concerning our rural communities, not least the simple fact that sparsely populated rural areas have to bear additional logistic costs. Cornwall is, after all, one of the longest counties with the longest coast—and that is before we consider the challenges of policing the Isles of Scilly. The cost of policing rural sparsely populated areas, where officers must cover large areas and deal with a wide variety of issues—not just crimes—is significant. Rural areas have more than their fair share of remote and winding roads, where statistically there is a disproportionately high number of road traffic accidents. I understand that 61% of road traffic accidents occur on rural roads, which in turn puts an additional burden on the police and other emergency services.
I am pleased to see that deprivation is a key factor when considering police funding, but again there is a myth, often perpetuated by the Labour party, that deprivation exists only in cities. My constituency contains five neighbourhoods in the 10% most deprived in the country.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I am pleased to report that he is an exception among Labour Members, who continually present the image that deprivation is an exclusively urban issue.
We have previously been told that the trouble with Cornwall is that we have the wrong type of deprivation to attract police funding. The wrong type of deprivation—not even Network Rail come could up with that excuse. Deprivation exists in our rural and coastal towns and villages. It is often the people who live in the most remote parts of our country who are the most vulnerable. It is time to address the unfairness in funding that has affected our police in rural areas. I am very pleased to confirm that I believe we now have a Policing Minister who both understands the issues facing rural areas and is willing to address them. Not only have I found him willing to take on board the points that I and many of my colleagues have put to him, but I am pleased to report that the police and crime commissioner for Devon and Cornwall has asked me to congratulate the Minister on the transparent and constructive way that he has dealt with her and other PCCs.
As we are all aware, the job of fighting crime and making our communities safe is not just the responsibility of the police; it is a partnership between all stakeholders. In my constituency, we have a number of examples where that is happening. In Newquay, the Newquay Safe scheme has attracted national recognition. It is a collaboration between local residents, the council, the business community and the police. They have successfully worked together to reduce crime and antisocial behaviour in the town, repairing the image of Newquay as a world-class family holiday resort. The town centre of St Austell has suffered from a growing problem of antisocial behaviour in recent years. Here again, stakeholders have come together to address the problem. Only recently, the town centre business improvement district funded extra security to help to reduce antisocial behaviour in the town centre.
It is good that different parts of the community are working together to address these issues, but that cannot be a substitute for frontline police. We should not expect the business community to fund others to do the job of the police in keeping our streets safe. I am therefore pleased to report that, despite the constraints on budgets and the comments from Labour Members, our PCC recently announced that Devon and Cornwall will be gaining additional frontline police officers. The increase in police numbers is greatly welcome and will take the force’s total back up to over 3,000. Another 80 posts are to be created in key support roles, proving once again that it is the Conservative party, on the Government Benches, that is leading the way in delivering value for money for the taxpayer.
We would all, of course, want more money for our police, but I am happy to support the motion today. I am reassured by the Minister’s acceptance that the formula does need to be reviewed going forward. I trust that we can count on him to ensure that in future the unfairness towards rural areas will be addressed and that our police in places like Devon and Cornwall will receive a better deal in the future.
Merseyside police relies on the Government for 81% of its funding due to a low council tax base. Percentage cuts to the Government grant therefore hit us particularly hard. Since 2010, the Merseyside police budget has been reduced by 15%. During this period, the force has been required to make a £91 million reduction in police spending. The Merseyside police budget is now £21 million short of restoring the 4,000 police officers we need. In 2010, the police force employed 4,588 police officers but by next March that will be reduced to 3,580—a loss of more than 1,000. If these cuts continue, the force estimates that by 2020 it will be operating with more than 26% fewer officers compared with 2010, having been reduced to 3,400 police officers.
As the Government continue to cut our police grant, Ministers are determining police force budgets by assuming that forces will increase the police precept by the maximum allowed of 1.95% a year. Our commissioner has not really been given a choice: our county has a low council tax base, with most of our properties in bands A or B, so people are not well off and £5 therefore has a significant impact on them. Before Christmas, the Government confirmed that the grant allocated to Merseyside police would be further cut in 2017-18 by 1.4%, leaving the force with £3.3 million less in grant next year in comparison with this year. Even increasing the precept by the maximum allowed would raise less than half the money lost through the grant, at just £1.2 million. Even with the extra contribution provided by taxpayers, the force still has to find £6.8 million of savings in the next financial year to balance the books.
As for the demands on Merseyside police, they take 1.2 million calls every year—between 500 and 700 emergency 999 calls every day—and record 1,234 incidents each day. They deal with well over 200 overt and covert operations and events every year, including large-scale public order events. One of the most demanding issues is organised crime, which is a major priority in Merseyside. Some 83 organised crime groups operate regionally with identified crossovers or geographical links to Merseyside. Force analysis highlights a significant national spread of activity of Merseyside organised crime in all 43 forces. This means that our police have to cross over into all the other 42 forces. In addition, Merseyside has a significantly high number of organised crime groups with international links. Assessments have indicated that Merseyside is one of three national hubs for drugs—the main criminality for 70% of Merseyside’s organised crime groups is drugs—the others being the areas covered by the Metropolitan Police Service and West Midlands police. This is a further indication of the impact of Merseyside organised crime groups on national crime trends.
On recorded crime, Merseyside has recorded 5,903 drug offences. Nationally, only the Met police recorded more. As for gun crime, the year 2014-15 saw 162 firearms offences, which was the sixth highest in the country, as reported to Parliament. The National Ballistics Intelligence Service indicated that there were 277 inferred firearms on Merseyside, 38 of which were active, meaning that they had been fired within the last 12 months. Since 2010, Merseyside has witnessed a 12% increase in the number of people killed or seriously injured on the roads. Furthermore, according to recent data, every 12 months more than 500 people are sadly killed or suffer serious injuries.
Merseyside has some of the most deprived boroughs in the country. The index of multiple deprivation rates Liverpool and Knowsley as the second and fifth local authority districts with the largest proportions of highly deprived neighbourhoods in England, with Liverpool being the local authority with the largest number of neighbourhoods in the most deprived 1%. This issue is further exacerbated by ongoing cuts to other public services, such as local authorities, which have magnificent working relationships with the police: they work together on many joined-up issues, but those are now sadly now under threat. We have also seen cuts to youth offending services, which were previously better able to support the police in their community safety work. Furthermore, Merseyside police’s ability to assist other forces by mutual aid, which it has done admirably in the past, might be compromised, making this as much a national as a local issue.
The Government are working on a new funding formula that will dictate how much each police force receives from the funding pot. We deserve a fairer funding settlement from the Government. It saddens me, but I need to say it: this Conservative Government’s chosen austerity programme and cuts to all our public services, which are valued by everyone in the country, are taking the “Great” out of “Great Britain” and threatening what we were so admired for in years gone by.
The Minister knows that I have sought to work cross-party as much as possible to overcome some of the challenges in frontline policing—my Protect the Protectors campaign has had support from MPs across the House, and the 11 names on my ten-minute rule Bill, presented to the Chamber two weeks ago, represented five different political parties—but I am really struggling to recognise the picture he painted when he suggested that the funding formula was the fastest route to transformed, efficient and therefore better policing.
The Home Office has always sought to suggest that there is no correlation between a reduction in funding and the increased vulnerability of officers, which the Minister knows is an important issue to me, and the reduced service they can then offer. In the statement published with the police grant report, the Minister stated:
“The Government will provide the resources necessary for the police to do their critical work, and prioritise finishing the job of police reform by enabling the police to transform so they can tackle changing crime, deal with previously hidden crimes and protect the vulnerable.”—[Official Report,
I struggle with the notion that cuts to policing facilitate reform, and that reform equates to better policing. In reality, since 2010, West Yorkshire police have lost 1,200 frontline officers and about 800 members of staff. It is undeniable that that has had an impact on their ability to do some of the basics, let alone respond to the increased complexity of crime and the social challenges that are now the responsibility of the police.
I have spoken at length about my experience of being out with officers in my constituency. While I welcome investment in technology and advances in forensics, which stand to make the police more effective than ever before, I know that in almost every aspect of policing, the number of boots on the ground really does matter. I appreciate that the Minister will stress that the allocations are protected at flat cash levels, compared with the previous financial year, but West Yorkshire police have faced cuts of £140 million since 2010, which is about 25% of their budget.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the funding formula review has been shrouded in mystery, the Minister having given no details of the main indicators to be implemented in its outcome? He cannot even tell us when the review will be finished, which leaves police forces—which will be on the end of the funding, once the formula is introduced—scratching their heads over the future.
My hon. Friend is right. When the report was produced, I was a little confused about whether it referred to the formula for next year or the year after that, because we had not been given the necessary detail about what is coming up. He is also right about the uncertainty that that has fostered in police forces that are trying to respond to the challenges they face.
Efficiencies alone cannot offset the cuts. We know that the amounts that police and crime commissioners can collect through the precept vary greatly, with the poorest unable to finance the shortfall in the grant required to meet the demand, as outlined by my hon. Friend Carolyn Harris and others. West Yorkshire is the fourth largest force, taking in Leeds, Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees and Wakefield. The Leeds district alone is bigger than some forces. With our diverse communities, we have a lot to offer, but sadly that sometimes presents challenges as well, as many of us know. We encompass a number of Prevent priority areas, and our socio-economic characteristics and pockets of deprivation increase policing needs, with demand similar to that faced by the West Midlands and Greater Manchester police. We take in some of the urban areas, such as Leeds and Bradford—bigger than others in the north—but also cover some of the sweeping rural areas that straddle the Pennines.
We have already heard from some hon. Members that the formula should be based on population size, but I do not believe that the police grant recognises the pressures from complex, evolving crimes, such as cybercrime, human trafficking, the demands of preventing child sexual exploitation and missing persons inquiries.
To provide an example, the Black Health Initiative in Leeds estimates that some 2,600 women and girls in the city have undergone or are at risk of female genital mutilation. West Yorkshire police and our police and crime commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson, are working with organisations to combat this risk, but as the Home Office knows, this is sensitive and painstaking work.
We face challenges relating to firearms and serious organised crime in West Yorkshire. Hon. Members will be aware of the firearms incident that occurred just outside my constituency after Christmas, and nobody needs any reminder that we lost our dear friend Jo to a man in possession of a firearm in the region. Increased awareness of exploitation in all its ugly forms—from child sexual exploitation, of which there were 609 cases last year in West Yorkshire, to human trafficking, of which there were 142 recorded cases in West Yorkshire—means that policing priorities have rightly changed to reflect that, but the resources allocated from central Government have not.
During my time with the West Yorkshire police, I was able to see the difficulties of having constantly to divert crews into locating missing people, which is compromising neighbourhood policing work and eating into the number of officers available for 999 calls. In the 24 hours leading up to the shift that I did with officers, Calderdale police had safely recovered nine vulnerable missing people and were involved in looking for an additional seven the following day. As colleagues have already mentioned, the pressures caused by cuts to other services have an impact on policing at the same time as it faces its own financial pressures.
The weekly average for Calderdale is 43 missing people, with 416 a week going missing across the force. West Yorkshire police responded to more than 20,000 occurrences of missing people last year, which is staggering and completely unsustainable. We have had a safeguarding uplift to meet that demand, but those officers have come from neighbourhood policing, so the numbers are down across the vital neighbourhood policing teams that I work so closely with in my role as an MP—and I am sure others do, too.
I have sought to spend time shadowing frontline services in my constituency since my election in order to understand the work that they do and the pressures they are under in order to inform my work here on their behalf. Again, the rhetoric in the Minister’s statements seems so far away from what I have seen and from the conversations that I have had. When I visited out-of-hours mental health services, I spent all night sat with two police officers who were unable to leave someone detained under the Mental Health Act 1983. They had to listen to and then call off the call for assistance—on bonfire weekend—because they could not leave a young nurse on her own with a gentleman who did not agree that he should be detained and who was becoming increasingly aggressive.
I have been out with the Halifax Street Angels, a great initiative through which volunteers seek to ensure that people have a safe time on their night out in my constituency. That alleviates some of the pressures on the police, and conforms to the idea of the big society in action. However, they expressed concerns to me that the demands on the police are so high that they cannot always respond when the volunteers encounter fights or potentially violent individuals, and the good will and partnership working are being undermined. Such organisations start to lose confidence in the police if they cannot respond when they are needed, which then really undermines some of the great partnership work that goes on.
The Minister is well aware of my concern, already expressed by my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield, that reduced numbers mean that officers themselves are particularly vulnerable to assaults when they are out on their own as a single crew. I hope that the Minister will consider any and all measures to protect officers, including the measures outlined in my ten-minute rule Bill.
Ahead of publication of the revised funding formula that we expect in the spring, I ask the Minister to factor in the different demands placed on forces beyond simply population and geography. We need a formula that recognises the imbalance between the amounts that different forces can harvest through the precept, and the Minister needs to adopt a formula that genuinely meets the demands on policing and allows officers to do the job that they do so well.
It is a pleasure to follow Holly Lynch, who made a thoughtful and well considered speech.
I want to take the opportunity initially to raise some general points about the funding of Welsh police forces. Unlike in Scotland and Northern Ireland, policing is not yet devolved in Wales. Whereas in Scotland and Northern Ireland policing is funded via the usual Barnett allocations, Welsh police forces find themselves reliant upon a funding formula designed in Westminster for the 43 Welsh and English police forces. If policing were devolved to Wales and the usual Barnett allocations applied, Welsh police forces would benefit from an extra £25 million-worth of investment per annum in policing services in my country—if, of course, the money were ring-fenced by the Welsh Government. The Wales and England formula has not been historically kind to Welsh policing. Dyfed-Powys, my police force, has already faced cuts of £13 million over recent years. This was one of the primary reasons for the very controversial loss of our dedicated police helicopter. I will resist the temptation to raise those issues again here today.
The aborted funding formula review led by the previous Minister last year would have led to a cut of £32 million from Welsh police forces’ funding—a further £7.9 million from Dyfed-Powys, which is a staggering 16% of its budget. The aborted formula aimed to concentrate on socio-economic data and general crime figures as criteria for determining funding allocations. These crude determinations cannot possibly reflect the true cost of policing rural areas such as the ones I represent, and it is vital that the Minister takes a broader view before he publishes his new formula for consultation.
Traditionally, due to Westminster underfunding, local residents in Dyfed-Powys have had to make a greater contribution to police services via the annual precept. It is a typical accounting trick, whereby the burden for funding public services is moved from general taxation on to local taxation, and with the Tory manifesto pledging not to increase income tax during this Parliament, the UK Government obviously have to look at other forms of taxation to make up the numbers. This sort of fiscal strategy is, of course, completely regressive, a point made by several hon. Members.
There is no operational reason why policing should not be devolved to Wales, and it is hugely disappointing that the last Wales Bill lacked the ambition to equalise powers between Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland—not to mention cities like Manchester, where policing powers are being devolved. With all four Welsh police commissioners supporting devolution of policing and with a clear financial dividend, it is clear that narrow ideology is driving Welsh policing policy in Westminster.
I should like to turn my attention to other points raised by police commissioners about the area cost adjustment. I pay tribute to Dafydd Llywelyn, the police and crime commissioner for Dyfed-Powys, and Arfon Jones, the police and crime commissioner for North Wales police for all their hard work since their election last year and the year before last.
The area cost adjustment factor that the police use for calculating the police main grant is skewed in favour of areas in the south-east of England where the cost of living and salaries are higher. Although this may be necessary, it does not consider the higher costs incurred by rural police forces for providing services in rural areas. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs published a report in 2014 outlining how the cost of service delivery in rural areas is higher than average. The report mentions travel costs and travel downtime. Evidence shows that travel time for police forces in rural areas is 25 times longer than in metropolitan areas.
The issue concerns the size and shape of the areas that some forces are required to police, and particularly the distances they must travel to deal with public safety, welfare and transport incidents—a point made by Steve Double. Population in a small compact police force centred on a single city will make less demands on travel time than one in a large irregular police force area with multiple population foci. The City of London police serve a resident population of fewer than 8,000 people based in 290 hectares, while Dyfed-Powys police serve a resident population of over half a million people spread across more than a million hectares of largely dispersed towns and villages.
The UK Government report also outlines the difficulty of channel shift. As heard in countless speeches from Plaid Cymru Members, digital infrastructure is a major problem in our country. Too many of our communities are without broadband. Our police forces therefore need to rely on other ways to communicate with their service users that are more time-intensive. For example, a call handler can deal with only one voice caller at any one time, but may deal with several simultaneously using webchat. Another example is the issue of holding cells. Owing to its geographical territory, Dyfed–Powys needs three holding cell units, which must be manned simultaneously on a 24-hour basis. That is obviously more expensive than having a single central unit. I could go on and on giving examples of that kind.
The area cost adjustment factor for the City of London is 1.52, but the factor for Dyfed–Powys is less than 1. I urge the Minister to review the factors that determine the area cost adjustment to take into account the unique and often more difficult circumstances faced by rural police forces.
It is hard to conceive of a simple police grant formula that can encompass such a range of circumstances as the national and international capital city grant. The specific needs of the City of London and metropolitan police forces have long been recognised, primarily through that grant, but Cardiff, which is also a capital city, does not receive it. What consideration has the Minister given to awarding Wales a proportion of the national and international capital city grant so that the unique challenges faced by police forces in the capital city of my country can be adequately addressed?
When it comes to the funding of police services in my country, the devolution of policing to Wales is a political and financial no-brainer. Let me end by saying, Madam Deputy Speaker, that this is probably the only time you will ever hear me say something positive about the Barnett formula.
Lancashire has been one of the top-performing police forces in the country for many years, and in some ways it has been a victim of its own success. Despite the improvements in its performance and efficiency, it has been on the receiving end of this Government’s cuts for a number of years. Given that success, however, I pay tribute to County Councillor Clive Grunshaw, our police and crime commissioner, and especially to Chief Constable Steve Finnigan, who is retiring this year after giving many years’ service to the people of Lancashire.
The police face financial and demand pressures as partner services are cut, and they also face the challenges posed by uncertainty about the future. The financial uncertainty caused by the return of the police funding formula review particularly affects forces such as Lancashire’s. Last time, mistakes were made in the process which suggested that Lancashire would lose about £25 million a year, on top of the £76 million-worth of savings that have been made since 2010. Even when the figures were revised, it was clear that more than £8 million a year would be taken out of its annual policing budget. That meant that it faced savings of more than £100 million a year by 2020, in comparison with 2010, which is the equivalent of more than a third of its budget.
Reform of the police funding formula is overdue, as has been pointed out by the Home Affairs Committee and by Members here today. It is vital for the new formula to represent accurately the demands on police forces. All forces need to be adequately resourced, but that must be done without disadvantaging other areas where tough choices are already being made so that necessary savings can be delivered. My constituents tell me repeatedly that they do not want resources to be taken out of policing, and have therefore supported increases in the policing precept. Further cuts will have an impact on officer numbers, as about 80% of the constabulary’s total budget consists of staffing and officer costs.
When the Chancellor announced in 2016 that police budgets would continue to be protected in cash terms, assuming that council tax was maximised, I, along with many others, welcomed that news. Last year’s cuts in grant funding were a uniform 0.6%, and this year’s provisional settlement outlined a further 1.3% cut in direct resource funding. While those cuts are considerably better than was originally expected in 2015, they still mean that Lancashire must absorb normal inflation and other Government-imposed cost pressures, such as the national insurance changes, the national living wage, and the introduction of the apprenticeship levy. As a result, it must still deliver £4 million of savings in 2017-18, with a further £14 million to be found by 2019-20.
I am also disappointed that there is to be a further reduction in police capital grant in 2017-18. Regular IT replacement cycles impose a significant cost on the force, but that investment is vital to ensure improved productivity and efficiency in future years. The reduction in grant means that the burden on scarce revenue resources is increased, as borrowing to meet those costs is an unattractive option in view of the relatively short life cycles of IT assets.
The Minister did not mention top-slicing in his opening speech. The value of top-slices will have increased significantly in 2017-18, by over £100 million. That increase is more than the assumed year-on-year increase in precept income from the 2016-17 level nationally. It could be argued that local taxpayers are, in effect, funding the growth in national programmes.
There is no information about the detailed plans for the £175 million transformation fund for 2017-18. Until that information is provided, the treasurer of my council will be unable to gauge how much of the funding might be returned to the service. In recent years, the Government have shifted towards creating funding pots for the police service to bid for, and that bidding process can be laborious and possibly fruitless at a time when resources are thinly stretched. We would also like an assurance that the proposed £525 million increase in the transformation fund in 2018-19—to provide a total fund of £700 million—will not be met by further top-slices in the grant that is distributed to police and crime commissioners. A further reduction of that magnitude in direct funding for policing would have a very detrimental effect on the ability of forces to deliver their services to the public.
The top-slice taken to fund the emergency services network programme has increased significantly, at a time when the implementation of the network is consistently being pushed further and further back. It concerns me that, according to the Public Accounts Committee’s report on the new programme, the December 2019 cut-off point may not be met. That may mean that the existing Airwave contract will be extended, at a potential cost of nearly £500 million. At a time when resources for policing are stretched to an unprecedented level, it does not seem prudent to remove funding from forces to pay for a programme that is not making progress. I would be grateful for any information or reassurances that the Minister and the Department can provide about the ability to meet the timescales in question, or about the protection of individual forces’ budgets from any overrun costs arising from the ESN or the extension of Airwave contracts.
I would also appreciate more certainty in general about the future level of top-slicing. It has increased each year, but at inconsistent levels, which makes the forecasting of future levels of resources and their allocation extremely difficult. The Government are making financial planning and the prudent management of public funding considerably more difficult than they need to be.
Mental health services have received a great deal of media attention recently. It is widely understood in the sector that mental health is a key driver of demand for policing. When I met my local chief constable a couple of weeks ago, I was told that 80% of incoming calls to the police were not even crime-related, and many involved mental health problems. While the police have received relative protection from this round of Government austerity, the same cannot be said of many of our blue light partners. Local government has been severely affected and, despite additional resources, the pressures on health are well documented and have been made clear by other Members. As a result, the service is facing increased pressure from cuts to other sectors’ funding. I therefore ask Ministers present today, the Home Office and other Departments to ensure that investment in other relevant sectors, such as the health service, the courts and the prisons, is maintained in order to generate benefits for the police service. Cutting these other services is having an indirect effect on the operation of the police service.
I ask the Minister to speak to the Chancellor and make representations on this year’s Budget. I hope that the Government, and the Chancellor in particular, will take account of the issues I have raised, in order to improve the police service to the people of Lancashire and elsewhere throughout the country.
The Minister has come to the House today to tell us that he and the Government are protecting police budgets. That is just not true. The Minister learned many of his political skills at the knee of Sir Eric Pickles, who works on the basis that if you keep saying the same thing over and over again, people will believe it. We have already heard Members from across the Chamber today exploding the myth that the Minister is trying to portray. My hon. Friend Paul Blomfield made it clear that flat cash is not protection of our budgets, and Richard Drax made very clear the cuts his force is going to have to make, even with this settlement today. So it is no good the Minister coming here and just repeating that the Government are protecting police budgets.
The people who really know that that is not true are the brave men and women of our police forces up and down the country, who are doing a job to protect our safety. We take them for granted on many occasions, and we do not thank them enough. I agree with my hon. Friend Holly Lynch, who outlined the dangers they face on a daily basis. So can we stop this kidology that somehow the budgets are being protected?
We also need to take into account the effects of the last six years of cuts on police forces up and down the country. Durham, which covers my constituency of North Durham, has lost 375 officers, 16 PCSOs and 82 police support staff. The National Audit Office recognises that it is one of the forces that has been most affected by the Government cuts to police funding. In 2010, the central Government grant was £100 million; this year, it will be £84 million. The central Government grant accounts for 75% of Durham Constabulary’s funding, with the other 25% made up from the precept. Even with what is being put forward today, the budget for Durham will be cut by another £700,000 in 2017-18. The reality on the ground is that police budgets will be cut. No matter how the Minister tries to spin the figures and tell us that the Government are committed to protecting police funding, it is clear that they are not. We also have to add to this the compound effect of what has happened over past years. Durham has lost 25% of its frontline police officers over the last six years—Cleveland is the only force that has lost a higher percentage of officers in that period—and that is a direct result of the decisions taken by the Government to cut the police grant.
Much has been said today about the new funding formula, and much has been said by hon. Members about making up the shortfalls resulting from the cuts in central grant through precepts, but that is where areas such as Durham are at a huge disadvantage. Some 55% of properties in Durham’s council tax base are in band A, so a 1% increase in the precept raises approximately £266,000 in additional money for policing in Durham. In areas such as Surrey, where a large proportion of properties fall between bands D and H, a 1% increase will generate large sums of money. So this funding formula means that Durham’s ability to plug the cuts being forced on it by this Government is very limited. That is also the case in many other areas—my hon. Friend Marie Rimmer raised this issue in her contribution. Regardless of how the Government are going to spin things after today’s debate, Durham Constabulary will this year have to find another £700,000 in cuts to its police budget, and that is in addition to the £16 million that it has lost over the last six years. As many Members have said in this debate, the idea that somehow we can keep cutting without affecting frontline services is unrealistic.
Durham Constabulary has done a tremendous job in spite of the cuts inflicted on it by this Government. It is the most efficient force in the UK; it is an outstanding force. I am sorry that the Minister would not even grudgingly admit that the Labour police and crime commissioner had something to do with that, but it is down to good teamwork between the PCC and Chief Constable Mike Barton, who work closely together to drive through efficiencies and make sure that frontline policing is protected, despite the cuts.
I also want to put on record my thanks to the men and women of Durham Constabulary, because they are the ones on the frontline doing the job day in, day out. We should also pay tribute to the support staff. Frontline police officers are very important as the visible face of the police, but without the administration staff and others behind them, they cannot carry out that function. They have all done a tremendous job in spite of the cuts.
We now have the funding formula promised for 2018-19. If we do not recognise that there are places such as Durham with a high number of band A properties and tackle the precept issue, the ability of Durham and many other areas to raise any substantial amounts of money will be severely affected.
Steve Double talked about rural policing issues. Durham is a rural county, and those issues affect some of our former post-industrial communities, and they are on a par with some of the issues facing urban communities. In order to ensure that the distribution of central Government funding is targeted, we must take into account poverty and the need of local communities.
My hon. Friend Mr Hendrick raised a very important point that this Government just do not think about. There is no joined-up government here, because if we take money out of one part of the system, it will often have a direct impact on another part, and policing is a great example of that. My hon. Friend also talked about mental health services. If we cut mental health services for people, they still have to go somewhere. They often end up in A&E, and the police then get called to deal with them. That is not good for those individuals, and it is not a good use of police time.
I would go further than that and look at neighbourhood policing. A model used in Durham and other places has worked very well, with joined-up services between local councils and the police. But the cuts being made will affect the ability of those councils to continue that joint-partnership working between the local police and local authorities.
I join the hon. Gentleman in commending the police forces on the work they do, particularly for those suffering from mental health problems. Does he agree that the funding formula needs to include not only that, but wider issues of vulnerability, particularly among the elderly population, which is higher in rural areas, especially in areas such as Devon?
The hon. Lady makes a good point. This comes down to the point about vulnerability made by my hon. Friend Holly Lynch. For example, the police get involved when a child goes missing, but the increasing rise in dementia and other illnesses among the elderly population is also putting pressure not only on local services but on the police. If someone goes missing from a care home or their own home, the first people to be called are the police.
We have to have services that are joined up locally; we cannot look at policing in isolation. There was a lot of controversy about police and crime commissioners, and there have been good and bad examples throughout the country, but I was one of those who supported their introduction. Certainly, the joint working that we have seen in Durham between the health services, the police and the local authorities is the way forward. We cannot keep taking money out of one part of the system without realising that it will have an effect on another part.
In relation to the point made by Dr Wollaston, I mentioned that I had been out with the out-of-hours mental health services, and that police officers had detained someone under the Mental Health Act. However, another person had also been detained and put in a cell. Because of the pressure to keep people detained under the Act out of police cells, that person had to be detained in a police car until a place of safety became available. Without tying all this together and getting the systems in place to support people with mental health difficulties, the police will have to keep picking up those people with vulnerabilities.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I served on the Committee for the Policing and Crime Bill, which introduced the welcome step of trying to ensure that we do not keep people with mental health issues in police cells. She also makes the good point that achieving that aim is reliant on there being places of safety for them. In some areas, that might be a hospital bed. We need to develop places of safety at local level, so that people are not left in police cars or anywhere else. Again, this is about funding. As I was saying a minute ago, we cannot look at policing in isolation, and joined-up strategies can save money. There is an issue about money being saved, but this must also be about the better provision of services.
Durham has an outstanding police force that is doing a first-class job despite the horrendous cuts that have been inflicted on it, but it cannot take any more. I would urge the Minister, if he is listening, to listen to these points about the new funding formula. Forces such as Durham, which have gone through a lot of pain and change, need to be recognised for the efficiencies and steps they have taken. The realities of areas such as mine need to be taken into consideration. This includes the large number of band A properties, which means that local authorities are unable to raise the precept adequately. If that does not happen, more pain will be added, given the cuts that have already taken place. In finishing, I would just like to say this: do not believe what the Minister is saying today. This settlement is a cut in police services to our nation, and people should recognise that.
The total police grant for 2017-18 for England and Wales is being cut by £96.7 million—in other words, by nearly £1 billion. This comes after swingeing cuts of 4% in 2015-16. Merseyside police force, which serves my Wirral West constituency, relies on the Government for 81% of its funding, and it has been one of the worst hit by the Government’s cuts. Our budget has been reduced by 15% since 2010, and during this time the force has been required to make savings of £91 million to balance the books. That is a huge figure, and the Merseyside police force is now facing a £21 million shortfall in the money that it needs to restore the 4,000 police officers that it needs.
I know from talking to officers just how hard they work. I know that they need a fair deal, and so do the communities that they serve. Let us consider some of the work they do to keep our communities safe. Merseyside police force takes more than 1.2 million calls every year. It receives between 500 and 700 emergency 999 calls every day, and on average it records 1,234 incidents each day. Merseyside has unique policing demands. There are 83 organised crime groups operating in the region, including a significant number with international links. Merseyside is one of the three national hubs for illegal drugs, and just under 6,000 drug offences were reported at June 2016. Gun crime resulted in 162 firearms offences in 2014-15.
As my hon. Friend Marie Rimmer so clearly set out, Merseyside has some of the most deprived boroughs in the country. This brings particular policing challenges, including the question of the value of the precept that can be raised locally. That was clearly set out by my hon. Friends the Members for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) and for North Durham (Mr Jones) . It is vital that the Home Secretary and her Minister acknowledge that Merseyside has unique policing demands, and that they recognise that by cutting the police budget over the past seven years, they have been leaving our communities vulnerable. In so doing, they are also putting pressure on police officers—men and women who do an already dangerous job in the service of their local communities.
The budget for Merseyside police is £21 million short of the money it needs, and it is vital that the Minister should take note of that and see what he can do to give us that money. On Merseyside, the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable have been forced to consider closing police stations. No decision on particular stations has been made yet, but I know that the impact of last year’s cuts and the cuts for 2017-18 are already causing anxiety among residents in Wirral West. I know that because they tell me so, as do the people who run businesses in the area.
It is the prime responsibility of the Government to keep our people safe. The Conservative party used to claim to be the party of law and order, but sadly that is no longer the case. We all remember the terrifying scenes of the London riots in 2011 under the Tory-led coalition Government, but it seems that the Tories have not learned from that frightening episode. There was serious disorder in 22 of the 32 boroughs overseen by the Met, and on the fourth day of rioting, 16,000 officers were deployed, yet police numbers have fallen by 20,000 under the Tories and they are now making further cuts.
The Government have a duty to fund policing adequately; our communities deserve as much. It is absolutely unacceptable that in parts of my constituency of Wirral West—a very nice place to be—some people are too frightened to go to their local shops in daylight. It is also unacceptable that an already dangerous job is being made more perilous by Government policy. The Government must think again; anything less is a dereliction of duty, and I call on them to give our police the funding that they need.
This has been an excellent debate, and I am grateful to all Members who have contributed over the past hour or two. We have actually secured a fair funding settlement for the police, and I note the comments about the police funding formula review work that we are going forward with. I am pleased to hear that Carolyn Harris will support us in getting that done, but I am slightly curious why the Labour party never did it when they were in government. Opposition Members have talked as though there was no point in any kind of budget deficit. They sometimes forget the mess—[Interruption.]
No, I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman, who has not contributed to the debate until now.
Opposition Members forget about the economic mess that the Labour Government left for the Conservative-led Government to deal with. The reality is that the Government have kept the real-terms protection promise that we outlined in the 2015 spending review. Taking into account the Government grant, the precept and reallocations such as the police transformation fund, the 2015 spending review forecasted—let me be clear about the numbers, because Opposition Members really have not been—total spending in 2017-18 of £11,783 million. With the precept to maximise, the settlement proposes a higher total of some £11,804 million.
Looking at 2015-16 to 2017-18, no police force across the country that uses its precept will see any reduction whatsoever. Andy Burnham, who said a lot from a sedentary position and intervened earlier but chose not to speak, talked about Greater Manchester but forgot to point out that the force will see an increase from £541 million to over £543 million. Police and crime commissioners and police forces across the country have seen their reserves increase by more than £400 million over the past few years. Putting aside what those increases may be used for, they have had fund surpluses in the past few years to build up reserves in the first place. I look forward to police forces using those reserves wisely in efficiency work in the years ahead. As Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary set out, there is still considerable scope for forces to continue to improve their efficiency and to transform how they operate. It is vital that that pace and urgency of change continues and goes faster if we are to ensure that our police forces are fit to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
I thank my hon. Friends the Members for South Dorset (Richard Drax) and for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) for their contributions, which rightly outlined the importance of transparency. Mr Hendrick mentioned the formula review, and I can tell him that there will be a full public consultation. Police and crime commissioners, including Lancashire’s, and chief constables are contributing to the work that is under way, and I have been and am willing to meet them all. He talks about things being shrouded in mystery, but he may think that because he has not been talking to police and crime commissioners and chief constables in the way that we have.
Order. Mr Robinson must surely understand that those of us who have been in the Chamber these past two hours know that he did not take part in the debate and has not been in the Chamber. I hope that he will not seek to intervene again.
It is important that the consultation work goes ahead, and we will do it properly. The police service has asked us to do it methodically and properly, not to take the rushed approach that Opposition Members have implied that they would support.
I commend the police grant report to the House. It provides stable funding for forces and extra funding for transformation, and it should leave the House absolutely clear that police in England and Wales will have the resources they need to continue to protect the public.