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.