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.