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Police Grant

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:25 pm on 22nd February 2017.

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Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Labour, Halifax 2:25 pm, 22nd February 2017

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.