The test of the Government’s police funding proposals is the impact they will have on policing and counter-terrorism activity on the ground. The Minister can spin a convincing story here in the Chamber, but will what he is announcing really enable police forces to meet the challenge and reality of modern policing?
The Minister says that he has been listening to chief constables and police and crime commissioners. The Opposition would contend that he has not been listening hard enough. Is the Minister aware that we have seen the highest annual rise in police recorded crime for more than a decade? That includes an 18% rise in violent crime, a 26% rise in the murder rate, and a rise in knife and gun crime that is of particular concern to our major cities. Is he aware that the public are increasingly conscious that austerity is as damaging to policing as it is to other public services, because we cannot keep people safe on the cheap? Is he further aware that although the Government’s announcement that they are lifting the police pay cap is welcome, they have not funded it, so it must therefore put even more pressure on police budgets?
Is the Minister aware that police leaders all over the country are expressing their concern about the funding gap? He spoke about the scope for increasing police efficiency. Many forces including my force, the Metropolitan police, have done a great deal on police efficiency. He spoke about embracing digital technology. I recently met the chief constable of Greater Manchester police, who briefed me on the great work they are doing with digital technology. The Minister also mentioned reserves. I must say that it defeats many police leaders why the Government think that they can meet recurrent expenditure out of reserves.
All in all, the Opposition doubt whether this package—even including the Government’s proposals on the precept—will really meet the policing challenges of the 21st century. This is why the chief constable of Merseyside is warning that he does not have the resources to fight gun crime and the chief constable of Norfolk is warning of the reduction in the numbers of neighbourhood police officers. The chief constable of Lancashire has stated that people are “less safe” because of the money and people “taken out of policing”, and Northumbria’s chief constable has said:
“If the day of not being able to provide a professional service was here, I would say. It is not here, but it is getting very, very close.”
Is the Minister confident that his funding settlement will allow forces to remain at current staff levels? And can he give an undertaking that there will be no more cuts to police numbers?