I beg to move,
That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2018-19 (HC 745), which was laid before this House on
I would like to start by taking a moment to pay tribute to the hard work and dedication of our police officers. Of course, those who work in Parliament must never forget the ultimate sacrifice paid by PC Keith Palmer as he stepped forward to protect us in the line of duty. We also know from our constituencies that on every day and in every force, police officers take risks—sometimes extraordinary ones—to protect the public. They deserve our gratitude and, more importantly, our support.
The background to this debate is one of increased investment in policing since 2015. This year in England and Wales, we will invest £12.6 billion in our police system, compared with £11.9 billion in 2015-16, which represents an increase of around £700 million. Having seen evidence of changed demands on the police, we propose a settlement that increases total funding across the police system by up to £450 million in 2018-19. This will mean that, in 2018-19, we will be investing over £1 billion more in policing than we did in 2015-16, and that is at a time when public spending continues to be constrained due to the high borrowing that we inherited from the Labour party. I think that that is a significant statement of the priority that this Government attach to public safety.
I am listening carefully to my right hon. Friend. I agree completely that he was right to reject the representations from the Opposition that proposed cutting police funding by 10%. Will he tell the House something about the reserves held by forces, because a number of them seem quite substantial?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I will come on to that point later in my remarks, but the fact is that the police system is sitting on reserves of about £1.6 billion, and those reserves have grown by more than a quarter of a billion pounds since 2011. In the interests of the taxpayer, we are pressing for greater accountability and transparency regarding how that public money will be used.
The Labour party continues to peddle the lie that someone else will always pay. Each police force will get a flat-real increase—that is drawn up through flat cash from the centre and an increased precept from local taxation. That is the balance of the proposal in its entirety. There is no such thing as Government money; it is either tax or borrowing. Someone has to pay, so let us nail the delusion of the Labour party that someone else will always pay.
Is it not a fact that between 2010 and 2015, the police budget from central Government was reduced by 5% every single year? The Minister makes the point that this is all taxpayers’ money, but is it not the case that he is continuing to move the burden of taxation away from central Government and on to local ratepayers?
This is a false argument from the Labour party. The fact remains that when one looks at police funding, on average something like 70% of local police force funding across the system still comes from the centre. The settlement barely changes that. We are responding to calls from many police and crime commissioners for greater flexibility in their local precept. That is what we are delivering but, in the face of continued Labour smoke around police cuts, we cannot get away from the fact that as a result of the settlement, we will invest over £1 billion more in our police system in 2018-19 than we did in 2015-16.
If everything is so rosy, why do we hear about a very different picture from chief constables and police and crime commissioners in their regular sessions before the Home Affairs Committee? I want to ask the Minister a specific question about funding for capital cities. I have repeatedly asked, as has the South Wales police and crime commissioner, for Cardiff to get additional resources, given its responsibilities as a capital city. Why are the Minister and the Government refusing to do that? Cardiff gets less funding per capita than the west midlands, Merseyside and Greater Manchester. Given our responsibilities as a capital city, surely that is not right.
I am happy to sit down with the hon. Gentleman personally to discuss that in more detail. I am not suggesting that everything is rosy in the world of policing, as the police face a very challenging set of circumstances, but I am announcing how we will increase investment in our police.
I wonder whether the Minister will accept this point. He tells us that there is a flat-cash settlement, which in effect is a cut from central Government at a time of massively increasing demand on our policing due many different reasons, such as terrorism and organised crime. How can he possibly square the Government cut with that increase in demand and the fact that the public feel less secure?
The numbers cannot lie. As a result of the settlement, if PCCs do everything that we are empowering them to do, we, as a society, will be investing over £1 billion a year more in our police system than was the case in 2015-16. The Labour party can continue to talk the language of cuts, but the numbers tell a different story. There will be £1 billion a year of additional public money in our policing system next year compared with the position in 2015-16.
I will give the right hon. Gentleman a bit more time to recover from presenting his excellent ten-minute rule Bill, so I will proceed with my argument.
When shaping the settlement, I spoke personally to every PCC and chief constable in England and Wales. The Home Office collaborated closely with the police’s own demand and resilience review. I am incredibly grateful to frontline officers across the country who gave me their time and very candid opinions during my visits. I also thank Members from all parties who engaged with me on behalf of their local forces.
We heard three messages from that engagement. First, it is very clear that demand on the police has risen, and it has done so in areas of greater complexity and resource intensity. That does not mean that the British public are experiencing more crime. Indeed, the independent crime survey for England and Wales, which our independent statisticians confirm as being the most authoritative data on long-term crime trends, shows that the public’s experience of crime has continued to fall. It is down by almost 40% since 2010. However, police-recorded crime, which is a different thing, has risen significantly since 2015. Again, the independent statisticians are clear that the drivers of that growth include improved police recording of crime, and the fact that more victims of high-harm hidden crimes, such as domestic abuse, modern slavery and child sexual exploitation, are coming forward—
When police cuts are made, it is our poorest communities that suffer most. Lone parents and the unemployed are twice as likely to be burgled as the average person, and the deprived and unemployed are twice as likely to be the victims of violent crime. Do not the police cuts show what side of the argument Conservative Members are on and who they stick up for? It is not the poor, who need the police more.
I beg the hon. Lady’s pardon, but even if I have to shift my geography, I do not think that my argument will change. I hope that she welcomes the fact that Nottinghamshire police will receive £4.5 million more cash in 2017-18 and the statement from her PCC, Paddy Tipping, that he will use that money to recruit more police officers.
I thank the Minister for giving way and for allowing me time to recover. He keeps making a point about police reserves, but for the benefit of good public debate, will he tell the House—either today or in a letter—what the recommended level of reserves is? What do the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy and Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary set out? Will he tell us the right level of reserves so that we may judge the comments that he keeps making?
As a Liberal Democrat who worked tirelessly in government to promote more open and transparent government, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will have no problem with the principle of greater accountability and transparency around the use of public money, which is the kernel of the debate. The guidelines are not mandated. The advice that police treasurers get from the body he mentioned indicates that they should be thinking of about 3% to 5% of revenue as basic contingency reserves. The £1.6 billion that I cited in response to my hon. Friend Charlie Elphicke represents around 15% of annual revenue, so the reserves that the police hold clearly go above what might be reasonably expected for pure contingency funding. That is absolutely fine, as long as the people whose money that is get a good explanation of what the money will be used for.
To clarify, the advice for treasurers, in terms of pure contingency funding, is that prudent levels would be about 3% to 5%. It might be entirely appropriate for police forces to hold significantly more than that, as Gwent does—it sits at the extreme end of the spectrum—but my point is: what will the money be used for? It is public money and we are entitled to know. There might be very good plans for how the money will be used, and those plans might significantly enhance the effectiveness of the police force, but to my eyes, there is insufficient transparency and accountability regarding how that money is used. At a time when the Labour party keeps talking about cuts to the police service, it remains an awkward fact that the police have increased their reserves by over a quarter of a billion pounds since 2010. That is public money that has not been used.
I remind the Minister and the House that a reserve can only be spent once, and it is simply unsustainable to plan a police budget on the basis of one-off spending. If police authorities have plans to spend their reserves, what will the Minister’s answer be when we set next year’s police grant and those reserves are no longer there? We cannot keep spending reserves.
I accept that point, and I will address it in my remarks, but it does not undermine my central argument, which is not necessarily to criticise the level of reserves, but simply to say, “Tell us what you’re going to spend it on,” because it is the public’s money.
I am most grateful. My right hon. Friend is doing an excellent job under difficult circumstances—[Hon. Members: “You created them.”] I remind Members that the Labour party virtually bankrupted this country. We are dealing with the consequences of living within our means, and this—sadly—is one of them. May I put the record straight? Gloria De Piero cited a connection between of a lack of officers and the poor, and asked which side of the argument we were on. Members on both sides of the House believe in law and order whether you are rich or poor. I just wanted to put the record straight.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend, which is part of the reason why we are making this commitment of additional investment in our police system.
The Minister will know that the Select Committee is undertaking an inquiry into the changing pressures on policing, and part of that will involve our looking at resources. Of course, the additional funding for counter-terrorism is welcome and extremely important, but the real-terms squeeze on police forces’ core funding from central Government is a real concern for forces throughout the country. Given the changing patterns of crime, including the rise of not just violent crime, but online fraud—forces have told us that 95% of online fraud cases are not being investigated at all—as well as the pressures on support for vulnerable people, is he not worried in his heart of hearts that he is simply not providing forces with enough money to keep people safe?
No, I am not, and I will address that. I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for welcoming the increased investment in counter-terrorism policing, although I understand that her Whips will send her through the Lobby to vote against it. It will be interesting to see how she explains that to her constituents.
On the right hon. Lady’s more general point, I am arguing that given our very constrained public finances, which I think everyone understands, the settlement is fair and comprehensive. It represents an increase of £1 billion in annual investment in our police system compared with 2016. There is a recognition that the pattern of demand on the police has changed significantly. They are doing more work in areas of greater complexity and resource intensiveness, and they are having to build the capability to tackle modern crime, not least cyber and online crime. The Minister for Security and Economic Crime, who is sitting next to me, is working hard to build those capabilities, with a significant budget.
May I press the Minister further on counter-terrorism? A number of local forces are saying that the so-called new money for counter-terrorism is not new money, but has been financed by backfilling from neighbourhood policing. We all know that neighbourhood policing is vital to any long-term counter-terrorism strategy.
I need to correct that, because it is fake news. The money for counter-terrorism is ring-fenced—this is new money. I note the hon. Gentleman’s concern, but I also note that, as I understand it, he will be voting against this money today.
I was talking about the serious changes in the nature of demand on police as a result of the increase in recorded crime. I was at pains to point out that some of the drivers of this growth in recorded crime are welcome, as they reflect improvements in the police recording of crime, following substantial criticisms from the inspectorate back in 2014. They also reflect the fact that more victims of high-harm hidden crimes are coming forward, which I am sure the whole House welcomes. We are also clear, however, that there is genuine growth in low-volume, high-impact violent crime, which concerns us all. That will be the focus of the Government’s upcoming serious violence strategy.
We said that we would publish it in the spring. It comes on top of regulations to ban the sale of zombie knives, and a consultation on a range of new offences around the sale and possession of dangerous weapons.
In addition to the changes in demand I have outlined, there is the escalation and evolution of the terrorist risk. In the context of police resources, the point is that demand on the police has risen, which has put more pressure on our police—there is no doubt about that.
The second message we got from many PCCs and chiefs across England and Wales was a request for greater flexibility regarding the precept. PCCs are, of course, elected by their local populations, and many want a greater ability to determine how much local funding they can raise to deliver for their communities. The third message was a request for greater certainty over future funding so that PCCs are able to plan more effectively and free up reserves for investment. I am pleased to confirm that the Government have proposed a funding settlement that responds positively to all three messages.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will give me a nice answer, because I will be voting tonight as well. He knows that Lincolnshire police force has been historically very badly underfunded, and we are grateful to him for visiting Lincolnshire and taking an interest. What steps is he taking to improve the situation in Lincolnshire and support our excellent police and crime commissioner, Marc Jones, who is having to use funding flexibility to protect police numbers and effectively put up council tax. What is the Minister doing to help us in Lincolnshire?
My hon. Friend has been a tireless advocate for more resources for Lincolnshire policing. It is a stretched police force, but the PCC, Marc Jones, is doing an excellent job. I hope that my hon. Friend will welcome the fact that Lincolnshire will receive another £3.3 million next year, and if all goes well it will get something similar in 2020. He will know that the independent inspectorate notes that Lincolnshire is one of the forces that still needs to make efficiency improvements, but I undertake to work closely with that force to monitor the situation. As I said in the written statement accompanying the provisional grant, we have not lost sight of the fair funding review; we just feel that the comprehensive spending review, which will shape police funding for the next five years, is the most appropriate context for that work. I hope that the combination of those things will assure him of the sustainability and effectiveness of Lincolnshire policing.
On one level, I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but increased funding is going into his police system, and if he actually tells an honest story to his constituents about crime, he will refer them to the national crime survey, which shows that crime, in the experience of his constituents, continues to fall, alongside the national trend.
In terms of the shape of the settlement, I want to be clear that there will be no reductions in the amount of core grant paid to any PCC.
No, there won’t. There will be no reduction in the amount of core grant paid to any PCC. This means that PCCs will keep all the benefits of tax-based growth in their area. That is a change, and one that West Midlands police, for example, were particularly keen on. That is a change: there will be no reduction in the amount of core grant paid to any PCC. We are also giving PCCs and Mayors more flexibility on their precepts. The settlement empowers them to ask their local residents to make a bigger contribution to support local policing. We want this to be affordable, at a time when money remains tight, so we have limited increases in local police precepts to an additional £1 a month—or 25p a week—for a typical band D household. If all PCCs use these powers, they will be able to invest, collectively, a further £270 million in 2018-19. Since 2016-17 local force funding has been protected in cash terms, including police precepts, but this settlement goes further. The combination of flat grant and rising precept in 2018-19 means that all PCCs can maintain their funding in real terms next year if they use the new council tax flexibility.
I am sorry, but the Minister is completely wrong. Flat cash is a cut when inflation and other pressures on PCCs are taken into account. Sir Edward Leigh asked what the Minister could do to help the Lincolnshire force. What the Minister is doing is pushing the increase on to local taxpayers. Why did he not say that to the hon. Gentleman?
I will make two points to Mr Jones, who, as ever, is thoughtful on these matters. The combination of flat-cash grant from the centre and an increase in precepts means overall net-net “flat real” for local police forces. [Interruption.] That is what I said, and that is what is true. Labour Members continue to ignore the second part of that combination, which is the increase in precepts. [Interruption.] I know that Labour Members have a problem with this, because they continue to pretend that someone else will pay. What we said in response to PCCs who wanted increased flexibility on precepts was that they should go to the people in their locality and say, “I should like to ask for an extra 25p a week as an additional contribution to local policing; would you accept that?” Where surveys have been carried out, PCCs have met with approval rates of between 75% and 80%, which suggests that that was the right question and the right answer.
The Minister has just been caught red-handed trying to use smoke and mirrors to kid people that the flat-cash settlement that he is announcing today means that any increase in the precept will be wholly spent on additional resources for the police. That is simply not true. The truth is that the Government are cutting the resources that they are giving to every police force in the country, and are asking residents to foot the bill for a poorer service. That is a total disgrace, and the Minister should stop attempting to misdirect people who are following the debate.
I will take no lessons on distorting the truth from Labour Members who continue to peddle the lie that there is such a thing as free Government money, or that someone else will always pay. The response from people on the ground who were asked, “Are you prepared to put a bit more money in to support your local police?” was a resounding “Yes”. I am not misleading the House. The combination of flat cash from the centre and increases in precepts—the ability to maintain growth in council tax precepts—means that we have moved, at local level, from flat cash to “flat real”, before we come to the additional investment from the centre. That means that next year the Government will invest over £1 billion a year more in local policing than we invested in 2015-16.
I think the spirit of the debate is that feelings are running high. I have not yet heard anything that I considered to be disorderly, but Members will obviously bear in mind that they should be careful about they say.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I appreciate the sentiments of my colleagues on the Back Benches.
I was talking about the additional investment that we are making from the centre. So far I have talked about what we are doing to enable PCCs to increase their investment as a result of increases in the local precepts, but we are also providing an extra £130 million for additional investment in national priorities such as digital technology and the police special grant. This is not somehow disconnected from the earlier conversation; it is about how we invest, as a country, in the police system.
The police special grant is an essential tool to help forces who face exceptional events, and it is right for us to do that. This year we are using it to help Greater Manchester and the Metropolitan police respond to the horrific terrorist attacks, as well as helping forces such as South Yorkshire to pay for very large investigations of child sexual exploitation. We are increasing special grant funding by more than £40 million next year to ensure that, for example, we can support the Met in providing security for the commonwealth summit in April.
We are also increasing our crucial investment in police technology. If we are to fully realise the potential benefits of mobile technology and ensure that officers spend as much time as possible on the frontline to protect the public, we must deliver modern 4G communications for the police service and key databases that can be accessed on the move, and must give the police the tools that they need to track down suspects as quickly as possible. That requires investment from the centre. We are, for example, creating a single national automatic number plate recognition system with a greatly enhanced ability to track vehicles and link different vehicles, locations and crimes in order to detect and prevent crime and safeguard vulnerable people.
I have already taken a great many interventions from Labour Members, and I need to make some progress to allow the debate to flow.
Of course, the No. 1 responsibility of Governments is the safety of our citizens. The tragedy of five terrorist attacks in London and Manchester in 2017 has sadly reinforced the threat that we face from terrorism. It is therefore right that we are increasing funding for counter-terrorism policing both this year and next¸ and it is disappointing that Labour Members will vote against that tonight. In September we announced £24 million of new money this year, which would go to forces throughout the country to meet the costs relating to the tragic terror attacks. I am also pleased to confirm that the Government have agreed to provide a further £4 million this year to meet the costs arising from the attack at Parsons Green. We are significantly increasing the counter-terrorism policing budget for 2018-19 to £757 million. That is £70 million more than was scheduled, and reflects the priority that we attach to the incredibly important task of protecting the public.
As well as increasing funding by around £450 million in 2018-19, we have signalled—and I think this is the first time we have done so in the context of police grants—that we are prepared to protect Government grant and repeat the additional precept flexibility in 2019-20. That is a response to the calls from many PCCs and budget-holders for more forward visibility to help them to plan more effectively. We have made it clear that the 2019-20 local police settlement will depend on progress made by forces this year in three critical areas: productivity, financial efficiency and transparency about financial reserves, which we discussed earlier. All those need to be improved.
South Wales police are already doing all those things. We have reduced the reserves to the minimum level allowed. We have collaborated hugely on bringing services together. Seven contact and control rooms have been reduced to one, and 18 custody facilities have been reduced to four. Our command unit structure has been streamlined, we have reduced the estate by a third, and we have reduced the fleet by 20%. The bottom line is that, with demand going up, we have reduced the reserves and made all those efficiency savings. Now the Minister is offering a flat-terms settlement, which is a cut. Where else do we go?
What I am actually offering is £6.7 million of additional cash investment in South Wales policing next year. I have taken on board everything that the hon. Gentleman has said, and I congratulate the leadership of South Wales police on what it has done to improve efficiency. The level of the reserves is not extravagant. Where I take umbrage with the hon. Gentleman is on the amount of investment, which, as I have said, will rise by £6.7 million next year. I hope he will welcome that.
Improved productivity means making better use of the most important asset in the police system, which is police officers’ time. In 2018, in the modern age, that means making the most of the opportunity presented by digital and big data technology. For example, a growing number of forces—not least Lincolnshire, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh—now embrace mobile working. If all forces took advantage of mobile working like the best forces, that would mean that the average officer could spend an hour a day extra on the frontline, where hard-working officers want to be. It has the potential to free up the equivalent of 11,000 extra officers in England and Wales. That is the implication if best practice is extrapolated across the system.
More mobile working, better use of data and better connected systems are all critical to modern policing. That is why the Home Office is working closely with PCCs, chiefs and experts to shape a credible roadmap that can properly harness the power of digital technology to promote more effective policing. To give further support to that process of reform, we have ensured that police forces will benefit from the £175 million police transformation fund in 2018-2019. The fund, led by police, is delivering real results and enabling forces to invest in transformation and digitisation for the future.
When budgets are tight, we have to keep challenging inefficiency, so the Home Office is also working with the police leadership to develop plans to unlock an estimated £120 million-worth of efficiency savings from more collaborative procurement and shared systems. Finally, on behalf of the taxpayer we are pressing PCCs to provide much better information on how they are using their £1.6 billion of financial reserves to improve services to the public. These reserves have risen by over £250 million since 2011. It is public money and the public deserve a proper explanation for how it is going to be used. That is why last week we published comparable national data on police reserves and new tougher guidance on the information PCCs must publish on their planned use of reserves. This is the shape of our proposed police funding settlement out to 2020.
What has been the reaction on the ground? Many PCCs have welcomed the funding settlement we set out in December. I am pleased to say that almost all PCCs in England have chosen to use this new council tax flexibility to determine how much local funding they can raise to deliver for their communities, and local people have shown their support. In Cumbria, 1,500 people responded to the consultation and over 70% of them indicated that they support the proposed precept increase. In Leicestershire, nearly three quarters of respondents voted for a £12 increase, and in Lancashire 78% supported increasing the police precept there by £12.
PCCs have been explaining to their communities why they have opted to make use of this ability to raise the extra funding. Most PCCs are intending to use this funding to protect or strengthen frontline policing in their force next year. For example, Matthew Scott, the PCC for Kent, announced that he will recruit up to 200 additional police officers next year, taking the total number of officers in Kent to its highest level since 2012. In Surrey, the PCC, David Munro, has proposed to increase the precept by £12 to protect local policing teams and respond to increasing threats such as cyber-crime and child abuse, while investing in efficiency programmes to give Surrey a police force fit for the future. In Humberside, PCC Keith Hunter has stated that by increasing the precept by £12 a month the force’s recruitment plans will take them from the planned 1,867 police officers next year up to 1,925 officers by 2020.
I am not going to take any more interventions.
In Nottinghamshire, PCC Paddy Tipping plans to increase police officer numbers up to 1,940, do more to tackle knife crime, and invest in a new custody facility capable of meeting current and future demands. These are just a few examples of how both Conservative and Labour PCCs are using this opportunity to improve the effectiveness of their service to the public.
We have listened to the police. We believe that, through the combination of the increased investment from this settlement, the scope for further efficiencies and productivity and the high level of reserves in the police system, the police have the resources they need to do the job. At the same time we are working with the police to lay the groundwork for the next spending review, which will include a final view on the fair funding formula. As I have said, we believe that the spending review is the right context for those decisions.
We are also supporting the police in other ways. We are ensuring that police have the full protection of the law when carrying out their duties. We are supporting the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill, which will increase the penalties available to those who attack emergency service workers. We are also helping frontline officers to tackle crime by making sure that officers feel able to pursue suspected criminals where it is appropriate to do so by reviewing the legislation, guidance and practice around police pursuits.
The safety of the public is of course our first priority and we will continue to ensure that the police have the resource they need to cut crime, protect the public, and help victims to get justice quickly. I believe that what I am presenting today is a fair and comprehensive settlement within the constraints of the fiscal position we are in. It will see us raise our investment in policing to over £13 billion next year in England and Wales, an increase of over £1 billion since 2015-16.
I wish to end where I began: by recognising once more the exceptional attitude, hard work and determination of our brave police forces. I commend this motion to the House.
I want to start, as the Minister did, by paying tribute to the men and women who serve in our police service. The counterpart to this debate took place a little under a year ago, and no one could have imagined the unspeakable series of attacks that would follow in 2017. Throughout, our police service officers have risen to the highest standards of bravery, dedication and duty, truly honouring the founding principles of policing in the process. Chief among that covenant is that our police service depends ultimately on public support. After a year in which we have seen officers run into danger to keep the public safe, the police can rarely have counted on such strong public support as they enjoy today.
But I know from speaking to those officers that they are tired of warm words, backed up with no action from politicians. Today they are under sustained pressure the like of which the service has rarely, if ever, encountered, and today we have heard that there is not to be a single extra penny from central Government for local police forces.
Before I go into the detail of the funding settlement before us, I want to deal with the demand that the Minister says he recognises the police are under. Between 2010 and 2017 the average number of 101 and 999 calls has rocketed; in South Yorkshire it has tripled. Just last year 999 calls increased by 15%. Forces such as the West Midlands police are receiving the number of calls on one day in June that they used to receive only on new year’s eve. In the last year overall crime has risen by 15%, the largest increase since records began, violent crime is up by 20%, robberies by 29% and sexual offences by 23%. Last year over 1.4 million more people than the year before experienced antisocial behaviour, while the number of orders handed out fell by a quarter. Yet those are only a tiny proportion of the issues our police have to deal with.
“to cut crime. No more, and no less”,
but 83% of calls to command and control centres are non-crime-related. They are calls associated with mental health—last year the Met took an average of one mental health call every five minutes—or with missing persons, a demand that has tripled for some forces over the last seven years. They are associated with a raft of vulnerabilities, because, as other services buckle, the police are relied upon more than ever as the social service of last resort.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Today we will be voting against a completely inappropriate police funding settlement that leaves our communities exposed and the public at risk.
On top of all the demand I have listed, there is the unprecedented terrorist threat our country now faces. It is frankly unbelievable that, as the National Police Chiefs’ Council has recognised, the report before us fails to meet those growing needs and exposes gaps in the protection of the public.
So we have no choice but to vote against the motion tonight. We do so for three key reasons. First, the report prescribes an eighth consecutive year of real-terms cuts in Home Office funding. Secondly, it pushes the burden on to hard-pressed local taxpayers, and the very areas that have seen the most substantial cuts will get the least, inevitably creating a lottery of winners and losers that has no place for public safety. Thirdly, it fails to meet the needs identified by police chiefs, first and foremost in the area of counter-terrorism but also in local policing.
I am sure the hon. Lady has done a lot of homework before today’s debate, as we all have. Therefore, given the backdrop to what she has just said, can she advise us how much money—how many pounds, shillings and pence—her party would be adding to the police grant this year?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, our manifesto spelled out very clearly that we would dedicate 10,000 additional neighbourhood policing officers. The settlement before us today does not dedicate any additional funding to local policing and in fact, as I will come on to, would be swallowed up almost completely by inflationary and cost pressures.
One of the chief jobs of Parliament is to hold the Government accountable for the promises they make to the public and for their record of action in office, so I want to briefly focus on the context for this year’s police settlement. In 2015, the current Prime Minister promised the public that after a period in which £2.3 billion had been taken from police budgets, the Conservatives would now “protect police funding”. On many occasions that promise has been repeated to the public and to this House. Indeed, it was repeated by the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s questions just today. In fact, the House of Commons Library has shown that real-terms central Government funding to local forces has fallen by £400 million since 2015—the equivalent of more than 7,000 officers.
Does my hon. Friend agree that when the Conservatives say we are inventing the cuts, they are not taking into account the cuts to police officer numbers? Between 2010 and 2017, Suffolk has seen 150 fewer officers, 100 fewer specials, 86 fewer PCSOs—50% of the group—and 200 fewer support staff. That represents a 25% cut in personnel across the board, so it is not surprising that we have seen a concomitant increase in crime.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Despite what the Government like to say, every single Member of this House will have seen frontline cuts to police forces. Two weeks ago, the Leader of the House insisted in this Chamber that
“frontline policing throughout the country as a whole has not changed—it has, in fact, slightly increased since 2010.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 635, c. 421.]
This has been a familiar refrain throughout the Government’s time in office: “Yes, we are making cuts, but they are having no real impact.”
More than 36,000 101 calls went unanswered or were abandoned in Nottinghamshire last year, which is a 201% increase year on year. Those people needed genuine help, but they did not get it.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The number of abandoned calls has increased as the number of calls to 101 and 999 has increased. We now have 21,000 fewer police officers on our streets than there were when Labour left office in 2010, 17,000 fewer police staff, who perform vital functions in investigations, and 6,000 fewer PCSOs. Neighbourhood policing—the absolute bedrock of our model of policing—has been decimated, which is an appalling legacy of this Government. Neighbourhood policing is not just a “nice to have”; it is vital to our policing system and underpins the police’s ability to police by consent. It is almost wholly responsible for building and maintaining relationships with communities, and if we reduce our police to nothing more than a blue light that arrives only when the absolute worst has happened, we risk rolling back all the progress that has been made in police accountability and trust over the last generation.
My hon. Friend is making a compelling speech. Does she agree that the cuts to police numbers in areas such as mine mean that there simply are not enough police officers to attend crimes as they happen, such as burglaries that are in progress? Vans are continually broken into and people have their tools stolen time and again, but the resources to help those people simply are not there.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Minister has heard time and again from Opposition Members that the police do not have the resources to respond to serious crimes, with burglaries being a particular problem, but the Government seem happy to sit back and allow that to happen. They are the only Executive in modern times to have presided over consecutive falls in police numbers in every single year of their time in office.
If that is the case, I am delighted for Sussex police that it is recruiting additional officers, but that comes in the context of severe cuts and a fall in police officer numbers over the past seven years.
Does my hon. Friend agree that any current recruiting follows year-on-year consecutive cuts to police numbers? Southwark has lost 200 police officers and PCSOs despite having the highest volume of 999 calls in London, experiencing a terror attack last year, and seeing high rates of moped and knife crime.
My hon. Friend is right that the context is seven years of prolonged, deep cuts from this Conservative Government that have led to police officer numbers falling and crime rising. Looking across Europe for international comparisons, we see that only Lithuania and Iceland, both of which are suffering deep depressions, chose to cut frontline policing by proportionally more than we did over the past 10 years. These choices have not been made out of necessity; they have been made out of ideology. Promises to the British public have been broken time and again. That is why we were right to treat the Policing Minister’s statement before the Christmas recess with a heavy serving of scepticism. He told us the settlement would give the police “the resources they need.” When Opposition Members doubted him, he told us to go away and read the detail so that we might feel more positive. Well, we have, but we are not.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council has also read the detail and said that it did not meet the level of investment required. It is not hard to see why. The council’s funding document, which was submitted to the Home Office ahead of the settlement, requested £450 million for local policing alone, not for the entire service, as the Minister has sought to claim. It estimates that inflationary pressures on local forces add up to £209 million—not to mention cost pressures of £38 million and the additional pressure of the unfunded pay rise announced last year. Taken together, all of that will almost entirely wipe out the funding raised from precepts, meaning that local people will be paying more and getting less. As has been said, that will happen on top of an eighth year of real-terms cuts in the support the Government give to local forces. The flat cash settlement this year will equate to a cut of £100 million over the next year, so it is not difficult to see why commissioners across the country are calling the settlement “smoke and mirrors.”
I turn to the precept, because it is not additional money from Government, as the Minister tried to claim. Any additional money will come if PCCs take the decision to increase their policing precept. Once again, the Government display the worst type of localism: passing all the blame on to local decision makers while refusing to fund the tough decisions that they have to make.
What is more, this method of funding the police is fundamentally unfair. The areas that have taken the biggest hit from funding cuts since 2010 stand to gain the least from the maximisation of the precept. For example, the west midlands, which has lost a staggering 2,000 officers since 2010, will raise a little over 2% from the precept. By contrast, Surrey, which has half the population, will raise almost the same in cash terms as the west midlands, but by maximising the precept it will be able to raise 7.5% of its budget. When it comes to public safety, the settlement creates winners and losers based on postcode. The police funding formula at least made an attempt to fund forces based on need, but it seems to have been kicked into the long grass yet again. The alternative—funding the police through the precept—means that community safety depends on the ability of the local community to pay.
Before I conclude, I want to discuss reserves, which the Minister was keen to dwell on and which have been published with greater transparency this month. When the unfunded pay settlement was announced last year, police forces were lectured over their levels of reserves and were advised to use them for the 2% unconsolidated increase. The figure bandied about for the total amount of reserves is £1.6 billion, but the Minister knows full well that the vast majority of that figure is earmarked for capital projects or for known future spending. The real figure of usable reserves is £378 million, as the Minister’s own publication shows. Much of that is routinely being used for day-to-day policing as a result of cuts, and there is a danger that some forces will be put in the vulnerable position of not being able to respond to an emergency. In fact, the last available HMIC analysis revealed that only nine forces out of the 43 have more than the 5% level of reserves recommended by the Audit Commission, so the attempt to continue to distract us with the reserves is transparent, and the public and police leaders across the country will see right through it.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly given the horrific events of the last year, I want to turn to counter-terrorism. Nobody who has read the report of David Anderson, QC’s review into the four fatal attacks in the spring and summer of 2017 can be in any doubt about the strain on counter-terror policing. In one chilling excerpt, he notes:
“was suspended. Investigation of the other SOIs”— subjects of interest—
“investigated under the operation had been suspended the previous week, due to resourcing constraints brought on by a large number of P1 investigations”— that is, priority one investigations.
“dealing with this uplift in work at the moment is a real stretch”,
and that counter-terrorism had been put on an “emergency footing”. He continued:
“Given that we now have a growing number of subjects of interests we are investigating and a very big growth in the number of investigations…we have a bigger proportion of our investigations that are at the bottom of the pile and getting little or no work at the moment.”
I am certain that will horrify the public, as it horrifies me. I am equally certain that the public will wish the Government to give counter-terror policing the resources it needs to counter that threat. It is therefore staggering that Ministers have chosen, through this settlement, to give counter-terror policing just half of the resources it requested to keep the country safe.
Police chiefs are now openly warning, in an unprecedented way, of tough choices as a result of Ministers’ failure properly to resource their efforts in a threat climate described as “stratospheric.” If the first duty of any Government is the safety and security of their citizens, the responsibility of the Opposition is to make sure the Government keep to that promise. The failure properly to resource the counter-terror effort alone would be justification enough for the Labour party to vote against the police grant today, but in fact this settlement fails to meet not only our security needs but the needs of local policing and of the communities that are most in need.
The Minister has said time and again that he will ensure the police have the resources they need to do the job. There will not be a single chief constable in this country who can tell him that he or she has the resources needed to fully protect the public and provide a professional service in the current climate. Under the Government’s watch, crime is soaring and the public are exposed. The Government must urgently think again.
It is a pleasure to take part in this debate and to listen to both the Minister, for whom I have a huge amount of respect, and the shadow Minister, Louise Haigh, who is rightly holding the Government to account. I take all her points on board.
We all know that there are clearly issues with police funding, but, if I may be so bold, not once did the shadow Minister suggest how the Labour party would deal with the huge hole in our public expenditure that, as I said in my earlier intervention, was to a large extent—along with the banking crisis—created by the Labour party before the coalition Government came into power. We inherited this terrible financial conundrum. We are trying to provide money for our public services, and when our economy improves, we will generate the income to pay for all the public services that so desperately need our money.
I thank Dorset police force and all its officers for doing an outstanding, courageous and dedicated job, and I am eternally grateful, as we all are in South Dorset—indeed, in the whole of Dorset, as my hon. Friend Simon Hoare is here, too. I particularly praise our chief constable, Debbie Simpson, who is retiring after 35 years. She has been exemplary in her career, which proves how much can be achieved by a female officer. She has got to the very top, and all credit to her. I thank her for all the hard work she has done, and I look forward to many other female officers achieving the same rank.
I thank the Minister, for whom I have huge respect, for the extra £4.2 million. I also thank him for seeing me privately to go through my concerns. I am very grateful to him and to his Department.
I will quickly touch on three issues, and I will not take up much of the House’s time. First, I am grateful for the £12 precept flexibility, but there is still an outstanding deficit of £1.5 million. Dorset is considering a merger with Devon and Cornwall, which will aid the deficit. Work is under way on perhaps having one police force, and savings are being made. Unfortunately, that will optimise what we have, rather than growing the workforce, which in my humble opinion, and in the humble opinion of many others in Dorset, is what we should do.
Members on both sides of the House have mentioned reserves, and in 2017 Dorset’s reserves were 11% of our overall budget, compared with the national average of 15%. Dorset police force has managed to reduce its reserves by 26% since 2011, compared with all forces, which on average have increased their reserves by 19%.
Secondly, we need wholesale investment in policing. I totally accept that new crimes, such as modern slavery, human trafficking, sexual exploitation and cyber-crime, are now taking far more precedence and far more of our police officers’ time. What I regret is not the effort being made to combat those crimes but the fact that it is taking officers off the beat. I am a former soldier, and holding the land—or dominating it, in the case of Northern Ireland—and patrolling very troubled spots is where we gained information and intelligence. The deterrence was formed on the streets.
While we investigate all these other crimes—I give all credit to police officers—we must not lose sight of the fact that, in my humble opinion, we need more officers on the ground. Crimes are still being committed. A jewellery shop in Corfe Castle has now been hit three or four times. I believe the gangsters responsible come down from the midlands. They crash in, crash out and take their ill-gotten gains back to where they came from. Those crimes would not be committed if there were a police presence on the ground. I urge the Minister and the Government to think carefully about that point.
Finally, as the Minister has mentioned—I mentioned it to him in private, and I now do so in public—the grant is set in December and the police and crime commissioners then have until February to set their budgets. That is unlike local authorities, which have a four-year budget period that gives them much more time to plan ahead. I ask the Government to look at that.
What can be done to help Dorset police? I urge the Government to go back to the funding formula, which treats us unfairly for all kinds of reasons that I do not have time to go into now. This is an emotive subject for many, but I believe the overseas aid budget will balloon to some £20 billion in 2020. Do not get me wrong, because I have absolutely no objection to money going to overseas aid, but I object when at home—and charity starts at home—we are unable to provide enough money for all our public resources, not just the police service. I urge the Government and any right-minded person to consider the 0.7% overseas aid target. Yes, we should give money where it is needed and where we can afford it, but not before we look after all the needs of our own country.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate and to follow Richard Drax. I feel very strongly about policing, law and order. We make the laws in this House, and we ask the police to enforce those laws out there. Between us, we make up the before and after of the legislative process. The fabric of a functioning society is based on collectively agreeing the laws that govern our country and then upholding those laws by deciding what happens to those who do not respect them. That is the essence of democracy, and those principles cut right across the different political parties, which is why I find it so difficult to comprehend what this Government are doing to policing and to policing budgets.
West Yorkshire police force has had a 35% reduction in funding since 2010, resulting in almost 2,000 fewer officers and members of staff—a 20% reduction of the force. The force has risen to the challenge set by this Government and has rationalised its estate, modernised to deliver efficiencies and reformed by investing in digital policing. The force has delivered £140 million in savings to get to where we are now. However, I am afraid to say that those deceptive words simply mask the fact that West Yorkshire police are now able to do less with less.
West Yorkshire has the fourth-largest force in the country and, to set the context, it takes in the busy cities of Wakefield, Leeds and Bradford, yet it also covers many Pennine towns extending up to the Lancashire border. We have diverse communities, with black and minority ethnic populations making up more than 50% of 14 of our wards. Although that is a welcome part of our diverse heritage, the House will appreciate that it also presents challenges. International events, terrorist incidents and extremist acts can all undermine community cohesion.
On any one day in West Yorkshire, one police officer is on duty for every 2,097 members of the public. On average, the force makes 136 arrests a day, with a staggering 43 of those arrests related to domestic abuse. The force will attend 38 house burglaries, 44 thefts from vehicles, 16 thefts of vehicles, four serious violent crimes, seven robberies, 57 assaults, 17 sexual offences and 159 incidents of anti-social behaviour, and it will deal with 141 incidents of domestic abuse in total.
We keep being told that crime is falling, that it is changing and that new crimes are emerging, but the lion’s share of criminal activity within this mix is all thefts and violence—there is nothing new in this at all. Yet layered on top of all that are these new and emerging types of crime. Non-recent child sexual exploitation and abuse investigations now account for 33% of all West Yorkshire police investigations—33% of that investigative capacity is taken up by non-recent CSE cases. There were 184 offences relating to modern-day slavery in 2016, which compares with just 19 three years ago. Technology is enabling types of crime such as the grooming of young people for sexual exploitation, human trafficking or radicalisation, and people are most likely to be the victim of fraud than any other crime, with this often being enabled by online activity.
There has been a particularly disturbing increase in firearms discharges in West Yorkshire over the past two years, with firearms predominantly used by organised criminal gangs as a means of resolving disputes. Hon. Members will not need me to remind them that the highest-profile discharge of a firearm in West Yorkshire resulted from the extreme actions of Thomas Mair, who, motivated by right-wing ideology, took the life of our friend and colleague Jo Cox. Sadly, we are no strangers to extremism in West Yorkshire, with several Prevent priority areas presenting a continually evolving threat for the police to assess and manage.
In addition, I want to raise the issue of mission creep within policing, especially in relation to safeguarding and mental health, a point excellently made by the shadow Minister. Some 20% of all incidents reported to West Yorkshire police now relate to safeguarding. More than 20,000 missing people investigations were recorded in 2016, an increase of 258% compared with the 2013 figure. Of those, 2,500 were people who have gone missing on more than one occasion within the past 12 months. The percentage of children reported missing who have gone missing on more than one occasion was 37%. Every day, on average, West Yorkshire police will investigate 65 missing people, with 53 of these cases being graded as “high risk” or “medium risk”, where we are into “drop everything else” territory. The police will also be called to 43 separate incidents associated with mental health.
I have spent time with the out-of-hours mental health team in Halifax and seen the massive challenge that falls to the police outside the normal working hours of other agencies. I was horrified to see that although concerted efforts have been made to keep people detained under the Mental Health Act 1983 out of police cells, there is a crippling lack of alternative and more suitable assessment space. So people in the midst of a mental health crisis are being bounced from pillar to post, until an assessment suite or bed becomes available, often in the back of a police vehicle, but they are predominantly the responsibility of the police for as long as that takes, because of the shortcomings of mental health services to really meet the demand.
I witnessed four officers tied up with mental health cases on Halloween weekend in Halifax for most of the night. That involved two double-crewed units, which probably represented about a quarter of the officers on shift that evening. So I ask the Minister: have we ever really taken a decision about the role of the police in relation to mental health, vulnerability and safeguarding and said that we want to them take on these additional responsibilities? I am not sure that we have, and we have allowed this mission creep to occur.
There will always be a role for the police in these matters, but given that the budget for West Yorkshire police has been cut by 35% since 2010, that the police are not the best agency to take a lead on some of these challenges where there is no criminality, just vulnerability, and that resources are as stretched as they are, we have drastically expanded the responsibilities of the police at the time when our forces can least cope with this. How can we look to empower the right people within social services, care homes, hospitals and the mental health profession, so that they take the lead on addressing these societal problems, rather than have it falling to the police by default, rather than by design, and certainly not motivated by any sense of best practice? Bearing in mind that safeguarding alone accounts for 20% of the workload of West Yorkshire police, the resources that would be released back into neighbourhood policing and back on to the frontline by making this shift could be significant.
I heard the Minister’s opening remarks and the Prime Minister’s comments about funding at Prime Minister’s questions earlier. West Yorkshire’s PCC, Mark Burns-Williamson will be increasing the precept, which is anticipated to generate in the region of £4.5 million. To give that some context, I should say that the 1% pay bonus, which is long overdue for officers but has to be found from existing budgets, will cost about £4 million. To be crystal clear, the pay bonus almost cancels out the precept, leaving a flat cash settlement without inflationary increases, so the settlement pays for less and less year on year and only further cuts within West Yorkshire police will square that circle. That is the reality of the budget before us, which is why we are so concerned about it.
To balance the books, West Yorkshire police will need to find another nearly £13 million over the next four years. This Government have made a lot a about reserves, which we have heard again today. Beyond the force’s legal obligation to hold contingency moneys, this year alone the PCC has had to find £11 million from reserves to fund everyday frontline policing. By 2022, most of West Yorkshire’s reserves will have been spent or committed to existing obligations, including capital build programmes and further technology investment. The reserves are being spent year on year just to keep officers on the streets. As my hon. Friend Chris Elmore articulated earlier, this money can be spent only once.
Before closing, I want to extend my thanks to Sabina Yasbin of the Met police, as well as to Assistant Chief Constable Angela Williams and Police Sergeant Alex Macleod of West Yorkshire police, who have been co-ordinating my participation in the police parliamentary scheme. It has been brilliant and I recommend it to all colleagues. Every MP will no doubt have a good working relationship with local officers, but having the chance to get a real overview of the local force in detail and to spend time with specialist units that we would not otherwise come into contact with has been an eye-opening and incredibly useful experience, not least because it has helped me to feed into the Protect the Protectors campaign and the related work on the safety of emergency service workers.
With that in mind, I wonder whether the Minister can update the House about when we might see the “Protect the Protectors” Bill return to the Chamber on Report and Third Reading. Its return is eagerly anticipated by colleagues. Can he respond to the inquiries made by my hon. Friend Chris Bryant on the vision of the Bill always having been about having a tough deterrent, so that people reflect on the seriousness of these actions and do not assault emergency services workers in the first place? Although we are incredibly pleased and grateful that the Government have worked with us on extending the six-month sentence for assaulting a police officer to 12 months, we are continually receiving representations from people who are concerned that that will not be the ultimate deterrent that we had hoped for with the Bill. Can the Minister update the House and respond to the letter from my hon. Friend about the Government’s appetite for pushing the sentence to 24 months? I would be grateful if he updated us on that.
It is a real pleasure to follow Holly Lynch, who has spoken this afternoon, as she has done on a number of occasions, with great passion and clarity on the type of policing we want to see in our country and how it is delivered. Conservative Members are clear that there is a widening gulf in the Labour party on this issue. I am convinced that the vast majority of Labour Members, like all Conservative Members, support our police and policing. We follow up our speeches and words with our actions in that sort of support.
I am not sure I will take lessons from some Labour Front Benchers—I exclude Louise Haigh from that, because she spoke with great force and passion. We have a shadow Chancellor who believes that MI5 should be disbanded and the police should be disarmed. We have a shadow Home Secretary who has just left her place but who has, over the years, with her party leader, supported and revelled in IRA terrorism. We have also had the police berated by some for policing, quite properly, industrial action. When I asked the question, which again got no answer, about what the Labour party would do differently on this grant, we were reminded of the manifesto pledge of 10,000 extra police, yet even with all the months that have elapsed since that general election, Labour still has no idea how they would be funded and how much it would cost.
I will, though, take some lessons from my right hon. Friend the Policing Minister. Until the most recent reshuffle, it was my pleasure and honour to serve both him and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security and Economic Crime as their Parliamentary Private Secretary. Both are men of complete integrity and are dedicated to combating crime in this country. They are, one might say, the Batman and Robin of the Home Office. I will not say which is which; I shall leave that to my right hon. Friends to fight out.
As my hon. Friend Richard Drax did earlier, I pay tribute to the work of the Dorset constabulary under the leadership of Debbie Simpson, our chief constable, who is leaving office having served five years as chief and 35 years as a copper. I also pay tribute to Martyn Underhill, Dorset’s police and crime commissioner. Martyn and I do not agree on everything, but what is beyond doubt is his commitment to trying to ensure the very best deal for my residents in North Dorset and for those throughout the county. He has just finished his consultation, in which 79% supported an additional £12 on the precept for band D council tax to deliver the sort of policing that people in the county quite rightly want to see. He is a good example, in a county that splits broadly 50:50 between rural and urban—certainly in population terms—of what can be done with imagination and fixity of purpose.
I pay huge tribute to PC Claire Dinsdale’s work leading Dorset’s rural crime team, which was the result of our commissioner responding to an issue and to which he has provided manpower and resources to combat rural crime, including wildlife crime and crime on farms. That is an illustration of how fixity of purpose and determination to clamp down on waste can ensure that money is best focused on the delivery of services. I recommend that model to other authorities.
As my right hon. Friend the Minister pointed out, the nature of crime in this country is changing, so the nature of policing has to change, too. The idealised picture of Dixon of Dock Green wandering around the beat, knowing every little old lady and little old man and clipping schoolchildren around the ear for scrumping apples is a rather nostalgic picture that brings a lump to many people’s throats. [Interruption.] Stephen Twigg laughs; perhaps there are no apples to scrump in Liverpool—I do not know—but there are certainly plenty in North Dorset. We do not run through wheat fields in North Dorset; we are frightfully well behaved because we know of the rural police team.
I am absolutely convinced that, in difficult circumstances, this year’s grant will continue to deliver the requirement of a changing policing response to the type of crimes people face, so the Government will have my support on the motion.
On terrorism and the threat that we face, does the hon. Gentleman know why the Government have not yet taken up the opportunity to close the loophole on terrorism insurance? That would help the police to do their job and to protect businesses from terror attacks. While I am on my feet, may I suggest that, whatever he believes the shadow Home Secretary to have done, it is deeply offensive to suggest that she has ever revelled in IRA attacks on this country?
On the latter point, I direct the hon. Gentleman to the comments made by Ms Abbott. She said that every activity moved one step closer to a united Ireland and should be celebrated. I will leave it up to the hon. Gentleman to decide whether to use the word celebrated or revelled, but I think that we know where her sentiment was at that time.
I was privileged to serve on the Investigatory Powers Bill Committee. My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General and the then Security Minister, my right hon. Friend Mr Hayes, performed a balancing act with the often competing and rather tense environment of the civil libertarians on one side and the civil lawyers on the other, and a political imperative to keep the country safe. That is always kept under review. We all know the figures—I am not going to bombard the House with the statistics—but I do not think that anybody could seriously question the commitment of Conservative Members and the Government to combating terrorism in all its forms and to ensuring that our law enforcement agencies and the laws under which they prosecute are always fit for purpose, with an element of flexibility to meet new challenges.
I urge my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Policing Minister to look favourably on the proposal to merge Devon and Cornwall police with the Dorset constabulary. They are collaborating hugely well at the moment and that is clearly the next stage. It will deliver savings that can be focused on frontline policing in the great county of Dorset, to the benefit and safety of my constituents.
I should say at the outset that I might have to leave before the end of the debate as I have to take the Chair in Westminster Hall.
As the Minister would not do so, let me begin by acknowledging that the cash freeze in this settlement is, when we take inflation into account, actually a real-terms cut for West Midlands police. That is what the Government are doing to policing in the west midlands. It is in addition to the 2,091 officers we have already lost and the £145 million that has been cut from the budget since this lot came to power.
The West Midlands police and crime panel has agreed to the commissioner’s request to add an extra £12 to the precept paid by already hard-pressed council tax payers—had it not, the situation would be even worse—but given the high number of band A and B properties in our area, the west midlands simply does not have the same revenue-raising capacity as places such as Surrey or Hampshire, as my hon. Friend Louise Haigh said. Hampshire’s population is almost 1 million smaller than that of the west midlands, but Hampshire will raise more through its precept, meaning it will experience budget growth as a result of the settlement, whereas even after a £12 council tax increase, West Midlands police will still be £12.5 million short of the money needed just to stand still.
Today’s settlement is a ministerial announcement of a further cut to policing for the people of the west midlands. It will mean fewer officers, even less neighbourhood policing, slower response times and the closure of 28 police stations. We have heard a lot of talk about reserves, so let me be clear: other than the basic requirements for insurance and emergencies, West Midland police’s reserves will be exhausted by 2020. We spent what was in the kitty on making up for the earlier cuts; there is no secret hoard at Lloyd House. Of course, the Government are quick to argue that they have given extra money for counter-terrorism, but the Minister needs to recognise that £47 million of the £50 million received by West Midlands police has already been spent. Such policing costs £100,000 a day when the threat level is critical, and neighbourhood policing, which is already virtually non-existent in many of the communities that I represent, ceases to function altogether.
Our chief constable says that given the challenges his force faces, he cannot understand why, as the largest force in the country apart from the Met, we are spending below the national average per capita on policing. Basically, there is not enough money to provide a properly resourced police service in the west midlands. The public can no longer expect police protection when they need it. The 101 phone service is a joke, routine burglaries do not get a response, the clear-up rate is falling and public confidence is at an all-time low.
Some 92% of my constituents who responded to my recent crime survey said that the Government’s reduction in the number of police officers had proved to be a false economy. Why will the Government not admit that they have got it wrong? How long will we have to put up with the “emperor’s new clothes” farce we witnessed at Prime Minister’s questions today? The Prime Minister must be the only person in this country who thinks that crime is falling, just as she was the only one who thought that stop-and-search powers were a bad idea. Well, try telling that to the parents of a knife crime victim.
The simple truth is that we cannot rely on the Government to keep dangerous rapists and violent criminals in prison after they are caught. We cannot rely on them to provide a properly resourced probation service to supervise criminals on the outside, and now we cannot rely on them to provide enough money to police our towns and cities. Their record is one of total failure. The Minister should be apologising; he should be ashamed of himself.
Setting police budgets for 2018-19 has been a real challenge both for the Government and for local forces such as Suffolk constabulary. I recognise the significant amount of background work that my right hon. Friend the Minister carried out ahead of presenting his provisional proposals before Christmas. He visited and spoke to every police force in England and Wales so that he could obtain a better understanding of the demands that they face and how those can be best managed. I am grateful to him for the time that he spent with Suffolk colleagues, the police and crime commissioner for Suffolk, Tim Passmore, and me so that we could provide him with a full insight into the challenges faced by Suffolk police.
I understand that the Government, in arriving at their funding proposals, have identified national challenges to which it is important to give some priority, including complex and hidden crimes such as child exploitation and slavery, and the terrorism threat. It is right that additional funding has been allocated to address those national issues. That said, both the history and the future of good policing is local and community-based. It is important that the Government recognise the significant pressures that preparing a budget has presented to the police and crime commissioner for Suffolk.
Suffolk constabulary is the force with the highest caseload per officer in the country, at 150 per year, yet it receives one of the lowest funding settlements. A disproportionately high percentage of the county’s funding is received through the council tax precept. At 42.6%, its figure is one of the highest in the country, and that compares with the national average for England of 32%.
While Suffolk constabulary is a well-run and efficient force, it has to contend with a significant number of modern-day pressures. To meet them, the police and crime commissioner is increasing the precept by 6.8%. The budget of the office of the commissioner, out of which important support services such as domestic violence support have been funded, has been reduced from £1.3 million to £936,000.
Suffolk is an efficient force that has produced a higher proportion of savings compared with its overall budget than any other constabulary in England and Wales. A collaboration with Norfolk is generating internal savings of £26 million a year. Eight buildings are now being shared with the fire service, and five more such arrangements are proposed. The PCC is starting work to refinance the private finance initiative contract that he inherited, which was agreed before 2010 at an original interest rate of a punitive 13%.
Suffolk constabulary is under significant pressure. It faces a significant increase in demand: emergency incidents are up 14%; domestic abuse is up 40% against a three-year average; serious sexual offences are up 50% on the same basis; cyber-crime is up, with 943 online crimes reported last year; and the number of missing people is up 12%. Against that backdrop, there is an urgent need to review the police funding formula. I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to do so, but I urge him to come up with a timetable for starting the review as soon as practicable.
The current system, in which a disproportionately high level of funding is derived from the council tax precept, is unsustainable. Suffolk has to contend with a wide variety of modern pressures, including the county lines drugs and organised crime challenge, and a significant increase in its elderly population. Some 13,000 Suffolk citizens have been diagnosed with dementia, and that figure is predicted to rise by a further 40% by 2025. That places additional demands on police officers.
Police budgeting is a very difficult science, as events that can never be predicted will take place. One of those is the tragic case of Airman Corrie McKeague, who disappeared after a night out in the constituency of my hon. Friend Jo Churchill. Quite rightly, Suffolk constabulary has carried out an extensive search for Corrie, but very sadly it has not yet shed any light on his disappearance. The search has cost £2.15 million so far. An application has been made to the Home Office for the repayment of those costs, and I urge the Minister to process that application and to reimburse Suffolk constabulary as soon as practically possible.
A further unforeseen cost that Suffolk constabulary might have to bear arises out of its court case with Ipswich Town Football Club regarding the policing of roads around the ground on match days. Madam Deputy Speaker, I should declare that I am a lifetime supporter of Ipswich Town and a season ticket holder. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that Suffolk police could not appeal the case and that it should cover the costs of such policing. That could well result in significant back payments to the football club for the period between 2008 to 2013. Personally, I do not agree with the decision, and I believe that it was wrong of the football club to pursue the case. On match days, the two roads—Portman Road and Sir Alf Ramsey Way—that surround the stadium are closed to traffic, and in my opinion they then become part of the stadium. I question whether it is morally right for the public and the taxpayer ultimately to pay for the policing of sporting and leisure events, which can generate significant revenues for the clubs or organisations involved. We are all aware of the enormous salaries paid to footballers, particularly those in the Premier League.
Last month, additional tickets were sold to away supporters for the match against Leeds United, for which Ipswich Town no doubt received additional revenue. There were some incidents, and an additional police presence was required close to the junction of Portman Road and Sir Alf Ramsey Way. It is wrong that the taxpayer has to pick up the bill. The Court’s decision could have ramifications for police forces across the country, and I urge the Home Office to introduce legislation to address the problem as quickly as possible.
Producing police budgets for 2018-19 has been a major challenge for both the Government and Suffolk’s police and crime commissioner. I recognise the pressures that the Government are under, but the system is very nearly at breaking point. Suffolk is traditionally a well-run rural force, but it is now having to deal with a wide variety of 21st century metropolitan challenges on an increasingly stretched budget. The unique nature of Suffolk, with the challenge of county lines and the demographics of an ageing population, means that policing in the county is under increased pressure. It is no longer reasonable for such a high percentage of the policing budget to come from Suffolk council tax payers. The situation needs to change as soon as possible, so I urge the Government to instigate the funding review without further delay and as quickly as possible.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak. The debate has already touched on several very wide-ranging challenges that our police forces must face, but I will confine my remarks to three main issues. First, I wish to speak about how the settlement does little to address the struggles faced by the already underfunded and stretched police forces in Wales. I will then briefly reiterate the case for devolving policing to the Welsh Parliament in Cardiff. Finally, I want to raise an issue of which the Minister is, I hope, already aware: the complications that the apprenticeship levy is causing for Welsh police forces.
Members of the Government seem to have a problem with figures, whether that is £350 million for the NHS or £440 million extra for our police forces. Neither figure quite adds up, as the irrepressible North Wales police and crime commissioner, Arfon Jones, has made quite clear. This has already been discussed this afternoon, but it is worth reiterating that around £270 million of the £450 million supposed increase is accounted for by the Government allowing forces to levy higher precepts on council tax payers. The remaining £180 million is accounted for by the Home Office increasing central allocations. For North Wales police, the settlement means a real-terms cut of about £2 million. The police now face hard decisions on whether to implement further—and perhaps dangerous—budget reductions, or to increase the council tax precept, which hits constituents who are already feeling the pressure on their finances.
The police and crime commissioner for Dyfed-Powys police, Dafydd Llywelyn, has done an excellent job of retaining the number of police officers in his force in recent years, despite budgetary pressures and the growing demands that the police now face. We have already heard a lot about the new and changing challenges that our police forces must address, and he has employed an innovative approach in an attempt to cater for those new challenges. He has invested in such things as body cameras and better mobile technology, and established one of the best cyber-crime teams in the United Kingdom. However, I am told that keeping his budget in the black and maintaining the number of officers on the beat is becoming an impossible task.
The settlement subtly shifts the burden of funding from central Government to the local taxpayer, forcing PCCs to make an unenviable choice of cutting police numbers and putting their constituents at risk, or increasing council tax in already hard-pressed communities. It is patently clear that this is not a sustainable or fair settlement.
Of course, the police forces of Wales have been underfunded for years. There are now 750 fewer police officers in Wales than there were in 2010, which represents a drop of about 10% since the Conservatives took office. I would be hard pressed to find residents or communities across Wales, particularly in rural Wales, who have not witnessed the closure of either a local police station or the station desk. Central Wales, and particularly my area of Ceredigion, suffers the unique challenges of rural policing.
Responsibility for our policing policy is still retained here in Westminster, hundreds of miles away from the police forces that are carrying out their duties. Unlike in Scotland or Northern Ireland, our underpowered Welsh Parliament does not even have a semblance of the control required to deliver the policing that our communities need. It is not just those powers that would be boosted by the devolution of policing. Figures provided by Welsh police forces indicate that if policing was devolved and funded on a population basis, as is the case for other services, police forces in Wales would be better off to the tune of around £25 million a year.
The failure to comprehend the current devolution settlement is exemplified by my final point. My hon. Friend Liz Saville Roberts has exposed a potentially devastating funding dispute that is born of confusion surrounding Welsh devolution and the apprenticeship levy. The apprenticeship levy, which Welsh police forces are of course subject to, is one of the main sources of funding to train the next generation of police officers, but despite having to pay millions into the levy, Welsh police forces are yet to receive a penny from it. This is down to a dispute between the Welsh and UK Governments. The Government at this end of the M4 claim that as training is devolved, the Welsh Government are responsible for the funding of training and apprenticeships. The Welsh Government, on the other hand, claim that the funding of officers’ training and apprenticeships is a matter for Westminster because policing is a reserved matter.
As I have noted, Welsh police forces are already under significant financial pressure. Whether this impasse is a product of incompetence or error, or a consequence of some political gamesmanship, it will mean fewer police officers on Welsh streets. We desperately need to overcome this impasse, so I would be most grateful if the Minister would update the House on the matter, particularly regarding what progress has been made to overcome this problem.
PCCs of all political colours have expressed their dismay with the police grant. Westminster’s apathy for Wales has never been more evident than when it comes to our police forces. My final request is that the Minister again considers the case for devolving policing to the Welsh Parliament and giving Wales the power to address its own policing needs. With our Welsh Parliament powerless to change things and central funding falling short of a level that could reasonably be considered fair, Welsh police forces face a difficult future indeed.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate.
It goes without saying that the work of the police in keeping us all safe and secure is so incredibly important. They deserve our thanks for all their work. One of the cornerstones of our way of life and our society is that our police forces are independent, professional and do their job in line with their duties. We should all be proud of what they do. I support the work of the police in dealing with the threats that face the nation, including their counter-terrorism work. We should support and praise the work of special branch and MI5. It is important, on occasion, that some of our officers are armed and able to protect us from the most serious and grave threats. I hope that the whole House will unite in thanking all arms of the police for their important work. Having been under attack here ourselves, we know very well the importance of their work.
I will particularly talk about the work of Kent police and Kent’s police and crime commissioner, Matthew Scott. He has been in office since the last police and crime commissioner elections, and has been successful in increasing the number of police officers. Since his election in May 2016, he has worked hard with the funding available to get 80 extra police officers and has protected PCSO numbers at 300, when other police forces have sadly seen fit to reduce them. And he has managed to do this despite having only 12% in reserves.
Now, when I was listening to the discussion about reserves, I thought of a parable. I do not know whether anyone else in this place went to Sunday school, but I did, and that is where I heard the parable of the talents. In that story, the master goes away and leaves his servants with some talents. One of the servants spends the talents wisely and uses them productively to further the important work of the master. Another buries them in the ground and leaves them there to do nothing. The discussion about reserves is a bit like that; reserves do not exist just to sit there for a rainy day, on the off chance that something happens. Reserves are to be used. They ensure that we have the money to spend to help keep us safe and secure. Kent’s PCC has been assiduous in doing that. Kent police only have about 10% in reserves, but he has been spending money to get more officers on the beat and on the frontline to keep our towns, villages and communities safe and secure. Money should be spent on the frontline of policing, not just left to rot in a bank.
It is important that we celebrate the ambitions of the police and crime commissioner of Kent to get a further 200 officers on the beat. He is not unrealistic. He told me that this cannot go on forever, saying, “We can’t keep digging into our reserves because we basically don’t have any left.” He knows that the police will need further funding in the future, but for now the settlement is a good one that he is happy to support. I take his advice because he knows best how to spend money efficiently, wisely and well, he knows how to get the best out of the frontline, and he has ambitions to improve the safety and security of Kent. In our discussions, I have told him how important it is that we have more police on the frontline in Dover and Deal, especially when it comes to these 200 officers who he has the ambition to recruit. I have made a particularly strong case that we should have more police officers in the town of Deal.
At various points in this debate we have heard about the accessibility of the police. We had an unfortunate situation in the past, which came into being under the independent police and crime commissioner that we had for a while in Kent. At that point, there were just two hours of desk time for the residents of Deal to be able to see the police in the local police station. I have been making the case that the funding the commissioner will have should be used to increase the amount of desk time from two hours to four or five hours each day, and ideally for six days a week, rather than five. People would then be able to discuss their concerns with police personnel and would feel that the police were much more in the heart of the community and more accessible— face to face, not just over a telephone. I have been making this case to the commissioner and I hope he will take heed.
I am pleased that Kent has seen an increase in its allocation from £279.3 million to £288 million, which is a £8.7 million increase. And I am pleased that Kent police are not like the wasteful servants that we hear about so much—pleaded for by the Opposition, who like to bury their reserves. Kent’s police and crime commissioner spends his reserves to ensure that we are doing things on the frontline.
I am, as ever, very tempted by the hon. Gentleman. I think that 10% is pretty much at the bottom of the table. [Hon. Members: “No, it’s not.”] It pretty much is. Places like Gwent, at about 42%, are very high up. Indeed, Durham is at 12%.
I have difficulty in following the logic of the hon. Gentleman’s argument. Having praised his local police authority and said that police authorities should be spending their reserves, can he explain how his authority is keeping 10%, which is double what the National Audit Office says is the appropriate recommended level?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point. I gently point out to him that the average reserve level is 15% overall, so Kent is well below the average. The PCC is saying that he can continue to manage as things are for the next year, but that in due course this opportunity is going to be exhausted and there will need to be greater scope—and of course there will. That is important, but it is also important that we do not just bury our talents in the soil but use them effectively, wisely, and well.
The Minister and the Government were right to reject representations from Labour Members at various points that the police budget should be cut by 10%, and right to reject unfunded spending commitments. We hear about how 10,000 police people can just be magicked out of the ground with no basis on which to fund that spending. There are two important elements. First, we must have a sense of reality. Secondly, we must make sure that we support the police in what they do: give them adequate resources; do not just have reserves mouldering away in the bank; and concentrate resources on the frontline, with more officers on the beat in Dover, Deal, across Kent, and across the nation.
It is a pleasure to follow Charlie Elphicke, although I found it hard to understand how he could be praising his police authority for not practising what he was preaching.
I will try to take a consensual approach.
Well, in common with other Members on both sides of the House, I have taken part in the police service parliamentary scheme, and, having done that, I would have thought that we would all be united in our admiration for the sheer professionalism, dedication, commitment, skill and expertise of our police forces.
Having started on that consensual note, I will move on. I make no apologies whatsoever for standing up, in line with other west midlands Members of Parliament, to criticise this settlement in the context of what West Midlands police are going to get and what their needs are going to be. My hon. Friend Steve McCabe outlined some of the key statistics, and I will not repeat them. What it amounts to is that, following this cash-plus precept settlement, there will be a £12.5 million gap in what is needed to sustain the current level of service. It could lead to the closure of 18 police stations. West Midlands police force has lost over 2,000 officers, and it is difficult to see how it could go on without losing more.
The key issue is the funding model that the Government are developing for the police in areas such as the west midlands. If there is an annual flat grant, which effectively means that we lose the real value of that grant by a certain percentage every year, allied with a maximum on the precept, then the areas with the lowest-value property profiles—nearly always urban areas with lower-income people and often higher crime rates—will become disproportionately disadvantaged year on year. That is the situation that is developing in the west midlands. A rise in council tax in the west midlands will raise £3.35 per person. In Surrey, it raises £6.42 per person. That is why we see other anomalies such as Hampshire, which, with almost 1 million fewer residents, has a larger increase in its settlement arising from the precept than areas such as the west midlands.
I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree that a reserve can be spent only once. More importantly, all the West Midlands police divisions have gone now, including in Coventry, so nobody really knows who to point the finger at. I have had meetings with the police on this. The public in Coventry, and in the rest of the west midlands, are becoming very concerned about the fact that there is a lack of policemen, but, more importantly, that the funding formula is grossly unfair to the west midlands.
I agree with everything that my hon. Friend says. Indeed, he leads me on to my next point.
We can bandy statistics around, but what matters in the end is the perception of the people who work in the police force and the perception of the public who experience the service it provides. Find me an area in the west midlands policing zone where local people will not complain of a reduction in the frontline neighbourhood policing in their area. Find me an area in the west midlands that has not seen an increase in crime rates and a lowering in satisfaction with the service.
For me, that was reinforced when, six months ago, a middle-ranking policeman asked to come and see me. He explained that he had joined the force over 10 years ago, risen in the ranks, and found it incredibly satisfying, but was going to have to leave. The strains on him, the public expectations of what he could deliver, and how demoralised he was feeling because he knew that he could not deliver were such that he could face it no more. That may be a one-off, but I am worried by the fact that the chief constable and the police commissioner reiterate to me everything that officer cited as his reasons for leaving when they describe the overall funding statistics for their service.
If the West Midlands force is like Gloucestershire’s, at weekends it is almost held together with specials. Without those specials, the police could not do nearly as much as they try to do on a normal weekend. Does my hon. Friend agree?
Yes. My hon. Friend raises an important point. Increasingly, the police are becoming dependent on the activities of specials and others. Again, I pay enormous tribute to them, but obviously there comes a critical balance when one thinks, “Is this the correct way forward?”
Another aspect of the West Midlands police budget is funding for counter-terrorism. The force has been particularly hard hit over the past year. It had to freeze neighbourhood policing during that time, for the very good reason that it has had to devote resources to counter-terrorism. With depleted numbers of officers and huge additional burdens being placed on the service, for very good and strategic reasons—the protection of the public—something has to give. That is worrying, because there should not be a choice between counter-terrorism policing and neighbourhood policing; the one is complementary to the other.
I would like to give a very good example of that in the west midlands that is of particular significance to me. Only a few years ago, the Ukrainian terrorist Pavlo Lapshyn was arrested and tried after he had killed Mohammed Saleem in Walsall. That same terrorist placed a nail bomb outside a mosque in my constituency. It went off, and had it not been for the fact that the worshippers at the mosque had changed the time of their service, the casualty numbers could have been enormous. That case highlights the significance of neighbourhood policing, because it was the information provided to local police forces by local people that enabled the man to be arrested and brought to justice. One wonders whether that would happen today, given the current level of neighbourhood policing. In any case, it underlines the point that without frontline neighbourhood policing—people engaging every day with the communities in their local areas—the efforts of the counter-terrorist police will be blunted. They need the work of neighbourhood police.
I conclude by emphasising that I am sticking up for the West Midlands police. They do a fantastic job in a multicultural area with a lot of low-income people and great challenges. The people of the west midlands and the police that look after them deserve a funding formula that will give them the resources necessary to adequately meet the expectations of local people, so that they can live in the security that they are entitled to expect.
I, too, would certainly like to pay tribute to my local force, Devon and Cornwall, which does a fantastic job in very difficult circumstances. Rural constituencies have the extra challenges of distance and a lack of good infrastructure, particularly broadband. If hon. Members looked at the roads there, they would understand why there is a real challenge.
I have talked to my PCC, Alison Hernandez, and she would like me to say thank you to the Government, for two reasons. First, she is pleased that they have listened specifically to a request for flexibility. As a consequence, the police precept will go up by 6.8%—the maximum—but I would take issue with those who say that it is inappropriate that the increase will come out of the taxpayers’ pockets. After all, mainstream tax also comes out of all taxpayers’ pockets. This at least ensures that we know the precept money will be spent on policing.
Absolutely, and I shall tell the hon. Gentleman why—although I am not going to put it in a leaflet. The point is that people on the streets are saying that they are prepared to pay for health and social care, education and policing. What they do not like is non-specific tax rises that they think will be spent on things that they do not really value.
No; I have taken one intervention and, given the time and how many Members wish to speak, I will carry on.
My PCC was also pleased that, this time, the final settlement took account of the increase in housing numbers. In the past, that has not been done and that has meant a lower settlement. However, it is clear that many challenges are ongoing because, as the Minister rightly said, the nature of crime has changed. We have increased terrorism and cyber-crime—indeed, even in Devon, someone is more likely to be the victim of cyber-crime than of a physical violent crime—so it is right that we increase our investment in those areas.
When I talk to schoolteachers and my local police force, however, I learn that there has been a subtle change—again—and that violent crime is increasing, although it is of a different nature. Burglaries were going down, but are now going back up again. More worrying is street crime. A gang culture is growing, and if it is growing in Devon I am sure it is also growing everywhere else. To deal with that, we need more bobbies on the beat. The police also need greater resources. One of the tools for dealing with the issue is dispersal orders, but these days they are for a relatively short time—a matter of 24 or 48 hours—whereas they used to be for days, weeks or, in some cases, months. The police tell me that it is difficult to deal with gang culture because they do not have the tools that they need. That is an issue that the Minister might look at.
In my surgeries, it is clear that one of the biggest growing issues is antisocial behaviour, which Opposition Members have also mentioned. We will have to think long and hard about how we deal with that, because at the moment it is not seen as a crime per se, so it is batted between local authorities and the police and nobody really deals with it.
One of the new crimes that most certainly requires more bobbies on the beat is modern-day slavery. It is of particular interest to me, because the police lead on it is in Devon. For us, sorting out modern-day slavery is very important. Members might ask, “Does that really happen in Devon?” Yes, it does. We have significant levels of prostitution, as well as people enslaved in processing factories and in agriculture. Most research suggests that the number of people in slavery is significantly under-recognised and under-reported, but the only way we will find many of the individuals suffering from this horrendous crime is through bobbies on the beat who know what is going on in their local area. We need to think again about how we can be clever and get more bobbies on the beat.
I am sure that the proposed merger between Dorset police and Devon and Cornwall police will make a big difference. They already work closely together, and the proposal has my support. I hope that the Government will also support it. One point that my PCC would like the Government to consider is how we might find additional funding for the police. Her suggestion is that the Minister might look at business rates. At the moment other emergency services, especially fire, get a share of the business rates, but the police do not. That is particularly relevant in my constituency, because we were lucky enough to get into the pilot for local authorities to retain 100% of rates.
I shall summarise by saying, “Overall, in the circumstances, well done.” The local police do a fantastic job, and they are pleased by the greater flexibility. However, I think they would echo the comments made by Opposition Members that the funding formula has to be reviewed. Whatever it is like in the west midlands, in rural areas of Devon there are real challenges that the current funding formula simply does not meet. A review is needed that recognises that the challenges of today are very different from those of 20 years ago.
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate and to follow Anne Marie Morris, although I am not sure I quite agree with all her points. I would like to begin by thanking Lancashire’s police and crime commissioner, Lancashire’s chief constable, and the policemen and policewomen who serve so diligently and professionally to keep us all safe. The work they do is essential. On behalf of them and the people of my constituency, I would like to challenge a couple of assertions that the Government continue to make.
The first assertion is that crime is falling. In Lancashire, the number of police officers is certainly falling: we have 1,200 fewer police officers than there were in 2010. As for Government Members’ comments on what Labour would do, actions speak louder than words. When we left government, Lancashire had 1,200 more police officers—the Government’s action has been to reduce the number of police officers in Lancashire by 1,200. At the same time, crime is increasing. In Lancashire, hate crime increased by 22% last year, fraud by 15%, knife crime by 32%, domestic abuse-related crime by 20% and theft by 18.9%, and senior police officers have commented on the tsunami of cyber-crime that is currently only part-measured. The number of police officers is falling and crime is rising.
The second assertion I would like to challenge is that police funding is protected and rising. That is incorrect. To come anywhere close to existing budgets by applying the full allowable precept would raise only £6.1 million but amount to a 7.25% increase in precept for the taxpayers in my constituency and across Lancashire. The fact of the situation is that since 2010, Lancashire constabulary has been required to make savings of £72 million, with an additional £17 million to come by 2020. The only way it can anywhere near continue to function is by asking people in my constituency to accept higher levels of crime and to pay for the privilege.
Mention has been made of reserves. I really am flabbergasted to hear the comments of Conservative Members about burying reserves. Burying their heads in the sand would be a more appropriate assessment of what is going on. Am I really hearing correctly that those on the Government Benches want us to run a service as important as the police on reserves? That is no responsible way to plan for a vital service. In Lancashire, earmarked reserves are kept for the modernisation of the force, so that it can attempt, in the face of so many challenges, to keep one step ahead of the criminals and adapt to the changing nature of crime. General reserves remain just below the required 5%. It is a good job that the Lancashire constabulary has been so prudent, because in the past 12 months it has been required to foot the £5.9 million bill for policing fracking in Lancashire. Goodness knows where the funding would have come from to pay for that had Lancashire not been so prudent.
Chief constables across the country, including in Lancashire, are saying that it is more difficult now to keep the public safe. The recently retired chief constable of Lancashire said that he could not guarantee keeping people safe on current budgets. People in my constituency of Burnley have the second-highest level of crime in Lancashire, and crime is rising across all areas of my constituency. My constituents will now be faced with paying more in council tax. They are taxpayers, and I value taxpayers’ money, as do they, but I question the service they are getting for their contribution.
If the Government, as is their right, no longer prioritise police forces and the safety of the people, they ought at the very least to be honest about it, instead of trying to delude the British public.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Louise Haigh, who in her magnificent speech spoke up for our police service, spoke up for our country, and spoke up for the safety and security of our citizens. She was absolutely right to do that, because the first duty of any Government is the safety and security of their citizens. That was a responsibility we took deadly seriously when we were in government. The development, with the police, of the British model of policing—neighbourhood policing, 17,000 extra police officers and 16,000 police community support officers—saw crime fall by 43%. That progress has now been slammed into reverse, with 21,000 gone nationally and 2,000 in the west midlands. If we look at the most recent statistics in the west midlands, we see that there has been a 14% overall increase in crime, with increases of 15% in gun crime, 17% in knife crime, 31% in serious acquisitive crime and 8% in domestic violence.
What planet do Conservative Members live on? Do they not hear from their communities the concerns that we hear? I remember a packed public meeting I called on
I will give my hon. Friend an example. Last week there was a public meeting in Coventry in the Willenhall area, and the police more or less said that there was a shortage of policemen in that area. That is a typical example. The public are seriously concerned about rising crime in that area and other parts of my constituency, and they want something done. They want more policemen and no more alibis from the Government.
My hon. Friend puts it well—more police officers, not more alibis. I will come to that in one moment.
The consequences being felt by the British public are ever more serious. One police officer said to me, “Jack, I hate to say this, but increasingly some criminals feel free rein, because there just aren’t enough of us any longer to keep the community safe.” In terms of response times, domestic violence victims are having to wait from four hours until the following day for the police to turn up, when they are desperate for the safety that the police bring.
The hollowing out of neighbourhood policing—that great British model of policing celebrated worldwide, which Labour built in government—is having increasingly serious consequences. On the one hand, neighbourhood policing is about not just the detection of crime but working with the community to prevent crime in the first place. On the other hand, it is crucial to counter-terrorism, as it is the eyes and ears of the counter-terrorist effort. We face the most serious threat to our country in a generation, from terrorism inspired by ISIS and al-Qaeda and from far-right terrorism, which now accounts for 15% of terrorist threats. Time and again, the heads of counter-terrorism units right across the country say the same thing: neighbourhood policing is vital to keeping the public safe and stopping the terrorist threat.
My hon. Friend Mr Bailey was right when he said that such are the demands upon the West Midlands police service, including surge capacity after terrorist attacks, that it had to suspend neighbourhood policing for an entire month. It is little wonder that the people in the communities concerned express utter dismay and ask, “Where are our police officers?”
We heard a series of assertions from Conservative Members. In essence, their mantra is, “We have cut police, but we have cut crime and protected police budgets, and ours has been a fair approach.” The assertion about cutting crime is not true. The stats on recorded crime have been substantially cleaned up, but the Office for National Statistics has intervened to ensure that in future, we also take account of cyber-crime, which was not previously included in the statistics. Incidentally, cyber-crime has a low level of reporting, but if we included the estimates for it, we would see the crime figures go up by in excess of 25%. That is all the more serious now, because a person is more likely to be mugged online than on the street.
The assertion about protecting police budgets is not true. West Midlands police has suffered £140 million of cuts to its budget. It needed £22 million this year just to stand still. Instead, all it has been able to get is the £9.5 million thrown up by the precept. That means a real-terms cut of £12.5 million. It is little wonder that Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has estimated that 359 more police officers will go in the west midlands. Our PCC has said that 28 police stations have already closed and more are likely to close.
As for this nonsense about a fair approach, I completely agree with my hon. Friend Steve McCabe. In his powerful speech, he argued that if we compare the treatment of the west midlands to that of the leafy shires of Surrey and Hampshire, nothing could be further from the truth than the idea of a fair approach.
Turning to the police service itself, as the thin blue line is stretched ever thinner, our police officers are paying the price. I want to pay tribute to them for the work they do and the heroism of their approach. I remember police officers chasing an armed robber who had hijacked a car and driven off with two young children in the back seat. Putting their lives at risk to keep those kids safe and recover them for their mum and dad, they ran towards danger. That is the nature of their job and the nature of their heroism.
Police officers pay a price in their own physical security—a police officer in Birmingham was stabbed in the neck as he effected an arrest on
So many police officers have paid the price with their own jobs. Some of the most heartbreaking occasions I remember were when the West Midlands police had to use regulation A19 to retire police officers aged 51, 52 or 53 who had 30 years of service. Some of the finest police officers one would ever want to meet—they were doing an outstanding job and they loved their job—were forced to retire because of Government cuts. Let us hear no more about “We have cut crime” or “We have protected budgets”, because nothing could be further from the truth.
May I say in conclusion that I listened in disbelief to the cavalier disregard not of the Minister, although I fundamentally disagree with what he has said, but of the Prime Minister earlier? I have to ask: does she not hear the same concerns that we hear? As a senior police officer put it to me, is she deaf to reason? Does she ever meet local people and listen to their concerns? If she did, she would hear about the same experiences that I and everyone else on the Opposition Benches has heard about. I remember a woman who has lived in Perry Common for 44 years saying, “I don’t go out after dark any longer”. Local shopkeepers who have been robbed at knifepoint told me, “People are afraid to come out after dark, and it’s affecting our business”. A woman from the Slade Road area said, “I’ve lived here for 60 years, and I love the area, which I was brought up in, but I no longer feel safe”.
I must say in all frankness that it is simply not good enough to hear Conservative Members praise the police service and then preside over the biggest cuts in policing history. Forgive me if I put this bluntly, but the consequences are that, ultimately, people will die who might otherwise have lived, people will suffer injury who might otherwise have walked in safety and people will have their house burgled who might otherwise have enjoyed security in their home. The consequences could not be more serious. The Government have got it fundamentally wrong, and Opposition Members are absolutely determined to stand up for that first duty—the safety and security of the British people—and stand up for our police service.
Can we be clear what is being done with this settlement this afternoon? We are seeing a fundamental change in the way our police in this country are funded—moving funding from central Government to local taxpayers. My hon. Friend Steve McCabe quite rightly said that what the Government have announced today is a cut in central Government funding. It is a flat cash settlement, if we look at and take into account inflation and other things.
This is the first time I have ever seen such a parade of Conservative MPs with the duo from Dorset—the hon. Members for South Dorset (Richard Drax) and for North Dorset (Simon Hoare)—saying how they welcomed the settlement, and with the remarkable statement from Anne Marie Morris that she will say on a leaflet to her constituents that she is voting to put up their taxes. It is the first time I have ever heard a Conservative MP say they were going to put up taxes, but that is what we are actually doing.
My hon. Friend Jack Dromey is correct that this is not just about what is happening now; it is about what has been happening over the past seven years. The Prime Minister’s crime sheet, when she was Home Secretary, speaks for itself: a 5% reduction in the central Government grant for policing every single year, aided and abetted by the Liberal Democrats. In Durham, that has meant 350 fewer officers and 150 fewer support officers.
Cleveland police, who share many services with the neighbouring Durham constabulary, have also seen such cuts. Does my hon. Friend agree that 500 fewer police officers—the boots on the ground—over the past seven years is intolerable?
Yes, but that is what is happening on the ground. We hear all this guff and rhetoric from the Government about how they are somehow protecting frontline policing, but it is frontline officers who we are losing, and it is frontline officers who my constituents want to see on the streets.
We are told that local people will be quite happy to have their council tax increased. The proposal is for a flat increase in the precept of £12 a year across band D properties. The Government argue that that is fair, but for Durham it is completely unfair. Durham relies on central Government grant for 75% of its funding, so because of the makeup of council tax bands for properties in Durham, a £1 increase would increase expenditure by £46 per head of population. In Thames Valley, the figure would be £60, and in Surrey, it would be nearly £90. If the system is reliant on local council tax bands, the local precept that the police and crime commissioner can raise in some areas is severely limited. The Minister said that police and crime commissioners are welcoming this. Well, they have to be, because it is the only way they will plug the funding gap that is being created by the Government.
The other thing that is unfair is how this actually falls. In Durham, for example, 55% of properties are in band A, so if the police and crime commissioner increases the precept by the maximum, which he will have to do, that will raise £2 million, £800,000 of which will come from band A properties, and just £62,000 of which will come from band H properties. That is fundamentally unfair. The system means that those who are least able to pay will end up paying more. It is no good the Minister saying that he is protecting funding, because he is pushing that on to local taxpayers and in some cases on to the poorest in our society, who cannot afford to pay.
We have been promised a review of police funding, which clearly has been kicked well into the long grass. What we have tonight is a start, because no doubt next year we will have the same: flat cash again and more being pushed on to local taxpayers, and no doubt we will be told that the police budget is increasing.
A lot of nonsense has been talked about reserves. I thought that this crime had been ditched when George Osborne left this place, because he often criticised local councils for having reserves. He made the fundamental mistake—I learnt this many years ago in local government—of mixing capital and revenue, as this lot on the Government Benches seem to do willy-nilly. Charlie Elphicke used a biblical reference, but I did not quite understand what he was talking about. Let me put the record straight on Durham. Durham has £5.7 million in general reserves, which is about 5% of the budget, so exactly what it should have.
We also have to consider earmarked reserves, which are for things that will increase efficiency. For example, Durham has another £5.6 million that it will be investing in modernising the force. In the recent period, the force has spent £10 million of its reserve paying off its pension liability, saving it some £850,000 a year. It has also had to use some reserves for the £4 million cost of the Medomsley inquiry, which is a very serious investigation that the force is undertaking. If reserves are used, they should be used cleverly and to make efficiencies. As hon. Members have said, when they are gone, they are gone. They cannot just be reinvented. What we are seeing today is a fundamental change. No doubt, the same situation will come back next year.
Let me come to counter-terrorism. It is right to put more money into counter-terrorism, but as hon. Members said, if we cut back on neighbourhood policing, that will have a direct effect on the police’s ability to counter the radicalisation that is taking place in some communities. I welcome the £50 million that is being brought forward, but I hasten to add that the request was for double that—£104 million—and I am interested to know why the Government are not meeting that requirement. I would like to know how the money is being used for regional forces. Durham, for example, has had to use some of its budget to fill the gap on the demand for counter-terrorism work. It would be interesting to hear how the £50 million will be spread across forces.
Although this is a terrible settlement, I think that my Front Benchers have given the Conservative party a great weapon to beat us with by deciding to vote against the entire settlement. The only thing that Conservative Members will use is that we voted against the £50 million for counter-terrorism. A lot of things in the settlement are fundamentally wrong for our communities. Forces such as Durham—one of the few forces that is not only outstanding, but outstanding in terms of efficiencies—have made the efficiencies that they can make and cannot cut back any more. If the settlement process continues, as I suspect it will, and each year the central Government grant is cut and more is put on local forces, places such as Durham will be completely disadvantaged. Promises have been made about reviewing the funding formula, but we are yet to see that. Without it, places such as Durham will find it more difficult to put in place not the policing that someone has arbitrarily decided is needed, but the policing that local people demand of their local police.
I pay tribute to the men and women of our police force. They do an extraordinary job and do things that many of us would not even dream of doing. In Durham, I congratulate the police and crime commissioner Ron Hogg on his leadership, as well as the chief constable, the men and women of the force on their work that they do, and the support staff behind them.
Let us be clear about what is being done: local people are being asked to pay for this increase. The Minister says that we have an increase in police funding. Yes, we have, but people will pay more tax locally. The Conservatives will vote later to increase the taxes of many poor people across the country to pay for policing. That is a fundamental change, and it is about time that the Government were honest about what they have been doing with policing and the cuts—[Interruption.] Does the Minister want to intervene?
Doubled policing revenue—yes, he has, but not at central Government level. The Minister cannot get away from the fact that he is cutting the central Government grant and cutting numbers. I quite like him as an individual, but people are not stupid—they will see through this—and I look forward to him telling his local constituents and others that the Government are voting for a tax rise for them today, because that is exactly what he is doing.
In conclusion, this is a thoroughly bad settlement. We need a fundamental change in police funding, because if we do not have that, this system will lead to more and more cuts at local police level and a very unfair system.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Mr Jones and to support the shadow Policing Minister, my hon. Friend Louise Haigh, who has done a fantastic job holding the Government to account for the cuts that are blighting our communities.
On Sunday afternoon, I attended a community meeting at Glade Primary School in my constituency about burglary, which has been blighting the lives and safety of residents in Clayhall and right across my community for not just weeks but months and years. I arrived expecting to find dozens of residents ready to speak about their experiences, but there were well over 300 people gathered at the primary school—so many that we had to gather in the playground, where, one by one, they described their experiences as victims of crime in our community and their demand that we do something about it.
We heard from a mother who described her family’s situation following a burglary. She said:
“My 11-year-old does not keep fiction books under the bed –
do you know what he keeps? He keeps hockey sticks. He has an evacuation plan where he takes his seven-year-old sister and a phone to the bathroom if we get burgled. We shouldn’t feel this unsafe in our own home.”
Another resident said that her children were also talking about action plans, adding:
“It is not a matter of if, but when our house will be burgled. We feel like we are just waiting for our turn. What are we meant to do if someone tries to get in, the police don’t come out when we call 999 –
what practically can we do?”
I will never forget the woman, a victim of burglary, who came to my surgery and told me she slept under her living room window because she was frightened that if she slept in the bedroom people would burgle her house. She is probably looking with horror at the most recent reports of aggravated burglary in my constituency. These thugs do not care whether a home is occupied, as a family in Peel Place discovered when five thugs entered their home, hit their 11-year-old boy with a hammer, held the father down and repeatedly cut his hand with a knife. These are not one-off examples; this is an accurate picture of the burglary that is making my constituents’ lives an absolute misery.
Our London Borough of Redbridge has one of the highest burglary rates in London. Tonight, Redbridge Council enforcement officers will be out patrolling the streets, on foot and by car, doing the job that the police should be doing, so I ask the Minister the question that residents asked on Sunday afternoon: where are our police? I can tell the residents where they are. Many will be unemployed or seeking other work. Police numbers are now at their lowest levels in three decades. In London, we have lost 2,600 officers and 3,000 PCSOs and £700 million has been lost from the Metropolitan police budget.
We can see the impact on crime. It is up almost 16% in Redbridge. Violent crime and knife crime are up in my community and right across London. In spite of the nakedly party political attempts by the Conservative party to lay the blame at the door of the Mayor of London, people know, from this debate and from police and crime statistics from across the country, that violent crime and knife crime are rising not only in London but in cities right across our country. Those cities have one thing in common: the level of cuts inflicted on them by the Home Office. It is an absolute disgrace. As one Conservative councillor said on Sunday afternoon, “I expected our lot to make cuts, but I never believed they would cut the Army and the police.” Is that not the truth? Whether people vote Conservative or Labour or for another party, they do not expect to see the Conservative party inflicting real-terms cuts on the police service. Perhaps that is why barely half a dozen Back-Bench Conservative MPs could be found this afternoon to come in and support the Minister. The great amassed numbers on the Conservative Benches know that what the Government are doing to policing in our country is wrong, and we are seeing the consequences, with rising crime in our communities.
What does that mean in practice for victims of burglary? As residents said on Sunday afternoon, it means that when they dial 999, no one comes; that although forensics turn up a few days later, they never actually see the copper they think will be investigating the crime; that when they dial 111 to report back intelligence, no one answers; that people are smoking and dealing drugs with impunity on street corners in broad daylight; that boy racers can tear down Woodford Avenue knowing that there will not be a police car to pursue them; and that burglars have the front to break into people’s homes while they are in knowing that, even if they or their neighbours dial 999, the chances are they will be in and out before a police officer responds.
And how dare Ministers talk about Labour’s record on crime and counter-terrorism? Members should look at our record in government of funding the police adequately and then look at this shambles of a police grant, which provides barely 50% of what the Metropolitan police asked for to tackle terrorism. We are facing an unprecedented terror threat. We saw it last year with the attacks on this place, across London and in Greater Manchester, and we know that the nature of the terror threat evolves all the time. How on earth can the Minister stand at that Dispatch Box and defend a police grant that would fund barely half of what the Metropolitan police asked for?
The fact is that the Conservative Government are presenting a proposal that no one should support. We should send them back to the drawing board and tell them to come back with a proper plan to protect our communities with adequate funding that does not leave my constituents paying high levels of council tax for a service that is not as good as the one that they had before.
Order. I do not think I can possibly have actually heard what I think I heard the hon. Gentleman say. I trust that he will immediately withdraw what he said, and say it, very briefly, in a different form.
I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. Conservative Members constantly attack the Mayor of London, but, as I have said, it is clear from the crime profile throughout the country that it is not individual police and crime commissioners who are responsible; it is the central Government cuts that are being heaped on them by the Home Office. It is a total disgrace.
People see through the spin, not because politicians like us have arguments in this place, but because they have listened to what the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has said. They have listened to what was said to the Home Affairs Committee by Mark Rowley, the outgoing head of UK counter-terrorism policing. They have heard what police constables have had to say. The Government can blame the Mayor of London as much as they like, but they know that their cuts are ultimately responsible for the rising crime across the country, and they need to redress the situation as a matter of urgency.
I have absolutely no intention of voting through a police grant proposal that will lead to real-terms cuts in policing, taxpayers paying higher taxes for a poorer service and a disgraceful position that leaves local government enforcement officers doing the job that the police ought to be doing. The fact that the Minister has come here today and quoted those statistics with a straight face reflects poorly on him, but it reflects even more poorly on a Government who should be cutting crime rather than cutting police.
It is a pleasure to follow the powerful and passionate speech made by my hon. Friend Wes Streeting.
I pay tribute to the dedication and professionalism of police officers and staff in my constituency and throughout Merseyside. I also thank our chief constable, Andy Cooke, and our excellent police and crime commissioner, Jane Kennedy, for their leadership during what has been a very challenging period. Since 2011, Merseyside police has been asked to make sizeable cuts to its budget. The force had already slashed £82 million from its annual budget, and it expects to have to make a further £18 million in cuts by 2021. Last year our chief constable warned that Merseyside police was reaching breaking point as budgets were “stretched to the limits”. He also issued a stark warning that further cuts in our police budget could result in some offences not being responded to at all. Merseyside has lost 1,700 police officers and staff since 2010. At the same time, the fire and rescue service in Merseyside has had its budget cut in half by the Government, and Liverpool City Council has faced some of the most savage funding cuts of any local authority.
Merseyside Police Federation tells me that the decreasing number of officers has led to an increase in single crewing, meaning that officers are forced to attend call-outs on their own. It tells me that three quarters of officers are “often or always” single crewed. This has an obvious and significant impact when dealing with certain categories of crime, as it affects the police’s ability to break up gangs or to arrest people in large groups.
The combination of budget cuts and rising crime has serious implications for my constituency. In just six months last year, there had already been more gun-related violence in Liverpool than during the whole of the previous year. Last weekend in my constituency, armed gangs broke into three separate properties and threatened residents with a shotgun, a machete and a hammer. The number of shootings has increased, with nine gun-related murders across Merseyside since 2014. Merseyside police has long been recognised around the country as one of the best police forces for tackling gun crime, but it says that it is stretched to the limit. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition rightly quoted our chief constable’s comments about this issue at today’s Prime Minister’s questions.
I want to speak briefly about an issue on which the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend Louise Haigh, has truly led: the scourge of scrambler bikes. It affects my constituency and others across Merseyside, and I have been working with our police and crime commissioner and the local force to try to tackle the problem. I welcome what the Minister said about the Home Office review, and I was pleased before Christmas to support the ten-minute rule Bill introduced by Sir Henry Bellingham, which seeks to give greater legal protections to emergency service workers, including police officers, who pursue people on scrambler bikes. I am pleased to report that yesterday Merseyside police crushed 300 confiscated or stolen scrambler bikes. However, the force and Jane Kennedy tell me that they need both the resources and the powers to do more to tackle this appalling scourge.
I want to finish by addressing what I think is a fundamental issue of social justice, and I apologise that in some ways I am repeating points that colleagues have made. Merseyside police relies on central Government to provide 81% of its funding. It raises just 19% of its funding through council tax. That is a major part of the reason why police forces in poorer areas such as Merseyside have been hit the hardest by funding cuts. We have some of the most deprived communities in the country, which not only brings particular policing challenges, but means that it is harder to raise extra money through the local precept.
Like other colleagues, I shall make the contrast with Surrey, because it is so stark. Surrey’s cuts to its central Government grant have been similar to those of Merseyside, but last year Surrey police was the only force in the country that raised more money locally than it received from Government. As it has a more affluent council tax base, Surrey loses less funding, even though it probably faces far fewer complex crimes than we on Merseyside. There is an inherent unfairness about this, as that fundamental issue affects areas with high levels of deprivation.
That brings me to the question of the precept for Merseyside police and the Minister’s announcement in December that Jane Kennedy, our police and crime commissioner, will be able to raise additional funding through the council tax. There will be no additional money from central Government, but money from Merseyside council tax payers. Jane has been consulting on this, and I expect to hear an announcement from her soon. I should make it clear that I support her proposed increase in the council tax.
My hon. Friend anticipates my point. My PCC has no choice, and of course similar challenges are facing the local authority, so my constituents, if the increase goes ahead, will pay not just 2% for the police, but 4% for the local authority, so there will be a 6% increase in council tax. That is no criticism of either the police and crime commissioner or the local authority, because it is the only way in which they can get the money that they need for policing, social care and other crucial local services.
To return to a point that my hon. Friend Mr Jones has raised, putting £12 on the council tax of band D properties raises more in some parts of the country than in others. The ability to raise more locally is regressive, as it compounds the existing inequality that I have described. Merseyside police has already had to make huge cuts, and that has undoubtedly affected its operational capability, as the chief constable has told us. I implore the Minister to work with Jane Kennedy and our chief constable to address this fundamental issue of social justice, because my constituents worry about crime and antisocial behaviour, especially when we are sadly seeing the return of significant levels of gun violence across Merseyside. The police desperately need additional resources, so I finish by echoing my hon. Friend the shadow Minister in urging the Minister to think again.
As MPs, we are all aware of the importance of effective policing in our constituencies. We have a duty to speak out when we believe that there is a problem, and we have a serious problem at the moment, which is a direct result of funding cuts. Since 2010, we have lost 21,000 police officers nationally and more than 6,000 police community support officers. In fact, police numbers are at their lowest in three decades, which is having a real impact on policing. Last March, HMIC’s annual report highlighted a shortage of detectives and suggested that serious crimes were being investigated by junior staff. Other concerns included a downgrading of emergency calls to justify slower response times.
We know that police work can be demanding and dangerous at times. I pay tribute to the hard work of Merseyside’s police officers and PCSOs, its police and crime commissioner, its chief constable and all the support staff for their dedication and sheer hard work. We owe them a debt of gratitude. However, they are being let down by this Government, as they were by the previous coalition Government.
Merseyside police’s budget has been cut by £82 million since 2011-12, and the force must make a further £18 million in savings between now and 2021-22. There has been a net reduction of 1,726 staff, including the loss of over 1,000 police officers—that is a 22% reduction in police officers alone. It is impossible for the public not to feel the effects of cuts on that scale, and police officers are feeling the effects, too, given the increased stress that comes from working in an under-resourced service when demand—in other words, crime—is on the rise. People have the right to feel safe in their communities, but this Government are sadly letting them down. Crime increased in Merseyside by 15% between 2016 and 2017. Emergency calls increased by 9.5%. Burglaries went up by 22% and robbery was up by 31%. The number of domestic violence cases increased by 18.5% and rape cases increased by 31%. That last figure is alarming, but it reflects changes in how things are recorded and victims’ increased willingness to come forward. It also includes a number of historical offences, but the police must still address such crimes.
Other issues include the serious problem of scrambler bikes, which are a scourge on our communities, and antisocial behaviour, which causes anxiety and instability. In Wirral West, I am hearing reports of such activity in areas that have never had any problems before. Such is the Government’s failure to protect them, some residents who have lived in an area for 10 years say that they want to move house. The first responsibility of any Government is to keep their citizens safe, but this Government are failing. It is both reckless and irresponsible that the Government know the impact that cuts in police funding are having on victims and communities, yet they continue to make them, so I ask them to pause and reconsider their approach. Austerity is not working, and when it is applied to policing, it is a high-risk strategy that puts our communities, police officers and PCSOs at risk. I ask the Government to think carefully about the impact of their actions on victims of crime and about the profound trauma that people often experience.
There is no doubt that some of the increase in crime is a result of other austerity measures being pursued by this Government. Cuts to local authorities are leading to the closure of the very services that should be there to support communities, such as the youth services that have such an important role to play in providing young people with constructive ways of being actively involved in their communities. Those services do invaluable work by drawing young people away from getting involved in low-level crime purely because of boredom and a lack of anything else to do. Almost 40% of calls to Merseyside police are connected to mental health issues. The Government are clearly failing to fulfil the commitment made in 2013 to achieve a parity of esteem between physical and mental health in the NHS, and they are failing to provide the services that are so desperately needed.
An analysis by the King’s Fund that was published in January showed that, between 2012-13 and 2016-17, the funding gap between NHS mental health and acute providers actually widened. It revealed a 13% reduction in full-time equivalent mental health nurses between September 2009 and August 2017. The number of nurses providing in-patient care declined by almost 25%, and the total number of nursing support staff in the community fell by 18% over almost exactly the same period. The report also found high sickness rates. Trusts are finding it extremely difficult to recruit, so staff turnover is currently leaving 4% fewer mental health nurses employed each year.
The Government’s obsession with austerity is creating real problems for our overstretched police services, and officers are having to respond to that failure. We are also seeing reports of private police forces appearing in our country. The chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation has warned of the creation of a two-tier system, highlighting the need for public scrutiny of private forces. That is an extremely worrying development, and it suggests that communities buying such services have lost faith in the Government’s ability to provide an effective police force altogether. I do not believe that to be the case, but I do think that there is an urgent need for increased funding.
None of us wants to live in a country in which some areas hire private police forces because of a lack of policing, while other areas are left with an under-resourced service. That is an extremely dangerous route to go down. The Government need to take stock, rethink and give police forces across the country the funding they need. The public expect nothing less.
With the leave of the House, I will respond to some of the contributions from Back Benchers. Given how many interventions I took at the start of the debate, and in the interest of time, I do not propose to take any now. It has been good to hear so many Members on both sides of the House paying tribute to the hard work, bravery and dedication of their local police forces.
My hon. Friend Richard Drax has spoken to me regularly about fair funding for Dorset. He wants more officers on the ground, and I am sure he will make representations to Dorset’s police and crime commissioner about what the PCC proposes to do with the additional £4.2 million he should receive from the settlement.
My hon. Friend Simon Hoare made the extremely important point that as crime is changing, the police have to change, too. That point was also made by my hon. Friend Anne Marie Morris. We never hear Labour talk about this, but the Government are committing £1.9 billion for cyber-security, for example. My hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset asked me to look seriously at merger proposals, and we will do so once we see a business case.
My old friend, my hon. Friend Peter Aldous, has been a long and passionate advocate for fairer funding for Suffolk, as have other Suffolk MPs, not least my hon. Friend Jo Churchill. My hon. Friends the Members for Waveney and for Newton Abbot have my assurance that we will look seriously at concluding the fair funding review in the context of the next comprehensive spending review, and I noted the representations from my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney about the emergency grant. He made a very important point about the precedent of Ipswich Town in the policing of football.
My hon. Friend Charlie Elphicke inevitably raised the tone of the debate by speaking about the parable of the talents. He is right about reserves, and I note his desire to see more officers in Dover and Deal. I know he will make representations to Matthew Scott, who now has more resources to deliver just that.
Various Labour Members offered variations on the same theme. A number of Labour west midlands MPs, including the hon. Members for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe), for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey) and for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), talked about cuts and depleted reserves. The fact is that West Midlands police will receive an additional £9.5 million next year, which the police and crime commissioner says he will use to recruit a further 100 officers. Not unlike many other forces, West Midlands police has increased its reserves by £26.9 million since 2011.
Julie Cooper again talked about cuts and depleted reserves, but Lancashire police will get an additional £6.1 million and has increased its reserves by £26.6 million since 2011. I am sure that she will be as curious as I am about how it intends to use that money.
Holly Lynch made a typically thoughtful and well-informed speech on police matters. Again, however, her local force will receive an additional £8.9 million, and has increased its reserves by £60 million since 2011. I am sure that she will make representations about how that money is spent. She was rightly thoughtful about the issue of mental health, and there is a common theme across the system that police are spending more of their time dealing with people on the mental health spectrum. In many cases, that is entirely legitimate, as the police might be pursuing criminal activity or being deployed for public safety, but we are actively working with the police to get a better evidence base on exactly what is happening. Obviously, we want people on the mental health spectrum to be dealt with by qualified people and we want our police officers to be focused on their core job. The hon. Lady asked me about the date for the next stage of the “Protect the Protectors” Bill, and I can tell her that this will be on
Given the various themes that came out of the speeches made by Labour Members, I am disappointed by Labour’s approach to this. Policing is one of our most important public services. These are very serious and demanding times for the police, so a serious response is required. I have to say that it sounds as though Labour is now very much in the scaremongering, fake news business, totally detached from reality. For example, Labour continues to use the mantra that crime is rising, even though the independent statisticians show that it is falling. The bottom line is that, as Mr Jones said, Labour Members will vote against £450 million of increased funding for policing, including a £70 million uplift for counter-terrorism in the face of the worst terrorist threat for a generation. That is the position of the modern Labour party. On this side of the House—
I will not give way. The Government will continue to invest in policing, meaning that this country will invest £13 billion next year in policing. We will do the right thing to make sure that the police have the resources they need, and I commend the motion to the House.
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