I am sure the whole House agrees about the need for our public sector pensions to be properly funded and affordable for the long term. That is why the Government announced changes to the discount rate that applies to those pensions at both Budget 2016 and Budget 2018. These changes, I should stress, are based on the latest independent Office for Budget Responsibility projections for future GDP growth.
This change will lead to increased employer pension contribution costs for all unfunded public sector pensions, including those of police forces. Budget 2018 confirmed that there will be funding from the reserve to pay for part of the increase in costs for public services, including the police in 2019-20. My officials are in discussions with representatives from the NPCC and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners to discuss how this additional funding will be distributed. Funding arrangements for 2020-21 onwards will be discussed as part of the spending review.
As the Chancellor made clear at the Budget, the Government recognise the pressures on the police, including from the changing nature of crime, and we will—Home Office and Treasury Ministers working together—review police spending power ahead of announcing the police funding settlement for 2019-20 in early December.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question.
In a written ministerial statement in September, the Government thought it reasonable to try to sneak out the proposed changes to public sector pensions. The NPCC has said that this liability, dropped on police chiefs at the last minute, will cost £165 million in the next financial year, rising to £420 million in 2020-21. This could amount to the loss of a further 10,000 police officers. Despite what the Prime Minister has repeatedly, and shamefully, told this House—that the police have known about these changes “for years”—police chiefs issued a public statement rebuking the Prime Minister and saying the first notification they had came in September 2018. So quite apart from the fact that the Prime Minister should apologise to the House, the Government should apologise to the police for such rank incompetence. Is it any wonder that police chiefs are now taking the unprecedented step of taking the Government to court?
Without the Minister giving a firm commitment today that his Government will meet the full cost of these pension changes, it is inevitable that further officers will be lost next year. West Midlands police are preparing an emergency budget that could cost 500 police officers; the figure is £43 million for the Metropolitan police alone. Will the Minister commit today—not in the comprehensive spending review in a year’s time, and not in the police grant next month—to meeting the £165 million cost that the Government have left the police to pick up next year? Police forces need this security urgently. If he will not, does he accept that this will mean officer numbers being cut to the lowest levels on record?
Does the Minister further realise that the pension changes will cancel out the council tax rise that hard-pressed ratepayers have coughed up this year? Is that what he meant when he said that the precept rise would enable forces to spend on their local priorities? Will he confirm whether the Home Office has conducted any analysis of whether the police can afford to meet these changes, given that he has been telling them repeatedly to spend their reserves? How many police forces will go bankrupt as a result of these changes?
The police and our communities are facing twin crises. The surge in violent crime is devastating lives, and the crisis in police finances is leaving the police unable to respond. The Government’s serious violence taskforce has met just four times since its creation. That is a shameful response to the horrifying rise in violence, but the Government are not just complacent; they are actively making it harder for the police to keep us safe. It is time for Ministers to step back from the brink, apologise for the risks they have taken with our safety and give the police the resources they need to fight crime.
It would have been nice to hear from the Labour Front-Bench spokesperson some commitments or some recognition of the need to keep our public sector pensions properly funded and long-term affordable. I am sure that other Labour MPs will want to take the opportunity to make that clear to their constituents. That was one of the most disgraceful pieces of shroud-waving that I have heard, even from Labour Members. The hon. Lady knows the reality, because I am sure that she has studied Budget 2016 in detail. In it, the Treasury made it quite clear that there were likely to be changes to the discount rate that applies to public pensions.
What has changed is the independent Office for Budget Responsibility’s projection for GDP growth, which changes the discount rate that applies. That is a change, and I fully accept—the hon. Lady has heard me say this publicly—that it has resulted in an unbudgeted cost for the police of around £165 million next year. That is a serious issue—she has heard me say that publicly as well. I set that alongside other serious issues facing the police, such as the significant shift in demand and pressure on them, which we have recognised. We are working extremely hard with the police and the Treasury to find a solution.
What I would say to the hon. Lady is that, as a result of the action that this Government have taken on the economy, we are now in much better shape to resume our investment in policing. That is why, in this year, we have taken steps that have resulted in £460 million-worth of additional public money going into our policing system—the police settlement that Labour MPs voted against. We are on track to invest more as a country in our policing than promised under Labour, so she needs to be very careful about what she says about projections in this context.
Finally, as a London MP, I take offence at the hon. Lady’s statement about complacency on serious violence. She knows, because I know how seriously she takes this job, that we are dealing with one of the most serious challenges that this society faces. We have beaten it before, 10 years ago, but we know that it is not simple. We know that it involves complex, long-term work, which is why, under this Home Secretary, our ambition has been increased so that there will be more money for policing and more powers for the police coming through in the Offensive Weapons Bill. There is almost a quarter of a billion pounds of public money being committed to critical work on prevention and early intervention to ensure that we get the right balance between robust policing and really good prevention and intervention work over time. She knows, or should know, that we cannot police our way out of this system. We are addressing a very serious challenge with the right level of ambition and partnership with the police and the police and crime commissioners.
Some Members across the House are hoping that December’s police funding settlement may bring good news about dealing with unfair damping, which affects 19 police forces. However, if there is good news about damping, there would be concern that that may be counteracted by pension costs. Is my hon. Friend able to say anything about that?
My hon. Friend has been tireless in making the case for more funding for Bedfordshire police, and I am working hard with my colleagues at the Treasury and with officials to look again at the 2019-20 funding settlement as an opportunity to find a solution to the pensions issue. However, the path that we set this time last year has meant that almost every police force in the country is now recruiting additional officers, which is what we and the public we serve want.
The Home Affairs Committee’s recent report pointed out that recorded crime has gone up by around a third, but the number of charges and arrests is down by a quarter, which reflects the real challenges that the police face. The Budget provided no additional money for mainstream policing across the country, and police chiefs are warning about a potential reduction in the number of police officers of 10,000 if additional money for pensions is not provided. What does the Minister have to say, not to MPs, but to those chief constables about their warnings? Will he provide extra pension money in the settlement before Christmas?
I hope that the right hon. Lady welcomed the news in the Budget about additional money for counter-terrorism policing and, crucially, for mental health. Through the work of the Home Affairs Committee and the many conversations that we have had with the police, she will know about the mental health demand on our police system, and that additional money must work to reduce demand on our police.
Given the right hon. Lady’s experience as a former Secretary of State, she will also know that the Budget is not where local police money is allocated. It is settled in the police funding settlement, and as the Chancellor and I have made clear, that deal is not settled. Work is ongoing between the Home Office and the Treasury to look again at what I indicated last year, and I will come to the House in early in December with the results of that work.
I give my hon. Friend every support in his negotiations with the Treasury. In addition to using reserves, funds must be found for pension liability above and beyond an increase to the police grant in December so that frontline officer numbers can rise.
I thank my hon. Friend for that constructive intervention. We share a desire to continue down the path we set, and as a result of the action that we have taken, almost every single police force in the country is now recruiting additional officers. We do not want to go backwards. We must solve the pension issue, and we are working closely with our Treasury colleagues to do just that.
The Minister will be aware that the pension issue comes at a time that is not without problems that already exist. My constituency has seen an alarming rise in gun and knife crime, and a bus service was withdrawn last week after hooligans threw bricks at buses. The Minister needs to resolve the situation quickly; otherwise we run the risk of losing control of the streets.
I will resist any such scaremongering on this issue, but I do not need any lectures about the demand and pressures on the police following my conversations with all ranks of police leadership and with Members from both sides of the House. We are all in the same place, and even the Chancellor recognised here at the Dispatch Box the pressures on the police. We are trying to structure the right response to those pressures, and we are doing so from a position of growing economic confidence, which is in stark contrast to what the situation would be if Labour was in power.
Order. Let us see whether we can get everyone in by 1.15 pm, which is when we need to move on.
I fully understand my hon. Friend’s point. If elected representatives have made commitments to their public, I quite understand the need to stand by them—we all do. As I said, the steps that I took last year, both in the 2018-19 funding settlement and what I indicated for 2019-20, have resulted in exactly what I wanted, which is that police and crime commissioners up and down the country are starting to recruit again. I want that to continue.
Humberside’s police and crime commissioner has delved into reserves to mitigate the loss of 440 police officers over the past eight years. He has just recruited an extra 250 police officers. To how many of those should he hand a P45?
To be honest, I am delighted that reserves are being put to good use because, in March 2018, Humberside was sitting on £28.9 million of public money, almost 17% of its annual budget. One of the things the Government have done is to force PCCs to be more transparent about their use of reserves, and I do not resile from that at all. I stress again that we recognise the problem, and there is determination and extremely hard work between the Treasury and the Home Office to find a solution in the police funding settlement in early December.
I am grateful, as always, for my hon. Friend’s support. He knows from our previous exchanges that the Government recognise there is a problem in how stretched the police system is, and we took steps last year that led to more money going into the system, which is welcome, even though it was opposed by Labour. He knows my determination to find a solution not just for the pensions issue but for the stretch on the police. There is a need to increase police capacity.
In my constituency, a 15-year-old child, Jay Hughes, was murdered on Thursday, another tragic victim of knife crime. Then, on Sunday, another young man was stabbed to death in Anerley, just metres from where teenager Michael Jonas was killed last year. This is a crisis. When so many lives are being lost on the streets of London, surely we should be funding the Met properly, not cutting its budget. When will the Government put in place a proper plan to protect our communities? I listened to the Minister’s answer to the urgent question with dismay. What does he have to say to the families affected by these senseless killings?
What I have to say to the families, and I speak as a London MP, is that the whole country and the whole Government are absolutely appalled and shocked by what is happening on the streets of London. It is not just a London issue, as the hon. Lady well knows; it is a national challenge. We are absolutely serious about getting on top of this, and she will know that we have been here before, 10 years ago, at a time when the public finances were in a completely different place and when people were not asking, “Where are the police?” This is long-term, complex work, and we have to bear down on it.
The hon. Lady asked about funding for the Met police, and there is an additional £100 million going into the Met this year as a result of actions that we and the Mayor are taking. London has over one and a half times the national average for funding per head of population and for police officers per head of population.
As he is a distinguished former broadcaster, I am sure Julian Knight can demonstrate his mastery of the one-short-sentence question.
My hon. Friend makes a serious point. Across the police system, reserves have grown by hundreds of millions of pounds since 2011, at a time when all the public were hearing from the police system was, “We need more money.” One of the things we have done is to say, “Yes, you need reserves, but you need to account for how big those reserves are and what you intend to do with them.” That goes for the West Midlands police and crime commissioner, who has, I think, increased reserves by £20 million.
No, I do not. I think the number is exaggerated, which is not unusual for the police. I recognise that there is an unbudgeted cost, and I have given an undertaking to work very closely with the Treasury and with the Home Secretary to find a solution to both this and the additional resources and capacity needed to meet the very real demand pressures on the police.
With Sussex police having welcomed 150 extra staff at the end of October, funded by council tax increases, will my right hon. Friend work with me and Katy Bourne to ensure that the police force has all the resources at its disposal to carry on increasing police numbers?
The public’s safety is the priority of this Government. We have made clear the priority we attach to police funding, and the Home Secretary has made his priority clear personally. We are absolutely determined to make sure the police have the resources they need. As we heard the Chancellor say in answer to questions before this, we are in an increasingly strong position because of the recovery of the economy, and austerity is ending, which means that the Conservatives, uniquely as a party, can take these steps—that is in stark contrast to the fiscally incredible Labour party.
As I have made clear, the next step in Parliament debating and discussing police funding is the 2019-20 funding settlement. As I did last year, I intend to come the House in early December to set out this Government’s proposals, which are being worked through with our Treasury colleagues as we speak.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. Anyone who speaks to the police finds a consistent message from across the system: a growing frustration about the amount of time our police are spending supporting people on mental health issues—the estimate across the system is at least 25%. Some of that I would class as core policing but some of it is not, so we are working with PCCs to get the evidence base and establish what is good practice in terms of triaging some of this demand. Part of what I welcome in the Budget is the additional investment that this Government can now make in local mental health, and I am determined to ensure that one dividend from that investment is reduced demand on policing.
In the past five weeks, three youths were stabbed, two fatally, and one 20-year-old man was shot dead in Bedford. Will the Minister support the bid from Bedfordshire’s police chief constable and the PCC for emergency extra funding from the police special grant before another young person is killed on our streets?
I was delighted to see the hon. Gentleman take part in the cross-sector summit we had on serious violence in Bedfordshire. What I said then was clear: we have received an application for exceptional funding and we expect to take a decision on that by the middle of the month. Our ability to meet that comes from the fact that we increased the contingency pot available in the Home Office for those situations, in a funding settlement that he and other Labour MPs voted against.
I know my hon. Friend thoroughly enjoyed her visit, and I repeat what I have said to other colleagues: we are taking steps in the right direction. The right direction is providing the resources for our police forces to increase their capacity and continue the process of recruiting the additional officers that we and the public want to see. We can do that because we are in a stronger economic position. My intention is to come to the House with the funding settlement in early December to update the House on our plans for next year.
Gwent was the first police force I visited, and I am well aware of some of the pressures on the force and some of the excellent work it is doing, not least in pursuing exploiters of children. I say gently to the hon. Gentleman that Gwent is absolutely the outlier in the reserves it holds; it sits on £56 million-worth of public money as reserves, which is a stunning 46.3% of its funding. I think the people of Gwent deserve a clear explanation of how that public money is going to be used to support their local police service.
The Minister will be aware that Humberside police have recruited more than 200 officers over the past couple of years. A threat to further recruitment or to our police community support officers due to increased pension contributions is now a real possibility. Will he assure me that he will work with me and other colleagues in the force area to ensure that that recruitment is not threatened?
I do not want to do anything that jeopardises the recruitment of police officers and the progress that we are making in that context—I have made that very clear. I have also made it clear that it is my intention to work very closely with colleagues from all parts of the House to make sure that we have a proper understanding of what is going on force by force. My main point is that we are able to make progress because of the progress that we are making on the economy, and that is progress that would be jeopardised by the Labour party.
The number of police officers in Durham has been cut by 400 since 2010. That is not an exaggeration; that is a fact. These changes to the pension mean that another 30 officers will have to go and that there will have to be an increase in the precept by £12 for homes in band D. Will that not be perceived as a local tax for the Treasury and as incompetence by the Treasury?
The hon. Gentleman’s intervention gives me the opportunity again to place on the record the admiration of the Government for the performance of Durham police, which is an outstanding force. Against the context of reduced resources, they show what it is possible to achieve. I understand the point he is making and I return to what I was saying, which is that we are working through the issue and I will come back to the House in early December with what I hope will be a solution.
I am sure that my hon. Friend will share the determination of the Government to do the right thing by public pensions and to make sure that they are properly funded. What the Treasury is doing is as a result of independent advice, and its approach is the right one, but there is a recognition of the difficulty that this causes the police at a time when things are already difficult and demanding. I made some comments earlier about possible exaggeration on their part of the problem. I should be more cautious, because there is a very real issue of stretch on police; I just do not happen to believe that there is the loss of officer numbers that they have indicated, not least because I am working very closely to find a solution to that. My hon. Friend can be assured that we at the Home Office, working closely with the Treasury, are determined to find a solution to this and to come to the House in early December with a police funding settlement that allows us to continue on the track of making sure that our police have the resources that they need in Essex and elsewhere.
I am quite frankly amazed by the language that the Minister is using and by the fact that he told my hon. Friend Louise Haigh to be careful about what she says. No one in my constituency is telling me to be careful about what I say about knife, gun and gang crime being on the rise. Will he accept that with Liverpool and Merseyside police there are special cases with problems of organised and gang crime, and agree that they will not lose any more money through this Government’s incompetence?
I absolutely recognise the spike in serious violence that we are dealing with; it is an unbelievably serious problem that applies not just to London but nationally, and the Government are responding to it. I have one note of caution. It is not my business to give lectures to the Opposition, but the reality is that I have sat here with Labour MPs who, session after session, pop up and down demanding more and more money for policing, but actually, in the Labour manifesto, the shadow Front-Bench team committed £300 million additional funding to the police, which has been increased by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley to £780 million over this Parliament, whereas this Government have taken steps to put £460 million into the system in this year alone.
From my discussions with frontline police, I know that the one thing they value above all else is the protection of their pensions. Will my right hon. Friend make sure that, in discussions about funding, the pension for frontline police officers is fully protected?
The police pension deficit is in no small part due to this Government’s policies of forcing experienced officers into early retirement and reducing the number of current serving officers by 21,000. Should the Government not shoulder the responsibility for the impact on the contributions that are required?
This is an issue that I have discussed with both my police and crime commissioner and my chief constable. Understandably, there is some concern. Will the Minister reassure them that he will work closely with police forces to fully understand the impact that this change will have and take any action necessary to protect vital frontline services?
I fully give that undertaking. We are working very closely with the chiefs and the police and crime commissioners to understand the implications, force by force, so that we get a real sense of the impact, rather than the one dominating the headlines. I can also give the assurance, as I have repeatedly today, that we are working closely with colleagues in the Treasury to find a solution. I look forward to coming to the House in early December with the result of that work.
Owing to Government cuts, in West Yorkshire we have nearly 1,000 fewer uniformed police officers on our streets. As a former police employee for a decade, I know at first hand the impact that this is having on our communities. Will the Minister reassure me that there will be no further cuts to police numbers in Dewsbury and West Yorkshire?
I have been very clear that what I set out last year enabled police forces up and down the country to start recruiting officers again, and I want that to continue. I ask the hon. Lady to support us in holding the PCC to account for holding £72.7 million of public money—almost 18% of funding—in reserves. I am sure that her constituents will want to know how that money is going to be spent to benefit the local force.
West Midlands police estimate that, if these changes go ahead in their current form, they will cost the force more than £22 million over the next two years, and the loss of hundreds of officers on top of the 2,000 who have already gone since 2010. The reserves that have been mentioned are already being used to fund current spending and will disappear by 2020. Does the Minister agree that it would be intolerable for the public to have to put up with the loss of hundreds more officers?
I have engaged closely with the West Midlands police and crime commissioner and the chief constable about some of the challenges facing the force, and these are real. They know that it is my intention to work through the issue and come to the House in early December with a funding settlement that works. We are working very closely with the police to build the evidence base for the Treasury’s comprehensive spending review, which the right hon. Gentleman knows is a major event in shaping police budgets for the next few years.
Following on from my hon. Friend Ellie Reeves, I want to share a local teacher’s perspective on the losses:
“Last night I got that call that no one prepares you for…I’d just got home…it was just after seven and my own children were in the bath, ‘Sorry to bother you at home but can you talk?’ my headteacher on the other end of the line, her voice breaking in that way a person’s voice breaks slightly when they are trying their very best to remain strong even though all they want to do is cry. All I heard was ‘multiple...stabbing...murder scene...and the name Jai.’ This was a boy who I had known from the age of 8 and was now 15 and fighting for his life. An hour and a half later I heard the words ‘I’m really sorry but he’s gone.’ I broke down and cried. All I thought was how could this have happened?”
When can we talk about addressing knife crime and the Government’s public health approach?
These are terrible losses; each represents a young life cut terribly short. The hon. Lady knows as well as anyone in this House the devastating impact of these losses on friends, families and the broader community. This issue is one of the biggest challenges that we face as a Government and as a society, and everyone has a role to play in addressing it, not least teachers.
I salute the hon. Lady’s work and leadership on this matter. She will know from that work that there is no straightforward solution. This is long-term, complex work that requires robust policing and proactive, persistent investment in prevention and early intervention work to steer young people away from that life, those choices and the devastating consequences. I hope that she knows that whatever happens, the Government are absolutely committed to working with partners from both sides of the House and all parts of society to bear down on this problem. We have to end this terrible cycle of violence, but it will be long-term work.
Right across Merseyside, we have similar stories to those of my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves) and for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft). Some 1,600 police staff have gone through Government cuts since 2010. If not funded, this proposal will cost another 300 police officers. Our PCC, Jane Kennedy, talks of these cuts swinging a “wrecking ball” through her budget. She is right to say so, isn’t she?
I spoke to Jane about this yesterday, when she and other PCCs were in the Home Office talking about the serious violence strategy. She was very clear, as she always is, about the pressures on Merseyside police. It is a consistent refrain across the system. I am very, very aware of it. That is why I took the steps I took last year. They were small steps but they were steps in the right direction. I intend to come to the House again in early December with the next stage in this journey, which is the 2019-20 funding settlement.
Will the Minister confirm that, alongside the cuts that will fall on police, our fire services are also liable for costs in the region of hundreds of millions of pounds? What is he going to do about that?
There is a suggestion from Labour Members that there is some sort of stealth arrangement around this position from the Treasury. That could not be further from the truth. It was signalled very explicitly in the 2016 Budget. What has changed is the discount rate applied, and that is the result of independent advice. I repeat what I have said. I have been to Portsmouth, at the hon. Gentleman’s request, and had many conversations with Hampshire police. They are doing an excellent job under difficult circumstances, and I am determined to do what I can to make sure that they have the resources available for them to continue to recruit more officers.
Northumbria police have already had budget cuts of over £140 million and lost 1,000 staff. If this goes through, the cost of £11 million over two years could equate to 220 officers lost. Can the Minister assure me and other Members that a way will be found to ensure that this cost is met?
Labour MPs, for reasons I understand, keeping popping up talking about cuts. They always ignore the fact that additional money has gone into the police system this year, with millions of pounds more going to Northumbria police—voted against, for reasons I continue not to understand, by the hon. Lady and others. The Government are extremely aware of the pressures on the police system. Another £460 million has gone into that system this year. I will come back to the House in a few weeks’ time with our proposals for next year. Meanwhile, we work very closely with the police to make a case at the next spending review for the next stages of resources that our police system needs.
In the west midlands, murders are up by 33% in the last year and violent crime is up by 20%. Only last week, I went out on patrol with police in the west midlands, and I found that dedicated, devoted public servants are getting desperate because of the lack of support and resources. These cuts will make their position even worse and more demoralising. Will the Minister impress on the Treasury that the cost to the community and, in the long term, to the Treasury, will be far greater if it does not meet these costs?
Again, the hon. Gentleman talks about cuts when his force has received additional investment of £9.9 million in a settlement that he voted against. I repeat what I said. I am aware of the demand on the West Midlands police. I am aware that this is an unfunded cost. I am aware that we have to find a solution for it, and that is what I am doing, together with my colleagues at the Treasury.
As I have already signalled, the battle against violent crime and the determination we have to bear down on it is long-term work. We were in a similar place 10 years ago, and it took time to bear down on it then, but we know what works, and that is what we are applying.
In relation to the Met police, there is, as I said, an additional £100 million going into the Met this year. They are recruiting hundreds more officers at the moment, and the Met has over one and a half times the national average in terms of police officers per head. It is a stretched force, and a force that we ask to do a great deal. But, again, I hope to come back to the House in early December with our plans for next year.