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Police Grant Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:28 pm on 5th February 2019.

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Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Conservative, South West Bedfordshire 2:28 pm, 5th February 2019

I am pleased that the total resources for Bedfordshire police will receive a welcome increase next year to £112.7 million from the current £104.6 million. However, even between rural forces, there is a difference in the ability to raise revenue from band D properties. For example Hertfordshire, which is a neighbouring force, has many more band D properties than Bedfordshire, and that is something of which the Home Office needs to be aware.

It is often said in the House that the Government’s first duty is to defend this country. I would agree with that regarding our wonderful armed services, but I think we would also all agree that that duty to defend also relates to our constituents as they go about their everyday business in their homes and at their places of work.

Because of the way in which Bedfordshire is configured, there are significant issues about how the Bedfordshire police force works for my constituents and for Central Bedfordshire Council—the local authority in the middle of Bedfordshire. There is significant demand on police resourcing in Bedford and in Luton, in particular, which means that the middle part of the county is often extremely challenged. We are also one of 19 police forces to suffer from damping, which was introduced by Labour in 2004. In 2015, this Government had the courage to state that that was unfair. They tried to look at revising the national police funding formula to reverse the unfair impact of damping, which affects 18 forces along with Bedfordshire. In Bedfordshire’s case, that means a loss of about 90 officers a year—about £3.3 million of funding that we have lost every year since 2004. I would expect that issue to be dealt with as we look forward to next year’s comprehensive spending review, which the Home Secretary quite rightly pointed to. There is good news on this year’s funding, but still more work to do regarding next year’s very important comprehensive spending review.

I am struck by the fact that the police are less local than they used to be. Many years ago, there would be police officers living in individual villages in my constituency. Up until 1 October 2012, there were fully-functioning, 24/7 first responder police stations in Leighton Buzzard and in Dunstable. I want to restore that state of affairs. We have had incidences of shoplifting in our supermarkets, handbags being stolen from ladies outside nightclubs and bicycles being stolen from children, and when my constituents have rung the police, no one has been available. We also have issues with county lines operations —drug gangs coming up from London or down from Birmingham—which have had a significant impact on Bedfordshire police.

As has been said, we ask the police to do too much, particularly with regard to mental health. A failure to regulate children’s homes properly puts significant extra burdens on police resources when the police have to find children who have run away. The owners of those homes should be doing much more and should be far more responsible. I will shortly be taking that issue up with a Minister in the Department for Education. Significant challenges to policing and to law and order arise from the prevalence of Traveller sites in my constituency. We have had three major incidences of modern slavery—this is all a matter of public record and fact—and considerable extra demands are placed on Bedfordshire police as a result.

The chief constable wrote to me recently to say that on Sunday 16 September last year, the force literally ran out of officers as it had to deal with seven teenagers being stabbed in Luton, four rapes, five prison officers being assaulted in Bedford prison, a fatality in a road traffic incident, a 16-year-old being murdered in Bedford, and people with gunshot wounds coming into the accident and emergency department of Luton and Dunstable Hospital. That was a particularly demanding Sunday, but such demand is not unusual in Bedfordshire.

We should look at what the previous Mayor of London did through the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime when he identified the MOPAC 7, which were the seven crimes of most concern to the public: burglary, vandalism, criminal damage, theft from motor vehicles, theft of motor vehicles, violence with injury, and theft from the person. He focused on driving down those seven areas of crime, and that was successful. If we could relieve the police of some additional duties—perhaps regarding mental health and children’s homes—that are not properly their responsibility, they could go back to those seven really important areas.

We need to think about what builds law-abiding communities. Cicero said in 52 BC: “We have a natural propensity to love our fellow men, and that, after all, is the foundation of all law.”