As my right hon. Friend Mr Howarth made clear, central Government funding for Merseyside police has been cut by more than £90 million since 2010. As a consequence, we have lost almost a quarter of our police officers. There has been a commensurate loss in civilian staff, who are down by a third. We have also lost 43% of our PCSOs, who are the eyes and ears of the police on our streets, the cornerstone of neighbourhood policing and an early warning system of incipient street and gang problems. The loss of those PCSOs will cause problems.
That lamentable decline in policing capacity has been the deliberate choice of the Lib Dem-Tory coalition Government from 2010 and the Tory Governments since 2015. They have all chosen to undermine public service provision in our great northern cities, including Liverpool, in the name of economic necessity, but this “austerity” has actually been a political project in pursuit of the ideology of a smaller state. It has affected Merseyside police severely. As a direct consequence of our police force being weakened, crime has been increasing in the last five years, and it is up overall by 162.5% on Merseyside. The argument peddled by Ministers that that has nothing to do with the £90 million cut in resource, and the loss of a quarter of our police and 43% of our PCSOs is laughably unconvincing. My constituents are not fooled; they know there is a link.
Just in the last year on Merseyside, overall crime is up by 12%, but that figure masks worrying trends that are developing: violent crime is up by 26% in one year; burglary is up by 23% in one year; drug crime is up by 25% in one year; and possession of weapons is up by a staggering 46% in one year. The Minister will know—my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley reminded him—that Merseyside colleagues and I have met Ministers over the last three years to discuss the increasing incidence of firearms discharges and shootings on Merseyside due to increasing and worrying gang-related serious and organised crime. Another meeting seems to be off the agenda, based on the response we have received. We have repeatedly received what have unfortunately turned out to be empty promises of assistance, but not one penny piece extra for tackling this increasing level of serious and organised violence.
The Secretary of State has today proclaimed that resources are being increased in real terms, but the extra £161 million increase in cash terms for all local police forces, in addition to the one-off pension grant of £142 million, amounts to less than the Government-imposed changes on pension liabilities. That means that, for the ninth year in a row, central Government funding to local forces will in fact be cut in real terms.
The Secretary of State proclaims that he has generously allowed local police and crime commissioners to increase their council tax precept from £12 per household a year to £24. He then tries to claim that he has himself provided the extra resources that this allows to be raised, if it is imposed in full and everybody pays it. In fact, it is of course hard-pressed council tax payers, many of whom in Liverpool are already at breaking point to pay their bills, who have to find this money.
What does this settlement mean for Merseyside? First, the extra £8.4 million of Government grant is less than 10% of the cuts that Merseyside police have sustained since 2010. Crime is now rising strongly and more police resources are needed effectively to get to grips with it. Secondly, as the Merseyside police and crime commissioner has made very clear, the extra £8.4 million will be entirely consumed by the pension black hole caused by the Government. Talk about giving with one hand and taking away with the other. The Secretary of State’s sleight of hand in providing a real-terms cut while proclaiming he has done the opposite is disappointing. In fact, there is no new money for running police services on Merseyside in this settlement whatsoever. How characteristic of this Tory Government that they then try to claim that there is. They have left increasing the precept on already hard-pressed council tax payers on Merseyside as the only way of practically supporting our police with new resources.
It is fundamentally unfair to use council tax to fund increased resource for local police because it takes no account of the policing challenges in each area, and it allows better-off areas with a higher council tax base and lower levels of crime to raise the same, if not more, than areas such as Merseyside that have greater challenges but less ability to raise funds. It makes public safety a postcode lottery, with better-off areas that have lower levels of crime able to do better. Even with this rise in the precept, the money recouped across the country will be a drop in the ocean compared with the £2.7 billion real-terms cut in policing budgets since 2010, as the National Audit Office found when it looked at this.
Is it any wonder that police-recorded violent crime is now at the highest level on record, that the number of knife offences is at the highest level since records began, that arrests have halved in a decade and that there are 2 million unsolved crimes? While we are afflicted with a Tory Government who believe in never-ending austerity in pursuit of their political priority to shrink the state, we can expect nothing better.