Police Grant Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:52 pm on 5th February 2019.

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Photo of Richard Drax Richard Drax Conservative, South Dorset 2:52 pm, 5th February 2019

No, I will not give way. I am afraid I only have a short time. I want to press on.

I cannot stress enough my gratitude and that of my constituents to Dorset police, whose officers and PCSOs do their level best to keep us safe in our homes and on our streets. Secondly, I am grateful to our chief constable, James Vaughan, and the Dorset police and crime commissioner, Martyn Underhill—they both do an outstanding job—who will be providing the information I am giving to the House today to the police and crime panel on Thursday.

May I praise the Policing Minister, who I know has inherited a very difficult job? He is extremely accessible and helpful to me whenever I want to see him, and I am very grateful to him and those on the Front Bench for all the help they try to give us.

Dorset police face three problems—I must raise them on the Floor of the House because I believe it is my duty to do so: the continued reduction in Government funding, the increased demand in volume and complexity, and the continued financial pressures. First, on the reduction in Government funding, the general grant is designed to support the force in its core requirements, but the funding mechanism was frozen over 10 years ago and attempts to correct errors in calculations were abandoned, although they would have resulted in substantial funding increases. Unhelpfully so far as Dorset is concerned, the security grant was reduced by £400,000 this year after the policing budget was set.

Secondly, on volume and complexity, this cannot be overstated and Members on both sides of the House have commented on it already. There are new crimes, such as crimes across county lines that we are all aware of, cyber-crime and paedophilia online—tackling that places a huge demand on resources—quite apart from banking fraud and all other frauds online. There are new resources, such as drones, which save money on helicopters, but need training and expertise. There is the online non-emergency directory and the universal roll-out of body-worn cameras. The biggest single cost to police resources has been welfare-related calls, with more repeat calls from the vulnerable, including those with mental health issues. That was mentioned by my right hon. Friend Sir Desmond Swayne. Also, there has been a 100% increase in demand for resources to investigate missing persons over the past eight years. Dorset’s population has increased by 20,000—by about 3%—this year, with changes to demographics and diversity, but there is absolutely no national recognition of this financially. Finally, airports and ports are busier, but the specific small grant has been reduced.

Thirdly, on the continued financial pressures, there is inflation, pay awards and pensions, which are all unavoidable. The police work for longer, retire older and no longer have a final salary scheme, which reduces pensions bills, but the Treasury is still attempting to pass pension costs on to police budgets. Dorset police are grateful for the £3 million to pay for that, but it still leaves Dorset to meet costs of £500,000 to meet that problem. There is no such grant funding for future years and that is of concern. Paying for pensions alone would require a precept of £10.70. There are also the costs of officer recruitment, capital requirements and national requirements, which all continue to rise.

Dorset’s revenue and capital grant for 2019-20 has been set at £67.3 million. That represents £87.30 per person and is the second lowest nationally. Eight years ago, the equivalent figure was £91.70. This settlement from central Government, which amounts to 2.1%, does not keep up with unavoidable cost pressures such as inflation, pay awards and pensions. Raising the precept to the maximum allowed of £12 per household this year has resulted in additional income of £3.4 million. That desperately needed money was spent in four main areas: protecting people at risk of harm, working with communities, supporting victims and reducing reoffending, and transforming for the future.

While we are grateful for this increase, the pressures for the next year are even greater. The bottom line, even with a continued and relentless drive on efficiencies, is that there will still be a need to increase the precept for 2019-20. The Secretary of State has given permission for PCCs to raise the precept by £24 in 2019-20, but this a delicate matter, as my hon. Friend Mr Jones has mentioned, and household budgets are already under strain.

The worrying fact is that, unless there is more money for the police in Dorset in the mid-term, more frontline officers might have to go, and this is unacceptable to me and my constituents. It may be of interest to the Minister and certainly to other Conservative Members that in Dorset, overnight, we have no more than 50 officers on duty at any one time. In my view, the police force is a force, not a service. Its job is to prevent crime and catch criminals. Let us cut out all the waffle, give it the assets and money to get on with the job and keep our people safe.