Despite warm words from the Government about protecting the frontline, the funding provided in this year’s police settlement falls way short of what is needed to reverse nine years of central Government funding cuts. As others have said, the total increase in central Government funding for local forces, including the pension grant, amounts to £303 million, yet the Government-imposed increase in pension contributions will amount to £311 million, meaning a ninth consecutive year of real-terms cuts in local forces. That forces police and crime commissioners in Wales to make tough choices in setting the level of their council tax precept. As others have said, the Government are passing the buck on to the local council tax payer, but they wrap the two things up as good news.
Police budgets have been cut by £2.7 billion in real terms between 2010 and 2018, with central Government funding slashed by over £400 million since 2015. Figures for 2018 show police numbers across England and Wales at their lowest level in 30 years. Since 2010, more than 21,000 police officers and more than 16,000 police staff have been lost. My local force, Gwent, has seen its budget reduced by over 40% since 2010, leading to the loss of hundreds of officers and staff. We have retained our CSOs only thanks to the Labour-led Welsh Government, who, in fairness, do not have responsibility for policing, but who have stepped in to fund them. That is a hugely welcome intervention, but it should not hide the wider problem of inadequate funding for our local police forces, which is clearly in the UK Government’s hands.
Despite those pressures, Gwent maintained one of the highest spends on neighbourhood policing of any police force in the country. The force began recruiting again as soon as it could and last year added 176 new officers to its ranks. That has only been possible, however, because the chief constable and his team have done what they can to prioritise the areas that cause the biggest harm and because our local PCC, Jeff Cuthbert, has taken action and increased the precept. The precept increase this April will be the equivalent of 40 new police officers for Gwent, but the whole thing is unfair and he should not have had to do that.
Cuts to policing become all the more critical when we consider that crime rates are rising across the UK. The most recent available stats show a 20% rise in the overall crime rate in Gwent, a 32% spike in violent crime, a 40% increase in the number of robberies, a 31% increase in drug-related crime and so on. The link between rising crime and cuts to policing has been well made in this debate.
Gwent police has also had to divert resources towards tackling serious and organised crime. I would like to pay tribute to its Operation Jigsaw, launched last November to dismantle criminal gangs involved in child exploitation, violence, weapons and drugs. The work of Gwent officers on that is much appreciated in my community. We need a significant funding boost to help, and we need Ministers to review the Government’s long-term police funding strategy as a matter of urgency, particularly at a time when crime is becoming increasingly complex.
On pensions, although the Government belatedly agreed to offset the pension costs that they forced on police for 2019-20, they have still not committed to tackling the £417 million UK-wide pension black hole in 2020-21. In Gwent, the pensions shortfall will add another £5 million in extra costs to the force’s budget in 2020-21, equating to the cost of maintaining 100 police officers. It is vital that Ministers provide clarity on the future funding of police pensions as soon as possible.
Finally, the police are often reluctant to outline the effect that cuts have on the service, for absolutely understandable reasons, but morale in the service is low and we rely on the good will and dedication of officers and staff to keep things going. I thank the officers and staff of Gwent police for all they do—often at considerable risk and in extraordinary circumstances—to help to keep us safe, given the growing and changing nature of crime. I say to Ministers that they deserve more than warm words; they deserve to be resourced properly and given the tools to do the job.