I shall be voting against inadequate Government funding tonight. It is as simple as that, no matter how Conservative Members try to spin or twist it.
Let me give the House a snapshot of the events dealt with by West Midlands police in the 72 hours leading up to New Year’s eve. There was a ram raid at the Santander bank in Kings Heath, where the security guard was attacked with an axe. A pedestrian was killed in Highgate by a drunk driver. There was a shooting in Bristol Street, and an extremely serious and vicious assault on a woman in Halesowen. A 34-year-old man was stabbed to death. There was a carjacking in Handsworth, with the stabbed victim left in the road, and a 16-year-old boy was stabbed in Kingstanding. All those major events occurred alongside the normal everyday demands of policing. Our police are at breaking point.
Birmingham is the largest and most populated city outside London. Our crime figures have risen by more than 30% in the last three years, while charging is down by 26%. The level of violent crime in Birmingham is 40% higher than the national average, and the level of vehicle crime is the fourth highest in the country. No wonder people are fearful.
When Labour was last in power, we delivered a neighbourhood policing team in every area. Such an approach not only delivers visible policing, but provides a network of intelligence and fosters better community relations. When Labour left office, there were 143,000 police officers and nearly 80,000 police community support officers. Now neighbourhood policing is almost a nostalgia item. The teams that remain are stretched over areas three or four times the size of their original patch, and the West Midlands chief constable has warned that criminals know just how stretched his force is. The Home Affairs Committee warned that without extra funding, the police will be unable to fulfil their basic duties.
The chief constable blames a shortage of resources when his 999 response times are criticised. The reality is that 70% of 101 calls are now responded to by telephone rather than a visit. Suspects who could be picked up are not, and jobs that are graded as not immediately important are delayed, sometimes for days or weeks. If someone is assaulted and manages to call the police during the assault, an immediate response is required, but if the person gets away and instantly gives a description of the thief who still has their bag or wallet, the odds are that the call will be downgraded. As the chief constable puts it,
“How can a force that’s rated one of the most efficient in the country not get to 30% of emergency calls on time if it’s not a resource problem?”
He has lost 24% of his officers since 2010, so I think he has a point.
West Midlands police relies on central Government for 83% of its funding. That is why the unfair application of the formula, the extent of the cuts and an over-reliance on the council tax precept has such a pernicious effect on us. This settlement is based on council tax rising by up to £24 a year. I suppose that that is marginally better than the £50 increase that the Government originally planned, but it still means that people pay more, and that £24 only just covers inflation, resulting in a standstill budget.
We heard earlier from the Home Secretary that this is the first above-inflation increase in nine years. However, Ministers are not so keen to talk about where the grant goes: £7 million is pension grant; and the other £8.9 million has to cover pay rises from this year and last year, and existing pension arrangements. The increased contributions to the police pension scheme for West Midlands are now £15.4 million a year. I defy anyone to make those figures add up to extra money for policing.
Recently the Home Secretary, and even the Tory Mayor of the west midlands, admitted that our police are underfunded. After eight years of denial, the Home Secretary told “Birmingham Live” in September that “resources are an issue” and that he would push the Chancellor for more. It is a pity he did not push a bit harder. The Mayor acknowledged that
“the settlement for the West Midlands has been less favourable than for other areas.”
The reality is that the funding package is simply not enough to compensate for the damage that has been done, and our police will continue to struggle. They face changes in the nature and pattern of crime, and are expected to cope with falling numbers, outdated technology and fragmented leadership.
To compound it all, the Government now plan to impose another upheaval on the second largest force in the country by abolishing the post of police and crime commissioner just as it has begun to bed in, and replacing it with our hapless Mayor, who already has his hands full with rough sleepers, unemployment, skills shortages and transport issues. The last thing we need is a part-time commissioner borrowing from the police budget to finance his other pet schemes.