I start by paying tribute to the police throughout our country. When we hear about violent crime, let us remember that the police are on the frontline of dealing with it. When we hear about the reduction in the number of police officers, let us remember that the remaining police officers have to work even more overtime to make do. We should think about those police officers—the men and women who put their lives on the line for us day in, day out.
The Policing Minister needs to realise that people in our communities recognise the damage done by police cuts. My constituency has experienced one of the sharpest rises in violent crime in London and we have the slowest 999 response times in London. Antisocial behaviour in my constituency is higher than for some time, and there has been an increase in burglaries, particularly aggravated burglaries. People in places such as Chessington and New Malden are experiencing the reality of the police cuts, and they blame the Government. The Minister may say that that is the fault of the Mayor of London or someone else, but my constituents know where the fault lies. The £1 billion of real-terms cuts and the loss of 5,000 police officers since 2015 mean that they know where to pin the blame.
My constituency has lost more than 10% of our police force since 2015. We are being asked to support an “increase in spending”, but there is no increase in spending in the police grant report. The Government are not even funding the pension rise properly. The rise in the various allocations is just a freeze in real terms—it does not even manage to get above inflation. This is therefore a cut in national support for police funding throughout the country; there is nowhere hide from that.
The Home Secretary said, “We’re allowing council tax payers to pay the bill,” but that is not in the report. He was wrong when he answered me on that point. We are being asked to vote on the national support for our police forces in the report, but it is utterly inadequate and represents a real-terms cut.
When the Government talk about council tax, let us bear several points in mind. First, council tax is the most unfair tax in Britain today. The Government ask the most vulnerable and the poorest to pay a higher share than would normally be the case under national taxation, so their approach is unfair.
The situation is worse than that, however, as Labour Members have said. Many areas in the country have a low council tax base, so in order to make good the gap in national funds, people in poorer areas must be asked to pay even more. That cannot be right. If we relate council tax bases to the areas in which crime—particularly violent crime—is going up, we see some interesting findings. For example, the top five areas experiencing an increase in knife crime are all in the top seven areas where the police authorities rely on national Government funding—in other words, those areas where council tax rises will not do the job. If the Government are serious about knife crime, as they claim to be, they must realise that their over-reliance on council tax just will not do the job.
The situation is actually even worse than that. The Government want us to believe that, through these council tax rises that may or may not happen, police and crime commissioners will be able to recruit more police officers. Let us hope that that can happen, but I have talked to people in the Met police and to our local senior police commanders, and they say that they are having a real problem spending any money to recruit police officers. This is not just because of the lag effect of having to recruit new officers, but because the job is no longer attractive, as police pay has been held down and people are aware that violent crime is on the rise. In all seriousness, the method that the Government are using might not deliver the police officers our communities need. We need a rise in police pay above what is currently proposed. We need a real package to be offered to existing police officers, and to the extra ones we will need if we are going to get on top of violent crime, knife crime and all the other things that are hitting our constituents.
The Government talk about the cost of spending more money on the police, but let us talk about the cost of crime. I am not even going to talk about the emotional cost, including the impact on people’s families, which we all know about. I am talking about the actual cost to the taxpayer. The cost of dealing with a knife fatality is £1.2 million. If we had more police officers and youth services working towards crime prevention, surely that would not only provide better value for the taxpayer, but prevent crime far better than the Government are currently doing. My colleagues and I will vote against the police grant motion because it is absolutely unacceptable in the face of rising crime in our communities.