It is a pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend Mr Jones, who gave a passionate speech about this being a tax on our constituents.
In West Yorkshire, our communities have suffered immeasurably from an almost decade-long assault on our police force’s budget. We have lost almost 1,000 police officers and PCSOs in West Yorkshire since 2010, yet we are repeatedly told by this Government that the cuts are having no impact at all on our communities.
Well, the people of Batley and Spen would beg to differ. They are kept awake all hours of the night by nuisance bikes and antisocial behaviour. The livelihoods of independent businesses are under threat due to persistent burglaries. Fatalities are being caused by speeding cars. There is open drug dealing on our estates and, while we have been sitting in the Chamber, an elderly man was attacked on the greenway in Liversedge.
In addition, plummeting charge rates make for extremely worrying reading. The charge rate for sexual offences in West Yorkshire is among the lowest in the country, falling over 60% since 2015. The charge rate for violence against the person has dropped by 40%. People feel let down. They feel that justice is not something that is available to them. People have lost faith in the institutions that exist to protect them and their family. That is a sad indictment of this Government’s systematic dismantling of public services, with year after year of cuts to our councils.
Where do we go from here? Do the Government listen to the desperate pleas to back those who keep us safe, or do they simply put the burden on the taxpayer? Sadly, it is the latter. The very people who have witnessed police officers disappear from their neighbourhoods will be made to fork out more. Communities will be made to chip in to fill the gaping hole left by years of austerity.
Hard-pressed communities such as Batley and Spen should not be forced to bear this burden. Indeed, the Government’s proposed funding settlement will recoup barely a fraction of what has already been slashed from budgets over the past nine years. In West Yorkshire, the precept increase will raise a further £15 million, which sounds like good news, yet we have lost £140 million in central Government funding since 2010 alone.
Communities such as mine with a low council tax base will lose out disproportionately. Surrey, for example, with half the population and a quarter of the violent crime of West Yorkshire, will be able to raise almost exactly the same amount as Kirklees. How on earth can this be fair? Everyone should have access to the same level of policing. For that to happen, the settlement should be equitable. This funding settlement is too little, too late and goes nowhere near addressing the many complex issues our police forces face.
Recently in Kirklees, there have been 55 arrests in relation to non-recent child sex abuse. This crucial investigation put an extra strain on my police force and the local authority, which is already pushed to the brink after years of cuts. The victims of these crimes have shown incredible bravery in coming forward and they deserve justice. They are courageous women who have shown massive dignity and they need full confidence in this process, which demands resources. Such investigations are complex and take time. I know the police are working hard to tackle these crimes, but they need resources.
I had the privilege of spending a day with our local police and I know the enormous pressure they are under—it is an uphill struggle. It is obvious to us, and I hope it is obvious to the Government, that we need more officers on the beat. That desire is shared by our incredibly hard-working police officers, PCSOs and staff, but they need the Government’s backing and they need someone to listen. This funding settlement is not the product of listening. It is unfair, it is unjust and it is not the answer. It amounts to another real-terms cut, another insult to our communities. It is simply not good enough.
I ask the Secretary of State, who is no longer in his place, to meet me and West Yorkshire police to discuss the funding opportunities and difficulties that Kirklees is currently under while it investigates these complex cases of child sexual exploitation. I will not be voting for the motion, and I encourage the Government to understand that communities such as Batley and Spen need to see fairness when it comes to the allocation of resources.