The first duty of every Government is to ensure the safety and security of citizens. Labour took that duty very seriously in government. We built up neighbourhood policing, with 17,000 extra police officers and 16,000 police community support officers. We introduced crime and safety partnerships and brought crime down by 43%. It was about not only detecting crime but diverting people from crime and preventing people from committing crime. It was a model celebrated worldwide.
In eight years of this Government, we have seen unprecedented cuts to our police service—21,000 nation- wide and 2,000 in the west midlands. Those cuts are characterised by grotesque unfairness: the west midlands has suffered a 25% cut to police budgets compared with an average of 19% nationwide and 11% in Surrey. That is completely wrong. As a consequence, we have seen soaring crime, which puts our communities at risk. In particular, we have seen soaring knife crime, which is up by 19%.
I am the first to recognise that the problems that we face are not about numbers alone. My hon. Friend Wes Streeting was absolutely right when he talked about the social fabric of our society being increasingly stretched and degraded. That can be seen, for example, in youth services, which seek to divert young people away from crime. The simple truth is that cuts have consequences. If 21,000 police officers are cut, crime will rise, people will die, people will suffer serious injuries, burglaries and thefts, and justice will be denied to them. The Government cannot go on in this state of denial—they cannot go on denying the consequences of their actions. One day, I hope that a Minister—any Minister—will give a straight answer to this straight question: is there a link between falling police numbers and rising crime? Perhaps the Minister would like to address that in his response to this debate.
Every day in my constituency, I see fear stalking the streets. We had powerful contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) and for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill). In the Perry Common area, we have seen knife crime, gun crime, a shop attacked by people waving 30 machetes, the newsagent Jo Dhesi robbed at knifepoint, and the Castle Vale area beset by the growth in antisocial behaviour. Only last Friday in Slade Road—the Frances Road area—some 100 people turned up at a meeting to pour out their hearts. They talked about the consequences of bad local landlords putting vulnerable people into houses in multiple occupation and of not looking after those people. They also talked about the growth in drug crime and how their area was becoming the centre of county lines operations, leading to the exploitation of young people and to criminals making a fortune out of the most pernicious of crimes.
A woman said to me, “My great-great-great-granddad bought the house that we live in. We have lived in it for successive generations ever since. We loved this area.” Now, she says, people fear to go out at night. A young girl said to me, “Every time I want to go down to Slade Road to get a bus, I have to ask my Mum to come with me because I am afraid to walk down the streets.” The fact that, in Birmingham in 2019, we have such fear stalking our streets should make the Government feel utterly ashamed of themselves.
The Government say, “We have listened.” I say, “Oh, no, you have not.” The simple truth is that not enough money is being invested in our police service and that the burden is increasingly being put on the council tax payer. The increase in grant in the west midlands will just cover pension costs. The increase in the precept will just cover inflationary pressures. Our PCC David Jamieson does an outstanding job standing up for the police service. He says that we need at least 500 police officers. There is no chance of recruiting those badly needed officers to restore peace on our streets. This is a standstill budget in the west midlands that goes nowhere near meeting the demand of the people.
In conclusion, the first duty is to keep our community safe. This Government are letting down the public that we serve. We stand behind the thin blue line. We stand behind those excellent men and women in the police service and the communities that they serve. That is why we say to them that, tonight, we will vote against a measure that goes nowhere near supporting you in the way that you deserve.