Police Grant Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:23 pm on 5th February 2019.

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Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing) 4:23 pm, 5th February 2019

This has been a fantastic debate with moving contributions from Members in all parts of the House. However, given that the Government announced this funding settlement with such fanfare and as if it was such good news, it is quite perplexing that only five Conservative Members have spoken on its behalf—all of them, as Matt Warman put it, with mixed feelings. They all referenced the Government’s failure to revise the funding formula as a cause for concern for their own force areas. Mr Jones said that it was not a long-term approach. Richard Drax said that without more Government funding we will continue to lose officers, which is unacceptable both to him and to his constituents. They all said that to keep asking for more council tax was not a sustainable way forward. Those are hardly ringing endorsements from those sitting behind the Home Secretary.

On the other hand, we have heard impassioned speeches from Labour Members on exactly why we will be voting against this completely inadequate settlement today. As my right hon. Friend Mr Howarth said, cuts have consequences. He and my hon. Friend Maria Eagle, as Merseyside MPs, spoke about losing 1,000 officers and 200 PCSOs, which has undoubtedly had an impact on rising crime.

My hon. Friend Mike Hill spoke about the shocking documentary showing that only 10 police officers were available for the entire town on a given night, which seemed like an open advert to criminals and left local people feeling under threat and much less likely to report crime.

My hon. Friend Clive Lewis spoke about the consequences of his force’s decision to abolish all PCSOs, leading to the inevitable downgrading of staff and creeping privatisation, with people on zero-hours contracts now covering crime scenes.

My hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill) and for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) spoke about how fewer people are reporting crimes at all and about reported violent crimes not being recorded, despite the Home Secretary saying earlier that increasing crime is a result of better recording. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle said that the very legitimacy of policing is at threat, as people are losing faith in the police.

My hon. Friend Jessica Morden spoke about the loss of thousands of officers and staff in Wales, cushioned only by the intervention of the Welsh Labour Government, who, faced with the same budgetary choices as the UK Government, have recognised the importance of community policing.

My hon. Friend Anna Turley said that Cleveland police force shows the clear inequality that exists and the lack of needs-based resourcing. Despite having the fourth highest crime rate in the country, it will receive the lowest rise out of this settlement. As she said, this is a completely regressive settlement that fails her constituents and those of many Members.

My hon. Friend Marsha De Cordova spoke about the loss of community policing, which means the loss not just of officers embedded in communities but of their crucial intelligence gathering and, even more crucially, the trust in the police that community policing brings.

My hon. Friend Steve McCabe described a horrific litany of violent offences in the west midlands and the horrendous inability of West Midlands police to respond to 999 calls, all of which is exacerbated by this settlement and all previous settlements delivering less to West Midlands police than to the vast majority of other forces.

Sir Edward Davey is right that the vote tonight is on the Home Office’s police grant, which equates to a real-terms cut. That is why we will be voting against it, and we will be pleased to see the Lib Dems in the Lobby with us.

My right hon. Friend Mr Jones spoke about the wider demands on the police from austerity and, in particular, mental health. My hon. Friend Tracy Brabin described a huge rise in all types of crime, yet the settlement she is being asked to vote for could hardly be less adequate for the challenges faced in West Yorkshire, not least child sexual exploitation.

My hon. Friends the Members for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) and for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), who are steadfast supporters of and consistent campaigners for the police, spoke of the prevalence of violent crime and burglaries in their constituencies—constituencies left less safe by this Government. Finally, my hon. Friend Ruth George spoke movingly of the impact on officers of the job we ask them to do day in, day out, despite cutting their numbers and their pay.

There is no precedent in post-war history for a Government undermining the police in the way that this Government have. Never, since records began, has police-recorded violent crime been as high as it is today. Never has knife crime been as high as it is today. Arrests have halved in a decade. Unsolved crimes stand at more than 2 million, and 93% of domestic violence offences go unprosecuted. That is the shameful legacy of this Government, and they remain the only people in this country who continue to deny the link between violent crime and falling officer numbers. Today’s settlement has to stand in that context and in the context of eight consecutive years of real-terms reductions in central Government funding.

It is hardly something to boast about that this is the biggest rise since 2010, when this Government have cut the police every year since 2010. It is staggering that for the ninth consecutive year, we are being asked to vote for a reduction in central Government funding. The £161 million in the central Government grant and the pension grant combined do not meet the additional £311 million cost this year of Government-imposed changes to pension contributions. That means that 31 out of the 43 forces will lose out this year in not only real terms but cash terms. In real terms, almost every single police force will. Barry Coppinger, the PCC in Cleveland—one of the poorest-funded police forces in the country—estimates that he will see his real-terms funding fall by £2.1 million as a result of this settlement. When the Policing Minister promised the House during the settlement statement:

“Every police and crime commissioner will have their Government grant funding protected in real terms,”—[Official Report, 13 December 2018;
Vol. 651, c. 432.]

did he somehow inadvertently mislead the House?

As my hon. Friends have said, this Government are giving with one hand and taking with the other, but we should not be surprised, because they have form. Since 2015 they have promised to protect police funding, yet we have seen police numbers fall by 5,900. The truth, Madam Deputy Speaker, is that when it comes to police funding you cannot believe a word they say.

Who is paying the price for these Tory failures to fund the police? This settlement asks hard-pressed local tax payers to bear that burden once again. Using council tax to pay for increased funding for the police is perverse and unfair. It fails to meet need and it fails to meet demand, especially alongside the continued failure to reform the funding formula and the continued cuts to the Home Office grant. Merseyside will raise almost the same as rural North Yorkshire, despite having double the population and triple the level of violent crime. West Yorkshire has double the population and four times the level of violent crime of Surrey, yet it will be able to raise only about the same amount of funding this year.

What exactly was the point in the Policing Minister going from force to force to assess demand if he then fails to produce a funding settlement for forces that matches that demand? Nobody, as my hon. Friends have said, could think that an appropriate way to assess how much a police force needs is how big the houses are in that area. How can the Minister justify a postcode lottery that means the communities already seeing higher crime will receive so much less funding?

This Government have an abominable record on law and order, and no political will to redress it. By passing the burden of their political failure on to local taxpayers, they are storing up problems for the future, which will see the forces with the largest increases in crime, especially violent crime, hit time and again. The public know this Government have failed and will continue to fail in their first and most solemn duty, to keep their citizens safe, and today’s settlement confirms that failure once again.