We now come to the debate on the Police Grant Report (England and Wales). The Order Paper notes that this instrument has not yet been considered by the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments. I have now been informed that the Committee has considered the instrument, and has not drawn it to the attention of the House.
I beg to move,
That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2022–23 (HC 1084), which was laid before this House on
It gives me great pleasure to announce to the House the final police funding settlement for the fast-approaching new financial year.
The foremost role of Government is to keep the public safe from harm. Our effort to deliver that most critical of functions depends to a large extent on the work of our police service. As this settlement demonstrates, we remain firmly and fully committed to strengthening the resources and capabilities available to the police as they confront crime and protect our citizens.
Last year Parliament approved a funding settlement resulting in an increase of up to £636 million being made available for the policing system. This included an increase in Government grant funding of £425 million for police and crime commissioners in England and Wales to continue to strengthen police forces through our officer recruitment programme. I am delighted to say that with this funding, along with the £700 million received for year 1 of the programme, more than 11,000 additional officers have been recruited as of the end of December 2021. That means that we are more than halfway to meeting the 20,000 target, which is something to shout about. However, I assure the House that we are not resting on our laurels. We must keep up the momentum, because every new officer through the door is another courageous individual we can call upon in the fight against crime.
Beyond the recruitment drive, this year we have invested £180 million in combating serious and organised crime, £500 million in Home Office-led police technology programmes to replace outdated legacy IT systems, and £45 million in the safer streets fund to put proven prevention measures in place in areas plagued by neighbourhood crime, and to help combat violence against women and girls. The building blocks are now in place; now it is time to hit the accelerator, and next year’s settlement will enable the police to go further than before in confronting crime.
One of the most consistent asks from policing around funding is certainty, and on this we have also delivered. The spending review provides forces with a three-year settlement, ensuring that they have the necessary confidence and stability to pursue long-term strategic planning, as well as maintaining strengthened officer numbers. In 2022-23, the Government will be investing up to £16.9 billion in the policing system—an increase of up to an additional £1.1 billion when compared with last year. Of that significant investment, we have made an additional £550 million of Government grants available to police and crime commissioners in England and Wales. As well as supporting continued officer recruitment, that funding will allow forces to invest in critical capabilities, while focusing on modernising the police service to meet future demand.
I am delighted that the work of the Conservative police and crime commissioner in Cheshire is paying off, with more than 100 new officers in post already. Could the Minister tell me, though, what work is going into ensuring that we retain officers? Recruitment and retention go together, and having spoken to members of the Police Federation, I am concerned that we are witnessing some churn. Is that something that he is aware of and dealing with?
I join my hon. Friend in congratulating Cheshire constabulary on their recruitment. I am told that they have recruited 149 officers to their complement, which is a fantastic achievement. They still have to get to their allocation by March, and their allocation next year will, I think, be a further 120 on top, so my hon. Friend should see plenty of uniforms across that beautiful county in the months and years to come.
My hon. Friend is quite right that recruitment is only half the battle; retention is the other half. We are monitoring the attitudes and experience of those new recruits incredibly closely. I know he will be pleased to hear that their satisfaction in the job, the fulfilment of their expectations of the job, is overwhelmingly positive, but we need to bear that in mind as we train them and instil the right values in them. As they hopefully embark on a long-term career, we will be staying in touch with their sentiments very closely.
Having been, effectively, a police and crime commissioner in the past, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that the removal of the distinction between capital and revenue receipts and spending would have been a blessed relief. In the old days of local government restrictions in that regard, in the police and in local authorities, there was an entire science devoted to the creation of capital as revenue and the conversion of revenue into capital, to get round the Treasury rules, but we have done away with that division now. [Interruption.] Of course, as a chartered accountant, I feel slightly bereft, having been put out of business. It was quite an art form, which was very satisfying to achieve.
However, the removal of that division means that a cheque goes to the police and crime commissioner, and along with the chief constable they may then decide on the division between capital and revenue as they wish. Having handled such budgets in the past, I think that is a very welcome development. I know, for example, that in Wales that has been used to great effect. In Dyfed-Powys the police and crime commissioner, on first coming into the role, made a huge investment in CCTV across the entire force area, which is paying enormous dividends, and he is able to do that as he wishes, capital and revenue being irrelevant. That is the kind of freedom that we want to give police and crime commissioners as they pursue their mission.
This is a crucial year for policing, particularly on the recruitment programme. The settlement is designed to ensure that we hit that important mark of 20,000 new officers. Forces have made outstanding progress to date, and that is testament to the hard work of all involved in the campaign. The recent statistical release of the police uplift programme demonstrates how many forces have already met, or in some cases exceeded, their year 2 target. PCCs are grabbing this investment with both hands and already a number of forces have more police officers on their books than they ever had before.
By the time we get to the end of the uplift programme, there will be a large number of forces who are above the number of police officers that they had in 2010. That will be a function of decisions that were made by police and crime commissioners in the intervening decades.
It absolutely is—they had to make often difficult decisions about finances. I was one of those police and crime commissioners, so I know that prioritising police numbers within that overall formula means that some have a better baseline from which to build than others. For example, in London, for which I was responsible, we made a strong case to the then Mayor, now the Prime Minister, that it was our job to prioritise police numbers. As a result, the baseline to build off the uplift programme means that the Metropolitan police now have the highest number of police officers they have ever had in their history, with more to come.
I cannot mitigate the financial decisions made by police and crime commissioners in Durham, the West Midlands or other forces, but, having said that, Durham will receive significant extra police officers in the third year. I hope that with the freedom and flexibility on extra funding that the police and crime commissioner will get through the precept will mean that they might well add to that number as well.
It is not me saying that Durham is an efficient force. The inspectorate said that it is an “outstanding” force in that regard. It lost 325 officers. It will still be worse off by 153 officers by the end of the uplift, and the reason for that is the low precept in the council tax base in County Durham. Unless that is sorted out, the force will never be able to afford the Minister’s ambitions, unlike the Chancellor’s constituency, which will end up with 190 more police officers than it had in 2020.
I am happy to continue the argument with the right hon. Gentleman outside the Chamber rather than occupying significant amounts of time on what is—
No, I am not wrong. There are forces similar to Durham that will be in a better position. It has to be the case that financial decisions made by police and crime commissioners have an impact, otherwise what is the point of having them and on what basis did they stand for election? The Mayor and I stood for election in London on the basis that we absolutely wanted to maintain police numbers, and I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman—
I am not going to continue the argument. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he goes back and looks at the manifestos that the police and crime commissioner in Durham produced in those elections and see whether they promised to prioritise police numbers or not, or whether all they did was whinge about Government funding. I am happy as a trade to take responsibility for the very difficult financial decisions that this Government had to take after the crash in 2007-08 and after our coming into government in 2010. I take responsibility for that—I absolutely do. Thank God we did as well, given what has happened to us subsequently. However, I will only do that if the right hon. Gentleman will take responsibility for the decisions of his police and crime commissioner in those intervening 10 years. I will move on.
The Minister’s debate with Mr Jones comes to the heart of how the Government go about this. The money that is given to the police and crime commissioners is £796 million, I think, as long as the full flexibility of the precept option is taken up. Does that not undermine the whole purpose of the accountability of police and crime commissioners?
I am a bit perplexed by that. No, absolutely not. We are giving full flexibility. They can use the £10 if they want and if they do not they do not have to. All they have to do is justify that decision to the people who elect them. Happily, as far as I can see, every single one of them so far has taken the full £10, which suggests to me by the crowdfunding decision that we got the number about right. In some parts of the country, not least in Wales where they have other flexibility, they might go further. In my view we have given them lots of flexibility and they are using it. I hope that they will use it wisely to raise police officer numbers in Durham and elsewhere.
Go on, I will give the right hon. Gentleman a second go.
The purpose of the precept is to give flexibility and accountability to the police and crime commissioners. Effectively, under this settlement the police and crime commissioners have to be accountable for decisions made by the Minister.
I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman’s logic is right. Absolutely not. If they want to raise the contribution by less than £10, they can. There is no problem with that and the idea of there being an upper limit and a cap is a well-accepted feature of police funding. If a police and crime commissioner wants to raise the contribution by £5, £6 or £7 they can, and in fact if they do not want to spend it on police officer numbers they do not even have to do that. The right hon. Gentleman is making a rather poor argument, and I might say that the settlement has been greeted with pretty universal pleasure and a claim by police and crime commissioners from across the political divide, so I am not quite sure where this dissatisfaction is coming from.
No, I have to move on.
Police officers, whether new recruits or experienced hands with decades of service, perform a unique and vital role in our society. I must put on record how grateful I am—I know that all hon. Members are—to everyone in the policing family, including civilian staff and volunteers who work tirelessly day in, day out to keep our people safe from harm.
I return to recruitment. It is only right that the Government hold forces to account to ensure that they are delivering the outcomes that the public expect from this investment. The Government will therefore once again create a ringfenced grant to ensure that the success of the police uplift programme is maintained in the coming year. Forces will be allocated a share of the £135 million grant in line with their funding formula allocation. As in previous years, forces will be able to access the funding as they deliver progress on their recruitment targets.
As announced in the 2021 spending review, police and crime commissioners in England will have access to further flexibility around levels of police precept to make additional funding available for local matters for the next three years. The settlement allows PCCs in England to raise council tax contributions for local policing by up to £10 a year for a typical Band D household. If all police and crime commissioners decide to maximise that flexibility, the outcome will be a further £246 million of funding for local policing in the coming year. I must stress that—we have discussed this—council tax levels are a local decision, and I know that police and crime commissioners weigh carefully in the balance what their local people can afford and want to see from policing before they make that decision.
We are also enabling counter-terrorism policing to confront terrorism in all its forms. That is why, for the first time, funding for counter-terrorism policing will total over £1 billion. That significant funding will allow CT policing officers to continue their critical work, support ongoing investigations, and continue investment in the operations centre and in armed policing. In addition to the increase in Government grants and additional precept flexibility, I am delighted to announce that we are investing £1.4 billion to support national policing priorities that will benefit all police forces across England and Wales. That funding will help accelerate progress on key areas of Government focus including crime reduction and improvements to the service received by the public. Of that investment, £65 million will support policing capabilities specifically, including funding to drive improvements in local police performance; measuring responsiveness to 101 and 999 calls; and funding for a national crime laboratory to push the use of innovative data science techniques to prevent and reduce crime.
The Government recognise the need to maintain focus on cutting crime to make our communities safer. That is why we are also providing additional investment in regional organised crime units so that they are equipped with the capabilities they need to tackle serious and organised crime and to protect the most vulnerable citizens from abuse. We are committed to working with PCCs and other partners to tackle crime and make our streets safer. As announced at the 2021 spending review, we will provide investment in new projects to improve crime prevention as well as maintaining and enhancing existing programmes. Funding arrangements for specific crime reduction programmes will be confirmed in due course and will follow a matched funding principle.
May I commend to the Minister the idea of sending a police officer to every scene of a burglary? In that respect, I commend Northamptonshire police’s Operation Crooked, which has slashed domestic break-ins across the county by 48% in two years, down from 5,500 burglaries in 2019 to 2,850 in the 12 months to December 2021. That is what the public want to see. It is demonstrably effective and a really good use of the funding that he is giving to the police.
My hon. Friend is an eagle-eyed participant in the House, and in the “Beating Crime Plan” that we published last July he will have seen a chapter entitled “Excellence in the basics”. In that chapter was exactly the proposal that he outlined from Northamptonshire: that we would purloin that idea and spread it to other forces. For the moment, Northamptonshire and Greater Manchester police will do exactly as he says and visit every burglary, because we believe that forensic and other opportunities eventually drive the numbers down. It is that basic fulfilment of people’s expectations that we want to see from this increased funding, and I congratulate his force on leading the way on that.
As I have set out, the Government continue to invest significantly in policing. It is therefore only right that we expect policing to demonstrate to the taxpayer that such funding is spent effectively and efficiently while ensuring the highest possible quality of service for the public. As announced at the spending review, the Government will expect to see over £100 million of cashable efficiency savings delivered from force budgets by 2024-25. For 2022-23, we expect to see £80 million of efficiency savings, which is reflected in the funding set out in that part of the settlement.
With greater investment in modern technology infrastructure and interoperable systems, we expect to see an increase in productivity and therefore the delivery of key outcomes. We will continue to work with and support the policing sector through the efficiency in policing board, with a renewed focus on the improvement of the measurement of productivity gains so that we can show how our investment delivers for the public beyond the rather dry management language in which it is described.
Right from the beginning this Government have made clear where we stand on law and order: on the side of the law-abiding majority and squarely behind the brave men and women who go to work every day to keep us all safe. This settlement demonstrates our unwavering commitment to ensuring that the police have the resources they need to drive down crime, protect the public and improve outcomes for victims. I commend the settlement to the House.
I pay tribute to the people who serve in our police service. It has not been an easy time: 10 years of cuts followed by covid has placed enormous strain on them. Thanks also go to the officers who work here to keep us safe and to those who acted with such bravery on Monday as an angry mob surrounded the Leader of the Opposition shouting claims made by the Prime Minister in this place last week. We must not, though, shy away from recent reports on some of the worrying misogynistic, racist and sexist culture and practice in policing that have shocked many of us and challenged police throughout the country to strive always for higher standards.
The police grant report comes at a difficult time for the country. Inflation is rising, energy prices are rising and taxes are rising. We have had a wasted decade of low growth, the challenges of covid and a Government who have wasted billions and billions on covid fraud and incompetent PPE contracts that never delivered. In April, tax goes up, and inflation is forecast to rise to 6% in the spring. The Government’s only answer is a buy now, pay later energy scheme that will not help those most in need or help the economy.
Because of the Government’s mismanagement of the economy, the additional funding in this year’s police grant will not go anywhere near as far as we need it to go. There has never been a more important time to invest in policing.
Does my hon. Friend agree that when the Government announce increases in police funding, as the Minister has done today, they forget to tell people that the bulk of that funding will come from local council tax payers? The Government are continuing the policy of the past 11 years of moving the cost of police funding from central Government to local taxpayers.
My right hon. Friend is completely right: a third of the extra funding now comes from the council tax precept. That is a very high proportion.
Total crime went up 14% over the past two years—contrary to what the Prime Minister said in this place last week, for which he has been criticised by the UK Statistics Authority. As we heard earlier in Prime Minister’s questions, there are 14,000 cases of fraud every day—although the Prime Minister and the Government do not count them as real crime. Arrests are down and prosecutions are at their lowest levels. Just one in 50 burglaries result in a charge and, shamefully, only 1.3% of reported rapes lead to a charge. Criminals are getting away with it.
A proper plan backed by proper investment has never been more important, yet we yet have a demoralised police workforce who have declared no confidence in the Home Secretary. Pay in real terms is lower than it was in 2010. Despite the uplift that has already taken place, the total police workforce has more than 17,000 fewer people in it than it had in 2010. The number of police leaving the service with mental health problems is high. Neighbourhood policing is decimated, with nearly 50% of police community support officers gone and police staff cut.
Only 400 of the first tranche of 6,000 new police officers were deployed in neighbourhood roles. Police officers are backfilling vital police staff roles because forces do not have the budgets to pay the salaries of the number of police staff they need. As my right hon. Friend Mr Jones has said, despite the uplift many areas will still end up with fewer officers than they had in 2010. Merseyside will be 456 officers short and the West Midlands will be 1,000 officers short. This is the woeful context in which we debate the police grant.
The overriding sense I take from the police grant report is the total lack of any meaningful ambition to come even close to fixing some of the challenges we face, and the lack of any kind of vision or plan from the Home Office to tackle crime and its causes. It is a woeful attempt to make up for a decade of cuts by heaping the tax burden on to local council tax payers through the precept.
Budgets have started to increase, but they are not inflationary increases. We are not back to 2010 levels in real terms. Once money for new officers is counted out of the figures, direct funding to PCCs is rising by only 4.8% at a time when inflation is rising steeply and is predicted to reach 6% in the spring. That means the Tories’ failure to keep inflation down will hit day-to-day police budgets and the police’s ability to keep communities safe.
While police officers across the country recover from the pandemic, they will be paying higher national insurance and higher energy and petrol costs. Officers and staff will see less value in their income because of inflation. The Government are also demanding £80 million in efficiency savings on top of it all. Members should not just take my word for it; Gloucestershire’s Conservative PCC, Chris Nelson, has had to admit that his manifesto pledge to add 300 officers is “unachievable,” adding that he would be “jolly lucky” to achieve it.
In Merseyside, it is estimated that inflation will cost £2.3 million, the pay increase will cost £5 million and the national insurance increase will cost £2.3 million, while Merseyside police is making savings of £2.9 million. The additional precept income is being used to cover the cost of pay, price inflation and the national insurance levy. Earmarked reserves are being used to balance the budget in-year, and there is a potential long-term increase in expensive police officers sitting behind desks to cover crucial police staff roles.
With these kinds of pressures, how can arrests and prosecutions increase? How can the police tackle serious violence, violence against women and girls, drug addiction and all the other pressures with the strength we expect? That is Conservative Britain.
The Government expect more and more police funding to come from local taxpayers, but there is a gross inequality in this overreliance on the precept because it is the most deprived communities, those with the fewest band D properties, that will get the least. There should be no winners and losers when it comes to public safety.
Northumbria has the lowest band D precept, and just 18% of Northumbria police’s funding came from the precept in 2021-22, whereas Surrey police got 55% of its funding from the precept. Budget pressures will be even greater if PCCs are not able to bring in as much as the Government have projected from the council tax precept, as the £296 million increase depends on every PCC making full use of the flexibility to increase the precept. Even if they all do so, as we think they will all be forced into doing, it means more tax rises on local people during a cost of living crisis.
We are debating police funding, so we should return to the age-old question of when the Minister will finally get round to reforming the funding formula. This was vaguely promised by the Minister before the election but, if the Government wait until 2024, they will have spent nine years dithering while police forces have had to make massive efficiency savings and local taxpayers have had to pay the price. Is there any chance of news of progress today?
This settlement should be a real opportunity to recruit a more diverse police service that better reflects the communities it serves. The annual increase in the proportion of black and minority ethnic officers is 0.3 percentage points. At that rate, it will take 20 years to reach 14% black and minority ethnic officers, which is the make-up of the country, so much more needs to be done, so much more.
Only one in 20 crimes leads to prosecution. The “Beating Crime Plan”, whatever the Minister says, has no meat, no ideas and no strategy. It will not do to pretend that everything is okay with press releases that the UK Statistics Authority says
“presented the…figures in a misleading way.”
It will not do to claim that crime has fallen because of the “Beating Crime Plan”, when it has actually risen, and when certain crimes which reduced in number did so largely because of covid restrictions and are now on the rise again. It will not do to allow antisocial behaviour to blight people’s lives, serious violence to make a generation of young people fearful, and women and girls to continue to be the victims of violence and abuse.
We need a properly funded police service, an economy that functions and leadership from the Government. That is what the public expect. A Labour Government would put victims first and ensure that every neighbourhood where people are frightened and afraid has a new police hub and neighbourhood prevention teams, bringing together police, community support officers, youth workers and local authority staff. Labour’s record in government shows that, unlike this Government, we can be trusted on policing and crime. By the time we left government, there were 6 million fewer crimes than in 1997. It took us years to build up neighbourhood policing, and this Government are spending their years undoing that good work.
The Opposition will not vote against the plans, because some funding is better than no funding, despite the poor economic conditions that the Conservatives have created, which will mean that the money does not go anywhere near as far as we need. This Government, like the two Conservative Governments before them, are failing to deliver on crime. They are failing to bring down total crime, failing to deliver justice to victims, failing to rebuild neighbourhood policing and now failing to control the inflation hitting day-to-day police budgets. They should go back to the drawing board and try again: “Must do better.”
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister and particularly the Conservative police and crime commissioner for Dorset, David Sidwick, for all their hard work. However, I do not think I am remiss in reminding the Minister that I have been sharing my views with him for some time on the police funding formula and Dorset’s priority in it. I warmly encourage him to accelerate the changes that a little while ago in this House he kindly said he would make.
I feel that there is an assumption within the Government that Dorset is a wonderful place. It is, of course—it is full of rolling green hills, chocolate-box villages and so on—but we have many difficulties to contend with as well. Dorset is an importer of serious and organised crime, including county lines drugs gangs that use our rail networks to get into West Dorset. The population of Dorset trebles in the summer months, when people from all over the country come to our beautiful county. It has such places as the Cerne Abbas giant, Sherborne abbey, the Jurassic coast and Lyme Regis, so we can understand why people would like to visit, but that attraction brings interest from those who wish to deal drugs.
It is important to note that Dorset comes right at the top for demand, which is measured by crime pressure and calculated on the basis of severity of crime and number of officers per force. Demand in Dorset is three times the national average, but our police force is 28th out of 41 for total funding. That does not sound too bad in the grand scheme of things, but it takes into account the local funding from the precept; in the police grant report, Dorset police force comes 40th out of 41. The funding calculations do not take into account the huge seasonal population increase. There needs to be a real understanding that Dorset is the sixth highest region in the country for visitor trips. Regrettably, the methodology used means that Dorset is not eligible for violence reduction funding. I hope that the Minister will consider that point next year.
I recognise that this year’s settlement has increased the funding for all police forces. I put on record our gratitude to the Minister for the 4.8% increase that Dorset has received, but it is a little less than the 5.8% average. I am not petitioning for limitless funding for police support, as some Labour Members and others in the House have done, but I hope that the Minister appreciates my petition to him, to the Government and to the House for Dorset to get its fair share to ensure that we can do what is right by our constituents.
Our police and crime commissioner, David Sidwick and the chief constable have impressive plans to tackle the drug issue in Dorset, along with others. I know it is a national priority, but the reality is that we really need the resources to do it. Dorset requires and deserves its fair share of the police funding settlement, so that we can protect the people who need it and we can take on the criminals who take advantage. The police and crime commissioner has recently written to the Minister, and I have followed that up. I think the police and crime commissioner is doing an exceptional job, and I hope the Minister will be able to respond and meet us in reasonably short order so that we might be able to address some of these matters. I know that Dorset police want to get on with their priorities and indeed with national priorities, but they need the backing of the Government and funding to do that, and I hope my right hon. Friend will indeed take that into account.
I would like to begin by thanking the men and women of Durham police and the support staff for their commitment and dedication, particularly given the difficult time they have had over the last couple of years with the pandemic, and for their support during Storm Arwen recently. I would also like to put on record my thanks to Jo Farrell, the chief constable, for her effective leadership of a force which, despite what the Minister pushed to one side, has been continually rated as outstanding for its effectiveness and efficiency. I am sorry that the new police and crime commissioner did not see fit to brief MPs on the settlement, but that does not matter, because I have been making the same arguments about the budget for the past 11 years, and I possibly know the police budget better than many.
To listen to Ministers today, we would think that the election of the Government in 2019 was ground zero and that nothing happened before then, or that nothing that happened before then was their responsibility. Somehow it is not their fault that we in County Durham lost 325 experienced police officers or, for example, that Dorset, even after the much-vaunted 20,000 officers promise, will still have 70 police officers fewer than it had in 2010. This did not happen by accident; this happened because of the political decisions taken by successive Tory Governments since 2010. It is very interesting that the Minister said that the first duty of Government is to protect citizens and policing is a main part of that, but the main point is that the police funding budget was cut by some 16% over that period.
The other point—and this leads to the problem we have in Durham and, I think, in many forces, including Dorset—is the fact that policing was traditionally funded mainly by the central Government grant and the precept then made up the remainder. What has happened since 2010, and it continues in this latest settlement today, is that that central Government grant has been cut by 30%, which has basically pushed the cost of policing on to local council tax payers. The overall tax burden has gone up since 2014-15 by some 13% on local council tax payers. In some areas, it has gone up even more than that, and I will explain the reasons why in a minute.
The Minister has again peddled the same line today. The Government say that there will be x millions extra for policing, but what they never say is that the bulk of that will come not from central Government taxation, but from local council tax payers. The Minister then says that it is up to the local police and crime commissioner to decide whether to put up the council tax. No, they should read the actual policy. It assumes that the announced funding figure is based on all the councils putting it up to the maximum. Frankly, they do not have a choice in that if they want effective local policing.
All I ask of the Minister and of the Government is to be honest when they make these announcements. When they announce that the budget is going up this year by a certain number of hundred millions, why do they not split it out into what the Government are doing centrally and what increase the Government are asking local council tax payers to pay?
If the right hon. Gentleman had listened carefully to my speech, he would have heard me say specifically that £500-odd million was coming from the Government to PCCs, and that, if they all took their flexibility, £200-odd million was coming from the PCCs. I specifically enunciated in my speech what the balance was. By the way, Mr Deputy Speaker, as I know that the right hon. Gentleman will not want to mislead the House, let me say that that does not indicate that the bulk of police funding is coming from the precept. It is quite the reverse: the bulk is coming from central taxation.
I understand police funding, and I understand what the Government have been up to for the past 12 years. When the Minister—and he did this today—or the Prime Minister say that this Government are providing an extra certain amount of money for policing, why do they not put that caveat on it? They never do, because that is the sting in the tail. That has been happening continuously. It happens not just in policing, but in local government funding and in the funding for our fire and rescue services, so this creates a problem for local policing, local government and the fire and rescue service in County Durham. It has got to the point where our fire and rescue service will survive this year, but could actually fall over next year, because of the way in which this Government continue to push the emphasis onto the local council tax payer.
Why is this a particular problem for County Durham? The root of it is that 58% of the properties in County Durham are in council tax band A. In Wokingham, in Surrey, only 2.8% are in band A. So, if the precept for policing in County Durham is increased by 1%, it will raise £3.8 million, whereas in Surrey, it raises £8.9 million. Therefore, what we basically have with this policy, which is slowly pushing more and more funding onto local council tax payers, is that the poorest areas with the lowest council tax banding systems are the losers, while other, more affluent, areas are the gainers.
The Government have this slogan—they govern in slogans—that they will create another 20,000 new police officers, but, again, in County Durham, we have lost 325 officers since 2010. Even with the settlement today and the PCC putting the precept up to the maximum, we will still be, by the end of this, 153 officers short of where we were in 2010. I look forward to the next election when the three Conservative Members for County Durham put out their election leaflets, claiming another 20,000 police officers. I doubt whether they will be honest with the public and say that the party of which they are members has cut the police officers by 153 over that period. The problem is not just about numbers, but about the experience of those officers. Because of those cuts, we have lost some long-serving, experienced officers, who have been replaced by individuals who will logically take a while to gain experience. In any organisation, historical and corporate knowledge is important when it comes to the effectiveness of a police force, so it is not just about numbers, but about the experience of those officers.
As I have said, we will end this period with 153 fewer officers than we had in 2010. The Chancellor of the Exchequer’s constituency in North Yorkshire will end up with 190 more officers than it had in 2010. That is because every 1% increase in the precept in County Durham raises about £400,000, whereas in North Yorkshire it raises £800,000. Unless we tackle the funding formula, areas such as County Durham—and, I suspect, Dorset—will continue to be at a disadvantage.
That goes to the central point, which is that this is all a result of the Government continuing with a political decision that they took 11 years ago when they said, “We are going to cut central funding and push it on to local council tax”. Let us add to that the fact that policing is just one part of law enforcement, but we have seen court closures in County Durham and cuts in the number of prosecutors in the CPS, which has led to a system in crisis. That comment does not come from me; it comes from talking to local police officers. Even when they are successful in catching criminals, getting them through the court system is time-consuming. I accept that covid has had an effect, but a lot of it is not about that; it is about the capacity of the CPS and courts to find the time needed.
The Minister said that the Conservatives were the party of law and order. I am sorry, but we have to look at our courts system and our justice system today—they are not the party of law and order, given the paralysis in our justice system. The situation is also not fair for victims because they are waiting an inordinate length of time to get justice or even court dates, and in the end, some will think that they have not got justice when cases are dropped because of the time they have taken.
If we do not have a fundamental review of the funding formula, the situation will continue. Even with this settlement, County Durham—I put this on record yet again—which is deemed an “efficient” and “effective” force and as “outstanding” by the inspectorate, is still missing some £10 million for the next few years. Where will that come from? The only way is through more efficiencies. I have spoken to the chief constable and some great things have been done to make sure that there are improvements. However, over the past 11 years, the pressures on our police have not stood still, which has not helped. Legislation has put more demands on them. As my hon. Friend Sarah Jones, the shadow Minister, said, the nature of crime, is changing. House burglaries are traumatic and terrible for individuals, but so are fraud and scams. I found it pretty depressing to hear the Business Secretary more or less dismissing fraud as though it is somehow a victimless crime. Just speak to some victims of that type of crime—they feel terrible. But fraud is a crime that is going to need more specialism. The nature of crime and the demands on our police force are changing, and that needs long-term stability and investment in our police force to provide such specialism. Without that, we will continue this cycle.
The Minister is a very combative individual and, on a personal basis, I get on quite well with him. However, the approach is all front; all smoke-and-mirrors. We need to disaggregate the spin and the headlines about 20,000 officers from the reality of what is happening on the ground. Unless the funding formula is addressed quickly, efficient and good police forces such as Durham will continue to suffer. The only people who will pay for that are my constituents and people in County Durham, who will do so through higher council tax bills and a potentially poorer service.
It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate. I wish to start, as I am sure every Member would, by paying tribute to the police officers and staff from Bedfordshire police. Everyone who serves as an officer or member of staff in a police force does so in a noble profession; they keep us safe and look after the most vulnerable. We cannot thank them enough for what they do.
In Bedfordshire, in the settlement, we now have 1,369 officers, which is 135 more than we had back in 2010, and we have a budget that has gone up to £136.1 million, which is an increase of 5.4%. It would be remiss of me not to say thank you for those increases. Gratitude is sometimes somewhat slow to come off the lips of politicians, but occasionally it is due and where it is due I pay it gladly. The Minister knows well that the Bedfordshire police finances have been sustained in recent years only through a series of special grants. Last year, he was kind enough to give us two of £3.6 million each, making a total of £7.2 million. It was only because we had those two special grants, which we have had for a number of years now, that we have been able to balance the books. I am sure he will agree that that is not a sustainable basis on which to go forward, and he will therefore not be surprised to hear me raise again the issue of the funding formula. In Bedfordshire’s case, this goes back to 2004 and the introduction of damping, which has taken about £3 million—the equivalent of about 95 officers on our streets—off our budgets. We are starting to make good on some of that with the increases, but it is not sustainable to leave Bedfordshire police finances where they are with the current funding formula.
This is not just about increases in budgets, because we have to look at what those budgets are asked to do. The Minister will know that we have a high number of organised criminal gangs and of county lines gangs in Bedfordshire. He will also know that from time to time we need hundreds of officers to police things such as Traveller funerals. If we look at Operation Venetic, we see that Bedfordshire had 26 packages of intelligence, whereas Hertfordshire, a much larger county, had only 11 and Cambridgeshire, bless it, did not have any. That illustrates the extent of the demand in Bedfordshire, whose budget has been adversely affected by the introduction of damping from 2004. This is not just about the total officers; it is also about where those officers are based. The largest town in my constituency is Leighton Buzzard. In 1988, it had a police station, with an inspector, six sergeants and 27 constables— 34 warranted officers in the town. Now we have a shared emergency services hub. Unfortunately, we do not have a 24/7 first responder presence, which we used to have. It takes time for officers to travel to where the crime is. They do not have magic carpets or a TARDIS to get from A to B. If they are travelling from Luton or wherever, that takes time. It is often low-paid staff in our pubs and clubs who have to deal with the first five or 10 minutes of the fight. That is not the role of bartenders and people working in hospitality, so where those officers are matters and sorting out the funding formula will enable us to deal with that issue.
Is the hon. Gentleman concerned that the closure of some police stations might make it quite a long journey to take somebody from an incident to the police station for the processing, taking too much time out of their shift, and we are perhaps getting to a point where there are not as many arrests as we would expect for the types of crimes that our constituents are seeing on the streets and would like to have tackled? Does he share my concern that the closure of police stations is not allowing us to deal with that antisocial behaviour on our streets?
The hon. Lady is right; time spent taking offenders to custody suites is time when those officers cannot be on the streets doing their job. However, we cannot spend the same pound twice. I would like to see a 24/7 first responder response, and there are ways we can do that. We have a large public estate, and I think we need to be a bit more imaginative about how and where we base our police officers, because the primary focus is on having officers on the beat in our large centres of population 24/7.
On the police funding formula review, I have been asking every Policing Minister about this since I was elected in 2001, and I was pleased to have confirmation from the Prime Minister recently that we are moving forward and are going to deliver on this. I also received a letter from the Minister himself, in which he said that the consultation on the police funding formula review would take place this summer—so I have it in writing in an official letter from the Home Office. I was very pleased indeed to read that. It sounds as if the train has left the station. This is about being fair to Bedfordshire and those other forces that have been left out, and I look forward to swift implementation. The Minister talked about effective transition arrangements for that review. I want it to be effective but I do not want it to take too long, and I hope he will bear that in mind.
This is welcome news, but it will be interesting to see when the train actually arrives. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that part of that review has to involve the fundamental question of what the split should be between central Government funding and what is raised locally?
The right hon. Gentleman is right, in that no one likes paying council tax—I have often called it the most unpopular tax in the UK. The primary focus for us in Bedfordshire is to have a well-funded force, to have enough officers and to have them in the right places, and our greatest issue is the resolution of the funding formula issue. This Government have committed to that, and they have done so very publicly. We will have the consultation this summer. It needs to deliver, and deliver quickly.
I want to start by paying tribute to the officers and civilian staff in both police forces that cover my constituency: South Wales police and Gwent police. I also pay tribute to the wider police family. I was fortunate enough a few years ago to take part in the police parliamentary scheme, and I did some shifts with the Met here in London. I know that we are all grateful for the dedication and professionalism of all our police officers right across the country.
I obviously welcome any new officers, but it is important to remember that the increase in the number of officers is merely replacing the 20,000 police officers that have been cut since 2010. It is also important to remember, as my right hon. Friend Mr Jones has highlighted, that the significant resource is now being put on the council tax payer and that in areas such as his and mine that will have a detrimental impact on council tax payers.
I know that my hon. Friend’s area is similar to mine, in that it has a low council tax base. This is also unequal because, as council tax is a regressive tax, we are asking the poorest people to pay the most.
I absolutely agree. I do not have the exact figures, but the number of properties in band A in my constituency, and in his, is significant compared with other parts of the country.
I want to talk about neighbourhood policing, because its decimation has been felt acutely across the country. Neighbourhood policing is a key foundation of policing, and it has two major benefits: providing reassurance and building a rapport across communities; and providing a deterrent against what is often low-level disorder before it becomes a bigger issue. As the shadow Policing Minister, my hon. Friend Sarah Jones, has highlighted, it seems that only 400 of the first 6,000 officers were deployed to neighbourhood roles. I am pleased that in Wales, thanks to the Welsh Labour Government, we have had significant financial support to employ 500 additional police community support officers, with an additional 100 being added during this current term of the Senedd. These officers support the police and the local authority community safety officers in helping to provide reassurance to residents and to act as a deterrent. Labour’s plan for the new community safety hubs will be a huge step forward.
This takes me back to the early 2000s, when I was a county councillor under the last Labour Government. In my ward we had a policing team of four officers—two constables and two PCSOs—who worked closely with the council community safety wardens, youth workers and local councillors. In fact, we carried out monthly door-to-door community safety surgeries with police officers, so that local authority issues and policing issues could be tackled jointly. That certainly had the impact of driving down antisocial behaviour. Sadly, that style of policing has been decimated across the country. We know that total crime is up 14%, not down, as the Prime Minister wrongly claimed. Over the past two years, the reduction in the number of officers has clearly had an effect on that increase in crime, and it is still having an impact now.
Finally, will the Minister consider the unfair position of Welsh police forces in respect of the apprenticeship levy? I understand that Welsh forces are around £6 million worse off compared with English forces due to the Home Office’s funding formula. Despite ongoing discussions between the four police forces, the Home Office and the Welsh Government, the matter remains unresolved, so I ask the Minister to examine that issue again because the situation is unacceptable and unsustainable.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me in this interesting debate. I want to heap praise on my hon. Friend the Minister, with whom I have had many dealings and who has been simply fantastic at talking to us in Dorset. We look forward to him visiting us as soon as possible. I also thank my hon. Friend Chris Loder, who is right here beside me and who spoke on Dorset’s behalf. I shall be brief, although I suspect I may repeat some of his facts and figures, but they are worth repeating.
I also thank the new chief constable, Scott Chilton, and our new PCC, David Sidwick. I am glad to say that they are joined at the hip and want to tackle crime—that is refreshing—and protect us on the streets. They are doing a wonderful job, and my hon. Friend and I, and the other Dorset MPs, are right behind them both.
In 2006, when I was selected to be the candidate in Dorset, I remember waving my placard saying, “More money for the police.” I regret to say that we were bottom of the funding formula, but we still are, and the Minister knows that. Out of the 41 forces, we are the 40th, excluding the council tax precept, which many hon. Members have mentioned, including Mr Jones—we do not always agree politically, but I will call him my friend and we sit together on the Defence Committee. I agree to a certain extent that this is a vulnerability, but council tax is high in Dorset and paying any more would affect my constituents, many of whom are struggling to pay this dreadful tax. I know my hon. Friend Michael Tomlinson, a Government Whip, is equally passionate about the police in Dorset.
I now have a few statistics—forgive me, but the Minister will understand. Under the national funding formula, Dorset receives £91.79 a head. The range is from £188 to, say, £90. The median is £109.28. To reach it, Dorset would need another £13.5 million in funding. On net revenue expenditure, Dorset is 28th out of 41 forces—I think my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset mentioned that. The median is £189 a head, and Dorset would need an extra £5.4 million to reach the median.
Dorset is so beautiful that millions of people visit it, and we welcome them. However, the population trebles in the summer, and there is no extra funding or resources for that. There is no extra grant funding to tackle drugs and violence, despite the 10-year drugs strategy. Yet Bournemouth, which is not in my seat but clearly part of Dorset, is ninth in the country for heroin and crack cocaine use. This is a worrying trend, and Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch—town or city; call it what you will—have a growing problem and need the resources to tackle it. We also have no violence reduction unit or Project ADDER funding—the Minister will understand what those are.
I have had briefings from Dorset police that county lines is a real problem for us in Dorset. I worked with my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset on this, and the railway police came down to Weymouth to brief me on the issue of 14, 15 or 16-year-old youngsters travelling by train, sent by drug dealers—now, more often than not, armed with knives, which is extremely worrying, or with cash—and getting into Dorset to ply this ghastly and evil trade.
Dorset is 40th out of 41 on the national funding for violence prevention and safe spaces. Our request to join the electronic monitoring of offenders pilot was sadly rejected. The crime pattern between ’17 and ’21 is well understood and follows an established pattern, but it remains high. We receive more 999 calls than most similar group forces, despite a similar volume of crime. That is mainly due to the peak in the summer and all the millions of people who come to our beautiful county. We are the sixth-highest area for visitor trips, but that is not considered in the national funding formula.
My hon. Friend mentioned the crime pressure estimate, which measures severity of crime using the Home Office tool against the number of officers in the force. Dorset crime pressure in 2020 is more than three times the national average—the highest of any force. Organised crime groups such as county lines disrupt Dorset police disproportionately compared with larger forces. We are a rural area, but the volume of crime we are getting is disproportionate to our ability to deal with it in such an area.
Finally, and extraordinarily, we are just outside the top 10 for armed deployments per 100,000 head of population. That is extraordinary, when we live in what my hon. Friend described as a “chocolate box” area. That is clearly what so many people think we are, but we have our issues, and I know the Minister is aware of that. We look forward very much to him coming down to visit us; I hope that when he meets the new and excellent PCC and our chief constable, we can discuss how to resolve at least some of those issues.
It is a pleasure to join my hon. Friend Andrew Selous in paying tribute to the officers and staff of Bedfordshire police, who keep our county and its residents safe.
Crime remains a serious and major concern for many of my constituents, but my contribution will focus on 10 pieces of good news on crime. First, there is the news about the funding formula, an issue that has cross-party support in Bedfordshire. I am so pleased that the Minister has now brought forward that review and that, as he said, the train has left the station.
Secondly, the Minister will know that funding is a partnership between the national funding formula and local councillors. I am sure he will be pleased to learn that the cross-party police and crime panel agreed unanimously, with no abstentions or votes against, an increase in the local precept to support the local policing plan. I pay tribute in particular to the chair of that committee, Councillor Ian Dalgarno.
Thirdly, there is the leadership of our police and crime commissioner, Festus Akinbusoye, and the programme he has put in place to direct those resources in the most effective way. He has said that the funding he is receiving locally will pay for 72 additional police officers and that he will focus them on rural crime teams, which are so important in my constituency. As my piece of good news 5(a), I also commend the Minister on taking forward the hare coursing legislation that is so important for so many rural constituents. Festus has also paid due attention to the responsibility to get the security and policing right at Luton airport—another important issue locally.
Festus has also paid due attention to the responsibility to get the security and policing right at Luton airport—another important local issue. Following the inspiring leadership of the Prime Minister, knife crime reduction—a crucial issue across the country—is now a priority in Bedfordshire. On prosecuting serious sexual violence, Bedfordshire was in the lowest quartile a few years ago but is now the sixth best, which is a tribute to our chief constable. Burglary and detection rates have trebled in the past year, and the rates of solving burglary have doubled.
My tenth and final piece of good news is the strength, confidence and hard work of the officers of Bedfordshire police who, through the covid period, continued to keep us safe, and continue today to provide that quality of service that the British public have every right to expect.
This has been a good debate; if only it was a good settlement. A wasted decade of low growth under the Conservatives is holding back Britain; it has left our economy weakened, with inflation, national insurance and energy prices all putting pressure on the police. Inflation is predicted to rise still, which will put more pressure on our services. The Government have wasted public money through crony contracts, covid fraud and PPE waste, so there is less funding for policing.
To make up for the lack of central Government police funding, the Minister is burdening local taxpayers. Total crime is rising, prosecution rates are at an all-time low, and criminals are getting away with it. The police do not feel supported; pay is still lower in real terms than it was in 2010. The settlement will not go far enough. There is no leadership from Government on the challenges facing the service and no plan to cut crime.
This was an interesting debate that touched on all the major issues that we have debated on many occasions.
The hon. Lady accuses the Government of not cutting crime, but I remind her that it is the chief constable and their officers—they do such a valuable job—who tackle criminals, not the politicians.
I was not aware of that. I thought the Government had some role in tackling crime, but clearly the Conservative Government think not.
With 17,000 fewer people working in the police force now than in 2010, it is also harder for the police to do the job that we expect them all to do. I was glad to hear about the new train leaving the station on the funding formula, and I was pleased to see Bedfordshire Members in the Chamber—if they were not here making the argument, on either side of the House, I would worry that something was amiss. I am glad that they have an answer on a timescale, but the formula was first promised in 2015 so we are already seven years down the line. I look forward to seeing that.
There was much debate about the council tax precept and the fact that a third of the increased funding must now come from council tax. It is not possible to level up by using the precept to pay for policing. Inequality is bedded in to the formula. My right hon. Friend Mr Jones said eloquently that it is the sting in the tail, and Chris Loder agreed with that. Andrew Selous said that no one likes paying council tax; everybody is being forced to put council tax up to its highest level. The Cambridgeshire Conservative PCC, who has asked for a £9.99 tax increase on band D properties, stated that
“if I thought for one minute that we were likely to get substantial financial increases from government then I would’ve happily used reserves to plug the gap and not ask to raise the precept.”
The Conservative PCC for Bedfordshire said that rising costs due to inflation means taxes will need to rise to avoid cuts in police services. He said:
“We are facing rising costs across the public sector because of inflation. This means that next year an increase in the precept will be needed just for Bedfordshire Police to maintain its current position and meet the costs of pay and price increases.”
We heard about police numbers and the lack of policing in our neighbourhoods. My hon. Friend Gerald Jones talked about the 500 additional PCSOs that the Welsh Government are providing, which will make a difference. My right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham talked about the lack of police officers—the 325 they have lost and how, even with the increasing numbers, they will still be 153 officers short. The alternative universe that the Government try to peddle—that somehow they did not cut tens of thousands of police before they started to recruit a few—will not wash. There are 17,000 fewer people working in police services than there were in 2010.
Crime affects everywhere. The hon. Member for West Dorset talked about the delightful area he represents, but also about the violent criminal drug gangs and county lines that are there. This is an issue that every single one of our constituents cares about. Criminals are getting away with it. Charge rates are at a record low. Victims have lost faith in the criminal justice system. The Government are not showing any real grip on tackling crime. They do not have any ambition to get prosecution rates up. They cannot level up without cutting crime. I hope the Government will go away and think again.
I am grateful to all Members who have contributed to this debate. It has been useful and I know that police officers up and down the land will have particularly welcomed at this difficult time the tributes to their bravery and commitment to the work they do to keep us all safe. I add my gratitude to them.
There were two key themes coming out of the debate. As Sarah Jones said, the Bedfordshire “massive” are, as usual, present for these debates, as they have been every year for the last few years, and the Dorset posse have been pushing me hard on the funding formula. I am pleased to confirm that work is under way. The technical oversight group has been appointed and has a chair. We expect to go to consultation this summer and I will begin my parliamentary engagement, shall we say, in late spring, so Members should look out for an invitation to a meeting winging their way quite soon. I explained what might happen with the formula.
I would just caution those calling for a funding formula review. This is a very complex process, as those who have been involved in funding formula reviews in the past will know. There are two things to bear in mind. First, all cannot have prizes. There will undoubtedly, proportionately or otherwise, be a redistribution from one to another in a funding formula. Secondly, when particular indicators are pushed, such as tourism, there may be unintended consequences. For example, I get a strong lobby on tourism and visitor numbers from south-west Members, but if that were to be part of the funding formula what would that say about funding for London? How much of the overall cake would then be absorbed from forces across the land to deal with visitor numbers in London? We deal with that in London through a capital city grant and obviously there would be a consequence to that being part of the funding formula. I do not necessarily want to dwell on that point, but I ask Members to think carefully about unintended consequences before they make a contribution towards the consultation.
London is a metropolitan area and far easier to police. Dorset is a massive rural area with fewer police. The point is that rurality is not taken into account in the funding formula.
There is, actually, in the current funding formula a sparsity indicator, but nevertheless these are exactly the sorts of issues we will have to deal with in future and they are certainly something I want to focus on.
The other broad issue which a number of Members mentioned was dealing with a specific problem in a specific geography that may emanate from elsewhere. A number of Members, particularly those from Bedfordshire and Dorset, mentioned county lines. It is worth remembering that we are spending significant amounts of money on dealing with county lines in London, west midlands and Merseyside, where the vast bulk of the exporting drugs gangs come from. Money spent in London on intercepting and dealing with those gangs will pay benefits in Shaftesbury, Luton and other parts of the country. We make that investment in those forces, but on behalf of the whole country. That is a part of our having to see the whole of policing expenditure as a system, whether that is the National Crime Agency—which is no doubt doing work on the Dorset coast—the Metropolitan police doing work on county lines, or indeed the British Transport police, with whom I am very pleased that my hon. Friend Richard Drax met. We are funding its taskforce on county lines, which is doing extraordinary work intercepting young people with knives, drugs and cash on the rail network, gripping it in a way that it has not been gripped before.
On the point about focusing on where county lines come from, they also come from Luton, which is another reason why Bedfordshire needs to be treated fairly.
As my hon. Friend knows, we have been happy to fund Operation Boson, which has been dealing with serious and organised crime and drug dealing in and around Luton—which, as he says, is a particular hotspot. Our county lines settlement provides some money for receiving, or importing, forces to try to step up to the plate. However, I hope all those forces will realise that there will be a huge impact on violence specifically in their areas if they co-operate with the operations coming out of those three big exporting forces, and I hope that people will look carefully at both the funding formula and the impact of the overall investment package on their force before drawing a negative inference.
No, I am going to finish, because we have to move on to other business.
Sarah Jones invariably presents a dystopian vision of our work on crime. She is a very hard person to please. Let me now read out the bit of her speech that she obviously crossed out for some reason, in order to remind the House that according to the most recent Office for National Statistics publication, produced just last week, violence is down by 15%, murder by 16%, stabbings by 15%, theft by 20%, burglaries by 30%, car crime by 28%, and robberies by 34%.
I will not.
I am the first to admit that the fight against crime is always two steps forward and one step back—it is never a linear progression—but after this settlement, and given the history of the Prime Minister and myself in this particular matter of policy, I hope that no one will doubt our commitment to fighting crime throughout the United Kingdom, and I hope that through this settlement we have once again demonstrated our enduring commitment to the police who conduct that difficult job. We are giving them the powers, the resources and the tools that they need to continue this ever-important battle, and I hope that the House will support the financial settlement.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2022–23 (HC 1084), which was laid before this House on