Police Grant Report

– in the House of Commons at 4:10 pm on 8 February 2023.

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Debate resumed.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, North East Bedfordshire 4:25, 8 February 2023

This is a debate that I would not in any circumstances wish to miss if at all possible. The contributions from Rachel Hopkins and my hon. Friend Andrew Selous demonstrate that this is an important cross-party issue for Bedfordshire. In that vein, I would like to give the Minister a little ready reckoner for how she should think about the importance of pencil sharpening in working around the police grant. Which Members have been here to make contributions today? I have the scores for her. Thirty-eight police forces: nil. Hampshire and Durham: one apiece. Merseyside and Dorset: two each. Bedfordshire: three. Seriously, that is an important consideration for the Minister.

Can I give the Minister a further focus about where her priorities should be? We have heard about this year’s increase in some of today’s contributions. Let me just go through the four areas that had particular concerns. They are Merseyside, Durham, Dorset and Bedfordshire. Let us look at the estimated funding per capita after the increase. For Merseyside, it is £290 per capita; for Durham, it is £244 per capita; for Dorset, it is £213 per capita; and for Bedfordshire, it is £203 per capita. Good points have been made about particular areas having special circumstances, such as having a port, but I would point out that in Bedfordshire we have Luton airport—frankly, we have issues in Luton more generally—so every area has its special issues. There are tourists in certain areas, for example. But there is a wide disparity between Bedfordshire and Merseyside. It is £203 compared with £290, which is 50% more. That is a lot.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

No, I will not give way.

I think the Minister should focus on those issues. Where will we be after these increases, and who was here to make the case for their police force? Merseyside and Durham have made strong cases, and Dorset certainly has as well.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

I will not give way.

Let me move on. The way in which we have tried to work around this in Bedfordshire is through the special grants. My hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire mentioned the concerns about these grants being reduced. I say to the Minister that there is a difference between a top-up grant—it does what it says: it tops up the basic level of funding—and an infill grant, which tries to bring an area up to a basic level of funding, and that is the case with the grants in Bedfordshire. It is a different kettle of fish for our police force than perhaps it is for others, and I would ask her and her colleagues to look at that.

We have a new chief constable in Bedfordshire, and we expect great things from him. We also have a fantastic police and crime commissioner in Festus Akinbusoye, and I pay tribute to both of them for focusing on rural policing and getting the right balance between the demands of urban policing and rural policing, particularly by putting in new officers. My hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire said we now have 1,403 officers in Bedfordshire, which is fantastic.

I know concerns have been raised—I have thought about them myself—about young officers versus experienced officers. Of course we never want to lose experience, but we should be optimistic about this influx of younger people and new officers who want to contribute to their community. That is fantastic, and this generation’s camaraderie and co-operation will come. Not all of them will be young, and some of them may be joining as a second career, but they will bring an understanding of new ways to do things, which is important in our police force. We should balance our concerns a little. In Bedfordshire, given that 25% of our police officers are new, that is an important issue, which I know the chief constable will work on carefully.

It is not often said, but I fully believe that individual police officers always treat women and people of African origin with equal respect and equal concern to make sure they have the protection of the law but, because of the history and people’s experience, there is still a lot of work to be done by our police officers to rebuild trust and expectations among women and, particularly, people of Afro-Caribbean or African origin. I know it is not part of the report, but that consideration should form part of the Policing Minister’s understanding.

Finally, Sarah Jones did not quite answer my question. This is a cross-party debate on what is right for all our communities. There will be a time when the Opposition have to answer my question about where they will find new funding if they want to roll back the council tax increases. They cannot keep going back to the same source. Responsible funding for our police forces requires us to have sensible conversations about what is affordable, as well as how the police funding formula allocates money between forces.

Policing is a tricky brief. We have heard about the expectation that the funding formula will be changed. It would be heroic of any of us to say today that we know what will happen in the next 12 months. I cannot see anyone indicating with any confidence that that will occur. Nevertheless, police officers across the country are doing the best with what they have to deliver a great service for our constituents. I commend their actions.

Photo of Sarah Jones Sarah Jones Shadow Minister (Home Office) 4:32, 8 February 2023

With the leave of the House, I will respond relatively briefly. I thank everyone who has contributed today. I am not surprised that Bedfordshire and Dorset are represented in this debate, just as they were represented in previous debates.

Andrew Selous is a champion of the need to address the funding formula, and he made some reasonable and sensible points. My right hon. Friend Mr Jones made a powerful speech about how we cannot level up without tackling crime, and about how the funding situation does not work on that front.

Richard Drax talked about rurality, and it is important that we tackle rural crime—I have seen a lot of that work on my trips in this brief. He also spoke of the need for police stations, and I agree with that, too. Chris Loder talked about there being three officers in a rural team, which does not sound like much. We all agree that the funding formula is not good enough and does not get the right results, and that we need better-funded policing.

Richard Fuller asked what Labour would do on funding, and I reassure him that we have committed to putting 13,000 officers and PCSOs on our streets, and that we are funding that from £350 million of identified procurement savings. At the moment, each force chooses its own uniform, cars and IT system. There are lots of savings to be made across that piece that have not been explored. The importance of local police forces having local independence is key, but police officers say to me, “That independence to do what needs to be done does not amount to what kind of car we buy. It amounts to how we respond to a protest in our local area.” So there is work to be done on that and that is what Labour would do.

This debate comes in the context of the UK being set to have the slowest growth of any G7 nation in 2023. Because of the economy, Government funding for PCCs in real terms is being cut by £136 million. We see the replacement of 20,000 officers that were cut and we are asked to be grateful for that—alongside all the cuts to PCSOs and staff.

I agree with many colleagues who have spoken today about the precept. It is unacceptable that the most deprived communities with the fewest band D properties will get the least cash through this increase; it is unacceptable that the decision to raise the precept limit is presented by the Government as “increased flexibility”, masking the truth of a council tax hike; and it is unacceptable that the Government are further burdening local taxpayers, instead of dealing with inflation and properly funding the police. We all know about the Policing Minister’s passion for low taxation during his time in the Treasury, so I am surprised that he is defending that policy.

The first job of any Government is to keep their people safe, but to make them pay more locally for that right during this economic slump looks like an abdication of duty. The Government have made a fanfare about their levelling-up agenda, but with the police funding formula consistently unfair, even according to Conservative Ministers, and a precept grant that favours PCCs from affluent areas, levelling up looks like more empty promises. This Government are not proposing common sense; they are making people pay for the Government’s economic mismanagement.

This country is suffering after 13 years of Conservative Governments. The disastrous mini-Budget, so vocally defended by the Policing Minister, has left our economy in ruins. Inflation is running at 10.5%. Ours is the only major economy forecast to shrink this year. Public services are on their knees and around the country people are struggling to make ends meet. This Conservative Government are failing to deliver justice to victims, to rebuild neighbourhood policing and to support the police.

Therefore, I must ask the Minister: when will the re-announced review of the funding formula be published? Will he update us on progress being made on the emergency services network and on the £5.1 billion overspend, to date, on that project? Is he proud of increasing the burden on local tax payers, instead of getting a grip on the economy? We will not vote against this grant, but we must stress that these plans discriminate against struggling households. We need an active Home Office that tackles crime, puts victims first and looks after our police officers but sets national standards on conduct. Labour will be that active Home Office. We will rebuild neighbourhood policing, punish criminals, prevent crime and protect communities. I ask the Government to think again about how they fund our policing, so that the victims of crime up and down our country get the service they deserve.

Photo of Sarah Dines Sarah Dines The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 4:38, 8 February 2023

We are grateful for all the contributions from Members from across the House, and it is a privilege to represent the Government in this debate on a topic of such immense significance for our constituents and our country as a whole. The police funding settlement announced today affirms that this Government are steadfast in supporting the police in their vital mission to keep the public safe and cut crime. Next year, we are increasing total funding for policing by up to £287 million, providing forces with an increase of up to £523 million and committing £1.1 billion on national policing priorities, and we will continue to provide more than £1 billion to counter-terrorism policing. That is a significant investment, even if the Opposition do not think it is. It will enable the police to maximise the value of the uplift, cut crime across the country and increase confidence in the criminal justice system by putting victims first.

Let me turn to some of the specific points that have been made by hon. Members in their colourful interventions and speeches. Mr Jones raised various issues at length and used a teasing tone with the Policing Minister, but my right hon. Friend has an impressive grasp of the facts and, however energetic he is, he is never boring. Jonathan Edwards, who is not in his place, pontificated at length, but might turn his attention to the difficulties within his own party.

In relation to local funding, the Government are increasing funding to the policing system in 2023-24. The police funding settlement offers additional investment from central Government for forces to maintain the additional 20,000 officer uplift, as well as additional precept flexibility for PCCs in England to support their local policing priorities. Overall, police funding available to PCCs will increase by up to £523 million—3.6% in cash terms—next year.

Police and crime commissioners in England have been given the flexibility to raise council tax contributions for policing by up to £15 a year—not 15p, as was erroneously said by the Opposition spokesman—for a typical band D household next year, which is less than 30p a week, without the need to hold a local referendum. That is, of course, a lot of money, but it will be well spent by very good PCCs.

The level of police precept is a local decision and elected PCCs must carefully consider what they are asking their local constituents to pay. Local taxation should not be in place of sound financial management, and we expect PCCs to exhaust all other options to prioritise their budgets, seek efficiencies and maximise productivity of their existing resources before looking to local tax payers for additional funding.

The police uplift programme continues to be a success and remains a top Government priority. As of 31 December 2022, 16,753 additional officers have been recruited in England and Wales as part of the police uplift programme, which is 84% of the target of 20,000 additional officers by March 2023.

Photo of Sarah Dines Sarah Dines The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Sorry, we have limited time.

The Government are on track to recruit 20,000 additional officers by March 2023. For the first time ever, there will be more than 148,400 officers across England and Wales. That is the highest number of officers ever serving communities across England and Wales. There are now also more women and ethnic minority officers than ever before, so I do not accept the criticism and the narrative put by the Opposition.

I was interested to hear hon. Members from across the Chamber talk about a change in the current police funding formula. Valuable speeches were made by my hon. Friends the Members for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller), for South Dorset (Richard Drax), for West Dorset (Chris Loder) and Mr Jones. The issues that were raised were pertinent, covering rurality; fairness; and increasing population. Those will all need to be considered. That is why we intend to publish the first public consultation this year, which will set out the principles of the review and consult on the purpose, structure and components of the formula. I very much welcome the levity of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire. I will remember that and mention it to the Policing Minister over tea, if we ever get a chance.

In developing the new formula, we are considering the demands that face each police force and the relative impact of those local factors, not least of which is the cost of managing the estate—police stations and the like. Any changes to those funding arrangements will be well planned, with effective transition arrangements to enable sound financial management. The plans will be nuanced and well thought out.

Let me mention briefly the criminal justice system. We are working with partners across the criminal justice system to increase the number of cases being charged and prosecuted, and to reduce the time taken to reach that point. We are committed to ensuring that the criminal justice system works better with police and prosecutors, improving charge rates, which have dropped for many crimes. Getting the basics right must be a top priority, and that means ensuring that reports of crime are taken seriously and investigated, and that offenders are brought to justice.

There was criticism by an hon. Member of the new police officers having a lack of experience. To some extent, that is always true of new police officers, but I view that as an opportunity to look at issues, such as tackling violence against women and girls, which, historically, have not had the prominence that they should. New officers are a new opportunity for new education and new common-sense policing. We will continue to improve our criminal justice system for victims by investing in a new victim satisfaction survey to shine a light on performance and drive improvements in the support that police forces provide to victims. There is much more I could say, but the criminal justice dashboards that show local data will be informative, and the Policing Minister’s knowledge of statistics means that we will be well served when looking at that dashboard across the whole criminal justice system.

The Home Secretary has made it her priority to deliver justice and high-quality outcomes for victims and is concerned about the level of cases being investigated. To get those cases converted to charges and prosecutions, this Government are working collaboratively with the Courts Minister and the Solicitor General to ensure we are jointly enabling our operational partners in policing, the Crown Prosecution Service and His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service to deliver improvements. Only an effective and robust criminal justice system will effectively enforce our rights in society, and that is why it is critical that it functions properly.

We must continue to press serious violence issues and ensure that our public are safe. That may mean that police officers will stray into a neighbouring police force at times, but that is to be expected. It will be cross-force work that is so effective on policing county lines. The settlement provides funding to combat serious crime, including violence reduction units and the Grip hotspot policing programme, as well as providing funding to clamp down on drugs and county lines, delivering on commitments made in the 10-year drug strategy. Improvements are being made and convictions are forthcoming. The final allocations for programmes related to violence prevention, including serious violence and drugs, will be confirmed in due course. There is much I would like to say about the police technology programme, but unfortunately we do not have time.

Keeping people safe is the foremost responsibility of any Government, and I am pleased that I can agree with the Opposition spokesperson, Sarah Jones, on that. However, it is this Government that are delivering on that duty by putting record numbers of police officers on the streets—far more than there ever were under a Labour Government—and by supporting all forces to maintain them. We have made strong progress, but there is more to do. We will continue supporting and challenging the police to deliver for the people they serve, and the settlement shows that there will be no let-up in our mission to cut crime, pursue perpetrators and make our country safer.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) 2023-24 (HC 1066), which was laid before this House on 31 January, be approved.