Police Grant Report

– in the House of Commons at 2:10 pm on 7 February 2024.

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Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department 2:10, 7 February 2024

I beg to move,

That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) 2024-25 (HC 482), which was laid before this House on 31 January, be approved.

Police officers, police community support officers, special constables and police staff up and down the country do great work every single day of the week, keeping us and our constituents safe, very often putting themselves in the line of danger to protect the public. I am sure Members across the House will want to pay tribute to those officers and staff, and thank them for the work they do. The vast majority of officers are decent, hard-working and brave, and we owe them a great deal.

The police look after and support us; it is important that we support and look after them in return. The funding settlement that we present to Parliament today does that. We are increasing the funding available for policing by £843 million compared with last year. Last year’s funding had already been increased by £330 million, accounting for the police pay settlement, effective from 1 September, so next year’s envelope in total will be £18.4 billion.

Within that, we are prioritising the frontline. We are getting more money than ever before into the hands of police and crime commissioners, who spend money on frontline policing. Presuming they use their precept flexibility, which I think they will, police and crime commissioners will receive an extra £922 million next year, which is a cash increase of 6% compared with the previous year.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous The Second Church Estates Commissioner, The Second Church Estates Commissioner

I thank the Minister for Policing for those increases he mentions and for his help on section 59 of the Police Reform Act 2002 and dealing with illegal motorcycles in my area. The issue is that Bedfordshire police survives on a series of top-up grants because the national funding formula is not very fair to us. Does the Minister foresee a time when we can get rid of those grants and have our core funding baked into our core funding, so we do not rely on special grants?

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

My hon. Friend campaigns tirelessly for Bedfordshire policing and to combat the scourge of antisocial motorcycle use. I believe we will shortly be organising a meeting to discuss that issue. He is right that Bedfordshire receives special grant support in order to fund its activity, particularly in relation to gang violence in certain urban parts of the county, but he is also right that we need to change the underlying funding formula because it is over 10 years out of date. It needs to better reflect population changes and changes in crime, and better reflect issues of sparsity and rurality. The Home Office is actively working on that.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the very good meeting he had with Lincolnshire MPs yesterday. As he is an outstanding Minister, he will appreciate that Lincolnshire, even taking account of the extra money, is the worst funded authority in the country, with the lowest staffing level, and faces particular challenges because of its sparsity. Delivering any public service, including policing, over a sparsely populated area is a challenge. So, will he take a close look at what extra he can do in anticipation of the much-needed change to the funding formula, which he is advocating today?

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

I met my right hon. Friend yesterday evening and he made a powerful case on Lincolnshire police, and for updating the funding formula, as we have discussed. He also made the case on Lincolnshire’s needs over the coming financial year, which I undertook to go away and look at. As he says, the issues of sparsity and rurality that affect Lincolnshire, as well as other counties, need to be properly accounted for. He spoke extremely powerfully and compellingly in our meeting yesterday.

Photo of Imran Hussain Imran Hussain Labour, Bradford East

The funding picture that the Minister paints is not entirely accurate. In West Yorkshire, direct funding from Ministers fell by £25 million between 2015-16 and 2019-20. What is more, the cumulative total of Government funding cut from West Yorkshire police since 2015-16 is more than £100 million. Once the figures that the Minister is announcing are compared to that cumulative amount, it will surely change things, and the picture will not look as rosy.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

On longer-term funding trends, the total cash funding for police in 2010-11 was about £13.1 billion. As I set out, it is now £18.4 billion, so it is £5.3 billion higher in cash terms. It has essentially kept pace with inflation, although crime is lower. He mentions West Yorkshire; the central Government grant for West Yorkshire in the financial year 2023-24, with the extra money for pay that I mentioned, is £415 million. Next year, the Government grant for West Yorkshire will go up by about £31 million, which is well above inflation, to £446 million. If we add in the police precept, which may go up a little bit as well, West Yorkshire’s funding next year will be 7.1% higher. If we look at policing as a whole, frontline policing will be up by 6% next year.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

In just a moment. Overall, next year, police funding will be up 6% on this year for frontline forces. Inflation is currently only 4% and is forecast to fall further.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Independent, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

Further to the intervention by Imran Hussain, is it not the reality that the contribution of the police precept to the overall cost of policing has increased substantially? In the case of Dyfed-Powys police, the precept was 37% of total funding in 2010-11, but this year it is 54.4%, so the burden is being pushed on to local taxpayers via the precept.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

Overall, across England and Wales, around two thirds of the total funding comes from central Government. As the hon. Gentleman says, that varies by police force, but on Dyfed-Powys police, the Government grant is going up next year by £6 million, which is nearly 10%, whereas the precept component is only going up by about £3 million. The Government grant for Dyfed-Powys will go up by double the amount of the precept increase. I say again that frontline police forces next year will have a funding increase of 6%, at a time when inflation is only 4% and falling.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Conservative, New Forest West

Donna Jones, the police and crime commissioner for Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, has launched a consultation. My view is that if constituents attach great importance to policing—certainly, my correspondence tells me that they do—then they will be prepared to pay for it.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

My right hon. Friend is quite right. Of course, all policing, whether funded from central Government or via the precept, is ultimately paid for by taxpayers. In the most recent spending review a few years ago, the precept limit was set at £10—that is, English forces could put up the precept by only £10. We have given more flexibility—this year it is £15, and next year it will be £13—so that PCCs can decide to increase the precept by a bit more if they choose to, which is their democratic right.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Employment Rights and Protections)

On the issue of police and crime commissioners, I do not know whether the Minister is aware of the appalling comments made by the Cheshire police and crime commissioner about schoolgirls wearing very short skirts. This raises huge questions about whether victims can have confidence in the justice system in Cheshire. Will he take the opportunity to distance himself from those comments and join us in calling on the PCC to resign?

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

I am afraid that I have not seen those comments, so it would not be right for me to remark on them, but I will say that the Government are completely committed to combating violence against women and girls, to increasing rape prosecutions and to increasing prosecutions for serious sexual assaults. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Laura Farris and I had a meeting with policing leaders on that very topic just in the past few days, and those are actions to which we are committed.

In addition to the substantial funding increase of £922 million—nearly £1 billion—for frontline policing, an above inflation increase of 6% has been announced today. We have of course increased total police expenditure by about £2.7 billion since 2019, which has funded the police uplift programme. It is worth reiterating that in March last year, we exceeded our target, delivering 149,566 officers—about 3,500 more than we have seen at any time in the history of policing in England and Wales. That is an important commitment, and our intention is to maintain those officer numbers going forward. We have constructed the police uplift ringfence and the financial arrangements for this coming financial year to enable police forces around the country to maintain those higher officer numbers.

Photo of Jane Hunt Jane Hunt Conservative, Loughborough

As the Minister said, police forces across the country do some great work. That applies to Leicestershire police, particularly those in Loughborough who have to deal with county lines. Many of the new officers are based in Loughborough and are doing an excellent job. The increase in the precept is also excellent and very welcome in Leicestershire, but can we do more—that is, not just increase the value of the precept, but ensure that what police are asked to do is more efficient? Redaction is one example. Police should not have to redact evidence when 25% of cases that go to the Crime Prosecution Service are not taken further forward.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

My hon. Friend raises an important point. The issue is not just about providing more resources, but making sure that the police can operate efficiently. For example, we are rolling out the “Right Care, Right Person” initiative, which started in Humberside, to make sure that when a mental health case is purely medical, and there is no threat to public safety and no criminality, it is handled medically by the health service. Implementing that across the country will save about 1 million hours a year of police time.

There are other administrative changes that we can make, and the redaction issue is one of them. I discussed that with the new Director of Public Prosecutions, Stephen Parkinson, earlier this week, and I will discuss it with him again in March. Changing the rules around redaction will save very many hours of police time. There are also technology solutions that will help, not just in those 25% of cases in which the CPS decides not to charge, but in the 75% of cases in which it does charge. Automated redaction tools driven by artificial intelligence will save many tens of thousands—probably hundreds of thousands—of hours of police time. I am encouraging police forces up and down the country to adopt that technology to save a huge amount of time.

Before the intervention, I was saying that record police officer numbers and record funding are all well and good, but what the public want is results. As the Office for National Statistics has told us, the only reliable source of long-term trend data for high-volume crimes is the crime survey for England and Wales. That shows that overall crime, excluding fraud and computer misuse, which only came into the figures recently, went down from 9.5 million offences in the last year of the previous Labour Government to 4.3 million in the past year—a 55% reduction. Violent crimes went down from 1.8 million offences under the last Labour Government to just 900,000—a 51% reduction. Theft is down from about 5 million offences to 2.7 million—a 46% reduction. Robbery is down 74%, theft from the person down 40%, domestic burglary down 56%, vehicle-related theft down 39%, criminal damage down 72%, and even bicycle theft is down under this Government. The plan is working; let us not go back to square one.

As for homicide, the most serious crime of all, in the last year of the last Labour Government, there were 620 homicides. We have managed to get that down to 591. Every one of those crimes is a tragedy; every one of them is one too many. None the less, I am sure that all of us can welcome that reduction in homicide—

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

—and I am sure that Matt Rodda is about to join me in doing just that.

Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (AI and Intellectual Property)

May I offer my support to our local police and say what a wonderful service they provide to our community? I was curious about what the Minister said about bureaucracy. It appears that what the Government have actually done in the past 14 years is cut police numbers very substantially and then replace some of those police officers with new officers who need to be trained. What proportion of those new officers are still undergoing some form of training or receiving support?

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

To be clear, there was a reduction in police officer numbers in the coalition years—the years immediately after 2010—owing to the appalling financial conditions that we inherited. However, those police officers have been more than replaced. The total number of officers in England and Wales last year was about 3,500 higher than it was in 2010. It is therefore true to say that many officers have joined relatively recently, which means that there is a training and supervision job to do—and police forces are doing it. Retention rates are quite high. The staff survey shows quite high satisfaction rates, so with each month that passes since the influx of the past three or four years, those officers become more experienced. That will benefit our constituents and make sure that the trend of falling crime continues.

We are taking action on drugs, having closed down more than 2,000 county lines since April 2022. We are also tackling knife crime, which we discussed extensively yesterday. We are removing more than 130,000 knives through stop and search, which is important. We need to use stop and search and surrender programmes with confidence. We are investing in violence reduction units, and today we renew our commitment to funding those units and doing prevention work. We renew our commitment to hotspot patrolling against serious violence, knife crime and antisocial behaviour.

This funding settlement includes £66 million of extra money that will go to every single police force in the country for hotspot patrolling in areas where antisocial behaviour and serious violence are a problem. Where we have trialled that—for example, we trialled antisocial behaviour hotspot patrolling in parts of Essex, and serious violence patrolling in places such as Brighton—we have seen a reduction of approximately 30% in antisocial behaviour and crimes such as robbery. We know that it works. From April this year, every single police force will get that funding. I urge Members from all parts of the House to talk to their local PCCs and make sure that those hotspot patrols take place in town centres, on high streets, or wherever else, so that the public can see that the issue is being dealt with.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way.

During the years of austerity, which hit our police forces hard, we lost 21,000 police officers. He has talked about the uplift in numbers since then, but over the same period, police stations across the UK closed at the rate of one a week, which resulted in four in 10 police stations being closed during that period. What is his plan to reopen those police stations in the heart of our communities? That will be needed if communities are truly to take back some of the streets that have had massive problems with antisocial behaviour.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

It is up to police and crime commissioners how to spend the money in this record funding settlement. Some police forces are being creative by, for example, co-locating with fire stations. Good police and crime commissioners avoided closing police stations. For example, the former Conservative Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, managed to largely avoid police station closures—closures that his predecessor, Ken Livingstone, had planned, and that his successor, Sadiq Khan, has in some cases carried out, or at least threatened to carry out. In the west midlands, the current Labour police and crime commissioner, Simon Foster, is planning to close 20 police stations. There are ways of avoiding that by better managing the budgets. There is a record funding settlement here. These are choices made locally, and they are often avoidable.

We are also providing £1 billion for national policing priorities and capabilities, including various forms of technology, new national databases and so on. It is important that we continue to use technology to innovate. That includes investing heavily in such things as robotic process automation, which saves a lot of manual work. I mentioned automated redaction tools. Facial recognition can be used retrospectively, to identify suspects who have committed an offence and whose picture has been caught by CCTV, and used live, to spot people who are wanted by police, for example when they walk down a high street or through a train station.

In recent weeks, we have been deploying live facial recognition technology in my south London borough of Croydon. People who were wanted for rape, grievous bodily harm, drug offences, or failing to attend court have been caught wandering down the street. Our local superintendent thinks that, over about 10 deployments on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons in central Croydon between December and January, the police will end up arresting about 100 people who are wanted for really serious offences or did not turn up at court. Those people would otherwise never have been arrested. Again, Members should ask their local PCC and chief constable what they are doing with retrospective and live facial recognition. Those technologies can catch dangerous criminals who would otherwise go undetected. It is a really important area.

We continue to invest in various crime programmes. I mentioned violence reduction units and hotspot patrolling. Project ADDER—addiction, diversion, disruption, enforcement and recovery—continues, dealing with drugs, and the safer streets fund continues as well. We also continue to fund counter-terrorism policing at around £1 billion per year, in addition to our support for ROCUs—regional organised crime units—of around £25 million per year. This is record police funding. It is going up by more than inflation as far as police and crime commissioners are concerned. We hit record police numbers last year. Crime overall is 56% lower than in 2010, and is continuing to fall. There is, of course, more work to do, but we are here to fund and back the police, and to keep our constituents safe. That is what this financial settlement does.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing) 2:32, 7 February 2024

Our thanks go to police officers, police community support officers and police staff across the country for their work. It can be dangerous, but it is always important. Our communities value it greatly, and it is essential to British life. We are grateful and lucky to have them. I also thank police and crime commissioners. They are 85 days away from the next set of PCC elections. Some will not stand again, some might not be returned, and some will be re-elected. Again, our thanks go to them all for doing a very difficult job, often across huge geographies, representing and stepping up for their communities. As I said, we are lucky to have them.

Police forces across England and Wales are still living with the impact of 14 years of failure by the Government. Rates of serious violence are up, and charge rates are plummeting. I am amazed by what the Minister said about morale among rank and file officers, which we know is at low levels. The loss of staff has been significant in the last year, and it is very strange to hear that that is not a problem. We know that chief constables and police and crime commissioners are grappling with limited resources and trying to deal with the crisis in public confidence, which is frankly disconnected from what the Minister just said. All the while, the real, everyday problems that our constituents see in their communities are getting worse, not better.

We have witnessed a collapse in neighbourhood policing in recent years, with 10,000 fewer officers on the beat. Police forces are still reeling from the years of experience and expertise that were lost when the Government cut police officers by 20,000. Of the new recruits brought in when the Government realised that grave error, an estimated 6,000 officers are not on frontline duty but are instead covering roles that are traditionally done by vital civilian staff. Is it any wonder that 50% of people say that they no longer ever see police on the streets? I ask colleagues whose case better marries up with what their constituents say: the Minister’s or mine. I know the answer.

Photo of Imran Hussain Imran Hussain Labour, Bradford East

My hon. Friend is making an excellent case. He is right that during the last decade, due to austerity, there have been substantial cuts to neighbourhood policing. In West Yorkshire, we have lost 1,000 neighbourhood police officers. Does he agree that neighbourhood policing is the essential link between the police and our communities? Not only does it increase confidence in policing but it makes the role much easier by preventing antisocial behaviour and in many other ways, because of the bond between the community and the police.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I absolutely share his view. Neighbourhood policing is the bedrock of policing. A lot of the problems that we are trying to deal with—I will speak about them in a second—have grown and festered because we have given up on neighbourhood policing for well over a decade and have lost control of our streets. Whether it is antisocial behaviour, shoplifting on high streets, the epidemic level of violence and abuse against our retail workers, communities where there is drug dealing in broad daylight, or the horrific levels of knife crime—up 77% since 2015—the experience of our constituents under this Government is that criminals get let off and victims get let down. After 14 years in government—the Minister did not use this in his statistical run-down—over 90% of crimes go unsolved, meaning that criminals are less than half as likely to be caught than they were when the Government took office in 2010. That is the Government’s record on law and order.

The Government and the Minister want us to believe that we have never had it so good, but everywhere we look there are serious problems, which are compounded to a degree by the settlement. This is an unamendable motion about more money for our policing, and of course we will support it, but the detail that sits beneath it deserves serious scrutiny. Colleagues will have seen the dismay across policing at the 6% cash increase, set below the level of the pay award. That is before on-costs, and before inflation. The settlement exacerbates rather than resolves some of the funding challenges. Particularly challenging—the Minister said this himself—is that a third of the settlement is based on the assumption that police and crime commissioners will increase council tax for local ratepayers to the maximum. Yet again we see a shift from central Government funding to local communities for vital everyday services.

As the Minister said, the Government have lifted the cap on the precept so that PCCs can raise it by £13 next year for band D properties. That in itself is a challenge for people’s finances, but it also creates differential challenges across the country, as the money is not then spread equitably. The most deprived areas of our country, which have the fewest higher-banded properties paying higher rates of council tax, get the least return from a local precept. Better-off areas will get more funding because their tax base is higher. That is not levelling up, which I suspect has long since been put in a drawer somewhere, but drives a wedge between different parts of our country when the safety and security of our constituents is at stake. That failure of leadership has consequences for less well-off areas—the parts of the country more likely to suffer from antisocial behaviour, violence, sexual offences or robbery.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

The shadow Minister said that the balance of funding is being shifted on to local areas. To be clear about the facts, the increase in the central Government grant going to police and crime commissioners is just over £600 million. The anticipated increase through the precept is about £300 million. The Government grant increase is about double the precept increase. The central Government finance line is bearing by far the lion’s share of the increase—about two thirds of it, in fact.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

I am grateful for that intervention. I do not think that it is revelatory—indeed, we will decades if not a century and a half’s worth of precedent—that central Government fund policing in this country. What I am saying is that, year on year, the share provided by the local ratepayer is increasing, and this is a continuation of that. It is legitimate to ask whether that is the best funding model. I will get to the funding formula shortly, but, as I say, that differential impact is not a serious way to bring down crime rates across the country.

To add insult to injury, the Minister says in his written statement:

“When setting their budgets, PCCs should be mindful of the cost of living pressures that householders are facing.”

Are the Government for real? Given the Minister’s role in the previous Government, and given the Government’s indifference to the challenges that people across the UK face, that is front beyond imagination. Telling our PCCs that they should be mindful? I say, “Physician, heal thyself.” The public will not be taken for fools by the Government, though. Just as, when they open their mortgage statements, they know what has happened, when they open their council tax bill, it will tell them all they need to know.

I turn now to the funding formula, which other colleagues have raised. Countless Ministers, including this Minister, have stood at the Dispatch Box or answered written questions over the years, pledging to do something about a system that is badly overdue for renewal. Members across the House have been raising this for many years with the Government. In December, the Treasury informed the Public Accounts Committee that a new formula would be introduced as soon as possible. In January, the Minister said, in response to a question from my hon. Friend Alistair Strathern, that he would update the House on work to update the formula

“as soon as I can.”—[Official Report, 15 January 2024;
Vol. 743, c. 569.]

Yet, two weeks ago, we saw in the press that the can is to be kicked down the road again, because No. 10 is worried about police funding cuts in a general election year.

Photo of Alistair Strathern Alistair Strathern Labour, Mid Bedfordshire

I start by expressing my thanks for the fantastic work undertaken by local police officers right across Bedfordshire. However, with the Conservatives’ own police and crime commissioner agreeing that the current unfair funding formula leaves no meat on the bone at all for local police, does my hon. Friend agree that it is police officers and local residents who are being let down by inaction on this issue, and that Ministers owe it to them to live up to their previous commitment to ensure that a fair formula is delivered within this Parliament?

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

I am grateful for that contribution from my hon. Friend. Yes, I think the public would expect not only that the formulas reflect the need across the country, but that when promises are made repeatedly over multiple years, those promises are kept; even if the upshot was difficult political questions, the Government ought to rise above that. Instead, it just looks as though they are trying to dodge responsibility. I hope the Minister will be clear in his summing-up about the status of that formula. Has No. 10 Downing Street told him to put it on hold? If not, when will it be announced? The public deserve to know.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Independent, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

May I ask the hon. Gentleman kindly to take a look at the recommendations of the Welsh Government’s own independent commission on the constitutional future of Wales, which reported earlier this month? The commission strongly argued in favour of devolving policing and criminal justice powers to Wales, a position that is supported by the Welsh Government and the current First Minister. That would make a huge difference to funding for policing in Wales, because it would be based on population share and Barnett consequentials of spending in England, unlike the funding formula at present.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

I have had conversations with my colleagues in Wales on that matter. There is something to be said about the funding formula and Barnett—I am not conflating them, but I think that shows how badly broken the formula is. That point is well made and, as I say, I have had conversations with colleagues in Wales about it.

I will move on to the Minister’s priorities, as outlined in the settlement, and the police uplift programme. As I said earlier, 6,000 of the new recruits are not where the public would expect them to be. I have had a front-row seat, over my few months in post, as the Government have gone through all the contortions on this issue. Last autumn, they told us we had record numbers of police on the neighbourhood beat, but that has long since been disproven. Earlier this year, the Minister tried a new tack and said the Government would rebadge response police as neighbourhood police, so they could add those numbers together to would match up with the rhetoric. The public have seen right through that as well.

Last week, the Home Secretary tried another approach, demanding that police chiefs put more officers on the beat as part of his “back to basics” campaign—as if those chiefs were not working in overdrive to do that all the time, all year round. We respect and recognise the huge amount of work they are doing to get police out where communities want them. That is another approach by the Government, and another one that will fail; I was in short trousers the last time they did a “back to basics” campaign, but I do not think it has a very good history and I am not sure it is the right approach for them.

What we see, as always, is denial and deflection; it is always someone else’s fault. Labour has a better plan. Our community policing guarantee would rebuild neighbourhood policing. It would put 13,000 police and police community support officers back on the beat, embedded in our communities; not counting crimes, but solving problems and working with local communities to tackle and deter crime. That would be funded through a police efficiency and collaboration programme, saving £360 million through centralised standard-setting for procurement and increased collaboration on shared services and specialist functions. The Minister said in his statement that he wants to reduce inefficiencies, so that is a two-for-one for him: more efficiency and more officers on the frontline. Why are we not seeing those plans from the Government today?

To conclude, if the Minister expects garlands from colleagues, he will not get them from Labour. He tells the British people repeatedly that they have never had it so good on crime and policing. That rhetoric does not match reality or the public experience. As a result, this settlement is in line with those that preceded it for more than a decade. It will not deliver. The Government are wrong and the public know it. I know that sometimes the public and people in the policing family lose hope; all I would say is that, if we all pull together, we can make sure this is the last police grant settlement that this Government make.

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay 2:45, 7 February 2024

I am delighted to be able to contribute to this debate. In the interests of transparency, let me first make the House aware that an immediate member of my family is a serving police officer with Devon and Cornwall Police—and very proud of them we are. I also put on the record my huge thanks and appreciation to all police officers across Devon and Cornwall, particularly those who work out of St Austell and Newquay police stations. I have seen at first hand their dedication and they have helped me a number of times when I have needed it. They do an incredible job and I am very grateful to them.

I very much welcome the uplift in funding that has been made available to police across England and Wales today, and I am particularly grateful that the funding made available for Devon and Cornwall Police is being increased by 7.1%, which is higher than the national average and goes some way to closing the historical funding gap for our police. We are using that money incredibly well in Devon and Cornwall, particularly in recruiting more police officers.

The number of police officers in Devon and Cornwall is now at an all-time record of 3,610, an uplift of 470 above the 2019 figure. I have also been made aware that, as opposed to some other parts of the country, we have done so well in recruitment that more funding has been made available to enable us to recruit an additional 71 officers, so the number is only going to get higher. That is hugely welcome, and I pay tribute to the hard work of our police and crime commissioner, Alison Hernandez, for the leadership and work that she has put in to get us to such healthy police numbers.

However, one thing that continually concerns me whenever I go out on patrol and observe the police on the frontline is the amount of time they spend dealing with issues that are not policing matters. Far too often they have to pick up the slack for other parts of the public sector that are not stepping up and fulfilling their roles, be that mental health support, other parts of the NHS or social services.

One thing the Minister could do to support our frontline police officers across the country is to work with other parts of the public sector and other Government Departments to ensure that they are doing everything they can to fulfil their duties, and not just taking the default position of falling back on the police to pick up the slack every time. That is one thing that I know is putting huge pressure on frontline policing, taking officers away from the job that the public actually want and expect them to be doing: keeping us safe.

Devon and Cornwall Police actually polices the largest force area, in terms of land mass, of any force in England. We also have the longest coast and the longest road network, at 13,000 miles, of any police force in England. For all those reasons, Devon and Cornwall Police faces a hugely challenging job policing two of the most rural counties in the country. In Cornwall, over 40% of people live in communities of fewer than 3,000 people, and we have no towns with populations above 25,000 people, which demonstrates just how rural and sparsely population our force area is. That has an impact on the police’s ability to deliver the service that we expect of them.

Tourism has an additional impact on Cornwall and Devon. Our average population in the tourist season increases by 7%, although that rise is concentrated in a relatively small number of areas. Towns such as Newquay see their populations go up by six or seven times the resident population in peak tourism season, so the number of incidents to which the police are expected to respond inevitably goes up significantly.

Photo of Sally-Ann Hart Sally-Ann Hart Conservative, Hastings and Rye

The situation in Devon and Cornwall is similar to that in Sussex, where an influx of people to Camber Sands can mean that there are 25,000 people on the beach. That obviously makes police resourcing difficult. Does my hon. Friend agree that, when it comes to police funding, we need to consider the geography of the area and the specific and absolute need, not the relative need?

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay

My hon. Friend makes precisely the point that I was about to make. In Devon and Cornwall, our geography and the number of tourists we welcome every year mean that our police force faces a unique challenge in delivering the service that we require of them.

Another point that I continually make is that in Cornwall, a narrow peninsula with only one neighbouring mainland county, we have to build in our own resilience as we cannot rely on other areas to turn up quickly to help us out. That needs to be reflected in the funding formula. I am greatly encouraged that the Government have recognised that and have committed to reviewing the funding formula by taking into consideration geography, sparseness, rurality and the impact of tourism. I urge the Minister to do all he can to get the review carried out and in place in order to adjust the funding.

We will certainly take no lessons from Labour about funding police in rural areas. It was under the last Labour Government that rural areas were virtually abandoned by the funding formula. The formula was tweaked so that all that money would go towards densely populated urban areas, even though delivering services in rural areas costs far more, so we will take no lessons from Labour on that.

I urge the Minister to do all he can to ensure that the police funding review is carried out and implemented as quickly as possible so that the funding gap with which we have had to deal for so long is narrowed, and rural areas such as Devon and Cornwall get the police funding that they rightly deserve.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission, Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission

Order. Before I call the next Member to speak, I should clarify something. As the House will have noted, the Order Paper notes that the police grant report and the local government finance instruments have not yet been considered by the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments. I have now been informed that the Committee met a short time ago. It has considered the instruments and has not drawn them to the attention of the House. To interpret what I have just said for the sake of anyone listening, that means that we can proceed as normal and do not have to take any further steps that we were not already planning to take.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney 2:53, 7 February 2024

Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am most grateful for that clarification.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire for setting out the Government’s proposals for the police funding settlement for 2024-25. Suffolk is due to receive an increase in core funding of 6.7%, and hotspot response finance of £1 million. Those settlements are welcome, but I will briefly raise three issues, two of which have already been addressed in some detail.

The first of those issues is the funding review. At present, Suffolk constabulary is the fourth lowest funded force in the UK, and as such, we are looking for the long-promised funding review to be carried out as soon as possible. Many of the challenges that we face are similar to what we have heard is happening in Cornwall. At Home Office questions on 27 November, I asked my right hon. Friend for an update on the progress of the review. He responded by stating:

“I completely accept the need for a new police funding formula” and said that his team had been

“working on it extremely hard, with colleagues across government” and that he hoped

“to have something…to say on the topic shortly”.—[Official Report, 27 November 2023;
Vol. 741, c. 545.]

It is in that context that I would be most grateful for a further update on the progress of the review and on when we can expect the draft proposals for the new formula. There is a worry, as we have heard, that the review is being kicked into the long grass. I hope that the Minister can allay that concern in summing up.

Let me come to my second point. For police and crime commissioners such as Tim Passmore in Suffolk, budgeting presents considerable challenges. He and other PCCs are entitled to expect consistency in Government commitments. In that respect, the changes in funding for the safer streets initiative are disappointing. Initially, the Home Office offered Suffolk £1.4 million. It then reduced that by £400,000, and it is now taking away a further £180,000. That approach is, I suggest, unfair, and it penalises smaller forces such as Suffolk constabulary, which, through no fault of its own, now faces a funding gap without any explanation or justification being given. I therefore ask my right hon. Friend to review that decision, which affects not just Suffolk, but forces all across the country.

Finally, as we have heard, this is not just about money. A policeman’s lot can be made considerably easier and, I hope, happier, if red tape is reduced. In that regard, I applaud the work of Ben Hudson, the secretary and treasurer of the Suffolk Police Federation, who is ably supported by my hon. Friend Jane Hunt in their campaign to amend the Data Protection Act 2018 so as to mitigate the impact of the bureaucratic burden of evidence redaction that is imposed on police officers when they seek charging decisions from the Crown Prosecution Service. A further amendment to the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill is being tabled in the other place by the noble Baroness Morgan. I urge the Government to consider this matter closely and do all they can to accept those measures. Doing so would free up thousands of policing hours every year, as pre-charge redactions would not be required, and would enable chief constables to better utilise allocated budgets, which, as we have heard today, are restricted and not quite as bountiful as we would all hope.

I hope that, in winding up, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Laura Farris, can allay the concerns that I have expressed: we need that long-overdue funding review; we need funding commitments to be adhered to and kept; and finally, as I have said, please, let there be less red tape.

Photo of Laura Farris Laura Farris Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office) 2:59, 7 February 2024

It is a pleasure to wind up this short but perfectly formed debate on police funding, and I am grateful to the Members who have spoken in it. Before I respond to the points that have been raised, I want to offer my own personal word of thanks and appreciation for the police officers, all the staff and the volunteers who work tirelessly to keep us safe and run towards danger when everybody else is leaving the scene. We are fortunate to have them on our side.

I do not propose to repeat the headline parts of the settlement that we are debating today. I will simply say that our investment of £11.4 billion is a significant commitment to policing, which goes to the heart of our three priorities for the police. The first is personnel: we have delivered ahead of time on our commitment to recruit 20,000 police officers in this Parliament, and today’s funding will continue to support and properly resource the 149,000 police officers who are employed in England and Wales. It will also allow us to give them a 7% pay rise on average, which is consistent with the recommendation of the Police Remuneration Review Body.

The second priority is, of course, public protection. Whether shadow Ministers like it or not, we are proud of the progress that, according to the crime survey for England and Wales, we have made since 2010. I know that they do not like that survey, but the Office for National Statistics—which the public are entitled to rely on—has described it as

“the best estimate of long-term trends in crimes against the household population.”

Shadow Ministers cannot get away from the fact that that survey says that overall crime levels have more than halved since 2010. All offensive weapon crimes have come down by more than 52%, and thefts, including domestic burglaries, have halved—in fact, domestic burglary is now at the lowest level on record.

I listened carefully to the shadow Minister, Alex Norris. I say this with respect: he gave three examples of where he asserted the Government had failed, but two of those concerned the retail environment. I accept that there has been an issue with retail theft, but he had to give two examples that were focused on retail crime because he did not want to get into domestic burglary.

Photo of Laura Farris Laura Farris Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

Of course it is serious, but it has fallen so much. My right hon. Friend Chris Philp quite properly talked about homicide, the maximum high-harm offence. Homicide rates have fallen since 2010, but we are making progress every year: they have fallen by 10% in the past 12 months alone.

Our third priority is performance. The Government make no apology for seeking to drive improvement and efficiencies; one such efficiency was the partnership between the police and the BlueLight Commercial exercise that has already saved over £170 million, but we are continuing to drive efficiencies through technological advancements in areas such as detection. My right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South gave the example of facial recognition technology, which has been so successful in his own constituency. There is also imagery and better intelligence, and we are improving the performance of police officers themselves through the deployment of specialist trained officers for the most sensitive crimes, such as rape. More than 2,000 specialist trained officers will be deployed across all 43 forces in England and Wales by April of this year.

I will now address some of the points that were made by hon. Members, starting with my hon. Friend Steve Double. First, he is correct, and it is good to see, that police numbers in his constituency have risen: they are north of 3,650 in Devon and Cornwall. He is also right to mention the fact that so much police time has historically been consumed by dealing with mental health problems, and I hope I can provide him with some reassurance. There is now a national roll-out of a scheme called Right Care, Right Person, which is effectively a toolkit that was very successfully piloted in 2021 by Humberside police. It means that police will not ordinarily attend a mental health incident: there is an exception when there is a possibility of a referral under section 3 of the Mental Health Act 1983, but other than that, they will not be involved. It is estimated that on a nationwide basis, that could save 1 million hours of police officer time in any year. My hon. Friend also made some very valid points about geography and the special requirements of policing in rural areas, which Labour has never fully or adequately dealt with. The reason—I say this very respectfully—is that very few Labour MPs represent rural areas, and there is a consistent ignorance of the kinds of crimes that are specific to rural environments.

In his very good speech, my hon. Friend Peter Aldous acknowledged that Suffolk constabulary had received a percentage increase. I listened carefully to what he said about the safer streets programme and the £500,000 reduction, but I would gently point out to him that overall, Suffolk constabulary is getting an increase of £11 million in its budget. What he has referred to involves only a small number of officers, but I promise to take his point away and get back to him on it.

To conclude, we could not be clearer: public protection is our priority. We have delivered on it, and we will always stand on the side of the law-abiding majority and support the police. We will take the fight to the criminals again and again, even as their nefarious practices evolve. This Government will always ensure that police have the resources, powers and capability to do their crucial work, and this settlement underlines our enduring commitment to strong and effective policing in England and Wales. I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) 2024–25 (HC 482), which was laid before this House on 31 January, be approved.