Police Commissioners - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:00 pm on 22nd January 2018.

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Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat 3:00 pm, 22nd January 2018

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what advice they are giving to police commissioners on (1) whether commissioners should use the opportunity to levy additional council tax of £1 per month, and (2) what criteria should be used when making that decision.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

My Lords, the Government believe that democratically elected police and crime commissioners are best placed to take these local decisions. It is a matter for them to determine the appropriate levels of council tax precept to apply in each police force area.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat

My Lords, that is not true, of course, because there is a cap on it. To give just one example, in my own county in Lancashire the police are facing £90 million of savings in this decade, and they have already lost 800 police officers. The Government accept that there is a need for more spending, but the only way in which they will allow it, in order to max their cuts in what they are providing in real terms, is by putting up council tax by £12 a year, which would raise a fairly paltry £5 million this year. What advice will the Government give police commissioners in such places? Will they come off the fence and say whether they want the commissioners to stop further cuts in the police? If they do, will they therefore put council tax up by an extra £12 a year?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

My Lords, the reason for a cap is to stop precepts from getting completely out of hand in terms of the amount that local people might be asked to pay. The advice to police is that there are further efficiencies to be made in policing, as acknowledged by HMICFRS. There are investments in technology and things such as shared services that the police can look at across the piece. However, it is up to the local PCC to determine the best level of funding for the area and what type of investments it wishes to make.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, is this not just another example of the Government passing the buck? The police are under enormous financial pressure, and every county in this country will say that they do not see police officers as often as they used to and that numbers are falling. It is hardly surprising that, after seven years of real-term cuts, we have fewer officers per head of the population today than we have had at any time since records began. Instead of saying that it is a matter for the police force or PCCs, will the Government accept responsibility and give the funding required? When the Minister says that these technologies are needed and investment must be made, we have to put the money in first to see the benefit of investment. Will the Government step up to their responsibilities and adequately fund our police force?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

My Lords, the Government certainly accept their responsibilities. The right honourable Member in the other place, Nick Hurd, visited every police force in England in the run-up to this. The NPCC and the APCC called for £440 million of extra funding in 2018-19, with additional CT funding on top. They called for an extra 5,000 front-line officers for proactive policing by 2020. If all forces delivered the level of productivity benefits of mobile working of the best forces, the average officer could spend an hour a day extra on the front line. That has a potential to create the equivalent of 11,000 extra officers across England and Wales. In addition, the police have reserves of £1.6 billion to invest.

Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Deputy Chairman of Committees

Does my noble friend agree that it would be wholly inappropriate for the discredited former chief constable of Wiltshire Police to be given another highly paid job within the police force?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

I think that my noble friend answered his own question. What I will say is that, under the Policing and Crime Act of last year, retiring or moving on to another force—I am not referring specifically to the chief constable—does not absolve a police officer from being answerable.

Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

Four years ago, the Government described council tax payers as “hard pressed”; today, the Government are anticipating, and enabling, the raising of the police precept by police commissioners by 6% or 7%. Does that mean that council tax payers are no longer hard pressed?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

My Lords, when local leaders such as PCCs or local authorities make funding and budget decisions, they should always maintain as low a cost base for the local taxpayer as possible.

Photo of Lord Reid of Cardowan Lord Reid of Cardowan Labour

Will the Minister confirm that we have lost more than 20,000 police officers since the Government came in in 2010, and will she explain precisely how that has helped the fight against crime?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

As the noble Lord will know, overall crime has gone down since 2010. However, I think that everyone will recognise that the types of crime we are now experiencing have changed, and that police forces need to be equipped to deal with the changing face of crime.

Photo of Baroness Donaghy Baroness Donaghy Labour

The Minister said that the police and crime commissioners have £1.6 billion in reserves. What is a reasonable figure?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

I thank the Labour Front Bench for answering the noble Baroness’s question. I think that 5% of the revenue budget is deemed a reasonable level of reserves. I cannot stand at the Dispatch Box and work that out quickly.