I beg to move,
That this House
has considered funding for West Midlands Police.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. I am grateful to have secured this debate.
I begin by expressing my thanks to the officers and staff of West Midlands police, who do an extraordinary job under immense pressure. As the largest force outside London, West Midlands police are the people who walk the beat and respond to some of the most diverse and challenging calls in the UK. The work and effort that they put in is especially remarkable given the funding cuts that they have already had to endure.
It is widely accepted that the Government’s approach to police funding over the past five years has seriously disadvantaged the big cities, where crime is often higher and more complex in nature. Our region has been hit harder than anywhere else. Over the past five years, disproportionate cuts have cost West Midlands police £126 million, which has led to one of the largest staff reductions in the country, in both numbers and proportion, with a 1,500 drop.
There are two big aspects of and reasons for such comparably high reductions: the region’s low council tax precept and the Government’s practice of formula damping. The council tax precept is the second lowest in the country, behind Northumbria, which means that West Midlands police is more reliant on central grant funding. A flat-rate cut in the central grant therefore has a disproportionate effect. Although central Government provide 86% of West Midlands police’s budget, for some forces the percentage can be as low as 49%.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate, which is timely, to say the least. Does he agree that, with a 23% budget cut over the past four years and something like 5.8% of the overall distribution, rather than the 6.8% that other police authorities have been getting, West Midlands police has been discriminated against?
My hon. Friend is right: West Midlands police really has been hit disproportionately. For example, compare West Midlands police with Surrey police, which has seen its total income fall by 12%. As my hon. Friend said, West Midlands police has already lost 23%, despite recorded crime having risen in the west midlands and fallen in Surrey. The cap on council tax rises, along with the huge costs associated with a referendum to go above that cap, leaves West Midlands police with no ability to mitigate cuts to the central Government grant in the same way that other forces sometimes can.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. It is an important issue that he is right to raise. I want to make two points. First, West Midlands police deserves to be congratulated on the 17% reduction in crime that I understand it has achieved. Secondly, will the hon.
Gentleman say a little more about the extraordinary position in which we find ourselves, whereby the amount of the subvention from central Government is far higher than for any other force, apart from Northumberland, and the precept is very much lower? Most of our fellow citizens in similar cities—if one can say there are similar cities to Birmingham—are paying much more. That is an established fact, but it would be very helpful if the hon. Gentleman could discuss the options for remedying that.
The right hon. Gentleman is quite right—that is what I touched on earlier. The fact that we start with a lower council tax base means that we are more reliant on the central Government grant, so it is much harder to mitigate or to compensate for the effect of flat-rate cuts. I will come to crime levels, particularly the levels for different kinds of crimes, in a minute.
The issue is not only the level of income, but the huge additional burdens. For example, after the Metropolitan police, West Midlands police bears far and away the biggest share of the successful campaign against terrorism.
My right hon. Friend is quite right about that. I will mention some of the specific demands on West Midlands police in a little while, but he is absolutely right to draw attention to counter-terrorism work.
In addition to the issue of council tax, the west midlands is also hit doubly hard by how formula damping works. In brutal terms, such damping prevents the region from receiving the funding allocation that the national formula says we need. This year, West Midlands police will receive £43 million less than the Government’s own formula says is required.
As my hon. Friend says, under the existing system we are being robbed of £43 million that we should receive. In the past, the Minister has recognised that that is wrong. The Minister will not want to comment too much on his future plans today because of the ongoing consultation, but does my hon. Friend agree that at the very least we need an assurance that we will not lose, as has been speculated, a further £20 million under the plans that the Minister is going to put into action?
My hon. Friend is right on both points. First, the impact of formula damping is a problem. Everyone seems to recognise that, but then nothing is done about it, so I hope that the Minister will reassure us on that. Secondly—I hope that the Minister will say something about this as well—the current consultation is also important, because some of the scenarios could hit the west midlands very hard indeed. I will say something about that in a little while. Suffice it to say that, if the funding was increased by just £10 million to compensate for the formula damping problem, that would still leave West Midlands police hit three times as hard as any other force, but we could recruit 450 additional police officers. Instead, £43 million is given to other forces. I understand the problems when formulae change and the effects have to be smoothed, but the reality is that other forces will get more funding than the Government’s formula says they need and West Midlands police will get less.
At this point, I want to note that in the individual force assessments for handling austerity, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary rated West Midlands police as outstanding. Credit for that is due first, and most importantly, to the officers and staff of West Midlands police. It is also important to mention the contributions of the late Bob Jones, the former police and crime commissioner, and David Jamieson, the current PCC, as well as that of Chief Constable Chris Sims, who will soon be retiring—we should thank him for his work during his time in the west midlands.
It is important that policy makers listen to people such as those I have just mentioned, because they are not crying wolf; they are raising legitimate concerns about the sustainability of the police service in the west midlands. Were the existing formula regime to continue, the force would expect to lose a further £100 million over the coming years. That would mean that a further 2,500 officers, police community support officers and staff would be set to go. At the end of the decade, West Midlands police would be expected to be smaller than when it was established back in 1974. In a moment, I will give more detail about the demands facing the force, which were mentioned by my right hon. Friend Mr Spellar, but for now I will simply say that crime is often more complex and sophisticated now than it was in the ’70s. Will the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to ensure that West Midlands police gets a fair deal to halt the huge drop in officer numbers that it is facing?
Given the categorical unfairness of the existing regime, I think that many colleagues present, from both the Government and the Opposition, were encouraged when the Government finally announced a review of the current formula. That should have been good news. The problem is that the Home Office has refused to publish any detailed exemplifications or impact assessments using its proposed models. We are already seeing the Government’s attempt to have an open discussion, which they say they wanted, starting to unravel. How can anybody offer an informed judgment to the consultation without the full information? As was reported in The Guardian at the weekend, even attempts to get figures via a freedom of information request have been rejected.
Thanks to the revelations published by the same newspaper, forces may still have time to review the implications of the new formula just before the consultation closes next Wednesday. Early analysis of the modelling suggests that there are several serious concerns about the Home Office’s approach that are likely to disadvantage our region even more. Based on modelling of the new funding formula by the Police and Crime Commissioners Treasurers’ Society, West Midlands police could lose more than 25% of its current funding. That is on top of the existing 40% cut, to which my hon. Friend Steve McCabe alluded. Before the end of the decade, that could leave the force with a budget smaller than the fixed costs for the officers it already has.
The hon. Gentleman is being most generous in giving way and is making an important speech. May I press him further about the budget and funding? Does he believe that the precept should rise or does he think that the Government should continue to give more of a subvention because we are providing a smaller precept locally? It is important to address that point, so that we have it clear and in the open.
I will say two things in response to the right hon. Gentleman. First, tackling the question of the precept and the relative level of the council tax base is a long-term issue. It raises fundamental questions about how much it is legitimate to raise locally, as opposed to being dependent on central Government grants, when funding local government and other local services. That brings with it issues of how to compensate for particular levels of deprivation and so on, but he is right that it is a vital discussion, which goes beyond police funding.
In relation to this debate, however, we are where we are. We have a lower council tax base and are disproportionately dependent on central Government grants. Unless central Government formulae recognise that and respond to it, we will not be able to move forward.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way again. It does not really matter whether someone thinks that the precept should rise or not; the reality is that the Government have locked in a system that requires a referendum before it can rise, which is part of their intention to limit the rise. This is surely a spurious argument.
That is saying perhaps a little more bluntly what I meant when I said that we are where we are. The Government must listen to the implications of their own policies.
My hon. Friend mentioned referendums. Let us say that we in the west midlands decided that, as the Government will not change their mind, despite our low council tax precept and so on, we should have a referendum. Where would that funding come from? It would come from the police budget, and we would lose even more as a consequence.
I am stunned at the suggestion that I might have made a spurious point. It would be perfectly fair for the Minister, in seeking to confront the funding difficulties that we all agree exist, to ask whether senior politicians in Birmingham, such as the hon. Gentleman, believe that the Government should continue to give far more as a proportion because the precept in Birmingham is so low or whether senior local politicians believe that that needs to change and that the Government should not immediately assume that the wider taxpayer will provide an extra amount because the precept is so low. I am only trying to ensure that the hon. Gentleman is making a point of principle and is not simply asking the Minister for more money without expressing a view.
I hope that it was clear from what I said at the outset that if a region has higher needs and a lower capacity to meet those needs locally, an important part of which is the level of the council tax precept, the Government should not ignore that problem. The formula should take account of that kind of thing, and the support should reflect the region’s needs and its lower capacity to raise money, which is partly a result of deprivation and the historical level of the council tax precept. As I said, if we decided to try to go for a higher council tax precept, the police force would have to pay for the referendum, which is patently unfair.
Bedfordshire decided to hold such a referendum in order to increase the council tax. That vote was lost and it cost Bedfordshire police some £600,000. It would be madness for the West Midlands police to try that even if it was desirable.
My hon. Friend makes a good point about the costs of referendums.
I am concerned that the Government’s proposals fail to take into account the multiple and complex demands on policing in the UK’s second largest city and the wider west midlands region. My constituency of Birmingham, Northfield, part of the Birmingham south local police unit, has recently seen a wave of high-profile incidents that have raised safety concerns among local residents. The reality is that those incidents are unrelated and exceptional—it is not a high-crime area—but the fact that they are taking place underlines the cross-cutting demands and sporadic pattern of many of the crimes with which large urban areas must contend. As a result, the question of police providing essential community reassurance is as important as crime detection and crime prevention.
Police community support officers are familiar faces of reassurance in many of our communities, mine being no exception. They play a vital role in deterring crime and building confidence among local people. Yet, despite their prominence and value on our streets, we look set to lose huge numbers of PCSOs. What is the Minister’s assessment of his Government’s pledge not to undermine front-line policing services such as PCSOs? Traffic police are another key, often overlooked front-line service. Specifically trained traffic officers are vital in deterring dangerous driving. Yet as their numbers have fallen in the past five years, casualties have risen dramatically nationally. What is the Minister doing to ensure that the Central Motorway Policing Group, for example, will maintain adequate staffing? Indeed, when considering job cuts to police officers, traffic officers and PCSOs, what assessment has he made of the required policing capability and capacity of each force area?
Across the west midlands—this goes back to the point of Mr Mitchell about crime levels—recorded incidents of violence against the person have increased by 10%, sexual offences by 18% and public order offences by 13% in the last year alone. West Midlands police is facing increasingly important challenges, such as radicalisation, child sexual exploitation and female genital mutilation. Safeguarding the most vulnerable in society and investigating and bringing perpetrators to justice are time and resource-intensive processes. When we consider the increases in many types of recorded crime, many of us will be aware that the real figure is probably much higher.
Critics of official crime statistics are well aware that many crimes, such as rape and sexual assault, regrettably go unreported. Others such as cybercrime and credit card fraud are simply not recorded properly. Crime is changing—not falling—and the Government must recognise that fair and proportionate funding for police forces is important.
In closing, I have two specific questions for the Minister. First, will he publish in full the data that his Department has used to develop the consultation proposals and will he then consider extending the consultation deadline to allow all respondents more time to review that information? Secondly, in the light of the disproportionate cuts in funding for West Midlands police, as found in the recent National Audit Office report, and given the growing local and national security demands in our region, will the Minister commit today to those things being taken into account in the new formula?
On Tuesday, the Select Committee on Home Affairs will take evidence about such matters, not only from the West Midlands police, but from other forces as well. For the Committee’s discussions and debates on Tuesday to be as informed as possible, I hope that the Minister will give at least some of that information today. He should be able to answer today the questions about the nature of the consultation, the basis for the figures arrived at and the work of the National Audit Office, without in any way jeopardising the consultation.
There is no set time limit, but I intend to call the first of the two Front Benchers at 15.40, which gives us almost 50 minutes. Five people are standing, although I am sure that other people might change their mind later on, so if Members will keep their contributions to less than 10 minutes, including interventions, we will get everyone in.
I congratulate Richard Burden on securing the debate and on his contribution to it.
Every area of the UK feels a connection with and a debt of gratitude to its police services. They keep us safe day in, day out, in overt and sometimes covert ways. They are part of the glue that holds our society together. In my constituency I know my local police by first name, where their beats are and even some of their hobbies—I have to reveal that a few are fellow cyclists. I am sure that most, if not all hon. Members can echo such sentiments and experiences.
My latest briefing from the local police found that the level of high-impact crimes such as burglary has been cut dramatically. Officially, as of last spring, the previous three-year period had seen a 10% drop in crime in our area. Police are doing more, sometimes with less, but always, it seems, more efficiently and intelligently. This Government are all about good husbandry of resources—we understand that the money is everyone’s, not ever the Government’s.
We are undergoing a review of the police funding formula. As was the case with schools, we have had to wait a decade or more for a review. The social make-up of our country has changed markedly over that period. However, such reviews always throw up worst-case scenarios, and a lot of stories in the Birmingham media involve the possible direction of the review based on those worst-case scenarios. Understandably, therefore, I have received several letters from constituents concerned about future police funding in the west midlands, and I have held informal discussions with senior local police to gauge their views. The overwhelming response is that we do not want to see the fantastic work done by our police in bringing crime down to be damaged by any misallocation of resources.
We have particular challenges in the west midlands, which should carry extra weight in any funding allocation. We face acute challenges in combating radicalisation, child exploitation and female genital mutilation. On a straight population model, it is easy to see how Ministers might look at West Midlands police funding as a potential area for future efficiencies. However, I am encouraged to read in the Home Office consultation document that basing the funding model on per head of population has in effect been ruled out. In addition, I welcome the part of the document that acknowledges that funding based purely on police activity “may skew the results”.
We are not helped in our cause by the office of the police and crime commissioner, which has overseen the expenditure of some £30 million on its headquarters and holds more than £100 million in reserves according to some estimates. The PCC also employs seven people in a public relations capacity, compared with an average among all the other PCC areas of two. To be fair to the police and crime commissioner, however, he is planning to apportion a substantial slice of those hefty reserves on front-line policing and recruitment in the near future.
The West Midlands force has also been slow in weaning itself off central Government financing. It relies on central Government for some 87% of its financing, and over time the proportion drawn from the precept has not increased by the level that it should have. The socioeconomic challenges that we face, however, should give real pause for thought before any substantial cuts to central Government financing are undertaken; and I am confident that we will be listened to and that no such cuts will be made. Furthermore, West Midlands police should be allowed to show how the force will redress the funding balance between the precept and central Government.
I realise that this will be a central part of the debate, but will the hon. Gentleman care to tell us how much he thinks the precept should rise by as part of the weaning process?
That is a matter for local decision makers—just as it is a matter for them that they have not increased the precept over previous years. The hon. Gentleman used the word “spurious” before, but frankly the only spurious argument put forward so far has been that used by Opposition Members—that the referendum costs would be so prohibitive that one could never actually happen. If the argument is that a precept increase would spark a level of council tax sufficient to require a referendum automatically, I suggest that it would be up to the local decision makers, councillors and politicians to put the strong case for why—which is, in effect, that the West Midlands force is playing catch-up.
I have the greatest respect for Steve McCabe, but I asked whether the Opposition favoured national subvention or a greater contribution from local resources—merely to flush out Labour’s thinking on funding—so for him to put the same question to my hon. Friend and then look rather askance when he does not answer shows, if I may say so, a bit of brass neck. This is an important point: we are asking those who want to see an increase—we all want to see the West Midlands police properly funded—where they think it should come from and in what proportion. So far we have not had an answer from the Opposition, although I have no doubt at all that my neighbour, Jack Dromey, will give us precisely that answer when he speaks in the debate.
I concur with my right hon. Friend’s thoughts in that respect. The realities are that when we want to discuss financing and to argue a case with Ministers, we have to show a route map towards future decisions. We have to show a way in which we are ultimately going to wean ourselves off the precept. Shouting about it, saying, “Woe is me!” and making party political points will do no good in achieving what we want, which is—this is the bottom line—the best possible funding deal for West Midlands police. I hope everyone in the Chamber would agree with that.
The west midlands should be allowed to show clearly how it will redress the balance between precept and central Government funding for the police. Let me use the example of the BBC, an institution that I have touched on once or twice in recent debates. That organisation’s model of funding is not fit for purpose, but it has been allowed an opportunity, in the charter renewal, to show how it will correct itself. I am asking for the same consideration to be given to West Midlands police. After all, the police are more important to our way of life than whether BBC4 or the BBC website exists. The long-term objective has to be that local decision makers must show a route map away from the existing levels of precept funding. That has to form part of the negotiations, so that we do not end up with any formula that dramatically cuts funding to the police. We need a gradual process of retrenchment by central Government, with more of the burden being put on the local area.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Richard Burden on initiating this important debate.
In all the time I have served as a west midlands Member—a very long time indeed—the West Midlands police force has never received such a financial blow as it has over the last five years. The force has, at times, been the subject of controversy—perhaps Mr Mitchell will remember only too well some of the more recent controversies—but the fact of the matter is that the force has been treated properly under successive Governments until, unfortunately, the last few years, and it is due to be hit again. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield referred to a future meeting of the Home Affairs Committee. On
As has been pointed out, the West Midlands police force relies far more on a central Government grant allocation than do most other forces in the country. As the Minister will know, that point has been emphasised on so many occasions since 2010—by local authorities in the west midlands and by both the late and the new police and crime commissioners. Indeed, few Members, even Conservative ones, have not made the point that the manner in which finance has been organised over the years—the damping process that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield referred to—has been particularly adverse to the West Midlands police force.
In my earlier intervention I made reference to referendums. To increase the precept by just under 2%, a referendum would be necessary. When a referendum took place in Bedfordshire, the answer was no, and the cost was in the region of £600,000. Bearing in mind incomes in the west midlands, and the way in which so many people, certainly in public services, have had their wage increases frozen at 1%, it would not be right or proper to ask people in the region to pay more.
In comparison, Surrey, which undoubtedly is a far more prosperous area than the west midlands—I do not think there is any controversy about that—gets half its income from council tax. That is very different indeed from in the west midlands, yet Ministers and the Home Secretary have simply refused to recognise the difference between places such as Surrey, which rely far more on council tax, and those that rely more on the grant allocation.
In five years there has been a 17% reduction in the number of police officers in the west midlands. I do not think that the Minister is likely to challenge that figure—if he does, I will be interested to hear what he says. Moreover, there has been a 24% cut in the number of police community support officers. I would also be interested to hear the Minister’s comments about the fact that some 590 west midlands officers, each with more than 30 years’ service, have been forced to retire under regulation A19. Of those 590 officers, nearly 500 have put in claims regarding pension sums that amount to more than £71 million—a very substantial figure.
Let me add a little about my own constituency. Over the years there have been two police stations, in Bloxwich and Willenhall. In addition, there has been the main station on Green Lane—I will not go into the fact that it was opened by the then Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, in 1966. What is happening now is that Willenhall station is to close and be sold off. The borough’s central police station, on Green Lane, is to close next year and the building will be sold off also. Bloxwich will, fortunately, remain—I hope we are not going to be told that it is also to close.
That is the situation locally. No wonder the police and crime commissioner, David Jamieson, has said that
“the force will have to look and feel different” in respect of crime in the future. How different? The chief constable, who is retiring, has said that by 2020 the police force will have to be reduced by almost 45% over 10 years.
In conclusion, law-abiding people in the west midlands must feel a good deal of anxiety, certainly among those who understand what has happened and is likely to happen—people who feel that if they are burgled or their cars are stolen, there will be difficulties contacting the police, getting the crimes investigated and all the rest. Such anxiety is perfectly justified. Criminals and potential criminals must feel a good deal of satisfaction about what is happening. I believe that the Government, and certainly the Home Secretary, have a duty to understand the concern that is being expressed by so many, including Members on both sides of the House, and to find a formula that is fair for the people of the west midlands. That is what we are asking for today. I hope it is not too much to ask that the Minister bear in mind our concerns and our desire to ensure that there are sufficient police officers and facilities to protect law-abiding people in the region.
It is a pleasure to be called to participate in my first Westminster Hall debate under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. I join my right hon. and hon. Friends in congratulating Richard Burden on securing the debate on this extremely important topic. As the son of a west midlands police officer, who served for nearly 30 years in West Midlands police and before that in the Birmingham force, through the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and mid-’90s, this issue is important to me personally. The future of West Midlands police is obviously dear to me, as well as vital to my constituents.
I appreciate that time is short, and I will try to keep my remarks brief and avoid repeating things that have already been said better by my right hon. and hon. Friends. As has been said, we have seen crime levels fall by 17% in the west midlands over the last few years. I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield that the crime has changed, but I do not accept his assertion that crime levels have not fallen. The evidence is that, however crime is measured, the trend generally points in the same direction. If anything, the scale of the fall, on other measures, is greater than 17%.
Sorry, but whether we take our crime figures from the police or the victims of crime surveys, the general trend in the west midlands and nationally is down. Of course, some sections of crime—the hon. Lady is right to identify domestic violence as an issue—have had a large impact on recent crime figures. Domestic violence is, of course, an important issue, which West Midlands police has to address; and it is, in fact, working hard to do that.
The work being done to reduce crime across the west midlands has come at a time when the Government have had to take extremely difficult decisions, and they will continue to do so. That is despite the scare stories we have had since day one, when we were told that decisions that have now been taken would inevitably lead to apocalyptic outcomes, but that is not what we have seen. Of course, we all want the best funding settlement for West Midlands police, but we should be careful about accepting at face value some of the more apocalyptic predictions.
As I said, West Midlands police has achieved significant reductions with reduced budgets. We are fortunate to have a police force that is innovating and that has shown that it is, where appropriate, prepared to work with the private sector to deliver the police service we need. Its success in that field has been recognised as outstanding by HMIC.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the innovative work of West Midlands police, and I can think of one area where that has been somewhat understated. West Midlands police identified a problem with people with mental health conditions being put in inappropriate locations. They are now working in an innovative partnership with the NHS, and there has been a huge reduction in the number of people being put in inappropriate locations under the Mental Health Act 1983.
I absolutely agree, and I was fortunate enough to join my hon. Friend on a visit to see that initiative. We accompanied the team as it responded to a call, which it dealt with in a way that ensured that the person involved received appropriate medical care, rather than ending up in a police cell, which was clearly the worst place for them. Police forces around the country could learn a lot from the work being pioneered in the west midlands.
The West Midlands police force is clearly being ambitious in its plans, but we have to ensure that taxpayers in Dudley South and across the west midlands get a fair deal. That means making sure not only that the funding settlement is fair to the west midlands, but that the money is spent effectively. The heart of the Conservative approach is that we must fix the roof while the sun shines.
That does not mean that things are perfect or anywhere near perfect. The police funding system does not work as it should—it is complex, opaque and out of date. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield said, the damping system seriously disadvantages the west midlands, and it has done so for the past 10 years, since the last Labour Government introduced it. That needs to be addressed as part of the review. That is why it is right that the Government focus on replacing the existing funding formula with a simpler one, but we must make sure that forces such as the West Midlands get the deal they deserve and need. The new funding formula needs to reward forces that innovate and that succeed in bringing down crime. It also needs to recognise the level of underlying crime that remains in the west midlands, as well as the need to tackle it and the resources that are required to do so.
The West Midlands force is the second largest in the country, and there is a need for funding that reflects that. However, too often it also seems that we do not get the full 100p for each pound of police funding, and we have seen questionable uses of that funding. Only last week we heard of a local police officer receiving almost £33,000 in overtime alone. I think there is perhaps rather more to that than appears in the newspapers, but that is clearly not an ideal or efficient way to allocate resources. The overtime bill for 39 forces in England and Wales rose by £6 million last year, and it has totalled more than £1 billion over the last three years.
My hon. Friend is making some important points. He is spotting many of the inefficiencies that already exist, including in relation to the office of the police and crime commissioner. Will he comment on the fact that the commissioner has reserves of up to £100 million and that £30 million has been spent on Lloyd house?
My constituents have certainly come to me with concerns about how West Midlands police is using, or intends to use, those reserves to make sure that the best possible service is provided. Yes, people were surprised—
If I could just finish a sentence, I will give way.
People are surprised at the use of £33 million to refurbish Lloyd house. I understand that there were some contractual obligations, but the situation is obviously not sustainable. Tying up so much of the force’s resources in a prime property in Birmingham city centre is not delivering the police service we need.
I campaigned in last year’s by-election. Obviously I was not happy with it being in August or with the result, but we have to move past both those factors.
The current police allocation formula is clearly outdated and in desperate need of reform. I will respond to the Home Office consultation as soon as I work out what some of the questions refer to.
Some of the model does, as the hon. Lady suggests, lack clarity. The lack of detail about how the five factors involved are to be incorporated and the information they are based on makes it difficult to understand how a new formula would affect the west midlands. That is a serious problem, which I hope the Minister will reflect on. It certainly makes it difficult for me and other Members to understand how a change would affect our constituents.
More broadly, as well as needing a fair funding formula that delivers fair funding for the west midlands, we must accept that it is not sustainable in the long term for 87% of the funding to come from central Government grant. As the former finance spokesman on Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council, I am the first to argue for council tax bills to be kept as low as possible. However, I hope the Minister will discuss with DCLG colleagues whether there might be some way to introduce an element of flexibility into the referendum criteria, as happened in previous years, recognising low-precepting authorities and perhaps setting a cash ceiling that would trigger a referendum, rather than a straight percentage increase. West Midlands fire service certainly took advantage of that three or four years ago. It would help to put West Midlands police on to a more sustainable footing if the balance between centrally and locally funded streams were addressed better.
It is clear that the police reform that is happening locally is working. West midlands police have been working to identify and respond to crime, and crime has fallen. I want to express my thanks to West Midlands police force, my local police officers and, of course, the West Midlands police leadership, from the chief constable down.
Order. There are 15 minutes left and three Members standing. If they all keep their speeches below or around six minutes we will get everyone in, as long as someone else does not stand up and spoil my calculations.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby, and to follow Mike Wood. It is interesting that he, a new Member, has already seen the difficulties of the policies brought forward by the previous Government. It is good that he has been creative in that way.
I thank my hon. Friend Richard Burden, for obtaining the debate. It is not a question of people ringing around forcing Members to attend. As can be seen, Members from throughout the west midlands are here, quite rightly, because the debate is about a key issue for our constituents. I am pleased that my hon. Friend Mr Winnick is here, and I hope that he will report back some of today’s comments at the Select Committee sitting that he will attend next week.
The debate is about fiscal fairness, and protecting our constituents and their public services. Lots of Members have already raised the financial issues, and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield, eloquently went into the issue of the damping formula, but I want to add my voice on the concerns about finance and the funding of the West Midlands police. I am not giving a political statistic, but information from the National Audit Office. The West Midlands police have had 23% cuts. By comparison, as many hon. Members have said, Surrey has faced cuts of only 12%. Those are all facts. There have been cuts of £126 million in the past five years. Under the current formula, £43 million should have been given to the West Midlands police, but has not been.
Members touched on the matter of the council tax precept. The creative thinking of the hon. Member for Dudley South is interesting, and I hope that the Minister will look at what he said carefully, but I repeat that the precept for the West Midlands police is the second lowest in the country. People have talked about a referendum; that was the previous Government’s policy, and was part of the Localism Act 2011. There has been a squeeze on the West Midlands police nationally, but also locally, and it has resulted in the loss of 1,471 police officers, which is a huge number. I have had conversations with the police, and there has been a recruitment freeze. In addition to the effects of retirements, it is difficult to get new people into the force to provide the service that my constituents need. The effect of that has been huge.
There have been several criticisms of the police and crime commissioner, who is not here to defend himself, so I hope he will get an opportunity to provide clarification, given some of the misinformation about what he has done about the budget.
I want to thank Chief Superintendent Dave Sturman, who has moved on to another job—yes, it may well be in Lloyd house—and who has been fantastic about responding to concerns that I have raised on behalf of constituents. He has raided houses where there were sex workers and drugs, and he brought to justice the perpetrator of an attack on an elderly gentleman who was on his way to a mosque. In 2011 there was proper consultation with the local authority and Walsall town centre was free from riots. That is what it is about—partnership with local people.
Terry Simmons, the secretary of the Walsall borough neighbourhood watch, whom I have spoken to, has said that there is concern about what is happening. The association has enjoyed a good relationship with the police, but one neighbourhood team has moved back to the town centre. One person spoke of being at the mercy of a local response team, and those will not always deal with the low-priority cases. Pleck, Alumwell and Birchills are distressed at the kind of things that the police, with the minimum of resources, are having to do—they cannot do their job. As to response teams, it is said that they are moving away from the public, given the closure of front offices and falling numbers of patrols. People cannot talk to police officers on the street. The police are retreating into their cars. That is the wrong strategy.
Now more than ever before, we are in a challenging time. We need people to be vigilant, and we need to build up relationships with local people. We need local intelligence to protect our communities. In Walsall there have been two marches—a drain on people’s resources—of people who do not consider that a diverse community should be together, and who try to divide it. Those are the kinds of things that we face in Walsall.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield, commented on the funding formula, which is currently opaque. How opaque can it get, when all the information is not provided? I ask the Minister to start the consultation again, because the process is flawed. A decision cannot be made without all the information. I ask for all the information to be published immediately—not on
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby, and that is particularly true in this important debate secured by my hon. Friend Richard Burden. He outlined precisely the effect, and the unfairness, of the cuts that are to be made after the so-called consultation. I hope that the Minister will look at the considerable number of representations made about the adverse effect on the West Midlands police. As my hon. Friend said, if they must stick to the budgets outlined, they will not have sufficient finances to pay for their current staff. That will be a grave situation for all of us.
I will concentrate on my constituency, Birmingham, Perry Barr, where I took over as MP 14 years ago. We have faced significant issues with crimes against the person, gang-related crime, gun crime, knife crime and robbery. There have also been significant issues with regard to supporting people with mental health concerns, and particularly with some of the hostels for them, of which there are a considerable number in my constituency. We have had quite a lot to tackle over the past 15 years. I am proud to say that, by working with precision with the West Midlands police, and with proper funding, we have managed to reduce those crime rates hugely. When it comes to crime levels, we are now probably one of the best constituencies in the country. That is a credit to all the police officers, and all the people who work with the West Midlands police, including elected councillors and lay people who work in the neighbourhood forums. Delivering all that has been a combined effort. However, we have increasing issues to do with how we move forward and deal with our situation. We have lost a considerable number of police community support officers, and we could be about to lose all the ones we have left.
I want to mention a PCSO, Rob Capella, who has been in the force for almost 15 years—he joined the service as I became a Member of Parliament. He has done phenomenal work in the local area of Lozells and East Handsworth. He knows the families and people who live in those streets. People invite him in for a cup of tea and give him the information and intelligence that we need to work on reducing crime and finding out where the issues are and how we can deal with them. Losing a resource such as the one that Rob provides would be hugely detrimental.
In my constituency, we have held neighbourhood forums, which the police have put resources into; officers attend to listen to local people. They have been able to deliver a hugely important service. Residents have been listened to by the police, and the police have delivered services; for example, they have taken huge numbers of email addresses and phone numbers, and have been able to text and email people about the issues arising. That has been quite effective.
We are starting to see some of that work being undone, however, because of the cuts. Considering where we have come from, that is sad to see. A lot of people have put a lot of effort into local areas, and the community has been working together with the police; before I was elected in 2001, it was difficult to imagine that happening in areas such as Lozells, Aston and Handsworth. We have broken down barriers by working with the police, but now we find it extremely difficult for the police to engage with people in those places who want to protect those communities and be part of the solution, not the problem.
It is important that we can put that work together, but to do what we have to, resources are needed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield, said, resources are crucial to providing that kind of support to our communities. I do not think any of us wants a return of the era we have come from.
To conclude quickly, I know that the Minister is taking part in a consultation. He is a very fair man, and I am sure that he will have listened to the concerns that all Members have raised today. This issue is important to all of us. As for the outcome of the consultation, I hope he is able to bear in mind the concerns we have all raised. That would go some way to addressing some of the issues.
This is my first go at contributing to a debate in Westminster Hall, Mr Crausby. I did not know where the Chamber was—luckily one of my colleagues from Coventry was coming here—but I do know an awful lot about policing in the west midlands. There is not a single MP here in whose constituency I have not worked with the police teams. In fact, I welcomed James Morris into a women’s refuge in my area some years ago, and had a cup of tea with him and Francis Maude. I have also—I am sure that the Minister is not aware of this—acted for the past five years as an adviser to the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice on international human trafficking and police resources for domestic and sexual violence.
I know what I am talking about when it comes to police funding, and what should be central or local. There is definitely a need for both to play their part. There is a huge array of different funding models for preventing crime in the west midlands. My experience has largely been that those that are protected, part-funded—for want of a better word—and encouraged by central Government always work best.
I want to give some apocalyptic examples of exceptionally bad husbandry in cases of, I am afraid to say, bad husbandry. The bad husbands that I will talk about are people who abuse their wives. I have worked on every Birmingham MARAC. Not everyone will know that acronym; it stands for multi-agency risk assessment conference. MARACs deal with people at imminent risk of death from domestic violence—the most high-risk victims, who have been put through unimaginable terrors. In Birmingham, we have had four MARACs. For 10 years, they were chaired by serving police officers; then it changed to police personnel chairing the meetings. The administration and co-ordination of all those meetings, at which all the cases were heard and we decided together what to do about them, was managed by police staff. Police people put together the minutes, gave everyone their actions and chased people who were to come back to the meeting once they had taken action; they would ask, “Probation, what have you done about the offender? Housing, have you got a house for this woman and her children?”
Until about 18 months ago, it was the police who held that together. Then the police did not do it any more. The three MARACs that now exist in Birmingham do not have an administrator or a co-ordinator. We go along to the meetings and talk about stuff, and action points are taken away, but stuff falls through the cracks. That stuff is what you—[Interruption.] Sorry, Mr Crausby, not you. That stuff is what the Home Office will receive when it has its domestic homicide reviews. It will say that the system is broken and that we cannot communicate with each other any more, because we had resources—once it was police officers, and then, one step down, police personnel—but now we do not have any.
This might sound apocalyptic, but that situation will mean that people die. It will mean that we fail in our duty to keep people safe. That is what police cuts mean. Yes, we all feel that crime is going down, and that good husbandry and efficiency in management has really helped, but I am seeing that it has not. Members will never see inside the MARAC room. No one from a newspaper will ever say, “Gosh, there’s no MARAC co-ordinator—MARAC co-ordinator scandal!”, but in the real world, where people are working on the frontline in every single one of your constituencies—sorry, Mr Crausby—that is what is happening. It is bad.
There is a difference between crime figures and safety. The public protection unit of West Midlands police is one of the greatest police units. West Midlands police have done an awful lot to clear the decks and try to recognise that child sexual exploitation, human trafficking, sexual violence and rape have to be dealt with. The force has put huge effort, care and love into that, but the report from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary still says that the response is not good enough for the people in my constituency and across the west midlands. That is not the fault of the police. As my hon. Friend Mr Mahmood said, if we were where we were 20 years ago, things would look very different; on domestic and sexual violence, on gang violence and on working with our communities, we have come really far, and there is a reason for that: we were able to do the work.
I have seen how a really good multi-agency, multi-partnership community response has gone because of cuts to policing. I can do no more than urge the Minister to hear me when I say that the papers will be coming across the Home Office’s desk, but unfortunately they will be about the deceased.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. I congratulate my hon. Friend Richard Burden on his public service in securing this debate.
Last weekend I was in Erdington high street with Louis, a much loved police community support officer who works with the town centre partnership, making the high street a safe place to go. Popular with the local community, he is a grandfather figure to the local children in the high street. Last month I was with Cindy Tierney, out on the beat in Perry Common. She has been doing the job for 11 and a half years. “I love the job,” she says, and she is much loved—I saw that at first hand. She polices one of the poorest wards in Britain and undertakes exemplary work with local young people. Now both are at risk of losing their jobs as a consequence of budget cuts that will see PCSOs become an endangered species in the west midlands.
West Midlands police is rightly regarded to be one of the best forces in Britain. It is ably led by Chris Sims, and has been ably represented, first by Bob Jones and then by David Jamieson. Centres of excellence are contained there, including award-winning neighbourhood police schemes, such as in my constituency, in Stockland Green. The West Midlands police service has done everything and more that the Government have asked of it. The Police Minister often says that the police should make the best use of resources. West Midlands police has done precisely that and been rated as outstanding by HMIC for doing so. That includes undertaking a groundbreaking partnership with Accenture on the modelling of the police service looking to 2020.
However, West Midlands police is reeling from 23% cuts over the last five years—the biggest cuts to any police service nationwide and in Europe—with £126 million gone from their budget. The west midlands is increasingly feeling the consequences, and I have seen that at first hand all over the west midlands—the progressive hollowing-out of neighbourhood policing, with more and more neighbourhood police officers getting taken back on to response; 27 police stations closing; and a generation of progress in cutting crime now being reversed. The latest figures on police recorded crime is for a 1% increase for the period of March 2014 to March 2015—and by the way, West Midlands police has been praised by HMIC as being the best force in the country for the accuracy of its crime statistics.
Now the West Midlands police service is facing catastrophic cuts, with potentially very serious consequences. Why? Because of the cumulative impact of what has happened thus far, with 1,500 police officers gone, and now, because the comprehensive spending review is looming, with the police not protected and with at least another £100 million and 2,500 more police officers to go. What has made things worse is the grotesque unfairness of the approach adopted by the Government. As hon. Members have said, had the west midlands been treated fairly over the last five years, we would have seen £43 million more in funding. Unfortunately, the west midlands has been treated grotesquely unfairly.
To add insult to injury, a funding formula review is about to make a bad situation worse. A fresh review was necessary and was promised for a year. It was published on the last day on which Parliament sat. The situation is now descending into farce because vital information has been withheld. The review talks about a number of principles, saying that some forces would be significantly affected, yet the Government have withheld which forces and by how much. There must have been an study on the likely impact of the new formula on all forces—on West Midlands police in particular—and there has to be, under law, an equality impact study. Neither has been disclosed.
Now at last we have some clarity, as a consequence of the leaked document. Work has been carried out by the Police and Crime Commissioners Treasurers’ Society, suggesting that the West Midlands police could lose another 25.1% because of the new formula, which does not include the departmental spending cuts to come. It reveals that, under the proposed formula, there will be a shift from urban to rural. The second hardest hit will be the west midlands, with a cut of 25.1%, the third hardest hit will be Merseyside, at 25.5%, and the fourth hardest hit will be Greater Manchester, at 23.3%. That will mean that the West Midlands police service will be near cut in half and will be smaller than when it was founded in 1974.
The Government have perpetrated a myth that somehow massive cuts can be inflicted on the police service and crime can be cut. Well, not only is recorded crime rising after a generation of progress, but crime is changing. Demand is rising. We have seen a massive increase in fraud, online crime and cybercrime—nearly 4 million last year alone—while the biggest concentration of cases of female genital mutilation outside London is in the west midlands. As my hon. Friend Jess Phillips said in her excellent contribution, this is not only about the impact on the victims of domestic violence; it is about protecting those who have been subject to child sex exploitation and abuse. What the West Midlands police service has done is rise to the challenge to tackle these obscenities, increasing the numbers in the public protection unit from 300 to 800. However, it is still struggling to cope with rapidly growing demand.
There is also counter-terrorism. At a time like this, it is utterly irresponsible to inflict such cuts that hollow out neighbourhood policing. The former head of counter-terrorism, Peter Clarke, and the current head of counter-terrorism, Mark Rowley, have both said that the patient building of good community relationships through neighbourhood policing is absolutely vital to the apprehension of terrorists and potential terrorists. Seeing neighbourhood policing being increasingly hollowed out will put the people of the west midlands at risk.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield asked some powerful questions. Fundamentally, it comes down to two points. First, will the Police Minister agree to publish in full all the studies that must have been carried out on the impact on our police service, so that this debate can be properly informed? Secondly, will he agree to extend the deadline on the consultative process? Otherwise, the consultative process is utterly meaningless, concealing a serious hidden agenda.
In conclusion, what the Government and the Police Minister must do today is come clean about exactly what they are proposing. Thus far, both the Government and the Police Minister have been in denial, asserting that, as was said earlier this week, numbers of police officers somehow do not matter—but yes, they do. They have been claiming that the front line will be protected, when it has not been—12,000 have gone from the front line over the last five years and the number is rapidly rising. Sometimes we are accused by the Police Minister, when we are telling the truth about what is happening—as hon. Members have in the powerful contributions that have been made in this debate—of somehow attacking the police. Nonsense. I bow to no one in my admiration for the West Midlands police service and for the good men and women that I see doing an outstanding job, day in, day out. We are not attacking the police; we are standing up for our police service, because that is exactly what our constituents want us to do. We are standing up against a Government that are doing terrible damage to our police service.
The first duty of any Government is the safety and security of their citizens. Cuts on this proposed scale will make it very difficult for the police to do their job, and it will make many communities in the west midlands less safe places to live and work. The Government cannot fail in that fundamental duty to the people of the west midlands, and we urge them to think again.
It is, as always, a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. I congratulate Richard Burden on securing the debate. If I was still a Back Bencher—we all start in that position—I would probably have put my name down for a debate here today on this subject as well. As colleagues who are here from both sides of the House know, that is what this place is for, and I have never hidden any of my views on this subject. I stand up again today, as I do every time I stand up as the Police Minister, which it is an honour and a privilege to do, to pay tribute to the police officers not only in the west midlands, but across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland—this great kingdom of ours. They do a simply fantastic job.
The forces around the country have adapted brilliantly to changes in the crime that they deal with daily and to austerity. Opposition Members will not like this point, but we inherited a really difficult financial position, and we went into an austerity process. The country made a decision at the general election. Many of the things that I heard in the speech by the shadow Minister, Jack Dromey, were also put out by him across the country during the general election campaign, but the public believe in what we are trying to do, which is to run a stable ship with the money available and not continue to get ourselves in a difficult financial situation.
I have met representatives of many forces, from chiefs right down to junior constables who have just joined the force. The other day I was at Hendon, where training of new recruits was going on. The one thing that has always been clear to me is that 99.9% of police officers are in the job for the right reason. That is true whether they are at the bottom or the top. I do not think that the press pay enough of a tribute to them; too often, they focus on the bad apples who spoil it for everyone else. It is right that they should be rooted out, and they are.
I pay tribute to the comments made on both sides of the Chamber. In the time allowed, I probably will not be able to answer all the points that were raised, but, as always, I will write to colleagues—and I did write to the shadow Police Minister in response to his letter to me. If he has not got that response, I do not know where it has gone, but I have responded.
Let us begin right at the start. Every time I went to see different forces, the one thing that the chief and the PCC either said in unison or quietly said individually to me was that the existing formula was fundamentally flawed. We were basically saying to forces, “This is how much money you should have, based on what you’re delivering, and this is what we’re going to take away from you through damping, top-slicing, etc.” All of them said that it was fundamentally flawed, so the principle of what we were looking at was how we could find a fairer system for all 43 forces that I represent.
I fully understand that there have been real, substantial and difficult financial decisions to be made by PCCs and chief constables about where and how they deliver their policing. I pay tribute to the work that has been done. Jess Phillips said that I might not know what she has done. Trust me: the civil service is quite good and did tell me exactly what she has done in the past. I thank her for the work that she has done for the Department and in her community. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
It is important that we ensure that the people on the front line and not the people—without being rude—in this room decide how policing is delivered in their communities. With that in mind, I have, interestingly enough, a new member of staff joining my private office from the Metropolitan police. They will be seconded from the Metropolitan police for one year, so that I can hear about what is happening on the front line, rather than perhaps just going by other experiences in the room. Actually, that person has volunteered to do it; they have not been seconded.
It is crucial that we ensure that a modern police force can deal with modern, difficult crimes. Some of those crimes are not new to us. FGM has been around since we became—this interesting word—a multicultural society. A lot of people have brought here traditions that we find completely abhorrent. Fortunately, we now have the legislation on the statute book to try to do something about that and people are coming forward.
When I was a young man on the council estate where I was brought up in north London, domestic violence was, I am ashamed to say, almost accepted. Thank God it is not today. People do have the confidence to go to the police and report it—sometimes through a third agency—and those prosecutions are going up.
Some of the figures for crime were alluded to by the shadow Minister. Has it gone up in the west midlands by 1% this year? Yes, it has. People should have a quick look, though, at what the figures tell us about where the reporting of offences is—I am referring to rape, sexual violence, male rape and domestic violence. Those are the areas where we should all be proud that people now have the confidence to come forward. Because of some of the historical sexual abuse cases, there are, rightly, more and more people coming forward. They are telling us things that we perhaps would never have dreamt had taken place in this country.
Crime as a whole is falling. I accept that it has also been falling in other parts of the world, but the police have done a simply fantastic job, with more limited resources, of ensuring that crime is coming down.
I am going to speak; I am not going to give way.
The key is what is being delivered; that is crucial. I know that the Labour party opposed PCCs, even though it fought a very interesting by-election campaign when Bob Jones sadly died. It was very sad that he went. I respected him enormously; he was a very good PCC and community leader. And he has been replaced by a similarly very good community leader.
Several hon. Members talked about referendums. The provision is there. I understand the argument about the precept. It has been raised with me several times by the local police and the PCC. If there is a need or want to increase the precept, let the people decide. Interestingly, we will have PCC elections in May next year. Perhaps someone will put it in their manifesto that if they put 10% on the precept, they could raise £7 million and put more than 124 officers—if they want to use the money for that purpose—back on the beat. [Interruption.] I will touch on the problem that has been alluded to.
Although I praise what is happening in the west midlands, it is crucial that we ensure that good work that is going on elsewhere in the country is also done in the west midlands. We do not necessarily need huge numbers of buildings with just police inside them. I had the pleasure of going to Winchester. I am an ex-fireman; I went to the fire station there and in the fire station was the police station. I went down the bottom of the drill yard, where the firemen were practising the excellent work that they do, and the armed response unit was also at the bottom of the yard. They were completely unified. It is very important that that is the case. In my own constituency, the police station will soon move into the new civic centre—that is where it needs to be. The interesting thing from my point of view is that when the front desk was closed, I asked my local force how many times people were coming to the front desk on the average day and the answer was three. Is that really the best use of our resources? Can that service not be delivered in a different way?
The aim of the consultation document that we put out was to try to find a fairer way of doing this. Instead of coming from the top and saying, “This is how much you deserve, but we’re going to take this away,” let us start from the bottom and build up from there in terms of what we deliver and what the needs are. That is part of the consultation that is going on.
I am not going to give way.
What is really wrong is when people scaremonger. There is no calculation, whether there is a leaked document or not. No one really knows until we come to a conclusion about whether the “bottom” principle is actually right, and the reason—[Interruption.] The shadow Minister holds up a document, saying, “This is fact.” It is not fact, because we do not know yet. Once the consultation is over and we agree on the principle of feeding up from the bottom, we can see what the needs of West Midlands police are—what they are bringing to the market. This relates to counter-terrorism. We will know more about exactly how things will be delivered. Will it be through the ROCUs—regional organised crime units? Will it be through the National Crime Agency? What will actually need to be delivered by West Midlands police? Will it deliver in collaboration with the forces around it? It is a very large force; it has a lot of capacity. Could some of that capacity be used elsewhere? What it brings to the party will decide the fundamental principle of how much money is coming.
That is why we have not released a set of assumptions. We cannot release a set of assumptions until after the consultation is over. That was the advice I took, and that is the advice I continue to work from today. But it is a consultation. One principle is crucial, and those who have been in the House for a while with me will know that when I did the coastguard consultation, which was very controversial, I said this categorically. It is a consultation. I will look very carefully not only at what has been said here today, but at all the other representations. I encourage colleagues to be part of the consultation. They should not assume that what they have said today is everything that needs to be said. They should be part of the consultation. And what we will come out with, I believe, is a fundamentally better formula for the whole of England and Wales—the 43 authorities. Trust me, Mr Crausby: plenty of chief constables and PCCs from other parts of the country are desperate for a change, because they feel that they have been fundamentally underfunded for many years. We therefore need a fairer policy. As soon as we can get the consultation finished and—