Merseyside Police Funding — [Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:15 pm on 19th February 2019.

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Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey 3:15 pm, 19th February 2019

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Sir Edward. I will not repeat the stark figures that my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) and for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) and my right hon. Friend Mr Howarth put on the record, which show the terrible difficulties the Government’s decisions about police funding have left both the chief constable, Andy Cooke, and our PCC, Jane Kennedy, in over the years. Suffice it to say that we have seen an increase in demand, a rapid acceleration in crime, a significant reduction in the resources to deal with that demand, and a huge reduction in numbers, which has led to the loss of those eyes and ears that all our communities were so used to seeing when the Merseyside force pioneered the introduction of neighbourhood policing.

I do not think anyone in the room—I certainly hope that includes the Minister—would have anything other than praise for the Merseyside force and the individuals who make up the service. Merseyside police regularly outperforms other police forces. It has made huge efficiency savings over the years and was ahead of the curve in that respect, but it appears to have been punished for that by the scale of the cuts it has had to make. Merseyside police feels very much that it has been made to suffer for entering into the spirit of making efficiency savings and transforming the service. The Minister needs to recognise that my hon. Friends and I—some of us more than others—all represent areas of very complex and difficult policing challenges, particularly with organised crime and gangs, the like of which it is rare to see outside the Met.

The Minister will probably make all the usual arguments about how, really, the Government have massively increased resources and everyone should be able to manage with a bit of snipping and efficiency here, there and everywhere. However, the false economies of the cuts to prevention that decisions by the Minister and her Government are forcing on the Merseyside force will come back to haunt us in the not-too-distant future. Because many of the officers who remain are forced to do so much more with far fewer resources, they are becoming overstretched, and that is affecting their ability and capacity to do their job, their enthusiasm for the job and their mental health. Some of them are approaching burn-out, as demonstrated by the review my hon. Friends mentioned.

Aside from storing up trouble for the future, what do the cuts and pressures that the Minister and her Government colleagues are presiding over mean for our communities? What kind of society are my constituents in Wallasey and everyone else in Merseyside expected to put up with? It is one where respect for the law is decreasing rather than increasing; one where communities are cynical about reporting what is going on because they never get an adequate response; one where the police have to make really difficult choices about who to respond to and whether to respond in any meaningful way at all, and one where the wrong incentives are demonstrated day in, day out. It teaches that crime can pay and that the police are so overstretched that they will not arrive and deal with issues, so low-level crime begins to escalate, and that they are beginning to lose control of the streets.

There have been incidents in my constituency, which by some definitions is at the quieter end of the Merseyside area, of thugs arriving at people’s doors and threatening them if they have complained about scrambler bikes and low-level crime. The police have been to visit, and the thugs have come back and threatened members of the household for supporting each other and trying to do the right thing. The fact that the police do not have the resources to follow up makes previously law-abiding citizens, who believed that the police were there to help them, frightened to stay in those areas. They become increasingly cynical about reporting anything because they do not think the police can respond properly, and it makes them really question their values. That is what the Minister and her Government are presiding over by not funding our services properly.

What kind of society are we building if the cuts to the Merseyside force have stretched it to that extent? Given the emergence of county lines problems, no one should think for a minute that the issues that people have to live with in inner-city areas will not spread. They will, and we are now beginning to see them spread down train lines to areas that were previously untouched. We are seeing the increasing exploitation of people by organised gangs for drug purposes and the spread of really bad behaviour, which wreaks havoc in formerly quiet and law-abiding communities. That creates even more difficult problems and provides the wrong incentives.

I urge the Minister to give us some comfort that the Government will not continue unfairly expecting people on council tax band A and in poorer, more deprived areas to pay for the increasing cost of policing in areas that were difficult to start with, but that the Government will take their share of responsibility, step up to the plate and fund the forces of law and order that keep our society safe and secure. That would give people the confidence to plan, to be out on the street, to talk to each other and to have a proper community, rather than cower behind their doors, worried about antisocial behaviour and thuggery, which is spreading. The Minister must assure us that she has heard what we are saying and that her Government will respond in a way that will make a difference. They must reassure us and our constituents that they will fund our police services properly and will not resort to the unfair practice of putting the biggest burden of policing on those who are least able to cope with it.