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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. This has been a fantastic debate with some wonderful advocates from the Merseyside force area. We have had a true overview of the issues facing Merseyside police and its funding. I do not know whether we can call it a debate when everyone has agreed so wholeheartedly with each other, and it will not surprise the Minister that I am about to agree wholeheartedly with the points my right hon. and hon. Friends have made.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Stephen Twigg on securing this vital debate. He passionately laid out the case that Merseyside has suffered significantly from being one of the forces worst hit by funding cuts, resulting in the loss of almost half of Merseyside’s PCSOs and more than 1,100 officers. As a result of its low council tax base and the increased cuts to the Home Office central grant caused by the political failure to review the police funding formula, it is continuing to receive a deeply unfair funding settlement.
The cuts have consequences, as we have heard. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby mentioned the increase in firearms offences, as well as off-road bikes and related offences. He also mentioned the number of people dying through cuts to the number of road safety officers and the consequential impact on the welfare of our police officers and staff.
My hon. Friend Maria Eagle spoke about the 21% real-terms reduction, even including the allowed precept rise. She was absolutely right to say that an absolutely deplorable trait of this Government is to pretend that somehow they are being generous in allowing our hard-pressed ratepayers to pay more in council tax. The chair of the UK Statistics Authority agreed with her when he wrote to the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary last year to insist that they stop making such claims, because the claims were “misleading the public”.
My hon. Friend spoke about the consequences for neighbourhood policing and investigations, the huge demand caused by new crimes, such as cyber-crime, and the increase in traditional demand caused by things such as knife crime, which is plaguing so many of our communities. She mentioned the consequential impacts on faith in the police, and the Home Affairs Committee has found that, too. The very legitimacy of our police is at stake. The situation is undeniably leading to a lack of confidence in reporting to the police, as my hon. Friend Ms Eagle mentioned, and confidence that they will be able to act at all on those reports.
My right hon. Friend Mr Howarth spoke about the consequences that sadly resulted in a police officer being stabbed in his constituency. The safety of our officers and staff is increasingly being put at risk. More people are single-crewed when responding to crime. Guns are increasingly available and knife crime is increasingly normalised, particularly for young people on our streets. My hon. Friend Bill Esterson spoke about the tragic murder of Sam Cook on his 21st birthday. It is hard to escape the conclusion that that was not at least in part down to cuts to policing and prevention and the massive failure in the privatisation of our probation service.
As we have heard, nine years of brutal cuts to our police service have led to stark consequences on the streets of Merseyside. The precept increase will raise just £8.4 million, in comparison with Surrey, which has a smaller population and substantially less violent crime, where the police force will be able to raise £3.5 million more. As has been said, almost all additional funding from central Government will be spent on covering the cost of pension increases that have been passed to Merseyside police by a changed Government policy. That is completely and utterly unacceptable.
From 594 incidents of knife crime in 2010 to more than 11,000 today, Merseyside police have suffered one of the highest rises in violent crime of any force in the country. It has one of the highest rates of gun crime per head, and it is little wonder that its chief constable, Andy Cooke, stated:
“So have I got sufficient resources to fight gun crime? No, I haven’t. I will put all of the resources I have available to it and we will continue to see some excellent convictions…but if I had more staff would I put them to deal with gun crime? Yes I would.”
At the heart of the inequity in the Government’s approach to funding our police, particularly in Merseyside, is the fact that it is based on the ability of an area to pay—it is based on the number of large houses that that police force happens to have in its area. When we consider the picture for police forces nationwide, that is not only unfair but reckless. The greatest challenges facing our police forces are the surge in violent crime, child sexual exploitation, risks from terrorism, county lines and cyber-crime. Those challenges do not present an even picture across the country because crime rates are higher in metropolitan areas such as Merseyside. It is therefore completely perverse that forces such as Merseyside police, which have suffered the greatest cuts, should receive least from the funding settlement.
Last month the Government should have presented a funding settlement that meets need and demand, but instead of using any of the investment provided by the Home Office to help meet the operational demands caused by missing persons, child sexual exploitation and serious crime, every penny of central Government funding will be sunk into pension costs that the Government have imposed on forces. That is perverse and will create a postcode lottery in policing, meaning that those communities that cannot afford to pay will see policing get worse and worse.
As has been said, Merseyside is an excellent police force with exceptional officers from the chief constable, Andy Cooke, to the frontline and the hardworking police community support officers and staff. The force has fantastic advocates in its parliamentary representatives and its police and crime commissioner, Jane Kennedy, who consistently make the case for a fairer funding settlement. It seems, however, that with this Government in office Merseyside police will never get the funding that it needs or deserves.