Policing: Staffordshire

– in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 4th September 2019.

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Photo of Ruth Smeeth Ruth Smeeth Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North 4:30 pm, 4th September 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered policing in Staffordshire.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. Given the nature of the debate we are about to have, I want to make it clear to everybody listening, especially my constituents, that I believe Stoke-on-Trent North and Kidsgrove is a wonderful place to live. In spite of all the crime that I am about to touch on, nobody should be scared or worried about where we live. We are safe and secure; my issue is quite how safe and secure we are.

Before I move on to the debate, I will take a moment to touch on the life of PC Andrew Harper, and pay the respects of everybody in the House to someone who was so brave and who gave his life in defending his community. We all have police officers in our constituencies who, every day, stand up for us and protect our community. He was a brave man, and my thoughts and prayers go to his young wife, as I am sure do everyone else’s.

I am blessed—I think we are all blessed—by some of our local police officers. I have been lucky to work with three chief inspectors since I got elected—Ade Roberts, John Owen and Mark Barlow—all of whom have served my community well. I could not have asked more of their professionalism and support, especially when I was a brand new Member. They exposed me to different parts of my constituency and made sure that when I was dealing with terror arrests or more complicated, not straightforward crime, they were there to support me as a local politician, to ensure that I did not make things worse but helped to make things better. Their professionalism is reflected every day by their staff, and last month I had the privilege of spending a day with my local officers on shift.

This is where we start talking about some of the challenges in our community. I was briefed on how we are working on local gang crime, meaning gang crime involving young people as well as organised crime. I spent time with the police when they were helping run a food kitchen as part of an initiative to help the homeless and get them off the streets, because one of our local churches does not work in August and there had been a spike in the number of homeless people on our streets. I was then taken around the local hotspots, working with the police and seeing how they engage with some of the most challenged members of my community.

What made it so difficult for me, and for them, is that one of the roles that police officers have to play all too regularly is that of social work. Their job is becoming more and more about tackling mental health issues and working with those who are struggling most. To be candid, they are not resourced to do so. They do it with such passion and provide so much support because they care about the local community, but my concern is that they just do not have enough resources.

Although crime across my constituency is down by 6% over the past 12 months, serious and violent crime is increasing, and people are scared. Some of that is because of a lack of tolerance of crime; some parts of my constituency have never experienced knife crime before, and it causes concern when they do. Other parts have experienced some very difficult crime. None of this is the fault of the police, but last year we were the centre of the country for Monkey Dust, which led to huge spates of crime. People who were high on drugs were trying to get into older people’s houses or turning up at community events, with the police having to act as security guards rather than as police officers, which they are not resourced to do. This summer, there was a spike in antisocial behaviour in Clough Hall Park. It became clear that there is only one warranted police officer and one police community support officer per shift for one third of my constituency. Across the borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme, we have 10 police officers and 10 PCSOs per shift. It is not enough for the population.

Photo of Gareth Snell Gareth Snell Labour/Co-operative, Stoke-on-Trent Central

My hon. Friend has touched on an interesting point. Does she agree that one of the most disappointing things, not just in Staffordshire but across the country, is that although the Government claim to have protected neighbourhood policing, they have actually made neighbourhood policing areas much larger? Although some places have the same number of PCSOs and police constables, they now cover such a great terrain that the impact felt in certain parts of the community is virtually nil.

Photo of Ruth Smeeth Ruth Smeeth Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North

I absolutely agree, and will touch on that later in my speech.

In my constituency, especially in Kidsgrove, we have never seen this level of crime before. One of my concerns is that a lot of the burden is falling on the police, when in fact it is cuts to local government budgets that have led to Clough Hall Park becoming a hotspot. Maintenance has not been done, so as soon as the first example of graffiti happened—as soon as investment in the park was lacking—that park became a crime hotspot, because young people did not think anyone cared about it. We have seen that time after time because of cuts to our local government.

There has also been a spike in knife crime in our wonderful, great city. One of our concerns about that—I think I speak on behalf of the three Members from the great city of Stoke-on-Trent—is that we had been blessed by not having previously experienced very much knife crime. We were lucky that it was not normal on our streets, yet it is now becoming a factor. I thank the Minister’s colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Victoria Atkins, for working with our police and crime commissioner and, more importantly, some of our local teachers, as well as for providing additional support to the three Members of Parliament from Stoke-on-Trent on how to tackle knife crime.

The reality, however, is that our police force is struggling. The demands on it are higher, and the briefings we have received from the Staffordshire Police Federation and Unison have made it clear quite how difficult things are within our force. We are told that morale is at rock bottom, especially among the support staff; our dialogue in this place is always about police officers, not police staff, but the ongoing rationalisation programme means that people are working more hours at a less senior level, doing the same job and getting paid less for it. The 101 waiting times in our city have regularly gone up to more than 20 minutes, and according to a freedom of information request from the Daily Mirror, a 999 call took eight minutes to be answered by Staffordshire police force. That is not the fault of the police; it is the fault of a lack of resourcing.

At its peak, Staffordshire had nearly 2,400 police officers. Now, we are told that the figure is somewhere in the region of 1,600. Since 2010, we are down 468 warranted police officers plus dozens of PCSOs. Kidsgrove police station has been closed, as has Tunstall police station. Burslem police station is no longer open to the public. In fact, if any of my constituents actively want to speak to a police officer, they have to get on two buses for an hour in order to walk into a police station, because we no longer have access. That police station is in the constituency of Jack Brereton, and as delightful as I am sure it is, it is not convenient for any of my constituents. We are the 13th biggest city in England, but we have no 24/7 police station access. I say this as someone who wishes I were still a young woman: if I were out and about at the weekend, there is no safe sanctuary in my city. If I felt vulnerable, the only safe place would be the hospital, which would require a taxi. That is a cut too far.

I have already touched on the issue of council cuts, but I think this gives the Minister an opportunity. There have been cuts not only to maintenance—which is wooden dollars, in my opinion, because cutting local government grants does not help the police budget when it then costs the police more money to make interventions—but to youth provision. There has also been no clear guidance on ensuring that local authorities work together to provide CCTV infrastructure, which would save them money and help Staffordshire police force.

I will now ask my questions to the Minister so that everybody else may participate in this debate; I am delighted to see colleagues present from across the House. How much of today’s announcement of £700 million is going to come to Staffordshire police force? Will there be any new police officers for Staffordshire police? When will we get them, given that we are so short now? What can the Minister do to encourage partnership working from other statutory agencies, not the third sector, to ensure that everybody is not leaning on the police budget? Our police serve us day in, day out. They put themselves at risk. They ensure that we, especially in this place, are safe and secure. At the moment, however, it does not feel like we have their backs.

Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent South 4:40 pm, 4th September 2019

I am delighted to add my voice to this important debate. I congratulate Ruth Smeeth on securing it. Stoke-on-Trent is a city on the up, but it has its challenges that must be met. It is a city of six towns and many communities, each with its own character and policing challenges. It is the authentic urban heart of an historic county and is very much distinct, as a unitary authority of considerable urban density, from the more rural nature of the rest of the county. That is reflected in the types of policing and challenges often faced by our police officers.

I applaud our local police and crime commissioner, Matthew Ellis, for recognising the importance of localised policing within a county-wide force. We experienced that together on his recent working visit to Longton police station and the walkabout with local officers in Stoke-on-Trent South over the summer. After a decade of hard work, the public finances have successfully been pulled back from the brink of disaster, so we can confidently step up the funding available to the police. I greatly support the new Prime Minister’s commitment to an extra 20,000 new officers and an increase in the visibility of police patrols over the next three years.

Sadly, what has been all too visible to my constituents recently is antisocial behaviour, particularly linked to gangs and drugs. I spoke previously in this Chamber in a debate tabled by my hon. Friend Ben Bradley about the impact of drugs, especially Monkey Dust, which has been a significant challenge in Stoke-on-Trent, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North. I am pleased to say that the huge efforts of Staffordshire police have cut off the supply of that horrific drug and have resulted in a significant decline in reported cases.

Last week, I was impressed to witness officers conduct a raid on a property in my constituency suspected of being connected to drugs-related crimes. It was part of a day of action under Operation Disrupt, during which about 25 properties suspected of being connected to drugs, organised crime and violence across the south of the city were raided. Of course, the root causes of gangs and drugs are many and complex. Drugs and gang behaviour are the blight of some working-class communities.

Photo of Andrew Griffiths Andrew Griffiths Conservative, Burton

I thank Ruth Smeeth for organising the debate. Like my hon. Friend, I joined my local police on Operation Disrupt a few weeks ago. It was fantastic to see the force bringing together resources from across the county to put the criminal on the back foot. As the police went in with their chainsaw, called “Nige the Chainsaw”, which destroyed the door of the house where drug dealing was going on, the neighbours who came out cheered, and they cheered again as the criminals were led away. Does my hon. Friend agree that that kind of proactive policing not only puts the criminal on the back foot but gives great confidence to the general public that we take such things seriously and are prepared to take action as a police force and a Government?

Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent South

I absolutely agree. I witnessed the same thing. In seconds, the door was ripped off. As my hon. Friend suggests, those communities—people who have been terrorised by those activities for a long time—are relieved by the police’s actions.

As I was saying, drugs and gang behaviour are the blight of some working-class communities but they are not the preserve of those communities by any means. In fact, all too often it is the demand for drugs from metropolitan middle-class gangs—dinner parties and social circles, as they prefer to call them—that fuels and sustains the horror of drug and gang-related behaviour in working-class areas.

There is huge concern and anguish in areas such as Meir and Fenton in my constituency that drugs gangs, and gangs that have nothing to do with drugs, have been seen to get away with criminal behaviour, unchallenged by, and unafraid of, the police. The police do not enforce the law by consent; they enforce the law by the force of the rule of law as decided by this House. My constituents have a deep sense that justice is served when the law is enforced without fear or favour.

I was grateful to be involved, with law enforcement, in securing eight civil injunctions against local individuals who have time and again, provocatively and shamelessly, broken the law and made life a misery for the law-abiding majority of decent people who just want to secure a peaceful life, get on with their jobs or enjoy a well-earned retirement after years of hard work. I congratulate the authorities, the police, the council and everybody else who has contributed to ensuring that we have secured those injunctions.

In Stoke-on-Trent South, the local police have ramped up their efforts over the past 12 months by more than doubling the number of stop-and-searches. Only a year ago, Meir had the highest number of antisocial behaviour incidents in Staffordshire, but thankfully those actions have massively reduced that number. We must do all we can to help to reform those offenders, but the overriding priority must always be to protect the law-abiding majority against the criminal few.

Of course, a very small number of young people enter a life of crime. Most importantly, we must do much more preventative work locally to stop young people being led into antisocial behaviour and crime. I pay warm tribute to the Staffordshire police cadets. I have met the active local group in Longton and was delighted to welcome it to the Palace of Westminster recently. It has focused on giving public service and community spirit back to our local area in a scheme initiated by Commissioner Ellis. It is a great legacy of his years in office.

As the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North has mentioned, Home Office Ministers have been extremely supportive, for which I thank them. I am especially delighted by the £612,000 being invested by the Government, which will be shared between the city council and Staffordshire police to help to deliver more preventative work to reduce youth violence and gangs. I have also been working with local schools, Ormiston Meridian Academy and Trentham Academy, to deliver new 3G sports pitches at both sites to help to improve facilities for young people. In addition, I have supported the YMCA to set up new youth groups across the south of the city. Those actions will help to ensure that young people have the facilities they deserve and are not drawn into ASB and a life of crime.

I welcome the Home Secretary’s assurance that stop-and-search will be part of a reassuring visible policing solution. The police know that they must conduct searches with professionalism and courtesy and make it clear that, for those with nothing to hide, there is really nothing to fear. I trust them to do just that and I respect their judgment. As I have said, I saw only last week the brave work that our outstanding Staffordshire police officers are undertaking in Operation Disrupt and I am hugely proud to represent many of those officers in this House. I am delighted by the increase in the number of police officers, for which I thank the Government and the Prime Minister. I back them wholeheartedly in their fight against the misery of crime.

Photo of Gareth Snell Gareth Snell Labour/Co-operative, Stoke-on-Trent Central 4:48 pm, 4th September 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher, and to follow two excellent speeches from my neighbours, my hon. Friend Ruth Smeeth and Jack Brereton. I do not intend to repeat much of what has been said, because the stark numbers speak for themselves.

The number of officers that we have lost across Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire demonstrates that the police force is stretched. It has told us publicly that it feels that it is not giving our constituents the service that it would like to. It worries about being able to respond to crimes in a timely fashion or to do the important preventative work and high-visibility policing that reduces fear of crime and makes people feel safer, even though there may not have been anything to fear in the first place. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North referred to the number of police officers lost.

Photo of Ruth Smeeth Ruth Smeeth Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North

I misspoke. In fact, we have lost 568 or 571 police officers—it depends on reports—not 468. I was being far too generous to the Government.

Photo of Gareth Snell Gareth Snell Labour/Co-operative, Stoke-on-Trent Central

As my hon. Friend points out, we have lost 571 police officers across the county. We have also lost a number of auxiliary support staff in forensics, criminal investigation and the detective arenas.

In fact, the figures provided by my friends in the Unison branch at Staffordshire police show that the number of forensic investigators is being cut from 24 to 12, which they have said will mean they will be unable to provide the level of support to the frontline police officers needed to gather the evidence to provide for CPS considerations on whether prosecutions are available. Those 12 places are being replaced with nine lower-skilled, lower-paid and lower-graded roles that do not have the necessary technical qualifications to provide support. The forensic investigators have made it quite clear that they want to be able to do their job, to help keep people safe. It is not just about frontline policing, but about the policy family and the public sector family around the police force that can allow for crime to be detected and criminals to be prosecuted.

My hon. Friend has also mentioned the current closure of police stations across Staffordshire. Chief inspectors and assistant chief constables have said to me that the demand for face-to-face interaction with the police is going down, and I fully accept that that is the case. Younger generations now wish to interact digitally through electronics, the telephone system and social media. That is a perfectly reasonable way to interact with the police force, but it should not be an either/or. It should not be that elderly people in my constituency living in Bentilee or Sneyd Green have to, as my hon. Friend pointed out, travel on two buses to the other end of the city to see a police officer.

Although I am grateful that we still have one open police station in Stoke-on-Trent, it is open only between 9 and 5—office hours. If people simply need to interact with the police for a non-crime or non-emergency-related issue, they cannot access the station at the weekend or in the evening. To me, that seems a perverse arrangement that does not make policing feel accessible, even though it might well be. Across the county of Staffordshire, with somewhere between 950,000 and 1 million people, only three police stations remain publicly open between the hours of 9 and 5. I do not care what people’s politics are—I cannot believe that anybody would justify to me that that is, for accessible policing, an appropriate access level for that many people dispersed across a county that is geographically quite different, depending on where one goes.

I represent arguably the most urban part of Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent. I have the city centre of Stoke-on-Trent and the council estate. If one travels down to the rural villages in the constituency of Andrew Griffiths, which has no public transport infrastructure and where there is little ability to travel, suddenly there is no access to policing. Yes, there are PCSOs who do their best, but they are now stretched so thin. The PCSO who regularly visits my office to talk to me about the activity happening in the area will tell me that she will have to walk miles in the course of a day to respond to jobs. On several occasions, she has simply been told, “Don’t respond to that—it is not a priority,” because there are not enough people to respond to crimes.

Over the last couple of months, I have seen a change in the crime that we are dealing with in my constituency. As my hon. Friend pointed out, there has been an increase in knife crime in Stoke-on-Trent. Five years ago, knife crime there was so rare that I doubt whether we had even one or two instances. I have had three stabbings in my constituency in the last six weeks.

I know the Government take this issue seriously—as my hon. Friend pointed out, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Victoria Atkins, has met us and is acutely aware of our problems—but those leading on this in our constituencies are not the police, but the colleges, the schools and the third-sector groups that interact with young people. That is not because the police are not interested, but because the resource available to the police, and the capacity within the force, is simply not there to deal with something else on top of all the other parts that they are asked to do.

Although I am grateful that people such as Claire Gagan at Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College are taking such an active interest in the safety of our young people, that is not her job—her job is not to ensure that gang violence is dealt with on the streets of Stoke-on-Trent. She is not there to ensure that parents take responsibility for what their children bring into colleges on a day-to-day basis or to regulate gang activity across Stoke-on-Trent. She is doing it because she knows it has to be done, and the police are supporting that, but it is something that an old-fashioned police service should do.

The story of Stoke-on-Trent is that we are actually a safe place. I know that the testimony that has come out of this debate might suggest that we have problems, but, like all cities, we have our bad places and good places. I have been fortunate enough to work with some wonderful police officers, including Karen Stevenson, who looks after the southern part of my constituency, and Mark Barlow and John Owen, who look after the northern part with Superintendent Geoff Moore. They are wonderful people who are genuinely committed to neighbour policing in Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire, but they make it clear to us that there is so much more that they want to do. They can just about manage with what they are doing now, but they know there are things that they are simply not doing, and that—with the right resource, support and impetus from Government—they could do to make Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire a much safer place.

It is clear that part of this is about money. Some £38 million has been taken out of the Staffordshire police budget since 2010. The police and crime commissioner has tried to recoup some of that by raising the precept, but the precept goes only so far. When we have mainly band A council tax payers having to fund the 2% levy for adult social care and the 2.9% increase in council tax, and also having to try to pay for policing, the available pool of money to fund all this in Staffordshire simply does not exist, because of the demography and house type that we have in our city.

The Government will have to ask themselves: what more can they directly do? I know the Minister will respond by talking about the extra investment going into policing. More money for the police is welcome, but I ask the Minister to bear in mind that it is not just about more money for more police. One of the problems raised with me when I was out with the police on Operation Disrupt with the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South—we very much enjoyed the chainsaw—was the question of where we would put more police officers coming into Stoke-on-Trent.

The police stations are no longer functioning and the police have moved into fire stations, so the fire stations are now at capacity. The community spaces in private finance initiative fire stations have been taken over. The chief inspector mentioned that she does not have the money to buy lockers for police to put their equipment in. It is all well and good having police officers, but we are not dealing with the long-term problems around police numbers if we cannot give them the resources, locker space, equipment, uniform and the training that they need to develop in their own careers.

It is not just the police numbers. Perhaps the Minister could explain how much of this new money will go into extra forensic investigators, extra detective support activity, digital crime prevention and the people who go out and tidy up crime scenes in homes after police have had to do raids. I recently had an incident in which, after one of the stabbings, the police had to follow a suspect into a private residence by kicking the back door down. The police had to pick up the bill for fixing that door and find the resources to replace it. These sorts of things have an impact on policing budgets and activity but are not simply sorted by having more police officers.

Of course, there is also the age-old problem of the magistrates and court system, which I know is outside the Minister’s immediate responsibility—I am sure he will be given that responsibility one day, as he demonstrates his brilliance in his Department. More police arresting more criminals means we need bigger custody suites, more custody sergeants and more space at magistrates courts to process those individuals who have been caught in crime.

I was told by a custody visitor only last week that police now spend more time waiting at the custody suite in Etruria in my constituency, because there are not enough custody sergeants to process all the people whom the police are rightly picking up for the crimes they commit. It means that they are not out on the street picking up the next lag who has done something wrong or providing the security that my older and vulnerable residents, and my communities, feel that they need.

I wonder whether I can tempt the Minister to comment on the fact that, out of every police and crime commissioner in the country, Matthew Ellis has the largest percentage office cost of them all—bigger than the West Midlands, Northumbria or South Yorkshire? It is a huge police force, and bigger than the Met. He spends £1.4 million, which, as a percentage of the money available to him, is almost 10% of his total. I wish the Minister would take that up.

I know the commissioner has said he is retiring at the next election, and I wish him well. I assume he is trying to get into this place—again, I wish him well—but surely every penny should be spent on trying to get more police, more frontline support and more officers out on the street, and not on public relations people sitting in a commissioner’s office.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing) 4:59 pm, 4th September 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I congratulate my hon. Friend Ruth Smeeth on securing this incredibly important debate in the first week back after the recess, and on her exceptional speech.

I welcome the Minister to his place and look forward to, as his predecessor said, keeping him on his toes with the new funding promised. It is good to see that the Government finally recognise that police funding should be a priority, and that they should abandon the dangerous delusion of police funding and crime being completely separate. I add to the remarks expressed by my hon. Friends by offering my condolences to the family and loved ones of PC Andrew Harper, who tragically lost his life over the summer. I also offer our best wishes for a speedy recovery to PC Stuart Outten, who was stabbed in Leyton, and PC Gareth Phillips, who was run over in Birmingham—tragic reminders of the dangers that our police officers face every day they put on their uniforms.

We have heard the consequences of the cuts to police funding and to our public sector over the past nine years across the city of Stoke-on-Trent. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North about the impacts that gang crime, organised crime, serious crime and violent crime has had on her constituency—[Interruption.]

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Order. There is a Division in the House, so the sitting is suspended for 15 minutes until a quarter past 5 o’clock.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

[Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing) 5:15 pm, 4th September 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship as well, Mr Bone.

As I was saying before the Division, my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North spoke about the changing nature of policing and about how demand on policing has changed so much in the past several years—the police now do what we would expect social workers, mental health professionals and care organisations to do. She made the point that the police are insufficiently resourced to undertake those roles, nor are they the correct agency to do so. It is completely unacceptable that in our society, someone having a mental health crisis could receive a police response—someone turning up with handcuffs and, potentially, a Taser—rather than a health response.

My hon. Friend Gareth Snell mentioned that the police are really struggling to provide the proactive and preventive policing that forms the basis of our country’s policing model and enables our police officers to police by consent. The police are not there simply to respond to crime, but to be out in communities, developing relationships, gathering intelligence and preventing crime from happening in the first place. He made an important point about the wider police family and staff.

It is shocking to hear that the Staffordshire police have lost half of their forensic investigators when crime is becoming more complex and particularly when so much crime has a digital footprint. Investment in digital forensics is nowhere near sufficient to bear down on crime. That is exactly why there has been a rise in certain types of crime and a disastrous number of prosecutions and convictions. We know that crime is one of the public’s biggest concerns and, sadly, we know exactly why that is. Some 285 people were stabbed to death last year—the highest ever rate in figures dating back to 1977. Charges for crimes are now at a record low and police recorded violent crime has more than doubled to a record level in recent years.

The police cannot solve everything, but it is common sense that if police numbers are cut, crime will rise. The current Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was until recently Home Secretary, said so himself during the Tory leadership campaign this summer. He said:

“More police on the beat means less crime on our streets. Not exactly rocket science is it?”

No, it is not exactly rocket science, and it what the Labour party, the Police Federation, the Superintendents’ Association, police staff unions and the public have told the Government for the last nine years. Yet the Government cut 21,000 police officers, 16,000 police staff—those who keep the police service functioning, go to the scene to help with investigations and put the evidence in a fit state for trial—and nearly 7,000 police community support officers, who are the eyes and ears of community policing.

The consequence of those decisions is rising crime across Stoke-on-Trent and nationwide. The damage caused by those broken promises cannot be reversed, and the know-how that experienced police officers and staff brought to the job is gone for good, harming the fight against serious crime. Demand is soaring and continues to rise exponentially.

That brings us neatly to the Prime Minister’s pledge to recruit 20,000 police officers. He clearly thinks, perhaps sincerely, that in one month-long pre-election blitz he can try to reverse the damage that his party has done over the last 10 years. The chief constable of West Midlands Police—a force on the frontline of the fight against violent crime—recently said that that force

“accounts for six per cent of the grant Government allocated to policing. If that was the means to allocate the officers it would be a lift of 1,200 officers over three years.”

However, according to the most recent Home Office figures, West Midlands Police has lost over 2,000 officers since 2010, so the chief constable expects to receive 931 short of the total number of officers that he has lost.

What is more, we understand from leaked letters that the National Crime Agency is reportedly set to receive approximately 6,000 of the 20,000 officers pledged. That is much needed, but it cannot be at the expense of local forces that need to bolster their response. Will the Minister confirm that the allocation of officers to local forces is actually about 14,000—far below the number lost since 2010? The lofty promises made on the steps of Downing Street come apart when exposed to scrutiny. Perhaps that will be the mark of the Prime Minister’s premiership.

For Staffordshire, what would it mean to apply the funding formula? Staffordshire has lost 27% of its police officers since 2010—nearly 600 officers. If the formula assumed by the chief of West Midlands police is applied, 320 officers would return—little over half what has been lost. That is if we assume that all 20,000 go to local forces, which is far from confirmed. I would appreciate if the Minister confirmed whether that is how the numbers of police officers in each force will be determined, based on the funding formula that determines the central grant in each force. How many will that mean for Staffordshire? How much of the additional money announced today by the Home Office will come from central Government funding, and how much will be raised by the local precept? How is the 20,000 being allocated between territorial, counter-terror and national security policing? Will all the officers recruited be fully warranted? Is there any commitment to the uplift to police staff? Does the Minister plan to review the funding formula to ensure that funding is genuinely allocated according to need?

Proroguing Parliament next week means that now is likely the only opportunity that we will have to scrutinise the important promises made to the British people by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary. We absolutely must have answers to those questions.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse The Minister of State, Home Department 5:21 pm, 4th September 2019

It is a great pleasure to speak with you in the chair, Mr Bone. I congratulate Ruth Smeeth on securing this important and timely debate. Before I begin my response, I thank her and other hon. Members for their comments about PC Andrew Harper and the other officers who have been injured recently. The death of PC Harper in the first couple of weeks of my tenure in this job was a shocking reminder of something that I learned in my four years as deputy mayor for policing in London: police officers go to work each day not knowing what they will face. It takes extraordinary courage for them to do so, and causes incredible worry and anxiety to their families, who often are not taken into account. That was thrown into very sad relief by the death of PC Harper, who left behind his new wife. Our condolences are with his family and friends. I take this opportunity to thank police officers across the country for their tireless work fighting crime and keeping us all safe, not least in Staffordshire.

The role of Government is first and foremost to protect the public, but the demands on the police are changing and becoming more complex, as hon. Members outlined. We recognise that the police are under pressure from that change, which is why this Government have acted quickly to rectify that. Policing was the subject of one of our Prime Minister’s first announcements on this first day in the job, and it is at the heart of what this Government will deliver. That is why we have announced plans for the recruitment of 20,000 additional officers over the course of the next three years. That is an unprecedented increase, and probably the largest expansion in policing ever. I am pleased to say that the recruitment campaign for those additional officers will be launched tomorrow morning, following the announcement made by the Chancellor this afternoon setting out the funding envelope for 2021, including £750 million extra for policing budgets to support the delivery of this commitment and associated costs.

That is just the first step in delivering on the Prime Minister’s commitment to put more officers back on our streets. It builds on the 2019-20 police funding settlement, which provided the largest increase in police funding since 2010. Police funding has increased by more than £1 billion this year, including the precept, extra funding for pension costs and the serious violence fund, allowing PCCs to start filling gaps in capacity this year as well. For Staffordshire police, this year that meant total funding of £196 million—an increase of £13.3 million on 2018-19, including council tax.

I understand that when the previous Policing Minister, my right hon. Friend Mr Hurd, spoke to the police and crime commissioner for Staffordshire, he was determined to use this year’s settlement to move 100 more people into neighbourhood policing by year end, and to get behind proactive policing to disrupt crime, including drug dealing in hotspots. I am sure that following the excellent outcome of the spending round for policing, we will now go on to even greater achievements, delivering on the Government’s pledge of 20,000 extra police officers, with 6,000 for territorial policing in the first year alone. I hope hon. Members will welcome this plan.

I turn to some specifics mentioned by hon. Members. I acknowledge that too often, police officers step in where other organisations should shoulder their share of the responsibility, and a key area is mental health. The police deal with a very high number of mental health incidents, but we are working with our health and social care partners to relieve the burden on officers and to ensure that people receive the support they need. The Government recently announced an additional £2.3 billion to enhance mental health services by 2023-24 to relieve exactly this sort of pressure. I recently visited Hertfordshire and Northamptonshire police, and both emphasised the amount of capacity absorbed by hunting for missing people, who are often suffering from mental health problems. That is one of the areas on which I hope to focus in the months to come.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North rightly raised the issue of violence, much of it drug-related. I was appalled to learn of the recent incident in her constituency in which a taxi driver was attacked at knifepoint and the incidents in Clough Hall park. We are clear that we have to bear down on the scourge of violent crime, in particular knife crime, which is afflicting communities up and down the country. At the spring statement earlier this year, the then Home Secretary, now the Chancellor, secured £100 million for the serious violence fund. Since taking up this post, I have announced further detail of the split of that funding: £65 million has been allocated to surge funding for police activity and £35 million will support the establishment of violence reduction units and other preventive activity across the country. The Government are determined to see an end to these horrific cases; that is why the Chancellor committed today to extend that funding for serious violence next year so those newly established VRUs have certainty over the coming year. This is about prevention as well as enforcement.

The hon. Lady also mentioned the closure of police stations in her constituency and across the county. Although, obviously, that is a matter for PCCs, it is clear that the effectiveness of a force cannot and should not be measured by the total number of buildings it owns or staff it employs, how many police stations it has, or when front counters are open. Rather, a force’s effectiveness depends very much on how well the PCC and chief constable use their available resources to protect the local community.

I am reminded of an incident when I was London Assembly Member for West Central. We had a particularly horrible street murder in Shepherd’s Bush, and the then borough commander, the famous—well, possibly infamous—Kevin Hurley, who went on to be PCC in Surrey, held a community meeting. The one thing people all complained about was the fact that Shepherd’s Bush police station was not open 24 hours a day. Chief Inspector Hurley said, “That’s fine. I will open it 24 hours a day if you tell me which police officers you’d like me to pull off patrol to man the front desk during the night.” They all said, “No, no, no, we don’t want that.” He then said, “Well I’ll tell you what. Why don’t I leave the lights on overnight so it looks like it’s open?” They all said, “Oh yes, that’s a terribly good idea!”

That illustrated to me that police stations very often are a proxy for presence. People do not necessarily want to visit them. Very few people ever visit their police station, and we know from footfall counts that their use is decreasing, as Gareth Snell mentioned, but they nevertheless speak to something about presence. We hope that the increase in the number of police officers—in particular the first-year increase of 6,000, which will all be territorial uniformed policing—will increase the sense of presence and decrease anxiety about bricks and mortar, very much of which is often inefficient.

Photo of Ruth Smeeth Ruth Smeeth Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North

I appreciate the Minister’s comments about the role of police stations in communities even if they are not open, although I wish they were. One of the issues that compounds this, though, is that more than 20% of my constituents have not accessed the internet in the past six months, so they cannot use the online service. They wait on hold for more than 20 minutes, and in some cases up to two hours—in the longest case, I think someone held on for eight hours—trying to get through to 101, and for eight minutes trying to reach 999. Accessing the police is becoming increasingly difficult for my constituents.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse The Minister of State, Home Department

The hon. Lady raises a good point. In many ways, the police, like lots of other organisations, need to modernise the way we contact them. If there are issues with 101 and 999 in her area, I am more than happy to look at the performance data. Lots of PCCs assess their local force on those kinds of performance metrics, and it is fundamentally for the PCC to decide. I was technically the first PCC in the country when I was deputy mayor for policing in London, and we were very hot on those kinds of performance metrics. As well as presence, people want a sense of responsiveness from the police—they want to know that they are going to get some kind of efficient response that makes them feel they are in good hands—so I am more than happy to look at that.

Photo of Gareth Snell Gareth Snell Labour/Co-operative, Stoke-on-Trent Central

I accept the Minister’s point that bricks and mortar do not make a police force, but how many publicly accessible police stations does he have in his constituency? I have zero in mine. Would he be happy to have zero in his?

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse The Minister of State, Home Department

I have one police station in my constituency, but the difference is that my constituency is 230 square miles. I am happy to have one, in the town of Andover. Most of my constituents would have to travel quite some distance to get to it, although they could travel across the border into Basingstoke, where there are others. My custody suite is in Basingstoke—I do not have one in my constituency—but my area has relatively low crime. We have our issues, in particular with rural crime, but I have to say that I have no complaints from my constituents about access to the police, albeit people are naturally concerned about a sense of presence, and that is what I am trying to illustrate: we need to work on presence overall.

In the old days, presence was often reflected in the “Doctor Who” police box. A police box was in effect a mini police station. When we were going through the inevitable station closures in London during the eight years when the now Prime Minister was Mayor of London, one of the issues that we looked at was whether we could produce that sense of presence by having the modern equivalent of a police box. Is there some way to have access to the police on the street? I do not know whether people have seen the screens and little pods on Victoria Street for accessing all sorts of information, but is there some way for the police to use those as a way for people to contact them? Technology can assist in access in lots of modern ways used by many other organisations, and the police will want to think about them.

Moving on to Members’ specific questions, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North asked how much of today’s announcement was in Staffordshire, whether there would be new offices and when, and whether we could encourage partnership working. The allocation of the £750 million will be agreed over the next few weeks. Obviously, we have the police funding formula announcement to make—normally that is in early December—and there will a conversation with the policing family about what the allocation looks like over the period. One of today’s announcements is that we secured £45 million for in-year funding, to allow recruitment to begin immediately. Some of that will go into the bricks and mortar, if you like, of the campaign itself—advertising and building capacity—but it should result in about an extra 2,000 police officers being recruited across the country, on top of the 3,500 baked in as a result of the settlement last year. Over the next couple of weeks, we will agree with PCCs and forces what the allocation looks like, but it will allow us to get going straight away and means that there will be new officers for Staffordshire. Subject to the force’s capacity to recruit, I hope that that will be pretty immediate.

I am keen to encourage partnership working. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central—Stoke is a lovely place, I have been a couple of times—also mentioned that other organisations were happy to take responsibility for gang violence. In truth, the solution to the problem of youth violence in particular relies on everyone sitting around the table to solve it together, and that includes schools and colleges as well as the police. An element of information sharing and a shared sense of mission, especially with local authorities, are needed in particular areas to map the gang activities taking place and then to take steps—hard and soft—to solve the problem. I will look at how I can work with PCCs to stimulate them to be more assertive about bringing organisations together to do exactly that. That might be through local criminal justice boards, some of which perform extremely well—others do not—but we will look at exactly that.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

The Minister laid out that the allocation of the 6,000 territorial officers will be decided over the coming weeks and that the funding formula, which we expect to be announced in December, will be how we decide further recruitment. Will he confirm that the amount allocated for further recruitment will not necessarily all come from central Government, but might yet come from an increase in the precept?

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse The Minister of State, Home Department

I was coming on to the hon. Lady’s questions, but no, the money is exclusive of precept—it is on top of the precept. However, I cannot yet confirm the method of allocation. That will be subject to discussion and to announcement in the normal course for next year. We will try to reach an early agreement on the allocation of the £45 million so that people can get going straight away, on top of the recruitment that they are already putting into place.

My hon. Friend Jack Brereton interestingly mentioned police cadets. I am a great fan of the police cadets. I remember that when I was doing the job in London, the police cadets would actively go and try to recruit young people who had been through the justice system, who had been in trouble. They had a 100% success rate; not a single police cadet would reoffend. Something about the discipline and self-respect found through being part of an organisation like that helps. That is the kind of theme we need to look at in much of the long-term work that we need to do with young people.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central mentioned space for police officers. He is absolutely right. When I did the first media round after the initial 20,000 announcement, there was much hilarity at the mention on the radio that one constraint might be locker space. Police officers carry a lot of kit, and 20,000 lockers is quite a lot of space. Where are we going to put them all? Interestingly, immediately after that, I had calls from a couple of local authority leaders saying that they would like to help. Local authorities have an estate and spare space, and there are lots of ways that we can get the public sector to work together to try to find accommodation. One thing included in the £750 million for next year is that ancillary costs—for training, equipment, space and all that kind of stuff—are essentially factored in as well.

The hon. Gentleman is quite right that 20,000 more police officers might, one would hope, be more productive in arresting people, which means that there will be criminal justice on-costs. He will today have seen the announcement in the spending round of another £80 million for the Crown Prosecution Service and more money for the Ministry of Justice to look at prisons and their capacity. We are looking at the whole system.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the central costs of the PCC in Staffordshire. I gently point out to him that the PCC is also the fire commissioner, and one would therefore expect the central costs to be a little higher, because he is handling two organisations rather than just one.

Photo of Gareth Snell Gareth Snell Labour/Co-operative, Stoke-on-Trent Central

For clarity, the figure I quoted was from before Commissioner Ellis took on fire responsibility. I understand that, since he has taken on that responsibility, that figure has grown, but I do not have the up-to-date figure.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse The Minister of State, Home Department

Obviously, a police and crime commissioner has to face the electorate every four years, just as we do every now and again, and will have to justify that central cost. As I understand it, the Staffordshire PCC has done a pretty good job and has been pretty well praised, certainly by colleagues on this side of the House, for the work he has done over his two terms. It sounds to me like he no doubt has a pretty productive relationship with the hon. Gentleman as well, which is good to see. Finally, I think I have answered most questions from Louise Haigh on allocation exclusive of precept; finally, yes, those 20,000 officers will all be fully warranted.

Before I conclude, I will address the constant challenge about the number of police officers being related to the amount of crime. The hon. Lady may remember that, back in 2008, when I started my job as deputy mayor for policing in London, we faced exactly the same kind of spike in violent youth crime that we face now. That was at a time when police officer numbers were at an all-time high and money was being spent liberally on policing, so it is not necessarily the case that the link is direct. The causes of crime are significant and complex, and they change. It is key that the Government, and the police, which the Government fund, assist and support, remain agile in the face of changing crime. We heard about exactly that today, with the advent of “monkey dust”, which seems to have bubbled up and become a problem in just a matter of weeks. Giving the police the ability to be agile, through both technology and capacity, is a key part of our plans in the weeks to come.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

As a special constable for the Metropolitan police in the borough of Lambeth in the immediate aftermath of that serious violent crime spike, I was part of the response to that spike. The then Mayor of London was able to respond and bear down on that spike because he had record numbers of police available to him. That has not been the case for police forces up and down the country over the last nine years. I will push the Minister on one question he has not been able to answer so far, on the division in the expected 20,000 officers between territorial, counter-terror and national security policing.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse The Minister of State, Home Department

As I say, that is also yet to be decided. Thus far, for the first year—that is where we have got to in the spending round—we have agreed that the first 6,000 will be all territorial. I think the profile is then for 8,000 and a further 6,000, and we will be in discussion with the policing family about the allocation for that across the board. Part of the announcement today is a serious and organised crime review, and its conclusions will obviously inform the work we do in the future, not least because I am keen that the NCA and serious and organised crime work dovetails as much as possible with the work we will do with neighbourhood forces on county lines and other cross-border issues, where the NCA can bring its expertise to bear.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North for raising these important issues. As I said, the policing landscape is ever changing. The Chancellor’s announcement this afternoon clearly demonstrates the Government’s commitment to providing police forces with extra resources to protect the public and tackle crime head on. I look forward to working with the policing sector in the coming months and years to deliver this unprecedented uplift in officers and support what I believe to be the best police service in the world.

Photo of Ruth Smeeth Ruth Smeeth Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North 5:41 pm, 4th September 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I thank everyone who contributed to the debate, and in particular the two Members who are still here—my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell) and for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh). I understand that other business in the House is occupying everyone else.

It is clear that policing will be an ongoing issue for the Government and this Parliament. This has been a good opportunity to air some of the issues and our concerns about our own police force, not least about the number of police officers we have lost and the rationalisation of the estate and its effect on community faith in policing. My concern, which is the one thing I want to leave with the Minister, is that we have lost nearly 600 police officers. Based on the proposed investment and assuming that all 20,000 go into territorial policing, that will give my force 96 officers in the first year and 320 over the three years, so police numbers will still be down by 15% on 2010. Minister, my police force is struggling. It needs more support and double the investment that is currently being promised.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered policing in Staffordshire.

Sitting adjourned.