I beg to move,
That this House
has considered funding for neighbourhood policing in the West Midlands.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I am delighted to have the opportunity to lead today’s debate. I start by thanking my hon. Friend Jack Dromey for securing this debate, and for allowing me to open in his stead. I congratulate him on his appointment to the shadow Home Office team; I know he will be a great champion for the safety and security of our communities in that brief. He has been doing an outstanding job in raising the issue of the lack of policing in the west midlands. I also thank colleagues who have joined us this afternoon to discuss this timely and important topic. We are holding this debate to discuss police funding for the west midlands and to argue for our region to get the fair funding that it needs and deserves.
The west midlands has the fourth highest rate of crime in the country. This Government have been in power for a long time—11 years, to be exact. When they were re-elected in 2019, it was on a promise to level up every region in the United Kingdom. Nowhere needs that more than the west midlands, which has lost out terribly from policing cuts over the past decade, and where many of our communities have been blighted by crime.
We all know the Government’s record here, particularly on the delivery of justice for victims; we have plummeted to record lows in the last decade. Between 2010, when the last Labour Administration were in government, and 2020, the percentage of crimes that ended in a charge or court summons was halved. The delivery of justice for victims of violent offences is even worse. Someone who has been robbed is half as likely to see the culprits charged or taken to court—down from 19% to 8.2%. For violence against the person, charge rates are four times lower than they were a decade ago. Some 98% of reported rape cases do not result in a charge. What does that say to women?
That is where we are after a decade in which the Conservatives have cut 20,000 police officers from our forces. We have seen central Government grants to the police fall by 30% in real terms, and forces are increasingly relying on income raised through council tax, known as the police precept. Police have also been forced to make more use of reserve funding—money set aside for unforeseen spending—and have had to sell off capital assets, including police stations, to help to raise funds. Between 400 and 600 police stations were closed between 2010 and 2018 by the Conservatives, in addition to the loss of 20,000 officers.
We on this side of the House know that cuts have consequences. That kind of capacity, experience and expertise cannot be replaced overnight. The Prime Minister pledged to recruit an extra 20,000 officers by 2022 and, since then, only 11,000 extra officers have been recruited. Truly, only the Tories could cut 20,000 police officers, watch crime rates soar, recruit 11,000 officers, pat themselves on the back and say, “Job well done.”
In the west midlands, we have had 2,221 officers cut and £175 million slashed from our budgets since 2010. At the same time, there have been huge cuts to the services that are vital to preventing crime in the first place, such as youth clubs, mental health services, local council funding and probation services. The police are also having to respond to complex and serious crimes, ranging from human trafficking to sexual crimes against children, which are becoming increasingly common. Despite that, the Government’s much-trumpeted uplift programme promises to restore only 1,200 officers to our region, leaving us 1,000 short of where we were. Is that levelling up? No, it is not—the people of the west midlands would say so too.
The situation has been absolutely frightening for some of our constituents. In one case that I had recently, two masked men broke into the home of an elderly lady in my area and tried to rob her. A neighbour’s light came on, they were disturbed, and they ran off, but I cannot imagine just how petrified she was. The police officer who responded did his absolute best; he gave her advice on changing her locks, and so on, but when asked how she could possibly feel safe and secure—how she could be sure that they would not come back—he could only say to her that she could move in with her relatives. That is deeply unacceptable.
I remember working on the case of another lady who was pulling into her driveway when a man ran over and stole her bag out of her passenger seat. She called the police and gave them a description of the man and his getaway car, but without CCTV, they said there was not much more that they could do. They did not have the resources to prioritise it and the case was NFA’d—no further action was taken. We hear this all the time.
I cited some of the most appalling national statistics on charge rates earlier. Is it not incredible that in the UK, the CCTV capital of Europe, our charge rates are so appallingly low? Many of our constituents see the rise in violent crime in their areas, and they are scared. Violent crime is rising, with conviction rates at record lows. Gangs with machetes on the streets are not uncommon, as is knife crime. Is this the new norm? The Conservatives have become the party of crime and disorder. To keep our communities safe and restore confidence, we need to bring back neighbourhood policing. Constituents say to me all the time that they barely see officers on their streets and that they do not know their officers’ names. They do not know whom to call and are instead directed to online reporting.
So stretched have services been that the police are constantly reacting, making trade-offs on what to prioritise, and doing less and less proactive work. They are not able to build relationships or undertake vital preventive work and early interventions with young people, which we know are so effective. Neighbourhood policing is what many police officers proudly tell me they want to be doing more of—being a trusted presence within the community, working closely with people and using a range of problem-solving skills to address community issues, which we know have worked in the last decades. It is about providing a visible deterrent to people who think they can commit crime and get away with it.
Under the Conservatives, criminals have never had it so good, which is why I back the plan for the new West Midlands police and crime commissioner, Simon Foster, to put boots back on the ground with 450 extra neighbourhood police officers, guaranteeing that officers are based in all our local areas and ensuring that victims of crime are always a top priority and can access timely advice, care and support. Clearly, the funding situation is not easy for West Midlands police, but it is right to direct investment into more officers on the ground, rather than maintaining empty stations. Bricks and mortar, without people, do not stop crimes, but this is a situation of the Government’s own making.
Let us be clear that officers are much needed. There are rising levels of theft and robbery, and devastating cuts to preventive and mental health services have left the police to pick up more and more of the pieces, with less time to spend fighting crime. The College of Policing estimates that 2% to 20% of incidents reported to the police are linked to mental health issues. Under this Government, neighbourhood policing numbers in our region have been decimated, dropping from 1,821 to 760 between 2010 and 2018. Police community support officer numbers also fell, from 811 in 2010 to 464 in 2021.
Given the expectation that a new policing funding settlement will come out on Thursday, we have called today’s debate to make a last-ditch plea to Ministers to give our region the funding it needs. I work closely with my local police and have nothing but admiration for their selfless service, bravery and professionalism, but they are being let down. The west midlands is not getting a fair share. It is patently unfair that forces with lower crime rates, such as nearby Warwickshire, have increased their police numbers over the past decade, whereas our region could still be left 1,000 officers short under the Government’s uplift plans. With the new funding settlement on Thursday, my question to the Minister is very simple: will he give West Midlands police the fair funding that they need? Will he hear the pleas of our constituents who feel let down by the Government and give our forces a fighting chance?
I commend my hon. Friend Preet Kaur Gill for making such an eloquent speech and raising all those figures. I also commend my hon. Friend Jack Dromey, who secured the debate. Owing to his position as a shadow Minister, he is unfortunately not able to take part.
This is a crucial debate to my constituents and the people of Birmingham. We have people who live in fear. In my constituency, gangs maraud around with knives, baseball bats, sticks, machetes and, in some instances, guns. The police are called, but they are not able to attend because they need sufficient numbers for such an event, which I understand.
There is a business in my constituency. A group of young people got together and opened a car wash. They do not employ labour from abroad; they wanted to do it themselves and make a living for themselves. For some reason, they were set upon by a gang—probably because they did not want them to open the business where they had. They made several complaints to the police themselves. Nobody turned up. A week later, when the father approached me and spoke to me, they still had not come. I made enquiries and the police were not able to visit those young people, who wanted to better their lives and their local environment.
It is not the fault of the police officers who work in my area. They work extremely hard—fantastically hard—but they do not have the numbers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston says, the West Midlands PCC is working extremely hard to increase numbers. It is important to heed the words of the PCC. If they do not have the officers to do the work, it is difficult to do the work. That is what the problem is.
I have a fantastic sergeant working in my constituency, Nick Hill. He came in as a breath of fresh air in my patch. He is available literally all the time. He comes to community events. He wants to engage, to the extent that we were able to set up a police drop-in at a local church on a Tuesday afternoon, so that people who could not get through to the police on the phone or by other mechanisms could come and see the police and report things. That is a fantastic initiative.
We have some local police officers who are doing a fantastic job. On my own security, Nick has been fantastic. If I tell him where I am holding surgeries, he tries his best to support me. We all have to think about our position and our safety, particularly since the tragic incident of Sir David Amess. That is an additional requirement for the police. More issues are being added to the list for the police to address.
There are also issues within the policing structure. The Home Office has said that more officers need to have a degree to work on the streets.
Well, that is what I am being told—that police officers need to have a degree to be able to work. A lot of recruits have been taken in. I know about four recruits who have come into my constituency as police officers who have come in through the degree mechanism, and there are others who have been told they need to complete degree qualifications in order to move on, which removes them from the limited number of police we have. There are some people who want to be on the street, who want to do policing, who have the qualification, who want to build connections within the community and deliver those services. What we want are police officers who understand local communities and know what is going on.
In another policing debate, I mentioned a PCSO in my area who was a member of the Labour party, and joined the police, so he cannot deliver leaflets for me any more. Rob Capella has done fantastic work. He has been there almost 20 years now. He is recognised by the community. Less so now, because he has less of a team to operate, but he used to go on the streets to understand and speak to people. He was a huge resource as the eyes and ears of the police, working in the community, and that gleaned great intelligence. We can only do that if we have sufficient numbers of police.
Before 2010, we used to have neighbourhood meetings. We would get police there. We would get PCSOs there. We would get people speaking to them in Perry Barr. My hon. Friends here will understand that, in Perry Barr, where we have Handsworth, Lozells and Aston, there have been significant issues with policing and crime. Before 2010, we had some of the lowest crime rates across the country. We did only one thing: increase the police. We had more PCSOs in those areas, and we delivered for the community.
People in the Asian community have a huge issue in terms of robberies that are taking place. Most people understand that it is a traditional practice to have gold jewellery, particularly for weddings and those sorts of events. Those things have been targeted specifically, and damage has been done to buildings and to people. We need more police officers, and we will achieve that only if, on Thursday, we look at the police settlement for the west midlands and listen to the PCC, who is working hard to ensure that we get more police officers. It is the only way to deal with crime. That is what Margaret Thatcher said—to give an example of someone the Minister may look up to. The only way to police is to ensure that there is sufficient policing in the community. If we do not have sufficient police in the community, it is not safe for them or for my constituents. My plea is that West Midlands police get their fair share of the police officers required to give our communities peace of mind and to have law and order in our city and my constituency.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir Edward. I congratulate my neighbour, my hon. Friend Preet Kaur Gill, on leading the debate, and my hon. Friend Jack Dromey, who is now the shadow Minister for Immigration—and apparently for debate procurement—on securing the debate.
I hear all the time from constituents who are frustrated about the small number of prosecutions of those who burgle our homes, steal our cars and threaten our loved ones. It is inescapable that falling police numbers are part of the explanation of why that is happening and why people are so frustrated. Even if the Prime Minister and the Policing Minister keep their promise and restore some of their party’s cuts to police funding, we will still end up with 1,000 fewer officers in the west midlands than in 2010, and we will continue to suffer from an unfair formula that drives up our council tax and gives us a smaller share of Government grant than places such as neighbouring Warwickshire, resulting in its ability to increase its police numbers at the very time that ours have been substantially reduced. That is the unfairness.
I am totally behind the call for a fairer formula, properly applied, and better funding for West Midlands police. It is essential if our constituents are to get a better deal. I also wonder whether other areas of reform need consideration. In 2005, my old boss, Charles Clarke, who I am sure you remember, Sir Edward, suggested proposals to increase police numbers and to lower costs by reshaping and reducing the overall number of forces. His ideas, as the Minister may know, were bolstered by a report from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary that argued that the existing structure of the police was not fit for purpose. It recommended creating strategic constabularies of sufficient size to provide effective neighbourhood policing and tackle organised crime.
Those plans were opposed by politicians of all parties, if I remember correctly, and by chief constables and the then Association of Police Authorities. As a result, we still have broadly the same configuration in place almost 17 years later, although now it seems to have been bolstered by police and crime commissioners.
I acknowledge that lots of police and crime commissioners do a good job and make a good impact, although it occurs to me—the Minister will recall a debate in this place a few weeks ago—that they have in their own way led to a further politicisation of the police. They have brought much more politics into the police, which is why we had an argument the other week about the West Midlands police and crime commissioner’s Conservative opponents opposing his police plan which, of course, is a requirement. But the creation of so many commissioners also means that reform, which may mean reducing the number of forces, is much less likely to take place now.
I have concluded that we need two things: top-quality detectives, investigators and specialists to help crack the cyber-crime that destroys businesses and empties bank accounts, to stop people such as modern slavers and to smash criminal gangs. But we also need police to tackle burglary, vehicle theft and antisocial behaviour. If neighbourhood policing is forced to compete with organised crime for resources, I suspect it will always be the poor relation. In the west midlands, we have already lost 50% of neighbourhood officers.
Perhaps now is the time to think again about reform. Why not a two-tier system, with ringfenced resources protecting the numbers policing our streets, gathering local intelligence and keeping the community safe and a separately funded second tier of specialised officers able to wage war on organised crime? That would require revision of the formula and probably a reduction in the overall number of forces, but it could yield the kind of policing that many of our constituents are asking for.
It goes without saying that over a decade of Conservative budget cuts have had a hugely damaging effect on police forces up and down the country. Since 2010, police staff numbers across England have declined dramatically. We have over 21,000 fewer people working in the police: 8,000 fewer officers, 7,000 fewer staff and 7,000 fewer community police officers.
We have talked about how the police cannot deal with these levels of cuts without a devasting impact on public safety, on upholding the law and on the morale of the remaining workforce. However, those national figures do not give the full picture, which is why we are here today in this important debate.
The impact of deep funding cuts to neighbourhood policing in the west midlands has been beyond terrible. The region currently suffers from the fourth highest crime rates in the country. Between 2010 and 2018, Government cuts have decimated neighbourhood policing in the west midlands by almost 40%. This is disgraceful. In the last 10 years, the number of police community support officers has been cut in half.
Officers are now severely overstretched and unable to be a visible presence in a single neighbourhood, and crime rates in the west midlands have certainly not been cut. Over the last 10 years, overall crime in the west midlands has risen by 21% and violent crime has risen by 41%. That is not a coincidence.
While the Government have spent a decade dismantling neighbourhood policing in the west midlands, our police officers have found themselves struggling to combat or prevent crime and unable to provide the public with policing rooted in their neighbourhood. My constituents in Coventry North West are suffering the consequences of that. They tell me that seeking justice when they are the victim of a crime is incredibly difficult. Many feel unsafe in their own homes or on their streets, especially the most vulnerable among them.
This is certainly the case for one of my constituents, Maureen Crealey. After parking her car in her own driveway, Maureen woke up to find that it had been stolen in the middle of the night. This was one of a string of car thefts on her street. When Maureen reported this crime to the police, they gave her a number and took her details, but no one has since gone to her house. No one has gone to examine her street or provided reassurances to the public. Maureen is a widow who lives alone and has been left feeling frightened, abandoned and vulnerable—not by the police but, in her own words, by a system that has failed to give our police the necessary
“manpower to cover our streets”.
Maureen was very clear when she wrote to me:
“More money needs to be invested in our police to protect the citizens of Coventry.”
I could not agree more. Without extra resources and police officers, police forces do not have the capacity to give constituents such as Maureen the support they need to feel safe in their own homes. In fact, police capacity to respond to anything except the most dire emergency has been diminished significantly. I know that this reality pains many current and former officers. Officers know only too well that policing in this country is cash-strapped and struggling to keep up with complex demands and rising crime rates. This is exactly why antisocial behaviour, drug dealing, theft and home burglaries are all too common in Coventry.
The police are not able to deal with these common crimes, because this Conservative Government have hamstrung policing capacity in my city. Most worryingly, the cuts have regrettably diminished trust in the police. Many constituents do not feel that the police are on their side or are visible enough in their community. This is often because police officers cannot be everywhere at once and because their capabilities are being slashed by the Government. We must take urgent action to support our neighbourhood policing in the west midlands. The Government must support our outstanding police and crime commissioner, Simon Foster, who has been working tirelessly to rebuild neighbourhood policing and invest in community police officers.
I call on the Government to work with Simon and to restore our neighbourhood policing in the west midlands, but the Government must not stop there. They must reform the policing funding formula to ensure that sufficient sustainable resources are fairly allocated to the west midlands. They must strengthen youth and prevention services to make sure that we tackle the root causes of crime. They must pass a victims Bill that prioritises the needs and experiences of victims as they move through the criminal justice system. To truly fulfil the Government’s pledge to level up the west midlands, will the Minister agree to enact these much-needed measures, or will the Government’s inaction be further proof that “levelling up” is another hollow slogan from the Prime Minister?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I would like to thank my hon. Friend Jack Dromey for securing the debate. I also thank my hon. Friend Preet Kaur Gill, who is my constituency neighbour, for leading it.
I recently had the pleasure of joining local police units on an operation in the Sparkbrook area of my constituency. The operation was focused on road and traffic offences and was a huge success. Several untaxed and uninsured drivers were picked up, stolen vehicles were towed and parking tickets were issued by Birmingham City Council’s civil enforcement officers. The operation was very well received by residents and was a great example of the kind of productive work that can be done in partnership between the police and the local authority. Officers were glad to be out in the community, working to keep people safe, and residents were thankful for their efforts.
However, it also gave me an opportunity to speak to Inspector Fitzpatrick and Sergeant Chris Gallon, who informed me of the constant challenges faced by themselves and officers. We all know that police numbers are stretched thinner than ever before and that the Government’s promise of 20,000 more officers across the country will barely begin to address the challenges faced. Crime is becoming more complex, with many offences spanning numerous boundaries in terms of enforcement and responsibility. The decimation of local council funding and support after years of Tory austerity has meant that police are often the first to respond to those in greatest need of care. All this occurred alongside a worrying spike in gang activity and other serious crime.
As a result, our police officers are often bogged down in reactive policing, with fewer and fewer resources available for proactive, long-term community work. We know that neighbourhood policing takes time, commitment and sustained effort over many months to build productive partnerships with local businesses and community groups. Local officers in Birmingham, Hall Green are already doing much of this work despite the scant resources available to them. Imagine what could be achieved if our police were fully resourced and supported in their efforts.
Another thing I learned while speaking to officers is that the problems confronting neighbourhood policing are clear and straightforward. Resources are simply not available, either to the police or the local council. It is evident that our communities want a greater police presence. Neighbourhood policing gives us the opportunity to really tackle the social problems that many of our constituencies face daily. I urge the Government and the Minister to examine seriously the resources required to ensure consistent delivery of neighbourhood policing in the west midlands.
Back in 2000, when I was given responsibility for neighbourhoods and community safety, police numbers were increased and we saw a decline in criminal activity in the west midlands and Birmingham area. That has reversed under Tory austerity. Enough is enough—that is what our constituents tell us daily. It is vital that the Government and the Minister listen not only to residents but to the police themselves, and particularly those who patrol the streets we live in and who see what is happening, about what is needed to keep communities safe, for the police to protect and for us, as elected Members, to represent them.
It is a real pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I thank Jack Dromey for securing the debate. This Government value all our police officers. That is why, with our 11,053 extra police officers, we are not on target, but ahead of target to deliver our manifesto pledge of 20,000 new officers; there are 867 new officers already working in the west midlands.
The financial settlement gave West Midlands police an inflation-busting 5.8% increase to its budget—a staggering £36 million. In addition, the rises in local tax that residents pay, together with council tax, put West Midlands police at the top of league tables across the country for precept increases; since 2012, a staggering increase of 79% has been imposed on people in Dudley North and across the west midlands by the Labour police and crime commissioner.
Dudley people—and those across the west midlands, I am certain—can see that effective policing is about more than just money. It is about local decision making and how that filters down from the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner.
I would rather not, just now. The facts sadly speak for themselves. We need the right strategy for deploying all the new police officers we recruit, making the right decisions locally, and having the will and competence to deliver on them. The Labour police and crime commissioner has closed dozens of police stations, while spending more than £30 million on refurbishing plush offices at his headquarters in Lloyd House in Birmingham.
Meanwhile, Dudley and Sedgley police stations have closed. Some hope was given to Dudley people when a new police station was promised in Dudley. It was hailed by my predecessor—the noble Lord Austin—as a new multimillion-pound station to replace the one in Brierley Hill. Several years later, we are still waiting for it. In 2019, it was announced that it would open in 2021, yet no detailed plans have been submitted by the police and crime commissioner to the council planning department.
Dudley is a major metropolitan town—I believe it is the largest town in the country that is not a city—and it has been without a central police station since late 2017. We are paying the price for no presence as a result of inaction and incompetence. Perhaps the Minister might inquire of the police and crime commissioner when Dudley people might see shovels in the ground and the promised new station.
I have great respect for a local police inspector in Dudley by the name of Pete Sandhu and his team. They are trying their utmost to make do with offices borrowed from Dudley Council that are, quite frankly, not fit for purpose. Inspector Pete Sandhu, the local police teams and PCSOs in Dudley town, the surrounding villages and those across the west midlands not only deserve but need a station that is fit for purpose. Unfortunately, time and again, Labour police and crime commissioners have failed their constituents—including mine.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I congratulate my hon. Friend Jack Dromey on securing the debate and my hon. Friend Preet Kaur Gill on taking on the mantle. I also congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr Mahmood), for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe), for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi) and for Birmingham, Hall Green (Tahir Ali) on their powerful speeches. Every one of them cares about nothing more than the safety of their constituents, and that is why Labour Members are here en masse. Sadly, there is only one Government Member present—Marco Longhi. I suggest that he talks to more of his constituents about how they experience crime in their constituency and ponders what they have to say.
This is a vital and timely debate. The Government have dropped the ball on crime: serious violence is up, prosecutions are down, and they have no plan to tackle their failures. The west midlands is an excellent part of the country, with brilliant people who have hopes, dreams and aspirations that are being hampered by this Government. In the excellent police and crime commissioner Simon Foster, whom I visited only a few weeks ago, they have a champion with the right priorities, but he is fighting against crime with one hand tied behind his back because of a Government whose complacency has allowed serious violence to thrive and neighbourhood policing to dwindle.
There are four areas where that complacency has driven up violence and other crimes, such as antisocial behaviour. First, of course, is the lack of policing. The 21,000 lost police officers is a well-worn statistic, but less well known are the 50% cuts to police community support officers, the eyes and ears of our community. The Government have dismantled neighbourhood policing since 2010. Do not take my word for it: twice as many people now as in 2010 say that they never see police on the streets.
Secondly, the UK is now Europe’s largest heroin market and a target for international drug-trafficking gangs. That has increased violence on our streets and steered a trend towards youth violence, with increasingly young children carrying knives and drugs. Thirdly, violence against women and girls has reached epidemic levels, as defined by Her Majesty’s inspector of constabulary and fire and rescue, Zoë Billingham, in her damning report earlier this year. Prosecution rates for crimes such as rape and sexual assault are on the floor. Fourthly, all the services that support young people, such as youth work, treatment for drug addiction and support for children with special educational needs, and that more broadly tackle inequality and poverty have been decimated after 11 years of drift.
The west midlands has not been exempt from the impact of those cuts. Despite the excellent work of Simon Foster, who has put rebuilding neighbourhood policing at the heart of his agenda, the force will be 1,000 officers short of where it was in 2010. By anyone’s description, that is a large number of officers for one region. It cannot be right that, even with the so-called uplift to police numbers—as an aside, just 400 of the first tranche of 6,000 national recruits have been placed in frontline roles—the west midlands faces such a large shortfall.
The Government make a fanfare of their fêted levelling-up agenda, but make no mistake: there is no levelling up when it comes to the west midlands constabulary. If this Government do not put in place more funding, West Midlands police will face annual cuts of £60 million to deal with rising costs. The west midlands police and crime commissioner recently made a cross-party call for fair funding for the force that he oversees, and is calling for the Government to plug the black hole and put funding in place for the 1,000 missing officers. I support those calls. Does the Minister?
I recently met Simon Foster and saw for myself the excellent work that he is doing through solid policing, and through innovation via the violence reduction unit. For example, a new scheme places youth workers along routes to schools; they act as trusted adults, pull children away from crime, and de-escalate potential violence. Violence reduction units do good preventive work, but there is no long-term funding model for them, and the Minister knows that. They rely on annual funding. I am especially disappointed that Andy Street seemed unaware of this fact on “Politics Live” last week. He claimed that a long-term funding model had been put in place, and also seemed unaware of his role in tackling violence through his responsibilities for youth unemployment, community cohesion and housing, which all have vital roles to play. Can the Minister confirm whether the VRU in the west midlands will receive a funding settlement of longer than one year?
Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue noted that West Midlands police
“is good at strategic planning, organisational management and providing value for money.”
However, it added that the force cannot
“meet the demand for its services in protecting vulnerable people with the resources it has.”
Ultimately, it is the people of the west midlands who lose out; it is they who bear the brunt of this lack of funding. That cannot be acceptable. If the Government are serious about levelling up, they must start with organisations such as West Midlands police. Can the Minister commit to filling the gaping hole in resources in the west midlands, so that it is not 1,000 officers down on 10 years ago?
Neighbourhood policing in every community will always be Labour’s top priority. Keeping people safe will always be Labour’s top priority. I urge the Government to make it theirs.
As always, Sir Edward, it is a joy to appear before you, and it was great to hear the speech from Sarah Jones—I think it was 3a this time. I have heard it a number of times before. [Interruption.] I am sorry; they are all broadly the same.
I often find these debates a bit disheartening. They make me wonder how many years will have to pass before Labour Members stop constantly using the refrain “austerity”. It is almost 12 years ago that that necessary corrective financial action was taken, and I hope that in time, Opposition Members will mature beyond looking back over a decade for the impact that they are seeing today. Even if they do not, wouldn’t it be nice if any argument about austerity were presaged by an apology for crashing the economy—for the Labour Government that ran it hot, allowed the banks to take dreadful risks, ran down the country’s reserves and then almost bankrupted the country, ushering in a coalition Government who had to take difficult financial decisions? [Interruption.]
I have never shied away from those difficult financial decisions that have to be taken. Nevertheless, generations will pass, and maybe in 50 years the Labour party will stop talking about that period of austerity and talk about what is happening today. Today, I thought I was coming to a debate about the value of neighbourhood policing. However, it has become obvious that this is a pretty naked political manoeuvre in advance of some difficult financial decisions that the police and crime commissioner for the west midlands will have to make as he moves towards setting his council tax. My hon. Friend Marco Longhi has highlighted how significantly council tax has increased over the past few years.
Most of the hon. Members present are experienced parliamentarians. As such, they all know that the funding formula is set in law, and when the police settlement is announced later this year, it will be divvied up between the forces as per the legislation. There is nothing we can do, discretionarily or otherwise, to change that; the funding formula has been in place for some time. We have acknowledged that it is elderly, as I have said at the Dispatch Box—the hon. Member for Croydon Central has heard me say it many times. We are working on a replacement, and we hope to have one in place soon. Nevertheless, this year, as hon. Members know perfectly well, the police settlement will be settled on the basis of that legislation, so the social media posts, tweets and videos that Members put out will be promoting to the public a misapprehension that something could change before later this week, when the police settlement will be announced.
Beyond that, I find these debates a bit disheartening because of the lack of curiosity exhibited by Members about the performance in the west midlands. For example, they never ask themselves why other police forces are doing better. Why is Liverpool doing better than the west midlands? Why is Humberside doing better than the west midlands? They point to the reduction in police numbers in the west midlands and the fact that the numbers at the end of the uplift may not be above where they were in 2010, but they do not ask themselves why there are forces, such as those in Kent and London, where those numbers will be higher than in 2010.
I will give way in a moment. Those Members are unwilling to acknowledge the reason, which is that decisions were made by the previous Labour police and crime commissioner that set the west midlands back. They have to take responsibility for those decisions; they cannot, I am afraid, just come to this Chamber and keep saying that everything that goes wrong in the west midlands is the Government’s fault, and that everything that goes right is the Labour party’s achievement. Nobody is buying that in Edgbaston, Selly Oak, or anywhere else in the west midlands. They recognise that difficult decisions had to be made, and I urge the Labour party to acknowledge those difficult decisions.
David Jamieson was not all good, and he was not all bad. He had difficult things to do, and he made a set of choices that produced a particular outcome and a particular baseline in the west midlands. I have no doubt that that was what he said in the elections that he won, and that the people of the west midlands took him at his word and believed him. They have re-elected a Labour police and crime commissioner, so presumably they are happy with that performance, but complaining that everything that goes wrong is down to the Government seems a little naive to me.
It is true. I can send the Minister the statistics. Crimes have gone up across the country. It is not accurate to blame one area or another for those universal increases and the universal drops in prosecution. Of course, there are good police forces and less good police forces, and everyone tries their best. The point we are trying to make is that we are 1,000 police officers down, which means neighbourhood policing will suffer. On the point made by Marco Longhi about the police station, I should have mentioned that the police and crime commissioner is waiting for the Conservative council to sell them the land to build the police station. Perhaps we could talk about that later.
I understand the hon. Lady’s point, but it is unfair and pulling the wool over the eyes of the people of the west midlands not to stand by the fact that a Labour police and crime commissioner—or any other police and crime commissioner elected, presumably —has an impact on the force. The decisions they make must have some implication for the way the force is run and its finances.
I have taken an intervention already; I will take another in a minute. It is extremely important for the confidence that people need to have in the west midlands that that is acknowledged. This was a different period financially for the country; people had to take difficult decisions. The west midlands made a certain matrix of decisions that resulted in the outcome today. A number of forces around the country made different decisions. As a result, they will have more police officers than they had in 2010. That is something with which hon. Members will have to wrestle; I am afraid that is the plain truth.
On neighbourhood policing, I am pleased to hear that there is a thrust in the west midlands to invest in neighbourhood policing, not least because the neighbouring Staffordshire force has been doing that for some years, to great effect. The police and crime commissioner and the former chief constable there took the decision to invest in neighbourhood policing and, interestingly, traffic policing, as the basic building blocks of an excellent delivery of service to their people. As a result, they saw significant reductions in neighbourhood crime. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North referred to the uplift number, which is 800-odd. I encourage exactly that kind of intervention. It is what lies behind our desire to expand the number of police officers in the country.
Difficult decisions had to be taken over the previous decade—you were part of the team that took those difficult decisions, Sir Edward, as a member of the party in power at the time—but the economics of the country now allow us to invest in policing in the face of changing crime.
Will the Minister explain why £175 million has been taken from west midlands policing since 2010, resulting in 2,200 fewer officers on the street? Giving back 800 officers does not replace the 2,200 lost. There is a deficit of 1,600. Can the Minister please explain?
I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman missed it, but as I explained earlier, his predecessors blew the credit card and broke the bank in the country. Difficult decisions needed to be made, and the police and crime commissioner David Jamieson made a certain set of decisions about how he and the chief constable were going to prioritise spending.
The hon. Member for Croydon Central is probably tired of hearing this, but I was Deputy Mayor of London for policing between 2008 and 2012. We faced precisely the same budgetary challenges as the west midlands. It was extremely difficult; we had a £3.5 billion budget, and in two years I had to take something like 10% out of it, which is an enormous cut, but we chose to prioritise police officer numbers. We fought tooth and nail to maintain those police officer numbers above 31,000, and we were successful in doing so. As a result, our crime performance was better. That was also because of the tactics we pursued; it is not all about numbers.
Different decisions were made by police and crime commissioners during that period, and that has resulted in different outcomes for each of the forces. It would be foolish and, to be honest, financially illiterate, not to recognise that. We can see that in police forces’ reserves position, in the disposition of the property portfolio, and in the balance between police staff and police officer numbers. Every year, police and crime commissioners, who preside over all those things, have to produce a result from that quite complicated combination.
Can the Minister help me out with a point made by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Croydon Central? Dudley Council is ready to sell the land right now if the police and crime commissioner decides to sign the contract. Also, planning permission is not contingent on property ownership. This is about local decision making. We could shorten the long time that it would take to get planning permission and get things going now.
Sir Edward, I feel like a Foxtons representative here, negotiating a property deal across the Chamber. How dynamic we can be when we put our minds to it.
There is significant extra funding going into policing, and there has been over the last two years. We now have a three-year funding settlement that gives us an enormous uplift in resources. For the west midlands, that means £655.5 million next year, which is an increase of £35.1 million. That is a very large increase, and I hope the west midlands spends it well. We can all agree that neighbourhood policing is a significant priority, and that we would like more investment in it. It is welcome that the police and crime commissioner is doing that in the west midlands.
We agree that the funding formula is out of date and a little old fashioned. It has not been reviewed for some time, and we are working on a replacement. I have given an undertaking at the Dispatch Box that we expect to hold that review before the next election, assuming that Parliament runs its full term. Finally—I will give Preet Kaur Gill time to wind up—there has been much debate about what position the 20,000 police officers will put us in. Hon. Members make all sorts of claims about where we will be. They forget that in the final year of the Theresa May premiership, there was a recruitment drive for 3,500 police officers; that can be added to the number as well. When we get to the end of the 20,000 uplift, we will, I think, have the highest number of police officers the country has ever had.
I am sorry that the Minister decided to go off track in his response. In any event, I am grateful to him. I thank all the hon. Members who took part in the debate, which made it clear that at the centre of the issue are families and others across the west midlands who have felt left behind, and who deserve a fair police funding settlement. I hope the funding settlement will reflect that.
“The force is good at strategic planning, organisational management and providing value for money.”
That includes the input of both the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable in the west midlands. I will not see West Midlands police run down in that manner.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered funding for neighbourhood policing in the West Midlands.