I beg to move,
That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2019/20 (HC 1896), which was laid before this House on 24 January, be approved.
I start by paying tribute to the police. Coming from a policing family, I have seen their bravery, their dedication and their professionalism. They take extraordinary risks to protect the public day in, day out. I am in awe of what they do to protect us all. They undoubtedly deserve this House’s gratitude and support.
As Home Secretary, my mission is to keep the public safe and, of course, the police have an absolutely crucial part to play. When I took this role, I vowed to stand with them, to support them and to listen to them. I have met police leaders, and I have heard what they have to say. My right hon. Friend, the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, has done the same.
We know the demands the police are facing, how those demands are increasing and how crime is changing and becoming more complex. Previously hidden crimes such as child sexual exploitation are increasingly being reported, which we encourage and welcome. More criminals are moving online, which is bringing fresh challenges. We are battling the worst spike in violent crime for a decade, and we are giving the police more of the powers they need, such as those in the Offensive Weapons Bill. I vow to ensure they have the tools and resources they need to help keep our communities safe.
I am sorry that I do not have much voice.
One of the new tools we have given to the police is the ability to take people to court for assaults on emergency workers, including police officers, but it would be a terrible problem if, after bringing in this new law, the police have no time or facilities to implement it. Will the Home Secretary make sure the police are taking this on board seriously and have the time and financial resources to ensure that we protect all our emergency workers? Some of the violent crime he talks about affects ambulance workers, mental health nurses and nurses in accident and emergency.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and I thank him for his work in introducing the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018, which the Government were pleased to support. The Act will make an important difference to the police. He is right to raise the importance of making sure there are proper resources behind the Act to help it to make that difference, and I therefore hope that he will welcome the settlement today.
The Home Secretary has already alluded to how policing has changed considerably over the past x number of years. Does he support the national campaign, which has over a quarter of a million supporters, demanding a police royal commission? We have not had one for almost 60 years and policing has changed considerably during the intervening period. We hear so many different stories about resource, or the lack of it, and about what modern policing is. Does he agree that the most effective way to deal with this so that the public, and even the Government, understand exactly what policing is today would be to have a police royal commission?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Because of the change in demand caused by the rising demand of certain crimes and by the complexity of certain crimes, it is important to make sure that the Home Office, the National Police Chiefs Council and others are continually looking at this. I am not convinced that a royal commission is the answer, because it may lead to decisions being delayed or not being made, but he makes an important general point about making sure we are on top of what is needed by considering the changes and the complexity of crime.
My right hon. Friend has rightly drawn attention to the challenges facing the police. Is it fair that, in facing those challenges, so much of their time is taken up by dealing with mental health emergencies that, frankly, are properly the concern of another Department of State?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. It is not fair if police time is taken up by issues that should be dealt with by, in this case, health professionals. This has been recognised by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, who has committed to using some of the extra resources the Government are now putting into the NHS to help to relieve the police and to work with them more closely.
May I make the Home Secretary aware that in parts of Coventry, both in affluent parts and in less well-off parts, there has been an increase in burglaries and knife crime? The police used a dispersal order in the centre of Coventry on Saturday after a young man was badly stabbed. Will the Home Secretary increase police numbers in the west midlands, particularly in Coventry, where I am told by the police that they operate at only 75%?
The hon. Gentleman raises the very important issue of knife crime, and I am sorry to hear about that incident in Coventry. This is about powers, which is why the Offensive Weapons Bill is bringing new powers for the police, but it is also about resources. I therefore hope that he will support the Government’s settlement today because of the extra £34 million it will provide to his local force.
I must make some more progress. I will give way later.
The settlement provides the biggest increase in police funding since 2010, up to an extra £970 million in 2019-20. This will boost capacity and help forces recruit the extra officers they have told me they need. This is a significant increase. Last year, the House approved an additional £460 million for policing, including from the council tax increase. The latest workforce figures show that, by September 2018, this was starting to pay off, with officer numbers up by 466 in that year. At the time, the Policing Minister, who has shown steadfast support for the police, indicated that our intention was to provide a similar settlement this year, subject to improved efficiency, productivity and financial transparency. The police have met those conditions.
The police are on track to deliver £120 million in commercial savings by 2020-21. They are adopting more digital technology, including mobile working. All police and crime commissioners have published strategies demonstrating how they plan to use their financial reserves. They have kept their side of the bargain, and I am keeping mine. I am going further than we promised last year to provide the support they really need.
People in Corby and east Northamptonshire want to see more police out on the beat, catching criminals and deterring crime. Will my right hon. Friend be impressing on police and crime commissioners that a good chunk of the additional funding being made available should be directed towards that priority?
Yes, my hon. Friend’s point is an important one. He knows that with PCCs there is a lot of independence in setting priorities, but we work carefully and closely with police forces, including his, which will benefit by an additional £9 million through this settlement, to make sure that those strategies are the right ones.
I thank the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service for the supportive comments he has made about the improvements that South Yorkshire police force has made in the past year. However, it has the legacy issues of Hillsborough and child sexual exploitation in Rotherham to deal with, and each year it has to come to the Government with an application for a special grant. It has been given that, but the grant has to be top-sliced, putting an additional burden on police funding. Will the Home Secretary agree to a meeting with the South Yorkshire PCC and local MPs, involving either him or the Policing Minister, to see whether we can find a better way to deal with these issues in the future?
The hon. Gentleman highlights that there are sometimes special situations, and special grants are needed to deal with exactly what he has mentioned. I am happy to make sure that Home Office Ministers meet him to discuss that further, as it is a very important point.
I thank the Home Secretary for understanding the need and coming up with a much better settlement for us. Does he agree that Thames Valley, which contains fast-growing areas of the country such as mine, where a lot of extra housing is going in, needs some extra money just to keep pace with the extra number of people who require a police service?
I very much agree with my right hon. Friend on that, and I thank him for his support. He highlights the need for this extra funding, and I know that he will welcome the support that will be provided—I believe it is almost £34 million—to his force.
Does the Home Secretary agree that as a result of having 21,000 fewer police officers on our streets, our intelligence-gathering capabilities have been severely restricted? Does he also agree that the proposal he is putting forward today is just nowhere near enough?
The hon. Lady will know that, when it comes to evidence gathering, a lot is needed by the police; it is not just all about resources, although they play an important role. She will know that today’s settlement gives a significant increase for her local force. I know that she supports that, so I look forward to seeing her in the Lobby.
I am going to make progress, but I will give way later on.
I want to be clear with the House on how this increase of almost £1 billion breaks down. Government grants to PCCs will rise by £161 million, which will protect their grant funding in real terms. This package includes an additional £12 million for the Met, to recognise the extra costs and challenges of policing in London. We will allocate more than £153 million to help forces manage increases in pensions costs. We are investing £90 million in much-needed capabilities to combat serious and organised crime at national, regional and local levels. Funding for counter-terrorism policing will increase by £59 million next year, to £816 million—that is £160 million more than we planned at the last spending review. We will support forces through a continued investment of £175 million in the police transformation fund and £495 million to replace and upgrade critical police technology infrastructure.
We are giving PCCs the flexibility they need to use their precept to raise more public money where it is needed most. We have listened to requests from PCCs and empowered them to increase the amount they can raise through council tax precepts. This will allow them to ask for an additional £2 a month per household without the need for a local referendum. The extra cost to a typical household will be up to £24 a year. We know that money is tight, and we did not take this decision lightly. The decision to use this flexibility is up to locally elected PCCs—they must make the case to their electorates. Providing this additional flexibility will allow them to raise up to £509 million in total. Many PCCs have welcomed the funding settlement we set out in December.
Almost all PCCs in England have chosen to use this new council tax flexibility in full, and local people have shown their support. For example, 6,500 people responded to the PCC’s precept consultation in Hampshire, with 76% indicating that they support the proposed increase. In Suffolk, nearly 70% voted for the full £24 rise. PCCs have been explaining what they want to use this extra funding for, and I am delighted that many of them plan to use it to strengthen frontline policing. They are consulting on plans to use the money to recruit more than 2,800 extra officers, potentially leading to the biggest annual increase in numbers for more than 10 years. If all PCCs use their full precept next year, overall police funding will have increased by £2 billion in just four years.
Police recorded crime figures for the last full year showed that police areas with the highest number of crimes per 1,000 people have received the smallest increase in funding. Cleveland has the highest crime figures yet it has the lowest increase. The Minister has ignored the letter from Cleveland MPs about our budget, so will he explain this bizarre outcome or, better still, recognise that he has got the Cleveland settlement very wrong?
First, the hon. Gentleman will be all too aware, given his closeness to this, that there are some other issues in Cleveland as well. He talks about resources and funding, and there is a £7 million increase for Cleveland in this settlement. If he means what he says, I am sure he will be joining me in the Lobby tonight.
Let me ask the Home Secretary the question that Ministers seem reluctant to answer. Police numbers have fallen by 21,000, and by 2,000 in the west midlands, and crime is soaring. Are the Government seriously suggesting that there is no link between falling police numbers and increasing crime?
Where the hon. Gentleman is right is that there have been increases in certain types of crime. For example, as I said earlier, there have been increases in serious violence, cyber-crime, and the reporting of sexual offences, especially historical sexual offences. We welcome such reporting, including of historical offences; we want to see more of those being reported so that we can investigate more. It does require more resource and, in some cases, with some forces, it also requires changes in practices. He has raised his concern for the West Midlands police force and making sure there are enough resources. I believe that there is about £34 million more for his force, which represents a significant increase. It is fair to say that it is more than would have been expected by the force this time last year. If he supports his local force and wants to see those resources going to it, I am sure he will vote with the Government later this afternoon.
May I press the Home Secretary a little more on these figures? I am talking about the support that local forces get from his Department, not what is being passed on to local council tax payers. The West Midlands PCC has estimated that simply to stand still West Midlands police force needs an increase in excess of £24 million. As the additional amount the Home Secretary is putting forward is just over £15 million, how is that anything other than a real-terms cut?
Again, the hon. Gentleman, like so many other Opposition Members, has raised the issue of resources. That is why I am sure he will welcome the biggest cash increase collectively since 2010. He talks about the West Midlands force, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) did. That force is receiving an increase of more than £34 million. I gently point out that the force has £85 million in reserves, which is one of the highest levels of reserves in the country, so the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) should have a chat with his PCC to ask whether he can do a better job.
I have been clear that in recent years we have seen an increase in certain types of crime, but it would be lazy of any of us to attribute that to just one factor. I recognise that resources are an important issue, which is why we are giving this record settlement today.
I will make some progress, then take some further interventions in a moment.
Supporting policing is not just about money; the police chiefs I have met have also consistently raised concerns about, for example, their officers’ welfare. That is why there will be more support for frontline officers, with a new national wellbeing centre of excellence. We will also help forces to identify mental health issues earlier with psychological screening, so that officers can access support and, where appropriate, stay in work.
The impact of next year’s funding increase will be immense. Forces will be able to continue to recruit and fill crucial capability gaps. They will be able to prevent more crime and deliver better outcomes for victims. We will work with PCCs and chief constables to make the most of this funding settlement. We are asking them to use the extra investment to address four priority areas next year. First, they should continue efficiency savings. Forces must see beyond their own boundaries and continue to join up to get better procurement deals and drive more benefits from shared services. Secondly, they should resolve the shortfall in detective numbers identified by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services. We will work with the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs’ Council to support forces in meeting this challenge. Thirdly, they should continue improvements in productivity, with a view to delivering £50 million of productivity savings in 2019-20. That will include the smarter use of data and improved digital capabilities, including mobile working, where appropriate. Finally, I expect all forces to respond effectively to the threat from serious and organised crime. This is an area that cannot and must not be ignored by anyone. I have delivered on my own promise to the police, and I now expect them to respond to the challenge that we have set them, as they did so well last year.
Does the Home Secretary accept that the real lived experience of many people in Greater Manchester is that many crimes do not even get investigated, and are simply recorded? In many communities, police stations have been closed altogether, and in my own town we do not have a single custody cell left open for a population of quarter of a million people.
Like so many Members, the hon. Gentleman makes an issue of the need for more resources. I have met his local chief constable and other police officers from his force, and they are doing some excellent work in difficult circumstances, with some particular challenges in Manchester. I hope the hon. Gentleman will join me in welcoming today’s settlement, which contains an additional £35 million for his local force. If he wishes to discuss the needs of his local force further, I would be happy to meet him, as would the Policing Minister, to listen more.
I welcome the biggest rise in police funds since 2010, which is excellent news for Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. However, will my right hon. Friend concede that, as a force, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight has been historically underfunded relative to its size? When he considers future funding formulae, will he therefore take into account the historical underfunding of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight and seek to rectify it?
I am happy to give my hon. Friend that commitment. He makes an important point and I am glad he has raised it. We have been clear in the Home Office that when the upcoming spending review, on which I will say more in a moment, comes around, it is important that we also look at the national funding formula for policing.
The right hon. Gentleman seems to be saying that the increases he is talking about will lead to better crime-fighting results, but he is denying that the cuts that led to 1,000 fewer officers in the Merseyside police force have affected the rise in crime. Will he now answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey)? There is actually a link between police funding and crime levels, and he should come clean about it. The right hon. Gentleman cannot claim that if money is going up, crime rates will get better, but deny there is a link the other way around.
I thought the hon. Lady was taking over my speech for me, but she raises an important point. On fighting crime, as I mentioned earlier, there has been a particular rise in certain types of crime, especially those that are more complex and so by definition require more resource. That is what the settlement recognises—that where crime, especially more complex crime, has risen, more resources should be provided. This is a record settlement—the largest since 2010—and contains £18 million for the hon. Lady’s local force.
Will the Home Secretary confirm that the question before the House on the police report is about national support for police forces and has nothing to do with council tax rises, which may or may not happen? Furthermore, will he admit to the House that if one looks at where the rise in knife crime has been greatest, one will see that it is in those areas that are more dependent on national support?
The right hon. Gentleman is wrong in saying that this debate is just about national support. The report also includes the Government’s decision, subject to the will of the House, to allow an increase in the precept of up to £24 without a referendum, as I mentioned earlier. That is part of the total funding package, to which I have referred, of £970 million.
I need to make some progress.
The police will continue to face pressures, and my commitment to them is ongoing. The Policing Minister has also shown unwavering support and will of course continue to do so. This is the last settlement before the next spending review, which will set out the resources available to the police in future years. I will continue to make police resourcing a priority in that spending review. Once again, though, it is of course a two-way street. The police must continue to improve efficiency, productivity and effectiveness, to provide value for money, and to give the public the top-class service they deserve. I will back them in the spending review, but any increased support must come with an important condition: the police must commit to a long-term action plan to further improve effectiveness and productivity. I am determined to give them the investment that they need, but it must be used efficiently. We have the best police force in the world, but they must also be as effective as they can be.
In Warwickshire, we have one of the smallest police forces in the country, but this year’s and last year’s settlements are enabling the police and crime commissioner to put in a further 150 police officers and staff. Will my right hon. Friend look carefully at the funding for county areas, which are under great pressure from a lot of criminality and problems coming from the city areas, which have traditionally been funded a lot more significantly than the county areas?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and it draws me back to my earlier comment in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Seely) about the national funding formula for policing. We are committed to looking at that when we consider longer term funding through the spending review process.
The Government are determined to respond to the threat from terrorism, organised crime and serious violence, and the police are of course a vital partner in that work. We must give them the resources they need to get the job done, which is why we are proposing the largest increase in police funding since 2010.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Home Secretary to tell me, in answer to my question, that the £24 that the Government are allowing local police authorities to raise is in the report, when I have checked the report and cannot find any mention of the £24 to which he drew the House’s attention? That report is the subject of tonight’s vote.
There can be no question but that the biggest indictment of this Government’s record on law and order is their long-standing failure to fund the police properly. Sadly, that is as true of this year’s funding allocation as it is of any other year’s. I have to say to the Home Secretary, in the kindest possible manner, that he is brazen in expecting Opposition Members to follow him into the Lobby on this funding settlement. We would be less than responsible if we voted for one that is patently inadequate. It is not just Members on the Opposition Benches who are saying that but ordinary police officers. The chair of the Police Federation, John Apter, said:
“This appears to be a quick fix. A sticking plaster solution that injects extra money in the short-term, but one which sees the burden falling unfairly on local council tax payers.”
Senior police officers think that this settlement is inadequate. The president of the Police Superintendents Association, Gavin Thomas, has said:
“Whilst I welcome this injection of funding, it is still far short of what the service requires to effectively meet the challenges of 21st century policing.”
My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. In Derbyshire, my own area, the Government’s increase in the grant does not even meet the increase in the police pension costs. There is a shortfall of £400,000, which has to be met by council tax payers before they even start to contribute towards the extra policing that we so desperately need, and which officers on the frontline need to help them combat the stress that the Home Secretary mentioned.
My hon. Friend makes an important point on behalf of her constituents in Derbyshire.
The West Midlands police and crime commissioner says publicly what many PCCs say privately—that this Government funding does not come anywhere near to covering what the force requires just to stand still.
I would never accuse the Home Secretary of being so petty. This is what the West Midlands police and crime commissioner said:
“This government funding does not come anywhere near to covering what the force requires…£25.6m is needed to cover extra pension costs, government-set pay increases and rising fuel costs this year.”
I strongly endorse what my right hon. Friend is saying. People in my constituency will have listened with incredulity to the Home Secretary talking about extra resources when, yesterday, they were told that Newton-le-Willows police station will close, except for a few hours on a Friday, precisely because there is a lack of resources. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, on this Government’s watch, there are fewer police officers and they are further away from the communities that they seek to serve?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point.
Having spoken about what policing professionals think about this settlement, I have to stress that it does not take policing professionals to make the public aware of the consequences of the failure to provide resources and therefore police capacity. All over the country, the public are aware of issues such as the delays in responding to 999 calls. The inspectorate of constabulary, in its annual review, found instances of the police taking days to respond to calls that should have been acted on within an hour. At a recent meeting in Wolverhampton to discuss public safety, I found many people saying that they had reported instances of open drug dealing, for instance, but that no police officers had turned up—nothing was done. This all points to a lack of capacity.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must also find a way to adequately fund capital cities outside London? Cardiff hosts 400 major events a year and is the seat of the Welsh Government, yet it does not receive any extra funding as a capital city, which means that resources come from elsewhere. Could that perhaps be reflected in any settlement?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Later in my remarks, I will come to how the Home Office manages resources in general.
Ministers seem to remain in denial about the consequences of their actions. At least the Home Secretary was able to admit on the BBC that the Government have cut 21,000 police officers, but, as my hon. Friends have elicited in questioning, Ministers continue to insist, almost alone in the country, that lower police numbers have had no negative effect in the fight against crime. That is an absurd idea.
Does my right hon. Friend recognise that, apart from Leicestershire, where there has been a very small increase in the number of police community support officers, the only part of the country where there has been such a rise is Wales, where there has been an increase of 217 PCSOs since 2010? Will she join me in praising the Welsh Labour Government for funding 500 PCSOs across Wales and standing up for the people of Wales when this Government are failing them?
I certainly join my hon. Friend in congratulating the Government of Wales, particularly on their emphasis on community policing.
The real record of the UK Government is this: police officer numbers have not been this low in decades, chief constables up and down the country are warning about the consequences of the cuts in their areas and in their forces, and police-recorded violent crime is now at its highest level on record. Earlier, the Home Secretary tried to ascribe that increase to better recording of crime, but he is not supported on that by the Office for National Statistics, which says:
“Over the last year we’ve seen rises in vehicle offences, robbery, and some lower-volume but higher-harm types of violence.”
Recorded knife crime offences are at their highest level since records began. We know that the effectiveness of the police has been compromised, as arrests have halved in a decade and the sanction detection rate of charges and cautions has plummeted. Tory cuts have consequences.
I well recall the right hon. Lady’s predecessor arguing from the Dispatch Box, back in 2015-16, that the Government should cut police spending by 10%. Does she regret her party’s former Front-Bench team making that case, because if we extrapolate her argument out, would not that mean that we would have even fewer officers today?
I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the fact that the Labour party is under new management now.
This may be, as Ministers say, the largest funding increase since 2010, but it is still inadequate, as ordinary police officers, senior police officers and PCCs say.
My right hon. Friend is recognising the truth that resources are connected to results when it comes to dealing with crime. Does she agree that the cuts that have seen 1,000 officers disappear from the Merseyside force have created a situation where those who are committing crimes see less evidence of the police being able to follow them up, which creates a view on the street that lawlessness can be got away with? That actually encourages criminality while making it much harder for the law-abiding to report it to the police.
I agree with my hon. Friend. Of course, on Merseyside we have also seen an alarming rise in knife crime.
Part of the problem is the new demands on policing to which the Home Secretary referred. However, an increasing problem is that, with the collapse of public sector funding elsewhere, the police have become the public service of last resort, particularly in relation to issues such as mental health. We will be debating this later this afternoon, but central Government have taken 60%—£16 billion—out of local government funding since 2010. Cuts to youth services, housing and schools must have a bearing on levels of crime, particularly youth crime.
Let me touch on something that is often not discussed—the problem with having annual funding reviews. Ministers will be aware of the long-standing concern about annual funding. City of London police has said:
“Annualised funding allocations result in short term strategies that deliver short term impact”,
and that they are a constraint. The PCC for Northamptonshire, Stephen Mold, said that that the
“imposition of one year funding settlements…hampers effective long term financial planning”.
And the PCC for Dorset, Martyn Underhill, said that the
“absence of any indication of funding beyond 12 months”
compromises the ability to formulate
“a realistic medium term financial plan”.
My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, standing up for our police service. The Government may be in denial about the clear link between falling numbers and rising crime, but will my right hon. Friend join me in saying that what is also wrong is the grotesque unfairness on the part of the Government? Why is it that the high-need West Midlands police service gets cut by 25%, while Surrey police service—with much lower need and lower crime levels—gets cut by 11%? It is not just about cutting the police service; it is about the grotesque unfairness that goes with it.
I agree with my hon. Friend on the question of unfairness, particularly in relation to the precept, but I will come to that issue in a few minutes.
The Home Secretary needs to face up to the fact that there is an issue regarding the poor overall financial management of the police by the Home Office. Let me remind him what the National Audit Office had to say last year about the Home Office’s overall management of police finances:
“We concluded that there were significant gaps in the Department’s understanding of demand and of pressures on the service, and it needed to be better informed to discharge its duties of overseeing the police and distributing funding.”
I completely agree with what my right hon. Friend is saying. Does she agree that the knife crime prevention orders that were announced this week as a late addition to the Offensive Weapons Bill have had no cost impact assessment whatever, that there is no evidential basis for them and no assessment of the impact on equalities, and that introducing them is therefore very short-sighted and probably expensive and ineffective?
My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of knife crime prevention orders. One problem is that the issue is not the state of the law, but policing capacity.
The National Audit Office also said:
“The Home Office’s light touch approach to overseeing police forces means it does not know if the police system is financially sustainable. It lacks a long-term plan for policing and significant gaps remain in its understanding of demand for police services and their costs.”
And this brazen Home Secretary expects us to join him in the Lobby tonight.
Let me move on to the precept, because I cannot leave any discussion about the funding of the police without mentioning how Ministers insist on talking as if allowing PCCs to raise more money through the precept is somehow new central Government funding. I would have thought that Home Office Ministers might have learnt from the admonition of the chair of UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, who recommended that
“the Home Office’s Head of Profession for Statistics speak to communications colleagues about the importance of clear public statements about police funding and ensure they understand the structure of police funding.”
I am trying to make some progress.
Maybe the chair of the UK Statistics Authority should have spoken to Ministers. Ministers want to claim that allowing an increase in the precept to fund the police somehow counts as a loosening of the purse strings. It really is not. The precept is not some magic money tree.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the powerful speech that she is making. Does she agree that areas such as Barnsley will be able to raise significantly less money than wealthier areas? This is absolutely outrageous. Crime is going up, police numbers are going down and this Government are in complete denial.
I agree. The precept is a tax, and Ministers know perfectly well that urban forces tend to be able to raise less per head from council tax than those in more rural areas. Urban forces such as the Metropolitan police and the West Midlands, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire forces rely more on central Government grants for their funding than rural forces.
There is also a direct shift of spending to local forces on pension liabilities, which the Government are deliberately moving. The pension costs are going to be £330 million, yet the grant to local police forces is less than half that, at £153 million. In the case of Durham, that means that the police force’s pension allocation and core funding allocation will all be wiped out by this single pension liabilities debt, which has been moved on to it.
The precept is a regressive tax that bears down disproportionately—[Interruption.] Had the hon. Lady waited, I might have given way.
The precept is a regressive tax that bears down disproportionately on poorer people and poorer regions. It is unfair on the population within a given region and it is unfair between regions. As the Police Federation said:
“They are passing the buck of funding the police service to the public by doubling the council tax precept that police and crime commissioners are allowed to charge.”
This is no way to fund a cohesive police force.
We see a rise in violent crime, cuts to police numbers and increasing concern about public safety. This Government have let down ordinary police officers and the public. Their overall management of police funding is demonstrably poor. And no, we will not be joining the Home Secretary in the Lobby tonight.
Lots of Members wish to speak and I want to get everybody in, because this issue is important to every Member of Parliament. My suggestion is that we have a six-minute time limit, but those who can speak for less than six minutes will be very welcome.
I am pleased that the total resources for Bedfordshire police will receive a welcome increase next year to £112.7 million from the current £104.6 million. However, even between rural forces, there is a difference in the ability to raise revenue from band D properties. For example Hertfordshire, which is a neighbouring force, has many more band D properties than Bedfordshire, and that is something of which the Home Office needs to be aware.
It is often said in the House that the Government’s first duty is to defend this country. I would agree with that regarding our wonderful armed services, but I think we would also all agree that that duty to defend also relates to our constituents as they go about their everyday business in their homes and at their places of work.
Because of the way in which Bedfordshire is configured, there are significant issues about how the Bedfordshire police force works for my constituents and for Central Bedfordshire Council—the local authority in the middle of Bedfordshire. There is significant demand on police resourcing in Bedford and in Luton, in particular, which means that the middle part of the county is often extremely challenged. We are also one of 19 police forces to suffer from damping, which was introduced by Labour in 2004. In 2015, this Government had the courage to state that that was unfair. They tried to look at revising the national police funding formula to reverse the unfair impact of damping, which affects 18 forces along with Bedfordshire. In Bedfordshire’s case, that means a loss of about 90 officers a year—about £3.3 million of funding that we have lost every year since 2004. I would expect that issue to be dealt with as we look forward to next year’s comprehensive spending review, which the Home Secretary quite rightly pointed to. There is good news on this year’s funding, but still more work to do regarding next year’s very important comprehensive spending review.
I am struck by the fact that the police are less local than they used to be. Many years ago, there would be police officers living in individual villages in my constituency. Up until 1 October 2012, there were fully-functioning, 24/7 first responder police stations in Leighton Buzzard and in Dunstable. I want to restore that state of affairs. We have had incidences of shoplifting in our supermarkets, handbags being stolen from ladies outside nightclubs and bicycles being stolen from children, and when my constituents have rung the police, no one has been available. We also have issues with county lines operations —drug gangs coming up from London or down from Birmingham—which have had a significant impact on Bedfordshire police.
As has been said, we ask the police to do too much, particularly with regard to mental health. A failure to regulate children’s homes properly puts significant extra burdens on police resources when the police have to find children who have run away. The owners of those homes should be doing much more and should be far more responsible. I will shortly be taking that issue up with a Minister in the Department for Education. Significant challenges to policing and to law and order arise from the prevalence of Traveller sites in my constituency. We have had three major incidences of modern slavery—this is all a matter of public record and fact—and considerable extra demands are placed on Bedfordshire police as a result.
The chief constable wrote to me recently to say that on Sunday 16 September last year, the force literally ran out of officers as it had to deal with seven teenagers being stabbed in Luton, four rapes, five prison officers being assaulted in Bedford prison, a fatality in a road traffic incident, a 16-year-old being murdered in Bedford, and people with gunshot wounds coming into the accident and emergency department of Luton and Dunstable Hospital. That was a particularly demanding Sunday, but such demand is not unusual in Bedfordshire.
We should look at what the previous Mayor of London did through the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime when he identified the MOPAC 7, which were the seven crimes of most concern to the public: burglary, vandalism, criminal damage, theft from motor vehicles, theft of motor vehicles, violence with injury, and theft from the person. He focused on driving down those seven areas of crime, and that was successful. If we could relieve the police of some additional duties—perhaps regarding mental health and children’s homes—that are not properly their responsibility, they could go back to those seven really important areas.
We need to think about what builds law-abiding communities. Cicero said in 52 BC: “We have a natural propensity to love our fellow men, and that, after all, is the foundation of all law.”
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous). I agree with him on one specific point: we really do need a better understanding of why mental health is a problem within crime and of how it should be dealt with more appropriately than is currently the case.
I do at least agree with the Home Secretary on two points. First, he was right to pay tribute to the work that the police do on behalf of us and our communities. It is only the police who take the risk of trying their best to protect us. Secondly, I agree that it is his job to keep the people of this country and our communities safe. However, the sad fact is that although he acknowledges that that is the case, he does not seem to do much about trying to turn it into reality.
Much of what I say will be about facts and figures, but it is important to say that behind those facts and figures lie some incredibly terrible human tragedies. I will talk about knife crime in a moment. That is about a young life lost needlessly and, more than that, about a family who, for the rest of their lives, will be left asking, “What if?” We must always be mindful that while facts and figures tell one story, the effect on people’s lives is often much more pronounced and vivid than the figures alone show.
First, inevitably, I want to talk about funding for Merseyside police. My hon. Friends the Members for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) and for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) both referred, in slightly different ways, to the way in which the loss of central Government funding has affected policing in our constituencies. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) made a similar point about the closure of a police station in his constituency as an example of how things play out on the ground. My hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood rightly pointed out that since 2010-11, the Merseyside police force has lost £90,396,258 of central Government funding. That is a lot of money, and it has consequences. It means that we have lost over 1,000 police officers, which must have an impact on crime. We have lost over 200 PCSOs, and that in itself must have an impact on crime, at least in the sense of how the police get information about what is going on in communities. We cannot hide from the fact that there has to be a direct relationship between police on the ground and the ability to deal with crime.
My right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) was right when he pointed out in an intervention on the Home Secretary that the additional money that the Government have provided will mostly cover only the additional cost of pensions. On Merseyside, of the £8.8 million of additional money that will be provided through the central Government grant, which is of course welcome, £7.8 million will go directly to plugging the gap in pensions.
At the same time, we are experiencing steep rises in very serious crimes. On Merseyside, over the past 12 months, knife crime has increased by 32%. I have talked about the impact of that on young lives. My hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood and I, along with others, want to get into a discussion with the Government about how the problem can be better dealt with by giving young people alternatives to a life of crime and by providing the police with the ability to intervene more effectively. After many attempts, we have not even been able to get a meeting with the Policing Minister. I have asked him in previous debates to meet me to discuss this, but answer comes there none. There has also been a massive 47% rise in domestic abuse, which means that whole families are in terrible crisis, with terrible problems.
There is so much more to say, but to keep within the limits you have set, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will conclude by simply saying this. The Government have done too little too late to resolve the problem that our communities and police forces face. Frankly, if the first job of the Government and the Home Secretary is to deal with community safety, I am afraid that this settlement goes nowhere near assuring people that they will be able to carry out that duty.
It is good to see my right hon. Friend the Policing Minister on the Front Bench. I have pursued him with vigour for some months on the issue of police funding, including for Warwickshire. I thank him for the efforts he has made, the case he has put to the Treasury and what has been achieved so far, with additional police funding this year of up to £970 million. My constituents will be pleased because we face some significant issues in my constituency at the moment. We suffer a lot of cross-border crime that comes from the larger cities in the west midlands— particularly crimes such as car key burglary, car jackings and burglary—and that has weighed heavily on my constituency in the last two years or so. I am therefore extremely grateful that extra resources will go to Warwickshire police, which it can use to bolster not only its response, but the prevention of those crimes.
Before I talk more about funding, I want to thank the police officers of Warwickshire for their determination and for the hard work they do for the people of Warwickshire. They do not always get it right, but they get it right in the vast majority of situations, which the public appreciate. The public in my area want to work with the police. We have a neighbourhood watch Facebook group made up of 15,000 residents, who provide the police with information about issues across my constituency.
For example, around Christmas time, there was a massive spate of car crime, including car key burglaries. Because of the work of the community and the police together, the person committing those crimes was apprehended. Unfortunately they only admitted to 15 of those crimes and, despite perpetrating a spate of crimes across the area and being a repeat offender, they received a measly three-month sentence. That is not a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister, but it is certainly one for the Justice Secretary. We must support police in our communities, but our courts and judicial system must also support our police to ensure that when they do their job, they are backed up.
Warwickshire is one of the smallest forces in the country, as the Minister knows. Our police and crime commissioner has been very happy with the last two settlements. He ran a significant consultation with local people on the precept to which 2,400 people responded, the vast majority of whom confirmed that they would be willing to spend an extra £2 per month—£24 a year—to see more police on the streets. As a result of last year’s changes, we see 50 more officers on the streets in Warwickshire. As a result of this year’s changes, we will see another 85 officers and another 15 police staff, including a number of investigators, who are extremely important in bringing offenders to book.
There is a balance to be struck with council tax. The public in my area have been quite content to pay some extra on their council tax in the last two years, but I am not sure that that is a good long-term strategy. Opposition Front Benchers seem to say that council tax takes money from local taxpayers and Government money is not taxpayers’ money, but of course it is all taxpayers’ money, so we need to strike a balance. Any money that the Government or police forces spend is taxpayers’ money.
I will not give way because of the time limit that Mr Deputy Speaker said we should observe. We have to get the balance right between the money we collect in national taxes and give to our police service and the money we collect locally.
Finally, I want to mention another local issue that I hope will be picked up in the spending review, which is what I call “Warwexit”. Unfortunately, as the Minister will be aware, the strategic alliance between West Mercia police and Warwickshire police, through which each force has saved £35 million, has been abruptly brought to an end by West Mercia. I hope that in the spending review, the Minister and the Treasury will look carefully at the impact on Warwickshire, bearing in mind that it was not part of bringing the arrangement to an end.
I welcome the settlement. It is a good step in the right direction, but we still need to do more to make sure that our police have the right resources to keep our local population safe.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) made clear, central Government funding for Merseyside police has been cut by more than £90 million since 2010. As a consequence, we have lost almost a quarter of our police officers. There has been a commensurate loss in civilian staff, who are down by a third. We have also lost 43% of our PCSOs, who are the eyes and ears of the police on our streets, the cornerstone of neighbourhood policing and an early warning system of incipient street and gang problems. The loss of those PCSOs will cause problems.
That lamentable decline in policing capacity has been the deliberate choice of the Lib Dem-Tory coalition Government from 2010 and the Tory Governments since 2015. They have all chosen to undermine public service provision in our great northern cities, including Liverpool, in the name of economic necessity, but this “austerity” has actually been a political project in pursuit of the ideology of a smaller state. It has affected Merseyside police severely. As a direct consequence of our police force being weakened, crime has been increasing in the last five years, and it is up overall by 162.5% on Merseyside. The argument peddled by Ministers that that has nothing to do with the £90 million cut in resource, and the loss of a quarter of our police and 43% of our PCSOs is laughably unconvincing. My constituents are not fooled; they know there is a link.
Just in the last year on Merseyside, overall crime is up by 12%, but that figure masks worrying trends that are developing: violent crime is up by 26% in one year; burglary is up by 23% in one year; drug crime is up by 25% in one year; and possession of weapons is up by a staggering 46% in one year. The Minister will know—my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley reminded him—that Merseyside colleagues and I have met Ministers over the last three years to discuss the increasing incidence of firearms discharges and shootings on Merseyside due to increasing and worrying gang-related serious and organised crime. Another meeting seems to be off the agenda, based on the response we have received. We have repeatedly received what have unfortunately turned out to be empty promises of assistance, but not one penny piece extra for tackling this increasing level of serious and organised violence.
The Secretary of State has today proclaimed that resources are being increased in real terms, but the extra £161 million increase in cash terms for all local police forces, in addition to the one-off pension grant of £142 million, amounts to less than the Government-imposed changes on pension liabilities. That means that, for the ninth year in a row, central Government funding to local forces will in fact be cut in real terms.
The Secretary of State proclaims that he has generously allowed local police and crime commissioners to increase their council tax precept from £12 per household a year to £24. He then tries to claim that he has himself provided the extra resources that this allows to be raised, if it is imposed in full and everybody pays it. In fact, it is of course hard-pressed council tax payers, many of whom in Liverpool are already at breaking point to pay their bills, who have to find this money.
What does this settlement mean for Merseyside? First, the extra £8.4 million of Government grant is less than 10% of the cuts that Merseyside police have sustained since 2010. Crime is now rising strongly and more police resources are needed effectively to get to grips with it. Secondly, as the Merseyside police and crime commissioner has made very clear, the extra £8.4 million will be entirely consumed by the pension black hole caused by the Government. Talk about giving with one hand and taking away with the other. The Secretary of State’s sleight of hand in providing a real-terms cut while proclaiming he has done the opposite is disappointing. In fact, there is no new money for running police services on Merseyside in this settlement whatsoever. How characteristic of this Tory Government that they then try to claim that there is. They have left increasing the precept on already hard-pressed council tax payers on Merseyside as the only way of practically supporting our police with new resources.
It is fundamentally unfair to use council tax to fund increased resource for local police because it takes no account of the policing challenges in each area, and it allows better-off areas with a higher council tax base and lower levels of crime to raise the same, if not more, than areas such as Merseyside that have greater challenges but less ability to raise funds. It makes public safety a postcode lottery, with better-off areas that have lower levels of crime able to do better. Even with this rise in the precept, the money recouped across the country will be a drop in the ocean compared with the £2.7 billion real-terms cut in policing budgets since 2010, as the National Audit Office found when it looked at this.
Is it any wonder that police-recorded violent crime is now at the highest level on record, that the number of knife offences is at the highest level since records began, that arrests have halved in a decade and that there are 2 million unsolved crimes? While we are afflicted with a Tory Government who believe in never-ending austerity in pursuit of their political priority to shrink the state, we can expect nothing better.
I really do not want to enter the blame game, but I am going to start by just reminding the House and putting it on the record that, in 2010, we did inherit a financial mess. [Interruption.] Opposition Members groan but it is a fact. I want to add that I accept that that was also due to the banking crisis and other factors, but we inherited a mess and that mess has taken time. Eight years on, I accept that we are now in power and it is our responsibility to sort out our priorities, which I will come to in a moment.
No, I will not give way. I am afraid I only have a short time. I want to press on.
I cannot stress enough my gratitude and that of my constituents to Dorset police, whose officers and PCSOs do their level best to keep us safe in our homes and on our streets. Secondly, I am grateful to our chief constable, James Vaughan, and the Dorset police and crime commissioner, Martyn Underhill—they both do an outstanding job—who will be providing the information I am giving to the House today to the police and crime panel on Thursday.
May I praise the Policing Minister, who I know has inherited a very difficult job? He is extremely accessible and helpful to me whenever I want to see him, and I am very grateful to him and those on the Front Bench for all the help they try to give us.
Dorset police face three problems—I must raise them on the Floor of the House because I believe it is my duty to do so: the continued reduction in Government funding, the increased demand in volume and complexity, and the continued financial pressures. First, on the reduction in Government funding, the general grant is designed to support the force in its core requirements, but the funding mechanism was frozen over 10 years ago and attempts to correct errors in calculations were abandoned, although they would have resulted in substantial funding increases. Unhelpfully so far as Dorset is concerned, the security grant was reduced by £400,000 this year after the policing budget was set.
Secondly, on volume and complexity, this cannot be overstated and Members on both sides of the House have commented on it already. There are new crimes, such as crimes across county lines that we are all aware of, cyber-crime and paedophilia online—tackling that places a huge demand on resources—quite apart from banking fraud and all other frauds online. There are new resources, such as drones, which save money on helicopters, but need training and expertise. There is the online non-emergency directory and the universal roll-out of body-worn cameras. The biggest single cost to police resources has been welfare-related calls, with more repeat calls from the vulnerable, including those with mental health issues. That was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne). Also, there has been a 100% increase in demand for resources to investigate missing persons over the past eight years. Dorset’s population has increased by 20,000—by about 3%—this year, with changes to demographics and diversity, but there is absolutely no national recognition of this financially. Finally, airports and ports are busier, but the specific small grant has been reduced.
Thirdly, on the continued financial pressures, there is inflation, pay awards and pensions, which are all unavoidable. The police work for longer, retire older and no longer have a final salary scheme, which reduces pensions bills, but the Treasury is still attempting to pass pension costs on to police budgets. Dorset police are grateful for the £3 million to pay for that, but it still leaves Dorset to meet costs of £500,000 to meet that problem. There is no such grant funding for future years and that is of concern. Paying for pensions alone would require a precept of £10.70. There are also the costs of officer recruitment, capital requirements and national requirements, which all continue to rise.
Dorset’s revenue and capital grant for 2019-20 has been set at £67.3 million. That represents £87.30 per person and is the second lowest nationally. Eight years ago, the equivalent figure was £91.70. This settlement from central Government, which amounts to 2.1%, does not keep up with unavoidable cost pressures such as inflation, pay awards and pensions. Raising the precept to the maximum allowed of £12 per household this year has resulted in additional income of £3.4 million. That desperately needed money was spent in four main areas: protecting people at risk of harm, working with communities, supporting victims and reducing reoffending, and transforming for the future.
While we are grateful for this increase, the pressures for the next year are even greater. The bottom line, even with a continued and relentless drive on efficiencies, is that there will still be a need to increase the precept for 2019-20. The Secretary of State has given permission for PCCs to raise the precept by £24 in 2019-20, but this a delicate matter, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) has mentioned, and household budgets are already under strain.
The worrying fact is that, unless there is more money for the police in Dorset in the mid-term, more frontline officers might have to go, and this is unacceptable to me and my constituents. It may be of interest to the Minister and certainly to other Conservative Members that in Dorset, overnight, we have no more than 50 officers on duty at any one time. In my view, the police force is a force, not a service. Its job is to prevent crime and catch criminals. Let us cut out all the waffle, give it the assets and money to get on with the job and keep our people safe.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax). Like him, I praise the work of my PCC, Barry Coppinger.
In November 2018, I wrote a letter to the Home Secretary highlighting the effects of underfunding in Cleveland police. This followed an alarming report on the national BBC News exposing a lack of police numbers in Hartlepool. My letter was co-signed by every Labour MP in the Cleveland police area, yet to date I have had no response.
Since 2010, this small force has lost 500 serving police officers and 50 PCSOs. That is a 37% reduction in staffing, alongside a budget cut of £39 million. The title of the BBC News documentary was “Hartlepool: The town where ‘police don’t come out’”. It revealed that on an average Saturday night the town, which has a population of some 96,000, had only 10 officers on shift. The film exposed the severity of Government cuts to policing and struck fear into our communities. It was seen as an open advert to criminals and has left citizens feeling under threat. The awareness of a lack of visible policing has led to increased reports from constituents of their concerns, including a noticeable trend in failure to attend reported crimes, despite the fact that Cleveland police records 163 crimes a day on average.
We all know that police forces face increased and complex challenges such as cyber-crimes. Cleveland police are no different and have successfully adapted to meet such demands. Working with partner agencies, they have created a strong focus on crime prevention, tackling drug dealing and human trafficking. But they too recognise the need to invest more in visible policing across the force area. They readily admit that
“things in policing are not ok”
and that the service is
“nowhere near where it needs to be.”
Last month, the custody suite at Hartlepool police station was mothballed, meaning that officers now have to make a 30-mile round trip to Middlesbrough, just to take people into custody—a ludicrous situation given staffing numbers and the already existing fear about safety on our streets. While I do not agree with that decision, the reality is that underfunding to the tune of £39 million, or 26% in real terms, from Government grants over the last seven years is taking its toll. In order to help Cleveland police keep the streets of Hartlepool safe, the Government need to make urgent improvements to the funding formula, and not just allow for increases in police precepts, which both penalise local taxpayers and push the perception of blame on to local forces.
The current situation is simply not good enough and our hardworking officers and PCSOs deserve better.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill).
In the short term, the settlement enables the police and crime commissioner for Suffolk to deliver his immediate plans for the local police service and in that respect it is to be welcomed. I shall vote for it. The settlement this year, including the council tax increase, provides a cash increase of £9.2 million compared with £3.5 million last year. That will help to meet the additional pension liability, will fund a 2% pay increase and will lead to the recruitment of more frontline police officers. That said, difficult choices have had to be made, including a significant reduction in PCSOs, who provide an important link with local communities.
Suffolk police does a great job, but if it is to continue to do so into the long term its funding settlement needs a radical shake-up and additional Government resources need to be provided. Today, policing in Suffolk presents significant challenges. There have always been additional costs associated with policing of rural areas. Some 42% of Suffolk’s population is rural, which makes Suffolk one of the most rural counties in the country. But today there are additional 21st-century challenges to meet, including county lines, predominantly in Ipswich; an increasingly elderly population, with the number of citizens with dementia predicted to rise to more than 18,000 by 2025; and significant areas of deprivation, not just in towns such as Lowestoft but often hidden in rural areas.
Suffolk police is meeting these increasing challenges, often with one arm tied behind its back. The cost of a police officer in Suffolk is £78 per head compared with a £98 average for England and Wales. The workload of an officer in Suffolk is 150 cases per year, compared with 132 for an officer in neighbouring Norfolk and 122 in the west midlands. Suffolk has one of the lowest costs of policing per person per day—44p compared with a national average of 55p in 2017-18. If Suffolk received the national average funding, our budget would be increased by nearly £30 million. If Suffolk police received the same level of Home Office funding as Norfolk police, with which we collaborate very closely and effectively, our grant would be £3.5 million higher.
Those disparities have been around for a very long time, but if they are not addressed Suffolk police will not be able to continue to meet the increase in demand for its services and to combat the increasingly complex nature of crime. As you well know, Madam Deputy Speaker, Suffolk is a great place to live, but from a crime perspective I am afraid that it is no longer a rural idyll. We have a wide variety of policing challenges to meet, and a new, sustainable, long-term system of funding needs to be put in place through the comprehensive spending review.
Feedback from residents shows that they are increasingly dissatisfied with the status quo, and we need to respond to their concerns. I urge the Minister, who has listened sympathetically over the past year, to work with the Police and Crime Commissioner for Suffolk, other Suffolk Members of Parliament and me to deliver this and to put the funding of policing in Suffolk on a secure long-term footing.
It is a genuine pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous).
Norfolk constabulary has been forced to endure eight consecutive years of inadequate funding settlements, adding up to £40 million in cuts by 2020. In that time, more than 100 officers have been lost from our streets, all of our PCSOs have been abolished—we are the first force in the country to do that—10 police stations have been shut and the last one open in Norwich does not even open for a full week. This has left Norfolk with one of the lowest per capita number of police in the country.
The consequences in our area and nationwide have been stark. Never since records began has police-recorded violent crime been as high as it is today. Never since records began has knife crime been as high as it is today. Arrests have halved in a decade. Unsolved crimes stand at an almost unthinkable 2 million cases. Police and Home Office violent crime figures show that Norfolk has experienced the largest four-year surge in knife and gun crime anywhere in the country. That is topped off by serious crime being predicted to increase by up to 29%.
The Home Secretary, in presenting this statement, was looking to position himself as the man to clear up this mess, but he has voted for every single police cut since 2010. He is as much responsible for the crisis in Norfolk as the Prime Minister. It is a consequence of their political choices.
The Minister will no doubt claim that this year Norfolk will get an extra £3.2 million from central Government, but that will be totally wiped out by the £3.4 million cost of pension contributions imposed by the Treasury. Norfolk constabulary will be left with a cut in cash terms, never mind real terms. As is so often the case with the Government, they offer you a penny with one hand, while the other is in your pocket taking a pound.
Today, I want to reveal the latest twist in this tale of cuts and underfunding. As I told the House earlier, Norfolk constabulary has already taken the unprecedented decision to entirely abolish police and community support officers. At the time, both I and my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), the shadow police Minister, warned that that set a dangerous precedent. Now, we have discovered the next step. The constabulary has advertised for civilians, on £10 an hour and zero-hours contracts, to fulfil the role of guarding crime scenes. It describes the role as an “alternative reserve style model”. According to the job advertisement, the main activities of the role include “preserving crime scene integrity” and dealing with
“enquiries from public and media”.
Guards will also be expected to perform duties such as running the scene log and recording details of any witnesses who come forward. Criteria such as
“experience of working with confidential and sensitive information…dealing with confrontation”
“working in a police environment or similar”
were listed as desirable but not essential skills for applicants. As the chairman of the Norfolk Police Federation stated:
“with austerity, standing at a cordon is a luxury we cannot afford.”
These employees will save the force money, of course, but as we have warned the Government time and again, policing on the cheap will only put public safety at risk. Not only will it mean that there is no job security or guarantees for those employees, but our local police force will be hugely vulnerable to employees simply saying, “No thanks,” when they are called to ask for help. They are not and cannot be expected to be obligated to be there at every beck and call if they are not going to be given the respect of a real working contract that works in their interest.
In reality, where does this leave our police force? Who will be responsible if there is nobody to cover the vital role of protecting a crime scene? Who will be liable if a crime scene is breached, a witness lost, or any other eventuality where a civilian contractor is responsible? How do we avoid the risk that an ever-expanding casual civilian workforce is an easy target for criminal exploitation, infiltration or corruption? How long can it be before this becomes a path to the full privatisation of entire roles that are currently the responsibility of the police? Perhaps the Minister could answer that in his summing up.
The next step will inevitably be either an erosion of the status of the police, no doubt including their pay and conditions as public sector workers, or a slow shrinking of their role, downgrading it one function at a time. This is the first move of its kind in the country, but I fear it will not be the last. Responsibility lies squarely with the Government, not just in their political choices but in the ideology that underlies them. Here we can see all the elements of that approach in one disturbing example: never-ending austerity and cuts to every public service, forcing them into permanent retreat; the attacks on those public services and public servants, and the creeping privatisation of their functions for corporate profit; the burden of taxation and priority for spending gradually shifting in favour of the more affluent and against the poorest; and the driving down of terms and conditions and pay for ordinary workers to save money for their employers—all at the expense of the public good.
We have seen it before and we have seen it elsewhere, of course, but even in the 1980s Thatcher did not touch the police. Under this Government, no public service is safe. Unfortunately, the consequences are that the public are less safe. I will not stand by and watch. I reject the Minister’s mantra that the cuts and their consequences are inevitable and unavoidable. I urge the House to do the same.
I begin by paying tribute to Marc Jones, Lincolnshire’s fantastic police and crime commissioner, Chief Constable Bill Skelly and the many officers who work so very hard to keep all my constituents safe. I do that because, as the Minister well knows from hearing my Lincolnshire colleagues talk at great length, Lincolnshire is and has long been the worst-funded constabulary per head in the country. We get about £157 per capita. In comparison, Merseyside and North Wales get about £220 per capita. The police funding formula, which I think all Members have mentioned or will mention, is at the root of a fundamental problem for Lincolnshire’s police force.
With that in mind, I welcome the funding settlement because it does address some of the most pressing concerns we face. It lays the groundwork for a long-term solution that I hope will allow Lincolnshire police to address the challenges that come with being a large rural county with an incredibly sparse population, as well as genuine deprivation. Some of the worst deprivation in the country is in my constituency and to the north of it in our coastal communities in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins). We have real challenges that need to be addressed and the funding settlement will do that. The £3.3 million extra for a police force that does not have significant reserves on which it can draw will make a real difference, and we should welcome it. It is an absurd position for anyone to take that they will not vote for more money because they want even more money, leaving them with less money. Playing politics with this issue does not help our officers on the street.
What will Marc Jones do with the additional money? Following on from the results of a survey he conducted with local residents, he will expand the use of drones to across the whole county. This service has already caught alleged rapists and sexually violent offenders. It makes a huge difference and uses technology in a uniquely efficient way. He will expand neighbourhood policing so it is more visible and more focused on the vulnerable. He will also invest in a new fleet of vehicles, which will again make a real difference. The police force has already invested in improved call handling to enable the somewhat maligned 101 service to work better. It has a new way to deal with firearms licensing, so we are able to provide better value for money for taxpayers. It has a very productive relationship with G4S, delivering very good value for taxpayers on custody suites, freeing up officers to do what they must do most: fight crime and protect our constituents from the effects of crime.
I have to be honest with the Minister, who has been incredibly helpful to me personally on this difficult issue, and say that it is with mixed feelings that I vote for the settlement. I know it does the right thing today and it will do the right thing in years to come, but it does not solve the fundamental issue that the funding formula imposes on a constituency such as mine. It does not go anywhere near addressing the historical underfunding of police forces such as Lincolnshire. The figure of £157 per head compared with £220 in Merseyside and Wales is an indictment of previous systems.
Of course I accept the fact—the Opposition might not like it—that we are still living with the consequences of the financial crash. We have to ensure that we live within our means for this police funding settlement. However, we surely must ensure, for my constituents as well as for people up and down the country, that in future we do all we can to deliver a fair funding settlement. My constituents see rising crime and a diversification of crime, whether modern slavery or newer kinds of crime, in particular cyber-crime.
I sincerely find it inexplicable that Members would not vote for more money because they want even more money. [Interruption.] It is indisputably an increase for Lincolnshire. [Interruption.] Lincolnshire police will be getting £3.3 million more than they would otherwise be getting. That is more money. If the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) wants to vote against the settlement, she is welcome to do so, but it is still more money. She will be voting against an increase in funding for the police. I would defend, to a certain extent, raising council tax locally. As others have said, however, that is not a sustainable way forward. I hope the Minister will accept that many of us are voting for it because in future we want to see root-and-branch improvement across police funding. That is what we need, even though today’s settlement is to be welcomed.
Violent crime is rising after years of cuts to the police. The latest figures, published last month by the Office for National Statistics, show that there were 65,914 violent crimes in the area served by West Midlands police between September 2017 and September 2018. That figure is 26% higher than the previous year, which saw stalking and harassment rise by 54%. I ask the Minister to take a moment to let those statistics sink in. Violent crime rose by more than a quarter in one year. The Secretary of State assures us that the number of police and the depth of the cuts do not directly cause crime to rise. Will he come to my constituency and tell residents that? Will he come and look my constituents in the eye and tell them that under the Conservatives the 25% drop since 2010 in the total, full-time equivalent police workforce in the west midlands has played no role in the rise of violent crime?
On the frontline in the west midlands, we have lost more than 2,000 officers over the last eight years. That means 2,000 fewer officers serving the people of the west midlands and keeping us safe; 2,000 fewer officers to respond to reports; and 2,000 fewer officers to catch those responsible for committing crimes. Victims are being let down. Crimes are being reported but not responded to because there are not enough officers to deal with them.
Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services found that 22% of violent crimes were reported by the public but not recorded. The huge cuts to our police forces have affected not only police officer numbers but the number of community support officers, which has fallen a staggering 40% under the Conservatives. How much longer can this go on? West Midlands police has been forced to make hard choices since 2010. Some £175 million of central Government cuts have hit not only police officer numbers but other essential resources, and the proposal before us leaves those levels static.
I have constituents calling my office and coming to my surgeries who feel unsafe and scared. They are appalled that this Government have consistently and savagely refused adequately to support our police force and protect our communities, so I call on the Home Secretary to listen to the concerns of the police and our residents, and to reconsider this new settlement so that we support the police in reversing the unacceptable rise in crime. It is not right that my constituents have had to set up street watch groups due to the lack of police officers.
Despite warm words from the Government about protecting the frontline, the funding provided in this year’s police settlement falls way short of what is needed to reverse nine years of central Government funding cuts. As others have said, the total increase in central Government funding for local forces, including the pension grant, amounts to £303 million, yet the Government-imposed increase in pension contributions will amount to £311 million, meaning a ninth consecutive year of real-terms cuts in local forces. That forces police and crime commissioners in Wales to make tough choices in setting the level of their council tax precept. As others have said, the Government are passing the buck on to the local council tax payer, but they wrap the two things up as good news.
Police budgets have been cut by £2.7 billion in real terms between 2010 and 2018, with central Government funding slashed by over £400 million since 2015. Figures for 2018 show police numbers across England and Wales at their lowest level in 30 years. Since 2010, more than 21,000 police officers and more than 16,000 police staff have been lost. My local force, Gwent, has seen its budget reduced by over 40% since 2010, leading to the loss of hundreds of officers and staff. We have retained our CSOs only thanks to the Labour-led Welsh Government, who, in fairness, do not have responsibility for policing, but who have stepped in to fund them. That is a hugely welcome intervention, but it should not hide the wider problem of inadequate funding for our local police forces, which is clearly in the UK Government’s hands.
Despite those pressures, Gwent maintained one of the highest spends on neighbourhood policing of any police force in the country. The force began recruiting again as soon as it could and last year added 176 new officers to its ranks. That has only been possible, however, because the chief constable and his team have done what they can to prioritise the areas that cause the biggest harm and because our local PCC, Jeff Cuthbert, has taken action and increased the precept. The precept increase this April will be the equivalent of 40 new police officers for Gwent, but the whole thing is unfair and he should not have had to do that.
Cuts to policing become all the more critical when we consider that crime rates are rising across the UK. The most recent available stats show a 20% rise in the overall crime rate in Gwent, a 32% spike in violent crime, a 40% increase in the number of robberies, a 31% increase in drug-related crime and so on. The link between rising crime and cuts to policing has been well made in this debate.
Gwent police has also had to divert resources towards tackling serious and organised crime. I would like to pay tribute to its Operation Jigsaw, launched last November to dismantle criminal gangs involved in child exploitation, violence, weapons and drugs. The work of Gwent officers on that is much appreciated in my community. We need a significant funding boost to help, and we need Ministers to review the Government’s long-term police funding strategy as a matter of urgency, particularly at a time when crime is becoming increasingly complex.
On pensions, although the Government belatedly agreed to offset the pension costs that they forced on police for 2019-20, they have still not committed to tackling the £417 million UK-wide pension black hole in 2020-21. In Gwent, the pensions shortfall will add another £5 million in extra costs to the force’s budget in 2020-21, equating to the cost of maintaining 100 police officers. It is vital that Ministers provide clarity on the future funding of police pensions as soon as possible.
Finally, the police are often reluctant to outline the effect that cuts have on the service, for absolutely understandable reasons, but morale in the service is low and we rely on the good will and dedication of officers and staff to keep things going. I thank the officers and staff of Gwent police for all they do—often at considerable risk and in extraordinary circumstances—to help to keep us safe, given the growing and changing nature of crime. I say to Ministers that they deserve more than warm words; they deserve to be resourced properly and given the tools to do the job.
Crime, antisocial behaviour and the lack of visible policing is the biggest issue that I face when I am out on the doorsteps talking to my constituents. With the indulgence of the House, I will quickly read out an email that I received from one of my constituents; it exactly epitomises what I hear day in, day out.
My constituent says:
“I have lost count of the amount of times I have rang both the police and fire brigade because of youths trying to and succeeding in lighting fires on the playing field and also to the rear of my property. They are stealing wheelie bins, people’s fences and various items from the back of the shops to set on fire. There is also large groups of youths hanging around in the area. There are motor bikes and quads flying around like they are untouchable”—
I can vouch for that because I nearly got knocked flying myself by one the other week—
“both on the roads, the paths and the children’s playing field. There is drug dealing (that is very clear to see) that has been reported countless times, regular vehicles back and forth that the police would catch in the act if there was enough of them in wait. In the 6 years I have lived here the last 18 months have been the worst and getting even worse. Why? Because they know they are getting away with whatever they please because we have no policing. Things are going from bad to worse and people are starting to take matters into their own hands. I hope and pray you get the funding that is needed.”
That is not an unusual plea for me to get from my constituents.
I know that the police officers of Cleveland police are doing a fantastic job against all the odds, and I want to pay tribute to all of them today for the sacrifice and service they give to us, but they have been struggling with nearly a decade of year on year real-terms cuts. We have lost 500 police officers and 50 police community support officers—that is nearly 40% of our staff in Cleveland police. How on earth do the Government think we can have a functioning service that protects the public when they wipe out 40% of the resources—the members of staff—that are there to protect the public? That is why crime is rising. We have seen a rise of 12% in all crime in the Cleveland police area in the last year, and a shocking 95% increase in violent crime in the last five years. Those figures are appalling and are a direct consequence of the cuts to police numbers.
I do not understand how this funding settlement can have been set out with such clear inequality and such a lack of needs-based resourcing as we are seeing today. Cleveland has the fourth highest crime rate in the country, yet today it is receiving the lowest settlement in the country—just 5.77%. That is 1.42% lower than the average increase across the rest of the service. How can it be that the area with the fourth highest crime rate gets the lowest settlement? There is something fundamentally wrong with the way the Government are calculating the funding formula.
I would have liked to have put this question to the Home Secretary, but I cannot—I am sorry he cannot spare three hours of his life to listen to the entirety of this debate and hear from constituents around the country—so I will put it to the Minister instead. What on earth is the Government’s funding formula based on, given that every single force area that received a lower than average increase, bar one, was among those with the highest levels of recorded crime per head? It is just not right or equitable. In line with all the other cuts, this appears to be politically motivated, not based on need, which is unacceptable.
I am shocked that my constituents are being asked again to pay through the nose for higher local precepts. Not only has the Home Secretary hidden the local collection figure in his national funding announcement today, but—this is the most important point—my constituents are paying twice. They are already paying for their police service through their taxes and are now being asked to pay again through the precept.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is what we should call it: a Tory police tax. Not only are people paying twice, but this is a regressive tax that hits the poorest the hardest, and once again it is the poorest who are seeing the highest levels of crime. People are paying twice and getting fewer police officers and a lower standard of service. It is not acceptable.
The poorest are being made to pick up the Government’s tab. It is no wonder that in my constituency there are private security firms being set up to reassure people who are desperately worried about their properties and businesses. That should not be happening in our society. This is what a broken society looks like. People are having to set up companies just to maintain the peace and safety of the streets.
It is no wonder people are taking to public meetings and writing to me in desperation and despair. The funding formula is a disgrace. Cleveland police are yet again at the bottom of the pile. My constituents are angry and desperate and they want to know what the Government are going to do about it. In the meantime, I will not be voting for this funding formula tonight.
It is a pleasure to follow the fantastic speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Anna Turley).
Police funding is a major issue in my constituency, as it is across London, and has become a major issue because of nine years of devastating Government cuts. In the name of austerity, central Government funding for the Metropolitan police has been cut by more than £650 million since 2011, and the Government are enforcing a further £263 million of savings by 2023.
Those cuts have consequences, including for police numbers. More than 3,000 police community support officers have been taken off London’s streets since 2010, which is a decrease of nearly 75%, and nearly 3,000 police officers have been taken off our streets, including hundreds from my streets in Battersea. Nearly one in six police officers in Wandsworth have been lost in the last three years alone. One result of these cuts has been the decimation of community policing, which used to ensure that police officers were embedded within communities, were trusted and knowledgeable, and had relationships with the local community.
As I said, funding cuts have consequences for the police and police cuts have consequences for crime, community safety and the wellbeing of my constituents. Just as the Government are slashing police funding, violent crime is rising dramatically. I wish the Home Secretary was in his place, because he refuses to acknowledge that the reduction in policing will lead to a rise in violent crime. It is a fact; the evidence is there. We on the Opposition Benches can acknowledge that, because we witness it daily.
Since 2013, violent crime has increased by 57%. In the first six months of last year in Wandsworth, it increased by more than 15%. Moped crime has been soaring.
I ask that the Minister show me some respect when I am making my speech. I did not interrupt him, and he should not interrupt me. In 2014, there were 1,000 incidents of moped crime. By 2017, that had shot up to 17,500. That is an increase, in my opinion.
I am regularly contacted by constituents who are understandably fearful and shocked, be they parents who fear their children will be caught up in crime or those who have been victims of crime themselves. They are being failed by this Government, and too often in Battersea, as across the country, we see the tragic consequences of those failures. Last year, my constituency had two fatalities from knife crime—two lives lost too soon as a result of a reduction in policing.
The police funding grant is just a drop in the ocean. It means a ninth consecutive year of Government funding cuts. It means police numbers falling to the lowest levels in three decades. It is even forcing Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to warn that the police are so stretched that
“the lives of vulnerable people could be at risk.”
Just as police cuts have consequences, cuts in public services across the board are also leading to a rise in crime. When public services are cut, that means that youth centres and services are cut; when school funds are cut, that means that there are not enough resources to enable our children to be taught and educated. Those are the results of this Government’s funding cuts.
If evidence were needed, the last nine years have shown that communities cannot be safe on the cheap. Austerity for the police and public services means misery, fear and crime for the people. My constituency is suffering from the Government’s failure to learn those lessons. Before more lives are lost, I call on them to invest in our services and invest in our communities.
I shall be voting against inadequate Government funding tonight. It is as simple as that, no matter how Conservative Members try to spin or twist it.
Let me give the House a snapshot of the events dealt with by West Midlands police in the 72 hours leading up to New Year’s eve. There was a ram raid at the Santander bank in Kings Heath, where the security guard was attacked with an axe. A pedestrian was killed in Highgate by a drunk driver. There was a shooting in Bristol Street, and an extremely serious and vicious assault on a woman in Halesowen. A 34-year-old man was stabbed to death. There was a carjacking in Handsworth, with the stabbed victim left in the road, and a 16-year-old boy was stabbed in Kingstanding. All those major events occurred alongside the normal everyday demands of policing. Our police are at breaking point.
Birmingham is the largest and most populated city outside London. Our crime figures have risen by more than 30% in the last three years, while charging is down by 26%. The level of violent crime in Birmingham is 40% higher than the national average, and the level of vehicle crime is the fourth highest in the country. No wonder people are fearful.
When Labour was last in power, we delivered a neighbourhood policing team in every area. Such an approach not only delivers visible policing, but provides a network of intelligence and fosters better community relations. When Labour left office, there were 143,000 police officers and nearly 80,000 police community support officers. Now neighbourhood policing is almost a nostalgia item. The teams that remain are stretched over areas three or four times the size of their original patch, and the West Midlands chief constable has warned that criminals know just how stretched his force is. The Home Affairs Committee warned that without extra funding, the police will be unable to fulfil their basic duties.
The chief constable blames a shortage of resources when his 999 response times are criticised. The reality is that 70% of 101 calls are now responded to by telephone rather than a visit. Suspects who could be picked up are not, and jobs that are graded as not immediately important are delayed, sometimes for days or weeks. If someone is assaulted and manages to call the police during the assault, an immediate response is required, but if the person gets away and instantly gives a description of the thief who still has their bag or wallet, the odds are that the call will be downgraded. As the chief constable puts it,
“How can a force that’s rated one of the most efficient in the country not get to 30% of emergency calls on time if it’s not a resource problem?”
He has lost 24% of his officers since 2010, so I think he has a point.
West Midlands police relies on central Government for 83% of its funding. That is why the unfair application of the formula, the extent of the cuts and an over-reliance on the council tax precept has such a pernicious effect on us. This settlement is based on council tax rising by up to £24 a year. I suppose that that is marginally better than the £50 increase that the Government originally planned, but it still means that people pay more, and that £24 only just covers inflation, resulting in a standstill budget.
We heard earlier from the Home Secretary that this is the first above-inflation increase in nine years. However, Ministers are not so keen to talk about where the grant goes: £7 million is pension grant; and the other £8.9 million has to cover pay rises from this year and last year, and existing pension arrangements. The increased contributions to the police pension scheme for West Midlands are now £15.4 million a year. I defy anyone to make those figures add up to extra money for policing.
Recently the Home Secretary, and even the Tory Mayor of the west midlands, admitted that our police are underfunded. After eight years of denial, the Home Secretary told “Birmingham Live” in September that “resources are an issue” and that he would push the Chancellor for more. It is a pity he did not push a bit harder. The Mayor acknowledged that
“the settlement for the West Midlands has been less favourable than for other areas.”
The reality is that the funding package is simply not enough to compensate for the damage that has been done, and our police will continue to struggle. They face changes in the nature and pattern of crime, and are expected to cope with falling numbers, outdated technology and fragmented leadership.
To compound it all, the Government now plan to impose another upheaval on the second largest force in the country by abolishing the post of police and crime commissioner just as it has begun to bed in, and replacing it with our hapless Mayor, who already has his hands full with rough sleepers, unemployment, skills shortages and transport issues. The last thing we need is a part-time commissioner borrowing from the police budget to finance his other pet schemes.
I start by paying tribute to the police throughout our country. When we hear about violent crime, let us remember that the police are on the frontline of dealing with it. When we hear about the reduction in the number of police officers, let us remember that the remaining police officers have to work even more overtime to make do. We should think about those police officers—the men and women who put their lives on the line for us day in, day out.
The Policing Minister needs to realise that people in our communities recognise the damage done by police cuts. My constituency has experienced one of the sharpest rises in violent crime in London and we have the slowest 999 response times in London. Antisocial behaviour in my constituency is higher than for some time, and there has been an increase in burglaries, particularly aggravated burglaries. People in places such as Chessington and New Malden are experiencing the reality of the police cuts, and they blame the Government. The Minister may say that that is the fault of the Mayor of London or someone else, but my constituents know where the fault lies. The £1 billion of real-terms cuts and the loss of 5,000 police officers since 2015 mean that they know where to pin the blame.
My constituency has lost more than 10% of our police force since 2015. We are being asked to support an “increase in spending”, but there is no increase in spending in the police grant report. The Government are not even funding the pension rise properly. The rise in the various allocations is just a freeze in real terms—it does not even manage to get above inflation. This is therefore a cut in national support for police funding throughout the country; there is nowhere hide from that.
The Home Secretary said, “We’re allowing council tax payers to pay the bill,” but that is not in the report. He was wrong when he answered me on that point. We are being asked to vote on the national support for our police forces in the report, but it is utterly inadequate and represents a real-terms cut.
When the Government talk about council tax, let us bear several points in mind. First, council tax is the most unfair tax in Britain today. The Government ask the most vulnerable and the poorest to pay a higher share than would normally be the case under national taxation, so their approach is unfair.
The situation is worse than that, however, as Labour Members have said. Many areas in the country have a low council tax base, so in order to make good the gap in national funds, people in poorer areas must be asked to pay even more. That cannot be right. If we relate council tax bases to the areas in which crime—particularly violent crime—is going up, we see some interesting findings. For example, the top five areas experiencing an increase in knife crime are all in the top seven areas where the police authorities rely on national Government funding—in other words, those areas where council tax rises will not do the job. If the Government are serious about knife crime, as they claim to be, they must realise that their over-reliance on council tax just will not do the job.
The situation is actually even worse than that. The Government want us to believe that, through these council tax rises that may or may not happen, police and crime commissioners will be able to recruit more police officers. Let us hope that that can happen, but I have talked to people in the Met police and to our local senior police commanders, and they say that they are having a real problem spending any money to recruit police officers. This is not just because of the lag effect of having to recruit new officers, but because the job is no longer attractive, as police pay has been held down and people are aware that violent crime is on the rise. In all seriousness, the method that the Government are using might not deliver the police officers our communities need. We need a rise in police pay above what is currently proposed. We need a real package to be offered to existing police officers, and to the extra ones we will need if we are going to get on top of violent crime, knife crime and all the other things that are hitting our constituents.
The Government talk about the cost of spending more money on the police, but let us talk about the cost of crime. I am not even going to talk about the emotional cost, including the impact on people’s families, which we all know about. I am talking about the actual cost to the taxpayer. The cost of dealing with a knife fatality is £1.2 million. If we had more police officers and youth services working towards crime prevention, surely that would not only provide better value for the taxpayer, but prevent crime far better than the Government are currently doing. My colleagues and I will vote against the police grant motion because it is absolutely unacceptable in the face of rising crime in our communities.
I want to begin by thanking the men and women of Durham constabulary, including the civilian support staff who work for the authority and do a fantastic job. Durham is a high-performing, efficient force, and it is not me saying that, but Her Majesty’s inspector of constabulary. Since 2010—under the Liberal Democrat-Tory coalition and under this Government—Durham has lost 370 officers and 22% of its budget. According to the National Audit Office, that means that it has lost more than any other provincial force, yet it has been rightly pointed out that the demands on our police are increasing. It is ironic that very few Tory Members have spoken in the debate. I noticed that there was not a single person on the Tory Benches a few moments ago; the Whips have obviously been ringing round to get them in. What world do they live in? My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) hit the nail on the head when she said that the Government cannot cut mental health services and local authority services without expecting the effects to land on the police, and it is naive to ignore that fact.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the thin blue line is getting thinner? On top of cuts to police funding, our police face extra demands on their resources because of cuts to other services. Her Majesty’s inspector of constabulary has stated that the police are distracted from dealing with crime because they are too busy dealing with the tens of thousands of cases resulting from a mental health service in crisis.
I totally agree. The police should be the last resort, not the first, as they are in many cases. The Government cannot cut services and expect the people who use them just to go away.
The right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) is right. The motion refers to the
“Police Grant Report (England and Wales)”;
it does not say “Police Grant Report (England and Wales) and the ability to raise council tax”. The Government are spinning this as an increase in funding, but it is not. The hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) said that we must get the right balance between national and local funding, so I hope that his leaflets will include the fact that he is going to vote for an increase in taxes locally, but I am unsure that they will.
I will not.
Let me turn to what the motion is actually about. Durham police’s budget will not change. In extra core funding and the contribution towards pensions, which has already been mentioned, the force will receive £2.9 million, but all that money will be used to cover pensions, which were until recently the Government’s responsibility. The precept will raise £4 million, but after taking account of inflation, pay increases and increases in fees levied by the Government, there is no extra cash at all.
Somebody referred to the precept as a magic money tree, but that is not the case for forces such as Durham, which gets 75% of its funding from core funding and 25% from the precept. Surrey, for example, receives 55% from the precept and 45% from core funding. The Home Secretary said that police and crime commissioners’ flexibility to increase costs for band D properties will generate £24 per household, but the average in Durham will be £16. Some 55% of properties in Durham are in band A, and only 9% are in band D. We have fewer than 200 band H properties, which the PCC told me raised the great sum of £68,000 last year. That puts authorities such as Durham’s at a disadvantage.
The move away from national funding to an increased reliance on the precept, putting the onus on local tax payers, is not only unfair, but will not raise the same amount of money. Whereas Surrey will benefit from a large increase, deprived communities such as Durham will not be able to raise the same amount. Chief Constable Mike Barton and Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg have raised the matter with the Policing Minister, but we have seen no movement, and it needs to be addressed, particularly if this movement away from national funding for our police forces happens next year as well. As we will see in the following debate on local government funding, under this Government the trend has been to move money away from the most deprived communities to some of the most affluent areas.
We are being asked to vote for an increase in taxation, and I hope that every Conservative Member who votes for the motion will tell their local electorate that. It is not down to the PCCs to make the decision, because they frankly have no choice but to increase the precept. The Home Secretary used the word “flexibility”, but that is complete nonsense, because if PCCs do not raise the precept, they will, in most cases, have to make even deeper cuts, leading to parts of certain areas not being policed at all, which is unacceptable.
As I said, we are being asked to vote for a tax this afternoon, so I will not be supporting the motion. It is unfair regarding how core funding is being distributed under the same formula. If that continues, forces such as Durham, which is high-performing, will be hampered in their ability to deliver such performance, because of the reliance on the council tax precept. The Minister must address that if it is how we are to fund policing in this country. The consensus over many years has been that policing is a national responsibility, and that needs to continue, not be eroded, although that is what the motion will do.
It is a pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), who gave a passionate speech about this being a tax on our constituents.
In West Yorkshire, our communities have suffered immeasurably from an almost decade-long assault on our police force’s budget. We have lost almost 1,000 police officers and PCSOs in West Yorkshire since 2010, yet we are repeatedly told by this Government that the cuts are having no impact at all on our communities.
Well, the people of Batley and Spen would beg to differ. They are kept awake all hours of the night by nuisance bikes and antisocial behaviour. The livelihoods of independent businesses are under threat due to persistent burglaries. Fatalities are being caused by speeding cars. There is open drug dealing on our estates and, while we have been sitting in the Chamber, an elderly man was attacked on the greenway in Liversedge.
In addition, plummeting charge rates make for extremely worrying reading. The charge rate for sexual offences in West Yorkshire is among the lowest in the country, falling over 60% since 2015. The charge rate for violence against the person has dropped by 40%. People feel let down. They feel that justice is not something that is available to them. People have lost faith in the institutions that exist to protect them and their family. That is a sad indictment of this Government’s systematic dismantling of public services, with year after year of cuts to our councils.
Where do we go from here? Do the Government listen to the desperate pleas to back those who keep us safe, or do they simply put the burden on the taxpayer? Sadly, it is the latter. The very people who have witnessed police officers disappear from their neighbourhoods will be made to fork out more. Communities will be made to chip in to fill the gaping hole left by years of austerity.
Hard-pressed communities such as Batley and Spen should not be forced to bear this burden. Indeed, the Government’s proposed funding settlement will recoup barely a fraction of what has already been slashed from budgets over the past nine years. In West Yorkshire, the precept increase will raise a further £15 million, which sounds like good news, yet we have lost £140 million in central Government funding since 2010 alone.
Communities such as mine with a low council tax base will lose out disproportionately. Surrey, for example, with half the population and a quarter of the violent crime of West Yorkshire, will be able to raise almost exactly the same amount as Kirklees. How on earth can this be fair? Everyone should have access to the same level of policing. For that to happen, the settlement should be equitable. This funding settlement is too little, too late and goes nowhere near addressing the many complex issues our police forces face.
Recently in Kirklees, there have been 55 arrests in relation to non-recent child sex abuse. This crucial investigation put an extra strain on my police force and the local authority, which is already pushed to the brink after years of cuts. The victims of these crimes have shown incredible bravery in coming forward and they deserve justice. They are courageous women who have shown massive dignity and they need full confidence in this process, which demands resources. Such investigations are complex and take time. I know the police are working hard to tackle these crimes, but they need resources.
I had the privilege of spending a day with our local police and I know the enormous pressure they are under—it is an uphill struggle. It is obvious to us, and I hope it is obvious to the Government, that we need more officers on the beat. That desire is shared by our incredibly hard-working police officers, PCSOs and staff, but they need the Government’s backing and they need someone to listen. This funding settlement is not the product of listening. It is unfair, it is unjust and it is not the answer. It amounts to another real-terms cut, another insult to our communities. It is simply not good enough.
I ask the Secretary of State, who is no longer in his place, to meet me and West Yorkshire police to discuss the funding opportunities and difficulties that Kirklees is currently under while it investigates these complex cases of child sexual exploitation. I will not be voting for the motion, and I encourage the Government to understand that communities such as Batley and Spen need to see fairness when it comes to the allocation of resources.
Unlike Scotland or Northern Ireland, Wales is subject to having its policing policy set by Westminster, in the capital city of another country, far away from where the police forces are carrying out their duties. Our underpowered Welsh Parliament has been consistently denied the powers necessary to deliver the policing our communities need. As a result of having had our hands tied by the Home Office, Wales has lost more than 500 police officers since 2010. That is an incredible statistic. We have not only lost police officers; in Dyfed Powys, we lost our dedicated police helicopter to a pooled England and Wales service. The performance of the new centralised service, as far as the communities I serve are concerned, is woeful.
If Welsh policing were funded on the basis of population, as is the case with other devolved services, police forces in Wales would be better off by £25 million per year. Instead, we are tied to England and Wales funding criteria that penalise our police forces in Wales. I say this as a constant critic of the Barnett formula. If Barnett were reformed on the basis of need, or even if the funding settlement between Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland were equalised upwards, the windfall for Wales would be even greater.
There is little excuse for keeping these powers in Westminster, given that the British Government are actively considering devolving swathes of the criminal justice system to English cities such as Manchester. In Wales, not only do we have to suffer the humiliation of being treated as a second-class nation by Westminster, but we are not even given the same status and respect as English cities. Rather than being in control of our own destiny in Wales, we face a situation whereby the British Government make PCCs the scapegoats and abdicate their duty to properly fund policing, instead relying on PCCs to raise the local tax precept, with 63% of the increase in funding for local police coming from an increase in local taxation. This is Westminster creative accounting at its best. As many colleagues have said today, this local taxation is extremely regressive.
The British Government boast about increasing the personal allowance and freezing income tax rises, but these things are largely eroded by the increased council tax bills. PCCs are given the stark choice between either increasing the precept or cutting services. Police forces are given no certainty about when the comprehensive spending review and review of the funding formula will conclude—whether it will be in 2019-20 or 2020-21—further hindering their ability to plan.
Rural Welsh forces are uniquely handicapped by the gearing—the proportion of total funding that comes from the police grant and local taxation. Welsh forces have an approximately even split of Home Office and local government funding, with local taxpayers in rural Wales contributing considerably more to policing than local taxpayers in English cities. For example, Northumbria police receive 81% of their funding from the Home Office, whereas the figure for North Wales police is 47.5%. Due to the lack of devolution, and the England and Wales funding framework, the people of my country are being asked to disproportionally pay far more for their policing than other parts of the British state. Once again, the British Government are placing the burden on rural Wales to pay for urban England; this is truly a partnership of unequals. As public awareness rises in Wales, the position of the Unionist parties will become untenable, as they are once again putting their own narrow ideological British nationalist dogma before the interests of their constituents.
I would be grateful if the Minister answered a few questions in his wind-up. First, will he confirm when the comprehensive spending review and funding formula will be finalised? If that is to be in 2020-21 rather than in 2019-20, as is looking likely, will he give an assurance that his Department will allow the same flexibility with the grant uplift next year as this year, and give PCCs the flexibility to increase the precept once again? Finally, when his Government do finally agree the comprehensive spending review and the funding formula, what is he going to do to ensure that Welsh taxpayers are treated fairly?
There was a time when the Conservative party claimed to be the party of law and order, yet we do not see a single Conservative MP still standing in this debate to defend this police grant. And who can blame them, given their record? We have seen £1 billion cut from the Metropolitan police over the course of a decade; and police numbers at their lowest level in three decades, with the loss of 21,000 police officers, 16,000 police staff and 6,000 PCSOs since 2010. There has never been a better time to be a criminal in this country.
Police-recorded violent crime is at the highest level on record; knife offences are at their highest levels since records began; arrests have halved in the space of a decade; and unsolved crimes stand at 2 million. That is a record that any Minister ought to be ashamed of, yet instead of reversals to central Government cuts to police funding, all we get from this Government, aside from a few scraps from the Treasury table, is the insistence that police and crime commissioners—and people such as the Mayor of London and others—should increase the burden on ordinary council tax payers. The wool has been pulled from the people’s eyes. With this debate, as with the next one, the penny has dropped with the public, and they know that they are being asked to pay more in council tax for poorer services; more in council tax to fund local council services that are being cut by central Government; and more in council tax to pay for police numbers, because central Government are cutting the numbers available.
It is no good blaming police and crime commissioners or people like the Mayor of London. In London, Sadiq Khan has put £138 million into the police from London’s resources, investing in the violent crime taskforce and the violent crime reduction unit. In my community, the London Borough of Redbridge does not have responsibility for policing, but it has invested £1.5 million in CCTV for automatic number-plate recognition and repurposed local authority enforcement officers to beef up the uniformed presence on our streets. The council knows, as do my constituents who gathered in Gearies School at the weekend and those who gathered in my office to meet the borough commander, that our community has been left less safe under the Conservatives. We have been left less safe as a direct result of central Government cuts to policing.
The Home Secretary left himself looking like a complete idiot earlier by refusing to acknowledge, plainly and on the record, what everyone else in the country knows, which is that if we cut police, crime goes up. There is a direct link between the number of police and the incidence of crime in our community.
I never want to attend another funeral like the one I attended late last year: a funeral for a young man who was murdered on the streets of my constituency. I have never attended a funeral with so many young people present. Looking around that room, I knew there was something inherently wrong in so many people having to come together to mourn the loss of a young life. It is not just police cuts that lead to violent crime and deaths on our streets, but I say plainly and honestly to the Minister, who must surely understand this, that we cannot cut crime while cutting police and we cannot prevent crime while cutting public services to the extent that this Government are. Those services include public health services, mental health services, school budgets, and education and youth services to get young people off our streets and into services that give them opportunities to expand their horizons, improve their life chances and help them to find a better way to fund their future than a life of crime.
In a week in which it became clear that three men in their 30s and 40s have been released without prison detention for running county lines that affect my community, all I say to the Minister is that we have to be tougher on criminals, we need more police on the streets and we have to provide a better future for young people in my constituency and throughout the country than the £400 a week that young people in our country are being offered by drug dealers to run drugs. Until we solve these problems, I will continue to see in my surgeries and in my community people crying out for more bobbies on the beat in Redbridge, which his exactly what I will continue to campaign for.
The first duty of every Government is to ensure the safety and security of citizens. Labour took that duty very seriously in government. We built up neighbourhood policing, with 17,000 extra police officers and 16,000 police community support officers. We introduced crime and safety partnerships and brought crime down by 43%. It was about not only detecting crime but diverting people from crime and preventing people from committing crime. It was a model celebrated worldwide.
In eight years of this Government, we have seen unprecedented cuts to our police service—21,000 nation- wide and 2,000 in the west midlands. Those cuts are characterised by grotesque unfairness: the west midlands has suffered a 25% cut to police budgets compared with an average of 19% nationwide and 11% in Surrey. That is completely wrong. As a consequence, we have seen soaring crime, which puts our communities at risk. In particular, we have seen soaring knife crime, which is up by 19%.
I am the first to recognise that the problems that we face are not about numbers alone. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) was absolutely right when he talked about the social fabric of our society being increasingly stretched and degraded. That can be seen, for example, in youth services, which seek to divert young people away from crime. The simple truth is that cuts have consequences. If 21,000 police officers are cut, crime will rise, people will die, people will suffer serious injuries, burglaries and thefts, and justice will be denied to them. The Government cannot go on in this state of denial—they cannot go on denying the consequences of their actions. One day, I hope that a Minister—any Minister—will give a straight answer to this straight question: is there a link between falling police numbers and rising crime? Perhaps the Minister would like to address that in his response to this debate.
Every day in my constituency, I see fear stalking the streets. We had powerful contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) and for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill). In the Perry Common area, we have seen knife crime, gun crime, a shop attacked by people waving 30 machetes, the newsagent Jo Dhesi robbed at knifepoint, and the Castle Vale area beset by the growth in antisocial behaviour. Only last Friday in Slade Road—the Frances Road area—some 100 people turned up at a meeting to pour out their hearts. They talked about the consequences of bad local landlords putting vulnerable people into houses in multiple occupation and of not looking after those people. They also talked about the growth in drug crime and how their area was becoming the centre of county lines operations, leading to the exploitation of young people and to criminals making a fortune out of the most pernicious of crimes.
A woman said to me, “My great-great-great-granddad bought the house that we live in. We have lived in it for successive generations ever since. We loved this area.” Now, she says, people fear to go out at night. A young girl said to me, “Every time I want to go down to Slade Road to get a bus, I have to ask my Mum to come with me because I am afraid to walk down the streets.” The fact that, in Birmingham in 2019, we have such fear stalking our streets should make the Government feel utterly ashamed of themselves.
The Government say, “We have listened.” I say, “Oh, no, you have not.” The simple truth is that not enough money is being invested in our police service and that the burden is increasingly being put on the council tax payer. The increase in grant in the west midlands will just cover pension costs. The increase in the precept will just cover inflationary pressures. Our PCC David Jamieson does an outstanding job standing up for the police service. He says that we need at least 500 police officers. There is no chance of recruiting those badly needed officers to restore peace on our streets. This is a standstill budget in the west midlands that goes nowhere near meeting the demand of the people.
In conclusion, the first duty is to keep our community safe. This Government are letting down the public that we serve. We stand behind the thin blue line. We stand behind those excellent men and women in the police service and the communities that they serve. That is why we say to them that, tonight, we will vote against a measure that goes nowhere near supporting you in the way that you deserve.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey).
I have spoken about the problems of antisocial behaviour in my constituency a number of times before, and I agree with so many right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken today, but this debate is about more than just police funding; it is also about the cuts to local government. Youth services have been mentioned frequently and, given my role on the Select Committee on Education, I have often mentioned the problem of exclusions contributing to children being involved in crime.
I fear that we are missing a fundamental point. What does not seem to be mentioned is that the general public are losing faith in our police service. That is more than an issue for just the Government or the Opposition; it should concern every single one of us. I am quite sure that every Member here will know of a constituent who has told them about crime and then followed it with, “I didn’t see the point in telling the police,” or “I tried to phone the police and I couldn’t get through,” or “My friend phoned the police, got through and no one came around, so why should I bother reporting it?” In some of the more wealthy areas of my constituency, residents are even talking about providing their own security services to check their streets. This is starting to sound incredibly worrying, when people no longer have the faith that our public services and our police will keep them safe, to the point where they are talking about funding their own.
My children went to South Africa in the summer, and they told me that everybody there pays for their own security services because they have no faith in the Government. Surely this is not what we want in Britain; we do not want people to lose their faith in the police service. I say this not because I have any problems with the police service—the police do an incredible job—but because year on year of underfunding and of the police being stretched to a capacity that they cannot possibly sustain mean that crimes are not being dealt with.
When I talk to the police about area where there is additional crime, they say, “We know it’s a problem, Emma, but the people there never report it.” I go and talk to people in certain tower blocks in my constituency, and what they are facing is horrific, but the figures give a really poor impression of where the crime is. If hon. Members were to look at the statistics for my constituency, they might say, “Oh, the crime seems to be worse in the wealthier areas.” No—the people in those areas are more likely to report it. Crime is actually much, much worse in the tower blocks. The people there are having a horrendous time.
What I am saying to the Minister is that this is not just about asking for more money. Yes, we do want some more money, and we need a hell of a lot more than what the Government are offering us, but we also want to know how the Government will restore people’s faith that something is going to happen—that there is going to be an outcome when they make that phone call to the police.
The Home Secretary talked about the problem with mental health services, and I am sure that the Minister is aware of a wonderful police officer who, very sadly, committed suicide because she was not getting the support she needed. I say again to the Minister that this is not a criticism of any of our hard-working officers. I should especially mention Inspector Craig Mattinson, who I spent the day with and who does an incredible job locally. This is about me saying that, unless the Government take the problem of increasing crime more seriously, it will come back to bite each and every one of us. The last thing we want is people taking the law into their own hands, but I fear that that is what too many are being forced to do.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) for speaking about her experience, and others across this House who have been out with their police and have seen what they are having to go through. I also pay tribute to my local officers. I have done shifts at both Buxton and Glossop police stations and seen the amazing work that the police do.
When I turned up in the morning at Buxton, the officers there had spent the previous night clearing up after a horrific road accident in which three young men lost their lives. It was an absolute tragedy that no one would want to see. Those officers were deeply affected, but they turned up the next morning, did their shift, and helped to deal with the families and with the repercussions of that incident. I absolutely pay tribute to them. Our officers do this because they know that there is no one else. The police are incredibly short-staffed in our rural area, covering almost 900 sq km from two police offices.
We in Derbyshire have had a 26% reduction in our funding, which means £38 million less for our police. Our police and crime commissioners have tried to protect the frontline, so the reduction has translated into 18% fewer officers, but that is still 337 in number. Police stations have been closed in Chapel-en-le-Frith and in New Mills, leaving huge areas that are covered from a distance and where the police response, even to an emergency, cannot but take a significant amount of time.
This police funding settlement represents £8 million less from the Government than just the costs of pensioning off so many of the 21,000 fewer officers that there now are. In Derbyshire, the police will receive £400,000 less from the Government than they will have in pension fund costs. That means that our hard-pressed council tax payers are having to pay for the cost of police pension fund, which has increased due to getting rid of police. How is that fair or equitable? We have already had council tax rises of 5% last year and 4% this year, plus the police precepts, and more and more people are struggling to pay their council tax. In High Peak alone, 2,700 households have been referred to court in the past 18 months—that is 7% of all households. Increasing council tax is not an easy option. It affects the people who are poorest, who have to pay more as a proportion of their budget and who are also often those most affected by crime.
These people know that our police are suffering too. The police in High Peak are now having to look at closing the custody cells in Buxton. That means that to take arrested people to a custody cell, our police would have to take them an hour’s drive over bleak moorland to Chesterfield or over the county border into Manchester, leaving our thin blue line even thinner than before. There has been a 43% rise in violent crime in Derbyshire, and there have been some absolutely terrible incidents in High Peak. Our officers have to deal with these incidents day in and day out, often working on their own, turning up to the most horrific scenes single-handed and having to wait until they can get cover from other staff who can join them, which can take far too long.
I absolutely pay tribute to our officers across Derbyshire and to the police staff who do the very best they can to deal with the rising levels of violent crime, murders and suicides. There are mental health incidents that take them hours to deal with, when they take people into hospital and have to wait for mental health services to assist. They go above and beyond the call of duty, day in and day out. No wonder it is more difficult to recruit to our police.
The Government should stop taking our police for granted. They should start by funding them properly and helping them to deal with crime. That is what people across the country want, and it is what I hope the Minister will respond with today.
This has been a fantastic debate with moving contributions from Members in all parts of the House. However, given that the Government announced this funding settlement with such fanfare and as if it was such good news, it is quite perplexing that only five Conservative Members have spoken on its behalf—all of them, as the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman) put it, with mixed feelings. They all referenced the Government’s failure to revise the funding formula as a cause for concern for their own force areas. The hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) said that it was not a long-term approach. The hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) said that without more Government funding we will continue to lose officers, which is unacceptable both to him and to his constituents. They all said that to keep asking for more council tax was not a sustainable way forward. Those are hardly ringing endorsements from those sitting behind the Home Secretary.
On the other hand, we have heard impassioned speeches from Labour Members on exactly why we will be voting against this completely inadequate settlement today. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) said, cuts have consequences. He and my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), as Merseyside MPs, spoke about losing 1,000 officers and 200 PCSOs, which has undoubtedly had an impact on rising crime.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill) spoke about the shocking documentary showing that only 10 police officers were available for the entire town on a given night, which seemed like an open advert to criminals and left local people feeling under threat and much less likely to report crime.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) spoke about the consequences of his force’s decision to abolish all PCSOs, leading to the inevitable downgrading of staff and creeping privatisation, with people on zero-hours contracts now covering crime scenes.
My hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill) and for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) spoke about how fewer people are reporting crimes at all and about reported violent crimes not being recorded, despite the Home Secretary saying earlier that increasing crime is a result of better recording. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle said that the very legitimacy of policing is at threat, as people are losing faith in the police.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) spoke about the loss of thousands of officers and staff in Wales, cushioned only by the intervention of the Welsh Labour Government, who, faced with the same budgetary choices as the UK Government, have recognised the importance of community policing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Anna Turley) said that Cleveland police force shows the clear inequality that exists and the lack of needs-based resourcing. Despite having the fourth highest crime rate in the country, it will receive the lowest rise out of this settlement. As she said, this is a completely regressive settlement that fails her constituents and those of many Members.
My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) spoke about the loss of community policing, which means the loss not just of officers embedded in communities but of their crucial intelligence gathering and, even more crucially, the trust in the police that community policing brings.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) described a horrific litany of violent offences in the west midlands and the horrendous inability of West Midlands police to respond to 999 calls, all of which is exacerbated by this settlement and all previous settlements delivering less to West Midlands police than to the vast majority of other forces.
The right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) is right that the vote tonight is on the Home Office’s police grant, which equates to a real-terms cut. That is why we will be voting against it, and we will be pleased to see the Lib Dems in the Lobby with us.
My right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) spoke about the wider demands on the police from austerity and, in particular, mental health. My hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin) described a huge rise in all types of crime, yet the settlement she is being asked to vote for could hardly be less adequate for the challenges faced in West Yorkshire, not least child sexual exploitation.
My hon. Friends the Members for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) and for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), who are steadfast supporters of and consistent campaigners for the police, spoke of the prevalence of violent crime and burglaries in their constituencies—constituencies left less safe by this Government. Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Ruth George) spoke movingly of the impact on officers of the job we ask them to do day in, day out, despite cutting their numbers and their pay.
There is no precedent in post-war history for a Government undermining the police in the way that this Government have. Never, since records began, has police-recorded violent crime been as high as it is today. Never has knife crime been as high as it is today. Arrests have halved in a decade. Unsolved crimes stand at more than 2 million, and 93% of domestic violence offences go unprosecuted. That is the shameful legacy of this Government, and they remain the only people in this country who continue to deny the link between violent crime and falling officer numbers. Today’s settlement has to stand in that context and in the context of eight consecutive years of real-terms reductions in central Government funding.
It is hardly something to boast about that this is the biggest rise since 2010, when this Government have cut the police every year since 2010. It is staggering that for the ninth consecutive year, we are being asked to vote for a reduction in central Government funding. The £161 million in the central Government grant and the pension grant combined do not meet the additional £311 million cost this year of Government-imposed changes to pension contributions. That means that 31 out of the 43 forces will lose out this year in not only real terms but cash terms. In real terms, almost every single police force will. Barry Coppinger, the PCC in Cleveland—one of the poorest-funded police forces in the country—estimates that he will see his real-terms funding fall by £2.1 million as a result of this settlement. When the Policing Minister promised the House during the settlement statement:
“Every police and crime commissioner will have their Government grant funding protected in real terms,”—[Official Report, 13 December 2018; Vol. 651, c. 432.]
did he somehow inadvertently mislead the House?
As my hon. Friends have said, this Government are giving with one hand and taking with the other, but we should not be surprised, because they have form. Since 2015 they have promised to protect police funding, yet we have seen police numbers fall by 5,900. The truth, Madam Deputy Speaker, is that when it comes to police funding you cannot believe a word they say.
Who is paying the price for these Tory failures to fund the police? This settlement asks hard-pressed local tax payers to bear that burden once again. Using council tax to pay for increased funding for the police is perverse and unfair. It fails to meet need and it fails to meet demand, especially alongside the continued failure to reform the funding formula and the continued cuts to the Home Office grant. Merseyside will raise almost the same as rural North Yorkshire, despite having double the population and triple the level of violent crime. West Yorkshire has double the population and four times the level of violent crime of Surrey, yet it will be able to raise only about the same amount of funding this year.
What exactly was the point in the Policing Minister going from force to force to assess demand if he then fails to produce a funding settlement for forces that matches that demand? Nobody, as my hon. Friends have said, could think that an appropriate way to assess how much a police force needs is how big the houses are in that area. How can the Minister justify a postcode lottery that means the communities already seeing higher crime will receive so much less funding?
This Government have an abominable record on law and order, and no political will to redress it. By passing the burden of their political failure on to local taxpayers, they are storing up problems for the future, which will see the forces with the largest increases in crime, especially violent crime, hit time and again. The public know this Government have failed and will continue to fail in their first and most solemn duty, to keep their citizens safe, and today’s settlement confirms that failure once again.
During this vigorous debate, I have clung to the message from Her Majesty the Queen about the need, in these divided times, to try to seek the common ground. That is relevant because when the Home Secretary and I spoke recently with a group of senior police leaders, billed as the leaders of tomorrow, one of the questions from the floor was, “Do you see common ground between the political parties about the future of policing?” The question was asked hoping for the answer yes. Listening to this debate, I asked myself what that police officer, who may end up leading a force, would have thought of this debate if she had had the time to watch it, which of course she does not.
She would have heard a common voice across the House with MPs going out of their way to express their personal admiration and thanks to their forces. That was the case with my hon. Friends the Members for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) and for South Dorset (Richard Drax), the right hon. Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth), my hon. Friends the Members for Waveney (Peter Aldous) and for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman), the hon. Members for Newport East (Jessica Morden) and for Redcar (Anna Turley), the right hon. Members for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) and for North Durham (Mr Jones), and the hon. Member for High Peak (Ruth George).
She would have heard a recognition across the House of changing demand on the police, with cyber-crime, county lines, child sexual exploitation and the critical issue of the increasing amount of time that our police officers are spending with people in crisis and suffering from mental health problems. Again, that was recognised by Members from across the House. My hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire, my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne), my hon. Friends the Members for Nuneaton and for South Dorset, the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill), my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness and the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin) all talked about that.
She would have heard a determination across the House to bear down on this horrendous increase in knife crime. The right hon. Member for Knowsley and the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) again did the House a service by reminding us that beneath the statistics are terrible human stories of shattered families. The hon. Members for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) and for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill) reminded us that this is not a London issue but a national challenge.
She would also have heard a recognition from across the House that a lot needs fixing in the CSR in how funding is allocated across the police system. We heard that from MPs from many different places across the country, such as my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire, the right hon. Members for North Durham and for Knowsley, my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Seely) in relation to Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, my hon. Friends the Members for Nuneaton, for Waveney, for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) from a sedentary position, and for Boston and Skegness, the hon. Members for Newport East and for Batley and Spen, and most of the west midlands MPs.
That is where the common ground lies. Of course, there are also divisions. There are irreconcilable divisions on decisions taken in 2010 in response to the crisis in the public finances.
Will my right hon. Friend add Essex police to the list of those that need praise? A new cohort of Essex police officers will be passing out on Friday. They are in addition to the 150 new officers last year, and are part of the 240 new officers planned for this year, funded proudly by Essex people thanks to the precept.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. We have had a good debate, but it was undersubscribed on the Conservative Benches. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), who stormed off early in the debate when her intervention was not taken and has not been present, to use an intervention to make a mini speech?
Divisions do exist. Labour is desperate to assert its narrative that cuts have consequences. On this side of the House, we know that the cuts were the consequence of a Labour Government yet again running out of public money so that tough decisions had to be taken. There is an artificial debate about the balance between the contribution from central and local taxpayers. If we want more money in policing, we have to pay, and the hypocrisy of this—from a Labour party that doubled council tax when it was in power—is overwhelming.
The common ground is that Members on both sides of the House recognise the increased pressure on the police and want to provide additional support to them. That is exactly what the settlement does.
As I have said, I am more than happy to meet the Merseyside MPs, but this settlement is set up to increase public investment in our police service by up to £970 million. If it is voted through tonight, it means that we will invest more than £2 billion more next year than we did three years ago. How that can be presented as a cut is beyond me. What the public will note is that the Labour party has fought us every step of the way—it voted against the settlement last year and it intends to vote against it tonight. Labour is apparently blind to the fact that while we are committing to almost £2 billion of investment in the police service next year, its commitment is for £780 million over the life of this Parliament.
I am not going to give way.
I am delighted that police and crime commissioners up and down the country intend to use the settlement to do what the public want, which is to recruit additional police officers—300 more in London, 320 more in Manchester, 160 more in Bedfordshire, 58 more in Derbyshire, 270 more in Sussex, and 132 more in Yorkshire. Across the system, more than 2,500 more police officers are planned, plus 479 staff. That is the result of the police settlement that the Labour party intends to vote against.
Thank you for establishing the ground rules, Madam Deputy Speaker, and allowing Members to speak, against the wishes of the Opposition. May I use this opportunity to wish Francis Habgood, the excellent chief constable of Thames Valley, a happy retirement next month?
Does the Minister agree that, while we always want more funding, smarter procurement can help? The Oxfordshire fire service saved £1 million, but we have a more efficient fire service through tendering and procuring fire engines with other authorities.
This settlement demonstrates our recognition that our police system needs additional support. We have one of the best police systems in the world and we are determined to keep it that way. The settlement provides the opportunity to increase public investment by almost £1 billion. It allows PCCs to manage the cost pressures on them, which are real, and to recruit local police officers to bear down on local crime. It also provides additional money for national priorities, such as counter-terrorism and serious organised crime, which costs this country £37 billion a year and on which the Labour party is absolutely silent.
The settlement is another stepping stone—I have been candid on this—on the journey towards the comprehensive spending review and the opportunity to structure long-term funding for the police and to address the issue of fair funding, which exercises minds across the House. The Home Secretary has made it clear that police funding is his priority. We all want to register our thanks to the police, but they need more than that—they need our support. That is exactly what the settlement provides. I commend it to the House.
The House proceeded to a Division.