Community Policing Debate

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Department: Home Office

Community Policing
Sir Edward Davey Excerpts
Tuesday 07th November 2017

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Home Office
Sir Edward Davey Portrait Sir Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD) - Hansard
7 Nov 2017, 9:30 a.m.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered funding for community policing.

Policing in our communities and neighbourhoods is

“the cornerstone of the policing model in England and Wales”—

not my words, but the judgment of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary in March this year.

Good community policing responds to the needs of local people with a consistent, visible police presence; it involves working in partnership to gain trust, gather intelligence and get to the heart of a community’s concerns, in order to prevent and fight crime. Yet cuts to community policing across our country have stretched most local police forces to their limit at a time when crime is rising significantly. My constituency has lost more than 40 police officers since May 2015, so it should not surprise us that last year, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary found that

“local policing is the area of operational policing that shows the greatest decline in performance”;

that is linked to the budget cuts. For those reasons, I feel that Ministers need to be held to account for the growing crisis in community policing.

I have three arguments to make, which I hope the Minister will address in turn. First, it is clear that crime is rising. We need to recognise that fact and act. Secondly, the falling police budgets were set before the emerging trend of rising crime took hold; the facts have changed, however, and so must police budgets. Thirdly, a good part of any significant increase in police funding must go to community policing, given its vital role as the cornerstone of policing.

First, I want to persuade the Minister to accept in this Chamber that crime is rising, and alarmingly so. There can be no dispute about recorded crime, which is up 13% in the year to June. What should worry us in particular, however, are the categories of crimes with the largest recorded rises: the rise of 19% in violent crime, of 8% in murder and manslaughter, of 26% in knife crime, of 27% in gun crime and of 19% in sexual offences. Recorded crime is what the police have to deal with, and what they have to investigate and clear up, and it drives their activity, so when Ministers counter accusations of rising crime by pointing to the crime survey, which is the other main way that we assess the level of crime, they should be careful.

While it is true that the crime survey suggests that crime last year fell, Britain’s top statisticians at the Office for National Statistics make interesting comments about how we should interpret the mixed signals from recorded crime and the crime survey. John Flatley, who heads on crime statistics and analysis for the ONS, said on the release of crime stats last month:

“Today’s figures suggest that the police are dealing with a growing volume of crime. While improvements made by police forces in recording crime are still a factor in the increase, we judge that there have been genuine increases in crime—particularly in some of the low incidence but more harmful categories.”

Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD) - Hansard
7 Nov 2017, 9:33 a.m.

My right hon. Friend is making some excellent points. Will he acknowledge that the police themselves are often victims of crime? Recently I was in my local police station in Kendal; three officers were on long-term sickness because they had been sent single-handed to dangerous incidents, when normally they would have been sent as a pair. The cuts in police numbers meant that those officers could be sent only one at a time, and they are off sick as a consequence. Last year alone, 5,000 hours were lost to police sickness in Cumbria. Does he agree that that paints a picture of the police bearing the brunt of the rise in crime and the reduction in resource?

Sir Edward Davey Portrait Sir Edward Davey - Hansard
7 Nov 2017, 9:35 a.m.

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. As the number of police officers declines, they have to work overtime and, as he described, put themselves in greater danger, which is not acceptable.

When Mr Flatley, the ONS’s leading crime statistician, says

“low incidence but more harmful categories”,

he means murder. He means rape. He means knife crime. He means gun crime. Those relatively low-volume crimes—relative to, say, burglary—are poorly reported in the crime survey but reasonably well recorded by the police. In other words, it is a fact that the most serious crimes have risen steeply in incidence in the past two or three years; Ministers cannot hide from that.

The ONS makes another key policy and evidence point about the comparison between the crime survey and recorded crime: recorded crime is much better at spotting emerging trends—short-term fluctuations in crime that can easily become long-term trends if action is not taken. Police-reported crime rose by 13% in one year alone, and I hope that Ministers will not dismiss that. They need to ask themselves and their officials some deep questions about that trend, because if it continues and they wrongly dismiss it, people will pay a heavy price.

Another reason why the recent upturn in crime demands urgent action is the complexity of the rising crime we are seeing. Complexity can demand significant police resource for just one difficult crime. Counter-terrorism is the obvious example. The record spate of terrorist attacks and plots this year clearly marks a shift in terrorist activity, and the intensity of the demand that that makes on the police requires a response from Government. It is no good Ministers saying that police reserves can sort that out, as the Home Secretary claimed recently. First, some police forces have very small reserves; secondly, those with large reserves have them because they have so many unfunded and unpredictable cost pressures, from unfunded pay decisions to terrorist attacks.

The police also face other examples of similarly resource-intensive complex crimes: cyber-crime, child sexual abuse, fraud, modern slavery and human trafficking. The UK has among the highest proportions of complex reported crime in the world, demanding ever more resource, yet police resources have been cut.

I fully admit that those cuts are not new. The Prime Minister, when she was Home Secretary during the coalition, presided over cuts, which she continued after the 2015 general election. As a result, today we have nearly 17,000 fewer police officers and more than 4,500 fewer police community support officers.

Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock (Barnsley East) (Lab) - Hansard
7 Nov 2017, 9:38 a.m.

A recent poll that included my local police force showed that more than 70% of officers were stressed, many citing excessive workloads because far fewer officers are on the street. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we should bear in mind the impact of the cuts on police officers, as well as on the communities they serve?

Sir Edward Davey Portrait Sir Edward Davey - Hansard
7 Nov 2017, 9:38 a.m.

I totally agree. As my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) said, police officers are bearing the brunt, not only because they are stretched and having to do more, working longer hours and overtime, but because they and their families are facing the impact of the cuts. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) for making that point.

Mohammad Yasin Portrait Mohammad Yasin (Bedford) (Lab) - Hansard
7 Nov 2017, 9:39 a.m.

Recently the chief constable of Bedfordshire police said that the funding cuts had left him without enough officers even to return 999 calls. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the situation is so serious that the Government need to look into the funding urgently, so that the police can at least attend 999 calls?

Sir Edward Davey Portrait Sir Edward Davey - Hansard
7 Nov 2017, 9:39 a.m.

I agree strongly with the hon. Gentleman. I had an example of just such a case in my constituency recently. The gentleman concerned phoned my office because he was getting no response from 999. We answered the phone, I am delighted to say, and got on to the police. The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, and those fewer police officers and PCSOs are what the debate is about.

When we look at the history of the cuts, and the reduction in police officer numbers—over a long time, as I said; this happened during the coalition—it is worth remembering that for the first four or five years of the cuts, during the coalition, crime was falling. Crime, whether measured by recorded crime or by the crime survey, went down during the first few years of the cuts, but it is not going down now; that is the point that Ministers have to grasp and act on. Crime up and police down will not keep people safe.

Layla Moran Portrait Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) (LD) - Hansard
7 Nov 2017, 9:41 a.m.

I have been doing the tour in my constituency of the local area commanders, as all new MPs do. They tell me that burglary is up, especially in the south-east, but that local people do not feel that the police have the resources they need. An email I recently received from a resident in Yarnton says:

“I'm afraid the only beneficiary is the criminal and their chances of arrest are slim, the insurance companies who have to increase premiums and the Government who gains additional tax on the insurance premiums.”

Is not how local people perceive the police just as important as whether they can respond, and should we not recognise the intense resource pressures that they are under?

Sir Edward Davey Portrait Sir Edward Davey - Hansard
7 Nov 2017, 9:41 a.m.

My hon. Friend is right in so many ways. She pointed to the issue of burglary; I have knocked on doors in my constituency, and it is the rise in burglary that has most hit people. In many ways, burglary has the largest impact on ordinary people, and it can be quite dramatic, so she is right to say that. The example I gave of the police not responding was to a burglary, and the impact that has on the fear of crime is amazing. When the police do not respond, because they are so stretched, that has an impact on people’s view of the police, and their concerns that the police are not there for them when they expect them to be. She is absolutely right to say that the public want more local police to respond to their needs and to deal with the fear of crime, but we are seeing quite the reverse.

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge (South Suffolk) (Con) - Hansard

The right hon. Gentleman’s point was about falling crime when numbers were being reduced, and about that trend apparently changing. That implies that the two are not directly linked, but surely we have to try to understand the factors causing that trend to change. Will he outline the steps that he thinks should be taken to ensure that, if we increase numbers, there is still productivity and crime is reduced?

Ms Nadine Dorries Portrait Ms Nadine Dorries (in the Chair) - Hansard
7 Nov 2017, 9:42 a.m.

Order. Some interventions are a little long; I remind Members that interventions should be sharp and punchy.

Sir Edward Davey Portrait Sir Edward Davey - Hansard
7 Nov 2017, 9:43 a.m.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point. To say that only police numbers are related to crime is clearly not true, and the figures that I mentioned suggest that.

It is fair to say, from looking at police budgets and how the police have reacted to this difficult time, that they are becoming more effective. In response to the recent debate on Metropolitan police funding, the Minister talked about the efficiencies that the police are already making, including through technology; the use of cameras on lapels has a good impact on reducing tensions when making arrests. In my experience, the police are being more effective and efficient, and are thinking of new ways of doing things, and of smarter and more intelligence-led policing, but we still need the officers; that is my fundamental point.

Lilian Greenwood Portrait Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab) - Hansard
7 Nov 2017, 9:43 a.m.

The right hon. Gentleman makes an excellent case. The demand on our police service comes not just from the increase in crime. The assessment of police resources by the National Police Chiefs Council and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, which was sent to the Minister, talks about non-crime demand, including increasing 999 calls, incidents involving people with mental health issues, missing persons, suicides, ambulance-related police demands where problems in the health service have an impact on them, and police demand from unexpected death in care homes. Do all those things not need to be taken into account in looking at the demands placed on our police forces?

Sir Edward Davey Portrait Sir Edward Davey - Hansard
7 Nov 2017, 9:46 a.m.

The hon. Lady makes an excellent point. Budget cuts in social services, the health service and local authorities and the impact on youth services are all part of the picture that right hon. and hon. Members will see in their constituencies.

The police settlement of 2015 was a real-terms cut—flat cash. When a budget is frozen, the compound impact of inflation bites harder and harder over time. In other words, if the Chancellor does nothing in this Budget, we ain’t seen nothing yet.

However, the 2015 police settlement was agreed by the Prime Minister, as Home Secretary, before the emerging trend in recorded police crime really took hold, before the rise in serious violent crime, before the step change in terrorist activity and before the rise in gun and knife crime. In other words, the assumptions on which the 2015 police settlement was made were wrong. The Liberal Democrats are offering Ministers a chance to change their minds, because the facts have changed. I sincerely hope that the Home Office makes that case to the Chancellor and sets out what it would do with the extra hundreds of millions that are urgently need. The Liberal Democrats are clear that one of our top police funding priorities is more funding for community police, and we are not alone. The National Police Chiefs Council set out four clear priorities for additional funding before the Home Affairs Committee just two weeks ago, one of which is neighbourhood policing. That is because chief constables view community policing as essential to their counter-terrorist effort, because of the police’s role in helping to prevent crime and because the public expect and demand the police to be proactive and responsive.

When I came back from my enforced sabbatical from this House, I was struck by how incredibly stretched the police in my constituency are—far more than they were even just two years ago—and this picture is widespread. Liberal Democrats in Kingston upon Hull told me earlier this week that additional community police were the top priority for more than 70% of the residents whom they recently surveyed. My right hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) told me of the shock in his constituency when it was announced that every single police and community support officer in North Norfolk was going.

We should always remember that our police do one of the toughest jobs imaginable, with courage, skill and dedication. We have seen time and again, especially in the recent terrorist outrages, that the police do not run away, but put themselves in harm’s way to defend our way of life. That imposes a heavy responsibility on all of us in this place, and especially on Ministers, to make the right calls for the police and for the public. When crime rises, especially violent and complex crime, police budgets need to rise, too, starting with those of our local community police. To do anything else in the face of that evidence is just wrong.

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge (South Suffolk) (Con) - Hansard
7 Nov 2017, 9:47 a.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Ms Dorries. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) on his timely and important debate. I do not think that anyone would dispute its importance, given how the election and terrorist attack in Manchester focused the nation’s attention on policing, police numbers and the key priorities that we face for policing.

I want to primarily give the Suffolk perspective. When we talk about funding in Suffolk, we always talk about the way the pie is divided more than the overall pie. Whether it is school funding, early years or other areas, we seem to be a long way down the league table, and that is certainly true in police funding. The Minister will know that, because he has received a letter from the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner setting out the fact that we are one of the lowest funded police forces in England. It is not a coincidence that we inevitably compare ourselves with Norfolk, a county in many ways very similar to us. If we received the same spending as Norfolk, our budget would be up by £3.5 million per year, which is a significant sum. We receive 44p funding per day for policing compared to a national average of 50p.

Break in Debate

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab) - Hansard
7 Nov 2017, 10:02 a.m.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) on arranging the debate. I want to make a couple of points because the debate is timely, given the approach of the autumn Budget in a couple of weeks’ time.

In the west midlands, our police force has lost £145 million in real terms from its budget since 2010. That has resulted in a loss of 2,000 police officers and a further loss of a considerable number of civilian non-uniformed policing staff. Crime in the region is up 14% in the latest figures, and some crimes are up by more than that. Burglary is up 31% and car crime by a similar amount, all at a time when the country is having to cope with a significant terrorism threat, which requires significant police resources.

The effect of all that is obvious, deep and profound. If people do not feel safe in their community, on their streets or in their homes, they are not free to go about their lives. Fear of crime destroys liberty. Nor does it apply equally: lower-income communities and people on lower incomes suffer the most, because they do not have the options available to some wealthier citizens. They cannot live in a gated community. They do not have the option sometimes of moving to a more expensive property, perhaps in an area with lower crime levels. Crime is therefore an issue not just of safety but of liberty and of equality, too. That is why we should be deeply concerned at the juxtaposition of falling police numbers and rising crime, which is what the country now faces.

Sir Edward Davey Portrait Sir Edward Davey - Hansard
7 Nov 2017, 10:05 a.m.

I want to stress my support for what the right hon. Gentleman has just said. It is an argument that is not heard enough that policing and police resourcing is an issue about social justice and freedom. We have to make that argument, because whether it is the newspapers, the House or the establishment, there is not an understanding of the significance of extra police in our communities for the poorest and most vulnerable in our communities.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden - Hansard
7 Nov 2017, 10:05 a.m.

I wholeheartedly agree with the right hon. Gentleman. As I said, this is an issue of liberty and it is an issue of equality, too. I want to make an obvious political point. Let us imagine the roles were reversed here and we had a Labour Government presiding over a huge cut in police numbers and a significant rise in crime. Do we honestly think that Conservative Members would be saying, “It’s got nothing to do with police numbers”? I do not think so. I know that opposition can do strange things to a political party and the conclusions it sometimes reaches, but so too can government make Government Members—particularly Back-Bench Members—end up defending the indefensible.

It is simply indefensible to continue with police cuts after what we have had in the past seven years, in the light of both the terrorism threat and now the recorded crime figures showing the rises that I have set out in the west midlands. I want to use today to make my appeal to the Minister to consult with the Chancellor, to say, “Enough is enough.” Cuts in policing have gone too far. They are affecting people’s liberties, and it is an issue of equality, too. We want to see fair funding for police forces right around the country so that we can give the community both the visible presence and the real protection against crime that they deserve.

Break in Debate

Mr Hurd Hansard
7 Nov 2017, 9 a.m.

Flat cash is flat cash, which means there are cost pressures that police forces have to absorb, and I will come back to that. However, there is no getting away from the fact that the overall amount of money that taxpayers are investing in the police system has grown, not shrunk.

Sir Edward Davey Portrait Sir Edward Davey - Hansard
7 Nov 2017, 9 a.m.

May I push the Minister on the difference between what the crime survey and police recorded crime are telling us and the lessons that he, as a Minister, is drawing from that? I sought to argue in my contribution that there is a real concern that the previous trend of declining crime that we saw for quite a number of years has changed. If it has, that demands that this House and this Government change policy.

Mr Hurd Hansard
7 Nov 2017, 9 a.m.

I could not have been clearer in my remarks; demand on the police has grown. We have two sets of data, which is sometimes confusing. We track people’s experience of crime through the crime survey. That shows a long-term decline in people’s experience of crime, which I hope every Member will welcome. In terms of police recorded crime, which is trying to capture something different, we are seeing an increase. Part of that is a genuine increase in crime, which I totally accept, as the Office for National Statistics does. Part of it—I know the right hon. Gentleman will welcome this—is people feeling more comfortable to come forward about crime, particularly in some of the murky, difficult, complex and often tragic areas, and police getting more effective at recording crime. It is confusing. People’s experience of crime is down, according to the official survey that has run for many years, but recorded crime is up. There are two sets of data trying to do different things.

I want to address the point about stretch. Whenever I visit a police force, I have a meeting with frontline officers, and the message from those officers could not be clearer: they feel extremely stretched. They are working very hard under very difficult circumstances indeed. As I say, the fact that that message is coming out of a can-do organisation means we have to listen to it.

That is why we are conducting a demand and resilience review, led by myself. I will be visiting or speaking to every single force in England and Wales. The review will update our understanding of demand and how it is being managed, the implications of flat cash force by force and the strategy for reserves, which are public money. The last audited numbers in 2016 showed reserves of £1.8 billion. That figure is now down a bit, to perhaps around £1.6 billion, but it is still public money, and we need to know the plans for it.

Break in Debate

Mr Hurd Hansard
7 Nov 2017, 10:56 a.m.

If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I will not, because I want to finish my remarks.

That review will be assessed in parallel with the fair funding review that colleagues will have tracked and that is of particular interest to Suffolk, Bedfordshire and other counties that feel they have been on the wrong end of the allocation in recent years. It will come together as a piece of analysis and work with the provisional grant report and provisional settlement for 2018-19, which I expect to come to the House before the year end.

I would like to assure colleagues who are concerned about whether the Government are listening to the messages from their local police chiefs and police and crime commissioners that we feel strongly that we have to take decisions based on evidence, not assertion, and that is feeding into the review. We owe that to the taxpayer. We are determined to ensure that the police have the resources and the support they need, without giving up on the challenge we have to give them to ensure they are using that money in the most effective way.

For this Government, as for any Government, public safety is the No. 1 priority. I assure the House that in the work we are doing, we are determined to ensure that hard-working police forces up and down the country doing incredibly difficult work under very difficult and often dangerous circumstances have the support they need. With that, I close, in order that the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton can conclude.

Sir Edward Davey Portrait Sir Edward Davey - Hansard
7 Nov 2017, 10:57 a.m.

I thank all Members who have contributed to the debate. The Minister will have heard concern from Members on both sides and from the grassroots and our constituencies that this is having a real impact on people’s lives and our communities. He will also have heard that there is huge support for the model of community policing; and, to be fair to the Minister, he acknowledged that.

Many of us have listened to the Minister over many years in different guises, and we know his support for strong, healthy communities. I end the debate by saying that community policing is fundamental to that strength. I saw in my constituency the impact that more investment in community policing had on tackling low-level crime and antisocial behaviour, helping on the estates, driving out serious crime and being really strong against the drug pushers and so on who make the lives of some of our constituents a misery. Community policing is a fundamental part of what this House, this Government and this country should be about, and I hope that in the forthcoming Budget later this month we will see extra support for our community police services up and down the country.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered funding for community policing.