Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Angela Watkinson.)
It is a privilege to hold this debate under your chairmanship, Sir Alan. I requested it because, in one of my surgeries recently, I met a young police officer who told me in great detail about his concerns for his career and those of his colleagues and for the general morale of the police in the light of recent Government policies. We talk a lot about the effect on the public of the Government’s 20% cut in police funding. Although that is important and I will mention it, it is equally important that we focus on its effect on the police force and police officers.
Police officers up and down the country feel angry about budget cuts and attacks on terms and conditions and pension provision, following the Winsor and Hutton reviews. Police officers cannot strike, and many feel that they have no voice and no way to fight the changes. I hope that this debate will make them feel that they have had an opportunity to state their case to Ministers through their elected representatives. I also understand that the Police Federation is to lobby Parliament next week, and I look forward to attending.
The Government intend to cut the overall policing budget by 20% in real terms by 2014-15. It is estimated that that will result in the loss of 12,000 officer jobs and 16,000 other police staff jobs. Research drawing on information from police forces and police authorities suggests that in the Metropolitan police area, which covers my constituency, 1,291 police officers and 1,046 police staff will lose their jobs over the next three years.
Tomorrow, I will show around the House four police officers nominated this week for the national police bravery awards. Does my hon. Friend agree that in a week when we are rightly focusing on the special job that the police do, it is equally important that the Government listen to police concerns about the impact of cuts on morale in the service?
I certainly agree. It is a job unlike almost any other, except the armed services or ambulance drivers. It is a special job with special needs, and we must listen to what the police are telling us.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate, as I congratulate you, Sir Alan, on your recent elevation as a knight of the realm. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) mentioned listening. Did my hon. Friends have the opportunity to hear the speech of Sir Hugh Orde to the Association of Chief Police Officers conference yesterday? He said that what was happening to the police force was the most profound reform in 180 years and that what was required, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East suggests, was a period of listening during which people could be consulted, as with NHS reforms, to give the Government the opportunity to see what will happen as a result of their reforms. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) agree that a period of listening is desirable at this stage?
I agree. I am pleased that there are so many Members here today. Through us, police officers’ voices will be heard, but a period of consultation is needed, owing to the unusual nature of their job and the daily importance of teamwork and morale.
In my constituency, 1,291 police officers and 1,046 police staff will lose their jobs over the next three years. Senior police chiefs also plan to cut 150 sergeants from local policing teams next year. The figure could rise to 300 in the next two or three years. It is worth bearing in mind that the cuts will affect London police forces and that it is estimated that more than 9,000 police officers will be required each day at the peak of the London Olympics, in an operation that Scotland Yard describes as the biggest ever policing challenge facing Britain. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Richard Bryan said that the games would put unprecedented demands on the Metropolitan police, yet the Met faces 20% cuts.
The Home Office says that the savings can be found solely in back-office functions and efficiency savings, with no impact on front-line policing.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate and thank her for allowing my intervention. Does she know that Lancashire police are dealing with cuts of more than £40 million and are consulting on proposals to cut front-desk services in Ormskirk and sell police stations and houses across West Lancashire? That will leave my constituents with a 25-mile round trip to the nearest police station. It comes on the back of a reduction in the number of officers on our streets, and the future of police community support officers is still under threat. Does she agree that the Conservative-led Government have broken their promise that front-line services would not be affected by cuts, that the impact across the country and in my constituency will lead to an erosion in people’s feeling of safety on their streets and in their homes, and that crime—and, more importantly, the fear of crime—will increase?
I agree. That brings me to the question of what front-line policing is. The police representatives to whom I have spoken say that the Government’s view of what front-line policing entails is misguided. It involves not only uniformed officers on the beat, but staff in front-line departments such as neighbourhood policing, counter-terrorism, domestic abuse and child abuse units. Those are not back-office functions, yet they will undoubtedly be affected by severe budget cuts. It is feared that that will increase crime and public fear of crime and create a less resilient public service. Which back-office jobs would Members here consider unnecessary to our work: researchers, case workers, the Table Office, the Vote Office or the Library? Those might be seen as back-office functions, but they are integral to our work, and it would be impossible to do our job without them.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on obtaining this debate. Hugh Orde was mentioned. He has vast experience of policing, especially in Northern Ireland as Chief Constable. Does she agree that police officers in Northern Ireland—like those here on the mainland, I am sure—say that one of the biggest hindrances to police officers in doing their job is the red tape, bureaucracy and form-filling involved in an arrest? That makes it difficult for them to do their job.
That is another case of our need to listen to what police forces tell us. Rather than making a 20% cut and telling them that they must make cuts in turn, we must listen to what they tell us needs to change. No one is saying that police forces should not change and develop, but they are the experts, and we must listen to them.
Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary says that the maximum saving that the police service could achieve without an impact on quality of service is 12%. There is a big gap between that and a 20% cut. It is difficult to see how front-line policing could not be affected. The situation is made more difficult by the fact that the Home Office has no formally agreed definition of front-line policing. The chairman of the Police Federation, Paul McKeever, said that it is reckless for Ministers to base policies on a term with no legal definition.
Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has tried to define front-line policing. Its recent study said that 67% of police officers and civilian staff are involved either in visible contact with the public or in specialist roles that involve intervening to keep people safe and enforce the law, meaning that they should be considered as front-line. I understand that the Home Office has consulted Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to establish a definition. Will the Minister update Members on what progress has been made? It is important to have a definition so that the effects of policies on the police can be measured properly.
Morale is low in the police force. Officers are worried not only about their ability to protect the public in the face of drastic funding cuts, but about threats to their own financial situation and future.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate, which is important to people throughout the country who, like her, are concerned about front-line policing. Does she agree that that concern is shared by members of the coalition Government as well? All-party meetings are taking place to discuss concerns about front-line service. One big issue with the cuts to front-line services is the introduction of single crewing, which means that police officers are attending crimes alone. That is causing real concern about the standard and quality of front-line policing, as are the linked issues of pensions and future conditions of service, and I hope that the Minister will address that.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The issue affects morale. The police have told me that one of the good things about working in the police force is the teamwork. How they work together helps them to build relationships with one another and develop mutual trust and understanding. Working alone makes the job virtually impossible and very dangerous.
A recent survey by the Police Federation found that the budget cuts have led 98% of officers to claim that morale has fallen in the ranks. Moreover, 86% believe that the fight against crime will be damaged. Police numbers are already dropping and have fallen by 5,000 since January. The same period has seen a 16% rise in civilian volunteers or special constables, and there is concern that volunteers will be used to replace the work that should be undertaken by police officers, all in the name of deficit reduction.
At about the same time as the 20% overall budget cut was announced, Lord Hutton’s review of public sector pensions and the Winsor report on police pay and conditions delivered their recommendations. If implemented, the Winsor report recommendations will see the vast majority of police officers take a real-terms pay cut on top of increased work loads. Some officers could be up to £4,000 worse off, which does not include the additional hit of inflation. Police officers face the prospect of their basic salaries being frozen for two years from September 2011 and of inflation running at 5%. Over two years, the average salary of a police officer could fall by more than 10% in real terms.
Winsor’s recommendations will also reduce pensionable pay. If officers have not reached the top of their pay scale, they will be at the same pay point for the next two years—an average loss over two years of £2,345. Officers are at the top of their pay scale can receive the competency related threshold payment, but Winsor recommends that it be scrapped, so they will lose £1,212 a year. On top of that, the competency related threshold payment makes up officers’ pensionable pay. If it is removed, their annual pensions on retirement will be £800 a year lower.
On top of those proposals, officers who fall into certain groups may see their pay cut by even more. If they regularly work ordinary overtime, given the change to plain time, they will lose an average of £430 a year. If the force requires officers to work overtime on rest days, with less than five days’ notice, they will lose an average of £300 a year. If the receive a special priority payment, they will lose between £500 and £3,000, although some officers could lose more. Those are average figures—some officers will receive more, but others will get less and some nothing at all. With cuts of that size, some police officers might be compelled to leave the service because of financial difficulties.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. I have never worked in the police force, but I have been married to it for 26 years. I hear of the first-hand experiences of police officers in my constituency, and they tell me that the combination of the cuts in funding, the attacks on their pensions and the way the Government are seeking to drive a wedge between what they see as front-line services and others is having an impact on morale. That, in due course, will have an impact on outcomes, which will affect us all.
I thank my hon. Friend for sharing with us her personal circumstances. Officers have written to me with testimonies saying that the financial hit means that they will be looking to leave the job at the earliest opportunity. That is backed up by the fact that nine out of 10 of the police officers who responded to the Police Federation survey said that they fear their colleagues will quit because they will be unable to make ends meet. In a job in which teamwork and trust are essential, that could be disastrous. I find it difficult to understand how there could not be a knock-on effect on police recruitment and retention.
Being a police officer is not an easy job. The hours are long, unsociable and often not conducive to family life. For instance, rest days can often be cancelled at the last minute. Police officers can also suffer violent assaults, mental stress and injuries that have a lasting effect on their lives and those of their families. I have heard from officers who feel that they do a 24-hour-a-day job in their community. It is not unusual for a police officer to have family, friends and neighbours calling at all hours asking for advice and help. It is not a job where they can clock off at 5 o’clock. Policing is not like other jobs. They do not leave it behind when they finish their shift; it is a 24/7 job. On or off duty, day in, day out, uniform on, uniform off, they are always police officers.
Police officers make those sacrifices in their personal lives because they want to serve their community, but also in the understanding that they will be financially compensated for taking on a dangerous and demanding job. When asked to sum up their current mood, one police officer told me:
“The rug has been pulled out from underneath me. I joined the service because I felt I had the skills and capabilities to use for the good and in the protection of vulnerable sections of society and victims of crime. However, I did this in the understanding that I would be fairly compensated for taking the risks that the job entails, and for the negative impact that it would invariably have on my own quality of life through stress and shift work.
I feel I am being penalised for making the sacrifices inherent in doing this job, and that the Government are gunning for the Police Service as the easiest Public Sector target. Without the right to strike I feel we can do nothing. This is not about fairness, it is about saving the largest amount of money in the shortest amount of time and hang the consequences for those involved, Police and public.”
I have heard from another officer whose role has an on-call requirement that is voluntary. He has been urged not to continue to fulfil that requirement if special priority payments are scrapped for on-call work, because his family life will be restricted without any financial compensation. However, police officers do not do their job just for their salary. If money was their primary motivation, they would all be in different jobs. We cannot expect them, however, to take on the huge sacrifices required by the job without fair financial reward for doing so. To pay them properly is a sign of the due respect that we should show them.
If we value what the police do, we should show that by making sure that they are able to have a family life and a decent home. Most young officers in my area have no chance of buying a place to live. A young man who came to my surgery explained that he is 25 years old, studied for three years and brings a wealth of experience to his role, but after paying his tax, national insurance, student loan and rent, and his bills for the phone, petrol and food, there is little left. He spends his time off work sitting in his rented flat, because he has no money with which to socialise with friends or to take part in any of the leisure activities that one would expect as a professional. He already earns below the national average wage and a two-year freeze will make it worse. He is seriously thinking of leaving the force. I doubt whether he is alone in that view.
The cuts to police pay may also have an impact on pension provision. Many officers say that if the cuts are made, their only option will be to quit the police pension scheme. It is not hard to see why they are considering doing so—less pay, greater pension contribution rates and higher inflation will push people to take such drastic action. The impact on society in later years will be significant. The proposed increase in employee contribution rates needs to be highlighted, because police officers already contribute at the highest rate of any public sector workers. Police contribution rates to pension schemes are between 9.5% and 11%.
Many police officers in my constituency have also contacted me about the switch in the indexing of their pensions from retail prices to consumer prices. I have opposed that switch in speeches on the Floor of the House and voted against the annual up-rating order. I also signed early-day motion 1625, which calls for the annulment of the statutory instrument that made the switch. I am not convinced by the Government’s argument that CPI, which does not take into account housing costs, is the better measure of inflation for pensioners because most pensioners own their own homes. Even if pensioners no longer have mortgages, they still have to pay costs associated with housing, such as council tax and heating. Such costs can be a heavy burden. Although I oppose the switch to CPI on behalf of all public sector workers, people in fields such as law enforcement, the emergency services and the military stand to lose the most because of the switch. They often need to access their pensions earlier in life, because of the physically demanding nature of their job or serious injury suffered at work.
Everyone deserves a decent pension, especially police officers, given the risks and sacrifices inherent in the job. In a parliamentary answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle) on 14 February, the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice said that no assessment had been made of the number of members of the police pension scheme who may opt out of it as a result of the change in indexation. Does the Department intend to conduct such an assessment in the future?
The expectation of a reasonable retirement income has also been an important recruitment and retention tool for the police. That was highlighted by the submission of the staff side of the Police Negotiating Board to the Independent Public Service Pensions Commission. It said:
“In order to recruit and retain officers of appropriate calibre who are willing to accept these hazards, members of a police pension scheme should be allowed to work towards, and benefit from, a reasonable retirement benefit. They must also be secure in the knowledge that should their career be cut short by illness or injury, they will be appropriately supported.”
Without such an incentive, we may find it hard to recruit and retain officers in the future.
Many police officers in my constituency have written to me about the need for a royal commission on policing, because the Winsor and Hutton reviews demonstrate a fragmentary and disconnected approach to reform of the police service. Early-day motion 1604, tabled by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming), calls for such a commission to establish precisely what is required by the British police to ensure that they continue to deliver a public service that is fit for purpose. I support such a commission, but agree with the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe): it must deal with the urgent problems of excessive Government cuts and the impact on police forces. I should be grateful to the Minister if he answered the concerns that I have raised and said whether he supports such a commission.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) on securing this very important debate. I am pleased that so many hon. Members are present to discuss the subject. I shall make a limited number of points about what Sir Hugh Orde said yesterday, but before I do, I would like to show support for and congratulate officers on the work that they do in my constituency. I am sure that other hon. Members will do likewise for their constituencies.
Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a police academy event at Camden junior school, where the local safer neighbourhoods team and some police cadets were training a number of pupils in the arts of marching, fingerprinting and working with police dogs and horses. A great time was had by all. At the end of that event, as we were handing out certificates, I asked the children how many of them wanted to join the police force. It may be that they have not heard about some of the changes being made, but I am pleased to say that half of the children put their hands up and said that they wanted to join the police force as a result of attending the police academy. I thank my safer neighbourhoods team for arranging that.
Is the hon. Gentleman not worried—as I am—that if we cut down on staff who are not seen as front line and pare down the police’s responsibilities, that kind of activity will disappear?
I am very pleased to reassure the hon. Gentleman that the scheme is continuing—or starting up again—in September. The police cadets involved are, in fact, pupils at one of the local secondary schools, and will therefore continue to play a key role in delivering that scheme.
I shall move on to what Sir Hugh Orde said yesterday. Among other things, he highlighted concerns about changes to accountability, central structures and, of course, pay and conditions. I shall just make a few points about those matters. On changes to accountability, the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill is going through the Lords and some of the amendments that are being considered will add substantially to the accountability of police and crime commissioners.
For example, confirmation hearings for key PCC staff posts will be introduced and police and crime panels will be able to hold confirmation hearings for key staff. Importantly, co-operation between PCCs and community safety partnerships will be strengthened, because accountability for delivering improvements in safety will be enhanced if there is a clear requirement for those two groups to work together co-operatively. The required majority for the police and crime panel to veto chief constable appointments will be amended, and the precept will be changed from three quarters to two thirds. We have pushed for that very hard through amendments 103 and 192. The composition of the police and crime panels will be extended to allow additional members. That will ensure all authorities within an area covered by a police and crime commissioner are represented. In terms of accountability, those are substantial improvements to the current arrangements.
Another area where accountability needs to be enhanced is in relation to the draft protocol that is being drawn up. That sets out how the relationship between the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable will operate within England and Wales. There is scope for improvement there, particularly on how the protocol might operate in relation to Wales. I have taken soundings from a recently retired senior police officer on other areas within the protocol, and he was clearly very keen for the majority to be changed. That is being taken up through Lords amendments. He also thought that further clarity was required regarding the fact that the police and crime commissioner will be the recipient of all funding, including the Government grant and the precept related to policing and crime reduction. How that money is allocated is a matter for the police and crime commissioner. That requires further clarification, because if the police and crime commissioner, for example, decided that no money at all was going to be spent on Tasers, thereby stopping the police using them, some might argue that that was interfering with operational matters. It would be helpful to have further clarity on the circumstances surrounding the protocol, and on whether the police and crime commissioner will be able to allocate funds without reference to any other parties.
The protocol is a good starting point. As I said, I am pleased that it will be amended to reflect the fact that the majority needed for a power of veto will be cut from three quarters to two thirds. I hope that when the protocol is published, more clarity will be provided about the relationship between the Home Secretary and the police and crime commissioners. One of the essential proposals in the Government’s plans that I support is about ensuring that policing is delivered locally without the interference of the Home Secretary. It would be helpful to have more detail in the protocol to ensure that that is the case, because whoever is Home Secretary—or, indeed, Prime Minister—clearly there will always be an inclination to get involved in day-to-day policing matters. If any further strength can be given to the powers of police and crime commissioners in the protocol to ensure that they have responsibility for policing at a local level, that would be helpful.
The other concern that Sir Hugh Orde raised was about the central structures. Elected police and crime commissioners are clearly part of that, but the national crime agency also falls into that category. As hon. Members will know, four commands will cover organised crime, border policing, economic crime and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. That structure could work more effectively nationally by drawing those different bodies together, and I certainly welcome the emphasis put on the border policing aspect.
Hon. Members have previously raised concerns about CEOP, and may do so today. I have visited CEOP and had detailed discussions with people there, including the new chief executive, Peter Davies. My impression is that he is completely confident that he can ensure that CEOP will continue to work effectively, whether it comes under the Serious Organised Crime Agency, as of course it did, or the NCA. All the private funders of aspects of CEOP’s work have indicated that they will continue to fund the organisation once it is included within the NCA. When the Home Secretary made a statement about that, she said:
“An individual at chief constable level will be appointed fairly soon”,
and that that individual
“will…work within the Home Office over the period before the NCA is set up.”—[Official Report, 8 June 2011; Vol. 529, c. 237.]
It is essential to have an effective person in place, and to have a sufficient transitional period to allow for an effective transition. I would be interested to hear what particular lessons were learned from setting up SOCA, and how those lessons will be applied to the establishment of the NCA.
My last point concerns changes to pay and conditions. Sir Hugh Orde and others have highlighted concerns about morale. We have to accept that, certainly according to surveys, morale in the police is not good, although I talked to officers on Friday and they did not express concerns about morale. They seemed to be fully committed and were enjoying their jobs. However, surveys show clearly a very high level of concern and unhappiness in the police force. One thing that the Government can do is explain—or re-explain, or explain in more detail—exactly what the impact of the proposals will be. Yes, it is true that some officers will suffer a reduction in pay. It is also true, however, that some officers will see their pay increase by up to £2,000 as a result of the changes, and that needs to be explained.
Another reason for low morale may relate to other things that the Government are having to do to tackle the deficit. I am confident that once those changes start to take effect and we start to see the economy moving in the right direction and a big impact is made in reducing the deficit, morale, not only in the police service but beyond, will improve.
When I was Minister with responsibility for the police, I published proposals for the grant for this year and next year. Will the hon. Gentleman remind me why he opposed those proposals and called for more money? Why does he, a Liberal Democrat, now support a 20% cut in the money going to policing, despite the fact that the Labour Government were going to make savings in the budget for this year and next year? That 20% cut has an impact on some of the major concerns that he has mentioned.
The right hon. Gentleman will perhaps know that what appeared to be the case regarding his Government’s finances was not necessarily the case once one looked at the detail. For example, the structural deficit was much higher than the previous Government had led us to believe. The changes that we are making are, to a large extent, changes that his party would have had to make if they were in power. I hope—I am always hopeful—that we will hear some solutions from Opposition Members and an articulation of their alternative. I am sure that Opposition Members feel that the themes they hear from those on the Government Benches are always the same. I would say in return that the themes raised by those on the Opposition Benches are always the same—a catalogue of genuine concerns are raised, but a solution is never provided.
When I proposed a police budget containing reductions of £1.3 billion, with savings on procurement, overtime and mergers of back-office staff, the hon. Gentleman opposed it. He now supports a £2.5 billion cut. The extra cuts of £1.2 billion will cause concern about morale, numbers, rising crime and the impact in our communities, as outlined by Sir Hugh Orde yesterday. Why has the hon. Gentleman changed his view in the past 12 months?
I have already explained why I have changed my view. The Government have to take those decisions. I suspect that if the right hon. Gentleman was still the Minister with responsibility for the police, he would be saying some unpalatable things about pay and conditions, pensions and so on, too. Maybe he will say that when he makes his speech.
In conclusion, there are improvements that the Government can make and are making in relation to accountability and central structures to ensure that the transition to the NCA is seamless. The Government are doing what they can on pay and conditions in a very difficult financial climate.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Alan.
Who are they, the human face of police cuts—the casualties of Government policy? The Home Secretary was good enough to meet recently with six officers from the west midlands. Inspector Mark Stokes, a police officer for 33 years and a specialist in crime reduction—the longest serving in the country. An expert at designing out crime; for example, the Four Towers estate scheme in Birmingham saw a 98.7% cut in crime. There is no better example worldwide, and that is why he has a deserved international reputation—forced out.
Sergeant Dave Hewitt is 48 years old, with 32 years of service, and a neighbourhood sergeant. An expert in early intervention—stopping antisocial behaviour becoming serious crime. He tackled problems ranging from dangerous dogs to cannabis factories. He is a man who engaged successfully with his community, which led to a significant reduction in crime—forced out.
Police Constable Ian Rees is 55-years-old with 34 years of service. A motorway police officer—the first on the scene after serious accidents, coping with death and distraught families. For example, a serious accident on the M42, involving a minibus on its way to a wedding, caused serious injuries and one death. He not only coped with that, but was then the police liaison officer with that family afterwards, giving them comfort—forced out.
Detective Constable Tony Fisher, aged 50, has 33 years of service. On the one hand, he tracked down the gang who were robbing pensioners at cash machines and put away the leader for 13 years. On the other, he tracked down a gang led by a man who wielded a machete when robbing shops and put him away for 17 years—forced out.
Detective Constable Tim Kennedy, 31 years a police officer, is one of the best in Britain at tackling serious acquisitive crime, ranging from burglaries to cars. He has one of the highest detection rates in Britain and is described by fellow officers as an outstanding detective— forced out.
Finally, PC Martin Heard—32 years a front-line police officer, in the past nine years in an area of multiple deprivation in Wolverhampton, coping with vice crime, drugs, burglaries, engaging with the community, closing down drug dens, slashing crime in that community—forced out. To add insult to injury, within weeks of being forced out, he received a letter asking whether he would like to come back as an unpaid special constable.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising the case of ex-constable Martin Heard. He served the All Saints community in Wolverhampton in my constituency in exactly the way that my hon. Friend describes. I should like my hon. Friend to respond to an e-mail that I received yesterday from another Wolverhampton officer in the same force. He wrote:
“Older in service officers, like myself are very worried about having their CRTP taken away. For me it is £100 per month less… our pay has already been frozen and with SPP also in line to be taken away”.
He went on:
“At the current time, all the officers who have spoken to me all state they love serving the local community and work to make the streets of Wolverhampton even more safer. It would be awful if colleagues leave our fine occupation due to financial issues.”
What is my hon. Friend’s response to that?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Little wonder that there is a collapse in police morale. They are being asked to do more at a time of rising crime and are now threatened with being paid less. They deserve better.
The latest casualties of Government policy in the west midlands are 16 senior officers—nine superintendants and seven chief inspectors, including the heads of counter-terrorism and of crime—why? Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary stated that we could experience a 12% reduction in expenditure over a period of years; instead, the Government have gone for a front-loaded reduction of 20%, with an inevitable serious impact on the police service. The consequences for the west midlands are that 2,200 will go from our police service, including 1,100 police officers.
The hon. Gentleman is sailing close to the wind, and I would not want him to mislead anyone in the Chamber. He mentioned Government policy in the west midlands and repeatedly used the phrase, “forced out” in his opening remarks. To be clear, will he confirm that no Government policy whatever forces chief constables to retire officers with experience of 30 years or more and that the use of regulation A19, to which he alludes, under which such officers are being “forced out”—his words—is purely a matter for the chief constable of the police force and has absolutely no direction from the Government? The best chief constables can manage their work force without losing officers with the most experience.
That is the Home Secretary’s Pontius Pilate defence. At the worst possible time—2,500 more burglaries, 2,200 more vehicle crimes, robbery up by 25%—the Government are cutting the police, but they are then blaming the police for the cuts. The Government have put good chief constables, such as Chris Sims of the West Midlands police, an outstanding leader of his service, in an impossible situation. It is about time that the Government accepted responsibility for the consequences of their actions and did not blame our chief constables.
The hon. Gentleman is right to put a human face on the decisions taken and is right to ask why. Can he tell me why the reductions cited are being made in the west midlands, whereas in my constituency the Metropolitan police force is recruiting additional officers this year?
Because, in how the Government have proceeded, we have seen time and again a disproportionate impact on areas of high need and high unemployment, such as Birmingham and the west midlands—not only in the police service, but in local government and the health service.
In conclusion, this Government have reversed the welcome progress of the previous 13 years. Our Government had put 17,000 more police officers and 16,000 police community support officers on the beat, leading to a 43% reduction in crime. It is little wonder that there will be thousands of police officers descending on London next week. They will be here to defend the service that they love. They are Birmingham and Britain’s best, and they deserve better than to be told, “Thanks for your loyalty; here’s your redundancy notice.”
I congratulate the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) on securing this important debate. She was right about many things, in particular that the police struggle to speak for themselves—they are one of those services that cannot strike—so it is right for Members to have police debates, when we can speak up for them.
I have the pleasure of being on the police parliamentary programme, spending about 15 days with the police this year. I am always cautious speaking in a police debate, because if I say anything that they do not like, the chances are that I will find that out the hard way on the next day that I spend with them. My next day with them involves going up in a helicopter, so they will have scope to show me whether they like the things I say.
The police are facing a variety of what they probably regard as attacks from all angles, such as the funding cuts and the changes to the pay and conditions of police officers, although we should draw a distinction between those for uniformed police constables and those for police staff, who, I suspect, are often in an even worse position. The Government are also making structural changes to the accountability of the police force, which the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) discussed.
This is the fourth or fifth policing debate that I have spoken in over the past year, and I always start by urging the Government to review how they allocate funding to various police forces around the country. If we look at the impact on forces, we need either to implement the existing funding formula, so that forces actually have the funding that the formula calculates for their needs, or to find a better formula and implement that. We cannot, however, remain with a formula that calculates for Derbyshire police £5 million more than they actually get, and yet each year say, “That’s difficult, we will leave that for another year.” I am sure that the Nottinghamshire police force of the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) is in a similar situation and that we will get the same pleas from his force. If we need to be more efficient, can we start with fair funding in the first place? Derbyshire police force thinks of itself as extremely efficient—it has had to be for years, because in its view it has been underfunded. The concern of Derbyshire police is that, while it accepts the scope for more efficiency and further savings, it is hard to keep getting more blood out of the stone when it sees other forces not being forced to make the same level of efficiency savings. I have made that plea almost half a dozen times now. I hope that a different Minister will give a more encouraging answer to my police force, but I fear that that might be beyond his role today.
In common with all Members present, I have been lobbied by various serving and retired members of the police force about the impact of the proposed changes to their pay and conditions. All of us who have been in employment, and who have experienced threats to the business in which we are working or announcements of change and redundancy reviews, know that such times are horribly unsettling and uncertain. One lesson that I have learned is that the time of uncertainty should be as short as possible for it to be as fair as possible on the people affected, so I am concerned that many weeks have gone by since the Hutton and the Winsor announcements. Serving police officers do not yet have any idea which of the proposals will be implemented by the Government, which will not and how the proposals will impact on individuals. If we want to get police morale trending back upwards, we need to resolve what the Government proposals actually are, although I understand that they are under negotiation and that it is hard to come up with any public statement. Human nature, however, is to flick through the reports, find all the worst possible scenarios, add them all together and envisage a situation that, I suspect, is far worse than the reality will be.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has highlighted the situation in Derbyshire, which we both represent. At the Police Federation conference, Derbyshire representative Sarah Adams reminded everyone of what the Home Secretary said at an earlier conference:
“If you come with me, I will make this promise: I will always back you, I will always support you, I will always fight for you.”
Sarah Adams finished by asking the Home Secretary
“how can you expect police officers or the communities we serve to trust you or your Government?”
Our representative from Derbyshire said that to the Home Secretary. Does that make the hon. Gentleman feel neither that the police have misunderstood nor that the Government have failed to explain, but that the policy is wrong?
I have had some great times with the police going around the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, because we are advised on the police parliamentary scheme not to go around our own seats in case we attract more attention than the police do themselves. I would not go as far as he did in his intervention. Without doubt, we have a huge deficit, which has to be tackled, and there is no way that police forces can be shielded from that—they will have to pay their share, and I think that they accept that. I am sure that we will disagree about how large the share should be, but, when pay accounts for three quarters of police budgets, there is no way around the fact that that is what must take a fair chunk of the strain.
My point is that it is only fair on people to tell them what the changes will be as quickly as possible, rather than dragging out the uncertainty for months. Some things in the Winsor review and, in particular, the Hutton review are welcome. Hutton singles out the police force for a better deal on pensions than other public sector workers can expect, because they will be allowed their pension at 60, rather than the age rising to 66 or 67.
Does my hon. Friend accept that some police officers may receive their pension as early as the age of 48? Police officers have unique job security. It the only job in the public sector that I can think of which people may start at 18, and have a job for 30 years, and a guaranteed pension of around two thirds of salary with no chance of being made redundant. Police officers cannot be made redundant, unlike people in every other job in the public and private sector. That unique job security should be reflected in the overall pay and conditions and, indeed, pension.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention, but I think he is leading me down a line that would cause some difficulty. There is merit in considering whether police officers should sign up for 30 years, or whether they should join on a shorter contract. There is logic in signing up for 10 years, and if that works out for the force and someone wants to stay longer, they can do so. If it is not working out after 10 years, they may want to do something else. I was encouraged that Police Federation representatives from Derbyshire whom I met a few months ago were keen on that idea, and could see some advantages.
My hon. Friend tried to tempt me down the line of police redundancy, and my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) has introduced a ten-minute rule Bill on that topic. I think that that would probably add more uncertainty to police officers’ views on their future. Some to whom I have spoken have colleagues who are unfit for work or have lost their enthusiasm for it, and a mechanism allowing them to leave would probably be a positive step, but I suspect that that is not the general view of the police force.
I want to plead for police staff whose terms and conditions are not as generous as those of serving police officers, but who have borne the brunt of some previous savings rounds. They do not have redundancy protection, and they fear that they are being even more unfairly squeezed when police forces are looking to make savings. I have certainly had representations from them saying that they do not have the same generous pension to look forward to and cannot retire at the same time. We must ensure that the balance of savings is spread fairly.
When we talk about front-line and back-office functions, it is easy to blur the fact that some of those functions that are key to the front line, but are not strictly uniform, are being squeezed. I have had representations from scene-of-crime officers saying that compared with years ago when a team would sent to almost every burglary, there is now a squeeze on and it is hard to get an operative to go to a crime scene. Certainly that service is not available for many burglaries. That is not the way to improve the rate of crime detection.
There are many challenges, and at a time of funding constraint, it is important that the Government give the police all the necessary powers to tackle crime as efficiently as possible. I will cite one example from the burglary division of Derbyshire police. I am sure that the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) agrees that Derbyshire police has made great improvements in recent years in tackling burglaries and in providing a service to victims of such crimes. It has told me that many burglaries are carried out by people who want to steal jewellery to fund their drug habit. They rob a house, nick the jewellery and take it straight down to the local jeweller, who sometimes has a melting pot. The jewellery is sold for cash, and even if the police receive a tip-off about where the jewellery has gone, there is no trace of it or whom it was bought from. Previously law-abiding jewellers are being snared by the high price of gold into that route of crime. There are no regulations that the police can use to tackle jewellers or to force them to keep details of jewellery that they buy or whom they bought it from.
Regulations apply to scrap metal dealers, and even to pawnbrokers, but not to jewellers. If we are to help the police tackle crime, we must tackle the demand side and give them the powers that they need. I hope that the Minister will encourage his colleague, Baroness Browning, to look at the matter a little more closely than she suggested a couple of weeks ago.
I want to touch on accountability, because it is important that the police are brought back closer to the communities that they serve. There have been many welcome developments on neighbourhood consultation, but the introduction of elected police commissioners will do that, and I hope that the Government will proceed with that and not bow down to Lords wrecking amendments. It will be an important development, and even serving police officers have told me that they are looking forward to it, because it will make the force seem more accountable. Perhaps even at chief constable level it will encourage focusing priority on the area and not on the national, high-profile matters that chiefs sometimes focus on. That reform is essential to bring the police back to their trusted status with the public. I urge the Government to progress with that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Alan. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) on securing this important debate, which affects every community we represent in this House. In the time available, I want to make three brief and interrelated points: first, I want to discuss crime and antisocial behaviour in my constituency; secondly, I want to talk about how, as the long title of this debate hints, Government policies will place enormous strain on police forces at a time of drastic cuts; and thirdly, I want to point out that morale in the police force is at an all-time low, which has been alluded to in the debate.
Before doing so, however, like other hon. Members, I pay tribute to police officers throughout the country, and particularly in my constituency, who do so much on our behalf. I have been out on night shifts with officers, and I have seen at first hand the danger, anger and violence that they face. Some of the things that drunken thugs say about officers and their families are truly horrific. I admire the restraint and professionalism that they show in the face of such pressure and danger.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I do not have much time, and I know that other hon. Members are waiting patiently to speak, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way.
Hartlepool has experienced a pronounced drop in crime and antisocial behaviour over the past few years. Crime has dropped by 4% in the past year alone and by an astonishing half in the past seven years, and there are 6,000 fewer victims of crime in my constituency, with a reduction in the distress, ruin and low quality of life that crime produces. That is wonderful. In the past 24 hours, officers carried out a dawn raid in the village of Elwick in my constituency, where they uncovered a cannabis farm containing more than 1,000 plants with a street value of about £400,000. Officers from Hartlepool district drugs unit, the district support unit, the town’s dog section and Cleveland police helicopter all assisted in the raid. Cleveland police stated:
“These plants could have been destined for the streets of Cleveland, the co-ordinated and robust effort of officers has once again stopped the vicious cycle of these illegal substances from affecting our local communities.”
That great success in the past few years is a result of investment, co-ordination and that intangible sense that the police matter and are valuable—they should be seen as such. This is no time to be complacent, and much more needs to be done. Although criminal damage has fallen spectacularly in Hartlepool in the past five years, violence against the person has been on the increase in the past year after falling substantially since 2008. Despite the successes of the past year or so, and in the past couple of days, drug offences have risen sharply in the past two or three years.
Where there is economic deprivation, there is often crime, and we should all be mindful of the risk of crime when there is rising unemployment. Despite what Ministers say, there is a link between economic inactivity and crime, and it flies in the face of common sense to suggest otherwise. There are disproportionate cuts to public services in the north-east, and a particular and worrying emphasis on cutting early intervention schemes, which often nip problems in the bud. Youth unemployment is a particular concern in my constituency, with the risk of a generation of young people being lost to meaningful employment. With the cancellation of the education maintenance allowance, the abolition of the future jobs fund and so on, we are seeing the end of all possible help and support.
I am not suggesting for one moment that people who have lost their jobs or who are on benefits are more inclined to commit crime, but Government policies on matters such as welfare and housing benefit are socially divisive, making the lives of families who are already struggling even more difficult, with a threat to social cohesion. That is a risk, and we must have an effective policing system to address that risk.
My third and final point has already been mentioned. It concerns the appallingly low morale in the police service at the moment. Police officers have e-mailed me and come to see me at my constituency surgery. Many of them, often with decades of experience, have said that morale is on the floor. They have expressed concern that at a time of added risk and strain in terms of crime and antisocial behaviour, excessive cuts will mean the loss of police provision. In my area, a particular strength has been the number of police community support officers, which went from 37 in 2003 to almost 200 last year. They have made a real difference by providing a visible presence on the streets, and working closely with neighbourhoods and residents to provide reassurance, gain intelligence about an area and head off potential trouble and criminal activity. Because of the Government’s financial settlement, however, PCSOs in Cleveland police force cannot be guaranteed in their current form beyond 2012-13. The loss of those PCSOs would have a huge and negative impact on safety and reassurance in my community.
As we have heard, police terms and conditions are being attacked on all sides, including in the Winsor review and in the Hutton review of pensions. Officers have told me that the cuts seem to be ad hoc and piecemeal, and that the Government lack a vision for policing in the 21st century. That is why a royal commission on policing would be a sensible way forward. That possibility has already been mentioned in the debate, and I hope that the Minister will say something positive about such a commission.
Despite the pressures and cuts, police in my patch will do their job professionally, as they always do, and they will do their best. There is, however, an understandable feeling and growing resentment that the Government are making the police go out to do their duty with one hand tied behind their backs. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) has said, at a time of growing pressure, and given the huge risks that they run when they go out on shifts, the police, and the communities that they serve, deserve better.
I was not going to speak this morning, but before the winding-up speeches, I want to respond to a few points that have been raised. The hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) mentioned the 12% savings suggested by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary. We can have a political argument about whether cuts should be 12% or 20%, but as many people have asked—certainly in my constituency—if savings of more than £1 billion a year can be so easily identified, why have they not already been made over the past 10 or 15 years? Clearly, there is a lot of fat in the system and savings can be made. An analogy was made between that system and MPs and their researchers, and it was asked how we could do our jobs without back-office staff. Is it suggested that no savings whatever can be made? Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has identified savings of 12%.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will give way in a moment. Do people think that police forces cannot work more efficiently and be less bureaucratic, that we cannot get rid of some form filling and red tape, and that there cannot be greater efficiencies in procurement and when buying IT systems? I suggest to hon. Members that a lot of efficiencies can be made.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I am sorry; I said that I would give way to the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley).
The cuts announced in Greater Manchester last week will affect 900 jobs, including crime scene investigators, forensic scientists and call handlers. Does the hon. Gentleman think that the second largest police force in the country can support the loss of hundreds of such jobs?
As I said, it is up to individual police forces to manage their work forces and budgets. For example, my constituency is in Staffordshire, where numbers of police officers are not being cut. Instead, the police estate has been reduced—quite controversially, given some of the comments about police buildings—and the number of police stations has been rationalised from nine to six. Locally, there has been an outcry over the closure of three stations, but the chief constable suggested that instead of having nine stations that are half used, under-utilised, dilapidated and made of old Victorian bricks, and which cost £1 million a year to maintain, it would be better to close three stations and put the money into front-line services, PCSOs and the police officers mentioned by the hon. Lady. It is easy to jump on the bandwagon on closing police stations, but the most forward-thinking forces manage their budgets and staff in an innovative way that protects the front line and reduces costs in other areas.
Police numbers have been mentioned several times. Let us be clear: the Labour party refused to guarantee police numbers at the last election. As hon. Members know, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) was famously asked by Andrew Neil whether he could guarantee police numbers, and his response was no. When the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) begins the winding-up speeches, perhaps he will tell us how many police officers would be cut under the Labour party’s proposals to cut by 12% rather than 20%.
There has been some debate about the front line, but an agreed definition of what constitutes the front line does exist. HMIC has stated that about 68% of police staff are involved in every day, visible contact with the public or specialist roles to keep people safe and within the law. That is the definition of the front line. It is important because some of the toughest front-line roles that I have seen in the police force are carried out not on the streets but on computers in police stations by those who watch hard-core pornography involving children being tortured and murdered. To me, that is the hardest front-line job within the police force.
I wanted to intervene on the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) to point out that there is a difference in the roles done by police officers. I often hear comments such as, “If I am on the front line, there is a fight in a pub, it is pouring with rain and I am running towards that fight, I know that I will possibly get a kicking and be spat at.” That is a front-line, hard role in a big fight between drunk men in a pub on a Saturday night, and there is a difference between that and people sitting in a station working a nine-to-five shift. Front-line officers say that it is unfair that those in the stations are often paid more than those who run to the fight in a pub on a Saturday night, because they have done 10 years in the police service with an automatic pay increase every year. There are different roles within the police force, and I do not see a problem with people being paid according to the difficulty of their role. If people disagree with me about that, I would be interested to hear from them.
I will make just two final points to allow the Minister and the shadow Minister time to respond. First, on pay and conditions, it is not true that most police officers will face a £4,000 cut; a lot of officers will actually have a pay increase under Winsor’s proposals because they will be doing front-line duties. At the time of the last police review—such reviews seem to happen every 20 or 25 years—a special payment for front-line duties was given to about 89% of officers and rolled into the general salary. It could be argued therefore that the police already receive an extra 9% pay on top of their basic salary. Winsor could have removed that compounded extra payment, but instead he left it in the basic salary and proposed an extra increase in pay for some officers, based on the difficulty of their job and whether they are on the front line. The police get a fairly good deal, and some will get an even better deal under the proposals. Some, of course, will lose out because they are not undertaking difficult roles on the front line.
As I pointed out, there is amazing job security in the police service, and that should be reflected in the pay and conditions. I challenge any hon. Member to intervene on me and tell me another public sector job that someone can join aged 18, from which they cannot be made redundant—other than for gross negligence—and from which they can retire after 30 years, often as early as age 48, on two-thirds of their salary for the rest of their life. There is no single comparable job in the public sector.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
If the hon. Lady has an example, I would love to hear it.
My example is that, as we have said previously, policing is different. Does the hon. Gentleman think that it should not be different and that the retirement conditions are the only perk that the police have and that they should not even have that?
I think the police have a lot of perks; I pointed out that the retirement conditions are a unique condition. Does the hon. Lady say that being in the Army, Air Force or the Navy is somehow less dangerous? Surely, fighting in Afghanistan is more dangerous than a lot of police jobs. The job security in the police service is unique in the public sector, as is the fact that police officers cannot be made redundant.
In answer to the hon. Lady, yes, I think that the police should change their terms and conditions. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) made a fair point when he alluded to the fact that if, as we are now seeing, chief constables have to manage their work force and make reductions in the head count, the only people whom they can make redundant are police staff and PCSOs. Those people have different terms and conditions from police officers, who are warranted officers of the Crown, and that is unfair. All hon. Members would agree that we need a mixed work force in the police; we need police staff, PCSOs and police officers. It is unfair on staff and PCSOs that their terms and conditions mean that, in times of cuts, they are inevitably the only people who can be made redundant. Chief constables are not able to get rid of some of the dead wood, as they may wish. If we believe in a mixed work force in the police, we should believe in the same terms and conditions for all parts of that work force.
We are talking about regulation A19 of the Police Pensions Regulations 1987 and the retiring of experienced police officers. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman agrees with the constituent who came to see me, who finds himself, after four years, as the most experienced police officer in his unit and who was forced, as many police officers now are, to contact officers who had been retired through the A19 process to pick their brains about cases with which he was dealing. Does the hon. Gentleman think that that contributes to effective policing?
No, I do not. A good chief constable should not be retiring officers who have such experience and who they think can make a huge contribution to their force. The point, as I said earlier, is that they do not have to do that. The Government are not forcing any police force to retire officers with loads of experience, and the best forces are not doing that. However, the point remains that they have to deal with the cuts.
We are not blaming police forces. We are not blaming Chris Sims for getting rid of his officers with 30 years’ experience. Police forces have to deal with the massive budget deficit that the Labour Government left us, so it is the previous Government whom we are blaming for the cuts having to be imposed on police forces, which are doing their best to deal with them. We blame not the police forces or the chief constables, but the previous Labour Government.
I am well aware that only one more Back Bencher wishes to speak. My difficulty is that we need to bring the Front-Bench spokesman in, so that he can get answers and responses to the questions that have been posed. However, as the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) is the only one and has quietly waited all through the debate, I shall call her to speak. I ask her to be very brief.
Thank you, Sir Alan. I will take one or two minutes. I came to the debate today to put on the record my concerns about the cuts to the safer neighbourhood teams in London. In my constituency, we are experiencing a halving of the number of safer neighbourhood team sergeants. My concern is that those individuals are very visible and very effective and will be sorely missed in the communities that they serve. A big row has broken out about police numbers, but safer neighbourhood team sergeants play an important role in reassuring the community and making the public feel safer, and a number of wards in my constituency will be left without sergeants dedicated to them. That is of huge concern to me, and I should like the Minister to respond to it.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) on securing the debate and on the excellent points that she has made. All the Labour Members who spoke described the real dangers and difficulties facing the police forces of this country. The debate should resonate up and down the country, because I fear that the Minister will do exactly the same as every Minister has done since the Government were elected, which is to ignore the voice of the police telling them that the budget cuts being introduced go too far and are happening too fast, and that the reforms and changes that the Government are making are causing real difficulties. I fear that the Government will plough on regardless. We saw that yesterday in the speech that the Home Secretary made to the ACPO conference straight after the president of ACPO, one of the most senior police officers in the country, had said that there is a real danger with what the Government are doing with respect to the police—risking community safety in this country.
Irrespective of what the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) says, I am sure that when he goes out and meets police officers in his constituency, as all hon. Members do, he will recognise the work that they do. However, he and all other Government Members in the Chamber have to recognise that the policies that they are supporting and voting for in the House of Commons day in, day out are causing the problems that officers have. That is the reality. Government Members can sympathise and say to them, “Yes, this is difficult. I understand the problems you have,” but the only way to make a real difference is to vote differently. The alternative is to stand up to those officers and say, “I don’t care what you’re telling me about the reductions in the numbers of officers and police staff, the changes to your pay and conditions and all the other changes being made. I know better than you do and I’m going to carry on supporting the Government to deliver it.” That is the reality.
When the Minister responds to all the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead and all the other hon. Members who have contributed, he will lay out the Government line, Mr Meale—Sir Alan. I should explain that I have known Sir Alan for so many years as a Labour MP that it is difficult to get used to his new title.
In the time available, let me quickly run through some aspects of the Government’s line. Obviously, I will give the Minister a few minutes to respond.
First, let us deal with the budget cuts. My right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), who was the last Police Minister in the previous Government, set out what we had said on budget cuts. At no time did the previous Government say that they did not propose to make any cuts, and at no time have the current Opposition said that we do not propose to make any cuts. What we did say was that we would listen to what the inspectorate said and conform to its professional opinion. Why? Because the inspectorate told us that what was proposed could be done without impacting on the front line. Through changes in collaboration, IT and procurement, the savings could be made without impacting—to deal with the point made by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley)—on police officer numbers, although of course the chief constable would have discretion within that. That was the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), the Home Secretary in the previous Government, was making.
Cuts of 12,000 and 16,000 in the numbers of officers and police staff will have a huge impact on our communities. People sometimes say that this point is a bit trivial, but I do not believe that any Government Member who voted for the budget cuts stood at the last election saying that we have too many police officers. I can guarantee that. It would be nonsensical. We say that we will listen to the public. I have yet to meet anyone outside the House who says that we have too many police officers. They may say that officers are not doing what they should be or that they should be doing this or that, but they do not say that there are too many of them. That is why the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington voted against our Budget last time and stood on a manifesto promising thousands more police officers. People want to see more police officers—whether uniformed officers, specialist officers dealing with sexual violence or domestic violence, detectives or specialist officers dealing with economic crime—in stations working 9 till 5, I might point out; it is not only officers out on the beat who make a significant difference.
We see all these budget cuts before us. In addition, the defence police face significant cuts. The issue that my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead has raised for debate is the impact of Government policies on policing. Let us run through a couple of the other policies. The Minister will not be able to respond to this.
The National Policing Improvement Agency is being abolished. What is happening to all its functions? The Government do not have a clue. That is the answer. They are clueless. They have no idea. They are making it up as they go along: “We’re going to put a bit here and a bit there, but we’re not sure.” They said that they would abolish the NPIA in April 2012 and create the national crime agency later, in April 2013, with the NPIA functions probably going to the NCA. Then someone said, “You’re abolishing the NPIA a year before the NCA is created,” and the Government said, “Oh dear.” No one could make it up. The Government are abolishing the NPIA—where are all its functions going?
The national crime agency is to be established. There is no legislation for it at all. We have no idea about it. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington says, “We’re going to have a co-ordinating function here and a co-ordinating function there.” The previous Government’s manifesto proposed a border police force. Now we have a co-ordinating police border command. The Minister needs to explain to the Chamber and to the police the direction and control arrangements of the national crime agency. The national crime agency document says that the chief constable of that organisation—who is now a secondee, not an appointment, because the Government messed that up as well—will have direction and control. Does that mean that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner will not be able to determine what happens at Heathrow airport and that the national crime agency will, because it is co-ordinating border command? What about the chief constable of West Yorkshire dealing with Leeds airport? Who has direction and control there? Is it West Yorkshire police or the national crime agency? The Government do not have a clue about that.
We have the Winsor review, the Hutton review and the Neyroud review—we have not even mentioned Neyroud. All those things are going on at the same time. What is important about the Winsor review is that it is before the Police Negotiating Board, but such things are not meant to be negotiated. Will the Minister confirm that this is a job lot? We either take it or leave it. We cannot negotiate individual bits; the whole thing must be agreed. The “N” in PNB stands for negotiating; this is not about the Government dictating to the police what they should do. These things are supposed to be negotiated, but, again, the Government have not done that.
No wonder police morale is at rock bottom, as my hon. Friends have said. Of course, we should not worry; the Government will carry on regardless and they will not listen. It is all right the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) saying that he is a member of the parliamentary police scheme—that is very laudable—but the police actually want a Government who take into account, and respond to, what they say. I challenge the Minister to say what significant change the Government have made as a result of what the police have said. There is not one. No wonder the police feel disrespected, undervalued and demoralised—so would I if the Government did not take the slightest interest in what I said.
Finally, there is accountability. The Government will not even publish the responses that they received to the White Paper proposals on police and crime commissioners. They had 800 or 900 responses, but they will not publish them. Instead, they published a summary. Why? Because, by and large, those who responded were not in favour of the proposals. Will the Minister tell us who supports police and crime commissioners, apart from Government and right-wing think-tanks, the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley), a few other Tory Back Benchers, the Prime Minister and Lord Wasserman? He cannot. The Government should not just praise the police—we all do that, and it is obviously important—but it is about time they listened to them and acted on what they are saying.
Congratulations on your elevation, Sir Alan. I join others in congratulating the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) on securing this important and timely debate. Everyone on both sides of the House recognises and applauds the vital work done by police officers, from chief constables such as Chris Sims to the most newly recruited PC on the streets. In the short time available to me, I want to address many of the issues that have been raised.
I must apologise to the hon. Lady; I will not. I have eight minutes in which to respond to a very dense debate.
Our vision for policing can be expressed quite simply: the police have a clear mission to cut crime. Our entire approach is designed to support that mission through a comprehensive and clear programme of reform. There are four key elements to our programme: improving democratic accountability; ensuring greater transparency and engaged communities; increasing efficiency and value for money, and returning discretion to the professionals; and getting a stronger grip on serious, complex and organised crime.
Of course, reducing the budget deficit remains a priority, and the police service will have to play its part. A 12% cash reduction in central Government funding over four years, which is equivalent to 20% in real terms, is a challenging but manageable settlement for the police. In real terms, the average reduction in central Government funding to the police will be about 5.5% per year.
However, Government funding is not the only source of funding to the police. About a quarter of their funding comes from the police precept component of council tax. If the precept is increased in line with forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility, the spending review settlement will represent only a 6% cash reduction in total funding by 2014-15, which is equivalent to 14% in real terms. Those figures show that although the reductions are challenging, they also are achievable. By introducing the reforms I have mentioned, we will create a police service that is more efficient and responsive to local demands, despite the inevitable funding reductions that it will face in the coming years.
That touches on the central incoherence in the points made by the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), who speaks for the Labour party. The former Police Minister, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), who performed that function admirably, admitted in public that the previous Government were going to cut police budgets. Subsequently, in one of the Opposition’s flirtations with honesty, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), announced that he would have had to introduce much more serious cuts across the board had he remained Chancellor after the election.
Although the former Chancellor was perfectly honest about the fact that he would have announced some cuts, and although former colleagues of his in the previous Government have admitted that the cuts they would have introduced would have been much bigger, the tone adopted by Opposition Members throughout the debate has been that any change or reform would be disastrous for the police service. Their approach is simply incoherent. Had the Labour party remained in government, they would not have taken that line.
We are talking about £1.3 billion versus £2.5 billion of savings and efficiencies. It is that £1.2 billion extra that the police inspectorate said was not achievable and that is causing the difficulties that my right hon. and hon. Friends have mentioned.
The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that the figure under the previous Government would not have been £1.3 billion. That is what they told us before the election, but we now know that they would have told us something completely different after the election had they been re-elected.
Let me move on to some of the points that have been raised. On improving democratic accountability, the hon. Member for Gedling asked me who had approved the proposals for police and crime commissioners, and the answer is the House of Commons, which voted for the legislation.
Not the House of Lords.
We are in the process of swapping bureaucratic control for democratic accountability by replacing police authorities with directly elected police and crime commissioners. Despite the recent vote in the House of Lords, which the hon. Gentleman refers to, the Government anticipate that police and crime commissioners will be introduced across the whole of England and Wales, with the first elections taking place in May next year. The coalition agreement made that clear. We fully intend to go ahead with the proposals, and we expect the Commons to reinstate the policy.
As I said, the second element in our reform programme is increasing transparency and creating engaged and active communities. That will help communities, which is important, but it will also help police engagement with communities.
The third element of our reform programme is introducing local professional discretion to help to increase efficiency and value for money. That is directly relevant to the many points made about morale. As we all know, there has been too much unnecessary paperwork over recent years.
Will the Minister give way?
I am sorry, but I really have not got time.
That has happened as a result of central Government adding layers of bureaucracy to make up for the lack of local accountability. The Government have taken the lead in cutting interference from the centre in police business. We want to respect the police’s operational independence and to give them the space they need to deal with any problems. That is why we published a draft protocol setting out the roles and responsibilities of police and crime commissioners, chief constables, police and crime panels and the Home Secretary. The protocol was drawn up in discussion with, and has the full agreement of, ACPO, including Sir Huge Orde, the Association of Police Authorities and the Association of Police Authority Chief Executives. It builds on recommendations from the Home Affairs Committee.
On top of that, we have axed many of the unnecessary bits of paperwork that had built up over the years. The policing pledge, public service agreement targets, performance indicators and local area agreements have all been scrapped. In their place has been put the one simple objective of cutting crime. The hon. Member for Gedling asked what we had done, and those measures are a significant answer.
We will continue to make decisions that improve the performance of the police and their relationship with the general public. Let me deal with that in detail. Mention was made of funding in Metropolitan police areas. The Metropolitan Police Service receives specific funding for its role of policing the capital. That funding comes in the form of national, international and capital city grant and totals £200 million this year. As with any force, we will consider requests for additional support where the costs involved in any single operation are significant and place an unmanageable burden on the Metropolitan police.
Inevitably, we have discussed the Winsor review extensively. The Government have been clear that action is needed to tackle the deficit, and the police service has its part to play. In an organisation such as the police, where pay is 80% of revenue expenditure, there is no question but that pay restraint and pay reform must form part of the package. Police officers should be rewarded fairly and reasonably for what they do. That is why the Home Secretary asked Tom Winsor to undertake his review. The review is not only about savings, but about making reforms to enable the introduction of modern management practices and to maximise officer and staff deployment to front-line roles, maintaining and improving the service to the public. The principles Tom Winsor sets out in his report provide the right framework, and we have referred his recommendations for short-term change to the relevant bodies for consideration.
I am sorry, I really cannot.
We have talked a lot about whether the cuts can be achieved without damaging the front line. Denis O’Connor of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary estimated that £1.15 billion could be saved if the least efficient forces brought themselves up to the average level of efficiency. We want forces to reach the standards of the most efficient, not just the average.
There are also areas outside the remit of HMIC’s report, including Government and IT collaboration, where further savings can be made. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made an announcement about that yesterday, which will be significant. In terms of officers opting out of the pension scheme—
Order. We must now move to the next debate.