[Relevant documents: Oral evidence to the Home Affairs Committee from the Police Federation on 4 February on police and crime commissioners: progress to date, HC 757-iv.]
I beg to move,
That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2014-15 (HC 1043), which was laid before this House on 5 February, be approved.
In addition to seeking approval of the police grant report, I also intend to outline the ways in which we are reforming policing. We are fundamentally rethinking how policing is configured so that it is efficient and effective for years to come. This settlement reflects the need for responsibility in public spending, but it is part of a successful reform programme that is making our streets safer and our policing more modern.
On 18 December, I laid before the House the provisional police grant report for 2014-15, along with a written ministerial statement that set out the Government’s proposed allocations to local policing bodies in England and Wales. After careful consideration of the consultation responses, we have decided that force level allocations will remain as announced in December.
I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way so early on in his speech. He said that the grant has to be seen in the context of the new landscape of policing. Is he telling the House that that landscape is now settled—for example, that all the functions of the National Policing Improvement Agency have been transferred to other bodies such as the College of Policing or the National Crime Agency—and that that is the end of the matter and we can now move on to the next stage?
I can certainly tell the right hon. Gentleman that this is not the end of police reform. I will set out the reasons for and some of the effects of the reforms that we have made so far. It is a very radical programme of reform and there is more to do.
Before I go further in, I hope, enlightening the House about that wider point, it is important to recognise the achievements of our police officers. The unacceptable actions of a very small minority of officers have recently challenged the reputation of the police, but I hope the House will agree that this is not representative of the outstanding day-to-day work that the vast majority of our officers carry out in fighting crime and protecting the public. Indeed, we need look no further than the incredible job that police officers and other emergency responders are currently undertaking to support the families and businesses that have been so badly affected by the flooding.
May I take the Minister back to his point about allocations? Also in December, a protest started against exploration for shale gas in my constituency, which is now tying down 150 Greater Manchester police officers, with the cost being met out of Greater Manchester police budgets. That amounts to £40,000 a day for the 150 officers who are being deployed, and the cost could mount to £4 million, as it did in Balcombe when there was a protest there. Does the Minister agree that there should be some support for that? Why should Greater Manchester’s population suffer a much greater thinning out of our police force, especially given that we have already lost 1,000 officers? There is no consideration of this when a controversial issue like shale gas is dumped down somewhere—the Government are keen on shale gas exploration; I am not—and the local police force and taxpayers have to support the whole deployment.
Before the hon. Lady rises to her feet again, let me deal specifically with fracking. She and I clearly disagree about the benefits of shale gas, but that is a debate for another time. The first anti-shale gas protests in Balcombe obviously affected the Sussex police, and they have applied for a special grant. I have to take evidence from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary before I decide whether the full grant or part of it should be given—that is the correct way to deal with taxpayers’ money—but that procedure is there for precisely this sort of event.
I raised this issue in the very first week and I have also raised it with the Home Secretary. This deployment is an enormous distraction from policing in Greater Manchester, and at great cost, and there is no help in the short term. I have been told by the gold commander responsible for the force that only if the costs go over 10% of the police budget, which would be £5 million in the case of Greater Manchester, would we get any support at all, and the Minister is saying that it would come at the end of the process. The local police force in Balcombe took the whole hit of the £4 million costs. This is of great concern to us in Salford, as I am sure my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears), who is here, would agree. The force’s deployment is detracting from our day-to-day policing.
This is precisely why successive Governments have had the special grant arrangement to deal with unexpected events that may have a particular effect on a particular force. Since the hon. Lady clearly supports the protesters and I clearly do not, I gently suggest to her that the reason there has to be all this police activity is that if people are demonstrating in a way that requires a huge police presence, as peaceful protests need not—
May I finish my sentence before I give way to the hon. Lady for the third time? I urge her to urge those of her friends who are so against shale gas in the area to make sure that they are conducting their protest in a way that does not put unnecessary pressure on police resources.
I have to say that I feel the Minister goes too far in what he says. He has no idea what my views are. I am supporting the local population, our local police force and our police and crime commissioner. This is a very unsatisfactory situation. The Minister’s comments about me are incorrect. I am supporting my constituents, who want our police force to be used for policing in our community.
The hon. Lady did say that she supported the views of protesters, but if she is saying that she does not support how they are protesting, then good, we are on the same side of that debate. That is sensible, because people obviously have the right to protest peacefully, but they should do so peacefully, not in a way that puts unnecessary pressure on both police resources and local communities. I have every sympathy for local communities in those conditions and, as I have said, the special grant procedure has been there for a long time for precisely such types of event.
To return to the subject of the wider grant, the achievements of police forces in this time of austerity and funding cuts are evident. Overall crime has fallen by more than 10% since this Government came into office. England and Wales are now safer than they have been for decades, with crime now at its lowest level since the independent crime survey began in 1981.
It is important to set the funding debate in the wider context. When this Government came into office in May 2010, we inherited the largest peacetime deficit in history. Borrowing increased to unprecedented levels under the previous Government, without due consideration for the long-term economic health of the nation. We are proud of the progress that we have made in addressing this most fundamental of issues. Borrowing as a percentage of GDP is down by a third, and our economy is growing. On 22 January, it was announced that unemployment had fallen by 167,000, representing the largest ever quarterly increase in the number of people in work in our country. However, we cannot rest there. Although the Government have made strong inroads into addressing the deficit, more needs to be done. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced last month that further cuts will be required into the next Parliament. That means that difficult decisions need to be made, which we must not and will not shy away from.
Despite that overall context, we have pushed to secure the best possible deal for the police, and have again protected them in 2014-15, this time from the further cuts announced to departmental budgets in December’s autumn statement.
The Minister is setting out a fairly gloomy scenario for support for our police service in the years to come. I am at loss to know why, if the Government are really intent on trying to do more for less, there has not been more integration, joint budgets and collaboration at national Government level. I am amazed that we are having two separate debates today, on the police settlement and then on the local government settlement. Surely this is a time for creative thinking, when we could come together, maximise our resources and make the real reforms that the Government are refusing to make.
I rather agree with the right hon. Lady’s underlying point. Indeed, I will speak later about precisely such ideas for collaboration not only between police forces—I will shortly come on to the many good examples of that—but between the police and other blue light services and between the police and local government.
I assure the right hon. Lady, who used to stand at this Dispatch Box doing my very job, that one of the more enjoyable parts of the role is visiting. For example, I recently went to Thrapston in Northamptonshire to visit a joint police and fire station: one building provides two emergency blue light services, which means not only that a better service is provided to the people in and around Thrapston, but that the two emergency services, as they have told me, work better together than they did before. She is absolutely right to say that this is a time for creative thinking, and I hope to reveal during my speech some of the creative activity that is happening in police forces in this country.
The Minister has just said that the police service has been protected by this settlement. It is certainly true that the service has been protected from the additional budget reductions scheduled for 2014-15. Is it not also true, however, that the Home Office has indicated that money will be taken from forces to fund a range of new initiatives—we strongly support some of them, such as the College of Policing—with the consequence that forces will face a 4.8% cut, rather than the 3.3% grant reduction originally anticipated? Those top-slices will therefore reduce the amount of grant funds available to individual forces to use at their discretion.
One of the top-slices was, for example, for the police innovation fund, which is available to all forces. I am happy to say that all forces applied in the first round—off the top of my head, I think that there were 115 applications altogether—and every force will get some benefit from that.
Furthermore, the point of the innovation fund is precisely to encourage the kind of collaboration mentioned by the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears). That is precisely the sort of creative use of the inevitably constrained pot of taxpayers’ money for spending on the police—let us not forget that it is still £8.5 billion—in the most effective way possible, aiding collaboration and enabling the police to carry on with the successful policies they have pursued during the past few years, which have continued to cut crime.
Central Government funding for the police will be reduced by 3.3% in cash terms in 2014-15, while overall funding will be reduced by even less, when the future police precept is factored in. We have also protected funding for counter-terrorism policing, due to the continuing threat posed to the UK by terrorism. To give the House a comparison, the remaining Home Office budget will be cut by 7% in cash terms in 2014-15.
This funding settlement is therefore challenging, but it is manageable. HMIC, the inspectorate, has made it clear that the proportion of officers working on the front line is increasing, and we are supporting the police through a range of activities to help them respond to the challenge and ultimately to emerge stronger. As I said at the outset, we are also changing the policing landscape in a way that represents the biggest set of reforms for a generation.
There are certainly fewer front-line officers, but that is because of the situation. However, one of the very good responses made by the police—in conjunction with the Government policy of reducing the amount of time-wasting form-filling that they had to do under the previous Government—has been to put a higher proportion of their officers on the front line. Indeed, the projections for the police officer work force suggest that front-line roles will increase from 89% in March 2010 to 93% by March 2015. That seems to me to be a very good use of front-line policing.
I gently point out to the shadow police Minister that the shadow Chancellor, in a burst of honesty last June, said:
“The next Labour government will have to plan on the basis of falling departmental spending.”
I hope, this afternoon, we will not hear a series of Labour Members or even Front Benchers claiming that they would shower more money on the police or that more money would be available for more police officers, because the shadow Chancellor has already said that that will not happen.
On the number of front-line police officers, will the Minister join me in congratulating Cambridgeshire constabulary and particularly its chief constable, who has managed to maintain the number of police constables in the force throughout this period and is now recruiting more? Does that not show what can be done if budgets are used carefully?
I happily join my hon. Friend in congratulating not only Cambridgeshire police and the chief constable, but the PCC, Sir Graham Bright. Between them, they have done an excellent job, as is borne out by the fact that crime in Cambridgeshire is down 24% since June 2010, so its streets are safer than ever before.
I have already mentioned the police innovation fund, which will be worth up to £50 million a year from next year. It represents a new step to incentivise innovation, collaboration and digitisation, to drive efficiencies and improve policing for not just one year, but the longer term. We have established a £20 million precursor fund in this financial year and it has received a good response. As I said, there have been 115 bids, totalling £50 million. The bids cover a wide range of activities, including the development of mobile technology and greater collaboration across the emergency services.
A key area in which we are providing innovation funding and encouraging greater collaboration is the use of body-worn video equipment. Investment in camera technology will enhance police protection and support officers in discharging their duties.
I say kindly to the Minister that the collaboration between the police and local government, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears) referred, is becoming increasingly difficult because of the financial constraints on local government. To give an example from my constituency, in 2004, Greater Manchester police and Tameside metropolitan borough council came together and rehoused Denton police station in Denton town hall, creating a one-stop shop for those services. Greater Manchester police has withdrawn from that because of the funding constraints on it, which means that nobody in Tameside’s second largest town has direct, face-to-face access to the police. That police station was their front line.
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s underlying point. I am surprised to hear anyone say that financial pressures make it more difficult to collaborate. The reaction that I have observed around the country, both in police forces and local government, is that financial pressures make better collaboration essential.
I will just answer this intervention before I take another one from my hon. Friend.
I have mentioned the joint police and fire station that I visited recently in Northamptonshire. Fairly recently, I also visited a joint police station and local government office in Chippenham in Wiltshire. Again, that is very creative. Each of those public bodies has to have buildings and each faces the same pressures that are faced by the whole public sector, for the reasons that I have rehearsed. They are using that as an opportunity. Instead of the police being based in the old Victorian police station on the edge of town, they are now in a more modern building that is in the centre of town. That makes the police more accessible. There are opportunities for the police and local authorities to collaborate. In this case, their physical collaboration has brought the police closer to the public.
I do not think that the Minister truly understands the scale of the local government reductions in areas such as Tameside. Since 2010, including inflation, Tameside metropolitan borough council has lost the equivalent of 50% of its budget. The council is therefore in retrenchment mode, as are the police. Communities such as Denton are losing out as both those public services retrench back to their own silos.
I know Greater Manchester police better than I know the local council, but it would seem logical for them not to retrench into their silos, as the hon. Gentleman puts it, but to seek out collaboration.
I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), who has been very patient.
I apologise for my eagerness to row in behind my right hon. Friend on this point. May I give an example of what is happening in my area? North Lincolnshire council, which already had much lower funding than other authorities, has lost about 20% of its funding. It has entered into collaborative arrangements with the police, which have seen it paying for police community support officers itself and having a sharing arrangement on fuel. It is about to go into a sharing arrangement on buildings. It can do all that at a time of reducing budgets, as well as reversing many other things, such as cuts to youth services. Services must work together. In my area, doing that is having a positive impact on policing on the front line.
My hon. Friend gives an example from another part of the country, which is similar to the examples I have seen in the past few months. He illustrates my point that collaboration is necessary at a time when public finances are under stringent control and that it can lead to better services than we had when the public spending tap was turned on more fully. That led to inefficiencies and a lack of collaboration.
To speak in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), I sat in on a meeting of the Tameside community safety partnership before Christmas. On the one hand, I saw inspiring innovation and effective collaboration. On the other hand, I heard an unmistakable message from the police service, the local authority and the other agencies that such was the scale of the cuts hitting Greater Manchester councils that not only was the thin blue line being stretched ever thinner, but the fabric of partnership working was being stretched ever further, putting at risk their ability to fight crime effectively in the area.
I can only repeat what I said earlier to the shadow policing Minister. Given that the shadow Chancellor has said,
“The next Labour government will have to plan on the basis of falling departmental spending”,
the shadow Minister is facing the very problem that he seeks to point out. I therefore hope that he will not give false messages to the people of Tameside and elsewhere that, in the unlikely event that the British people hand the car keys back to those who crashed the car in the first place, he will have a new pot of taxpayers’ money. According to the shadow Chancellor, he will not.
The Minister is being tremendously generous in giving way. I think that it improves the debate if we ask these questions. He is right that hard decisions will have to be taken on all public services, including the police. Greater Manchester has just seen a £6.4 million cut in policing. Apparently, £100,000 of the money that is being taken off us is going directly to the City of London police, who are said to need
“more money to deal with events of ‘major national interest’ in the capital’s financial district”.
I think that the people of Salford and Eccles would far rather that money was spent on tackling antisocial behaviour and burglary than on protecting the financial district and the banks. Does he think that that is the right priority?
Given that the right hon. Lady has presided over this budget in her time, she knows perfectly well that money is not taken from one budget and given to another. One of the big things that the City of London police do is to fight cybercrime and fraud. People in Salford, like those in my constituency and in every other constituency, want the police to be as effective as possible in fighting fraud and cybercrime. That is why that money needs to be spent.
My right hon. Friend will have looked at the Opposition’s commitments on funding, so will he help me? Will they match our spending totals for policing and the police grant settlement or will they do something different? I am completely in the dark.
My hon. Friend, as ever, puts his finger on the right point. The shadow Chancellor is saying that an incoming Labour Government would cut departmental spending, but all the mood music from those on the Opposition Front Bench is that they would increase public spending. That is a central incoherence at the heart of Labour policy. I hope that in his response, the shadow policing Minister will clear that up and answer my hon. Friend’s very good question.
Despite having been in post for just over a year, police and crime commissioners have contributed to the transformation of policing. The recent National Audit Office report confirmed that PCCs are driving improvements and value for money in a way that unelected police authorities could not. Their engagement with the public is much greater than that of the old police authorities. For example, one PCC has seen an 800% increase in the volume of correspondence compared with what the police authority received. PCCs have also been at the heart of reform and have embraced new technology. For example, my local force in Kent is using predictive policing, which combines historical data with predictive algorithms to identify the areas that are most likely to be affected by crime, thereby helping it better to allocate resources and target the deployment of officers.
As the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee pointed out, we have set up the College of Policing to increase the professionalism of the police. I am grateful for the support of the Home Affairs Committee for the College of Policing. I want policing to be regarded as one of the great professions, alongside the law and medicine. The college will produce an evidence base on what works and lead a transformation in how police officers and staff do their jobs. The college will soon publish the first ever code of ethics in the history of British policing. Given that we have just been discussing the ongoing Hillsborough process, I am sure that the House will recognise the importance of that code of ethics. It will be a clear declaration of the principles and values that are expected of all police officers. It will ensure that officers act with high ethical standards in all their conduct.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way a second time, and I fully endorse the vision he has set out. I am a little concerned, however, about an issue that has been raised by a number of Members across the House, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), which is that the cost of the certificate of policing is put at £1,000. Does the Minister have any information that will help reassure those new recruits that either the Government are prepared to consider reducing the cost, or that it is money well spent for their future?
I am sure that it is money well spent because getting the best people into the police for the future is one of the principal points of our reforms. As I said, I hope that policing will become one of the great professions that people look to, and that therefore—even more importantly—it will provide a better service to the public. I know that the Metropolitan police commissioner is looking at providing soft loans or some other form of bursary, and it is for individual forces to decide whether or not to ask for the certificate and how best to attract people. I know that at the moment the Metropolitan police is looking at that.
Apart from the College of Policing, we are also expanding the Independent Police Complaints Commission to ensure that a greater number of cases involving the police will be considered independently. Given the current atmosphere surrounding various complaints about the police, I am sure that will be welcomed by the whole House.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way because it gives me the chance for a small plug. Has he had the chance to look through a copy of the report that I wrote for the Council of Europe on eradicating racism in police forces across Europe? If not, would he welcome a copy?
I confess that I have not yet read my hon. Friend’s report, and I would, of course, very much welcome a copy. I am glad that he got his plug on the record.
We have also launched the National Crime Agency, which is leading the UK’s fight to cut serious and organised crime. The priority for the NCA is to identify and disrupt serious and organised crime, and I am glad to report to the House that it is already achieving successes. In a recent operation in the Philippines, the NCA worked alongside US and Australian authorities to dismantle an international child abuse ring, leading to 17 arrests in this country. That is an excellent example of the partnership approach that the NCA was set up to develop.
While mentioning partnership, let me move on to collaboration. Police and crime commissioners and chief constables are working to drive efficiency and improve policing through greater collaboration. We know—we have already had an exchange on this—that collaboration initiatives can be challenging to set up, but there is no reason why forces should be planning to deliver less than 10% of their savings from collaboration. If they are doing that, opportunities are being missed.
Let me give some examples. Recently, the independent inspectorate praised the Warwickshire and West Mercia strategic alliance as one of the most ambitious and extensive collaborations in the country. In 2014-15, West Mercia expects 70% of its total expenditure to be spent collaboratively, generating 94% of the force’s savings requirement. Similarly, Warwickshire expects 75% of its total expenditure to be spent on collaboration, generating 75% of the force’s whole savings requirement. That shows what can be achieved.
It is important to recognise that collaboration is not just about sharing with other forces. Mental health, for example, has a big impact on crime and policing, and nine forces are now participating in street triage pilots that involve mental health professionals and paramedics working closely with police officers. They aim to improve the experience of, and access to, the health service for individuals at the point of mental health crisis. The initial feedback from those pilots is very positive, with good partnership working and a reduction in the number of police detentions under the Mental Health Act 2007. That is better for the police and, even more importantly, better for patients.
A further area where reform can both save money and deliver a better service is greater collaboration between the blue-light emergency services. Innovative work is already taking place between PCCs, fire authorities and ambulance trusts, and the Government are already supporting proposals for emergency services sharing properties, services, training and communications, through £3.8 million of funding from the police innovation fund.
I am interested in what the Minister has to say. I agree that there has been a lot of collaboration, but there still seems to be a bit of silo mentality in some of the services. Have the Government considered combining the PCC role to become also a fire commissioner and replace fire authorities, and to try to bring the two services together? There is a lot of synergy between them.
I am fascinated to hear the Minister mention the Knight review because we thought it had been quietly shelved. Given that it has taken months and that the Minister seems to know more about it than we do, will he enlighten the House on when the Government might consider thinking about publishing their response to the Knight review?
I assure the hon. Lady that the response will be published shortly and I hope that that satisfies her.
Our vision is for policing to be digital by 2016 because technology has the potential to transform policing the way it has transformed many other areas of life. Hampshire police already use mobile data on a variety of devices to give officers a full digital experience through their work, and it found that it could demonstrate a 26% reduction in the time spent by officers in stations, and a 20% reduction in mileage covered by patrol vehicles. Again, we are using the police innovation fund to support mobile working and invest in mobile devices, data storage and transmission. Indeed, we found that digital working can increase efficiency, even in forces that are not geographically next to each other. For example, Northamptonshire and Cheshire have united to create a joint shared service, providing 24-hour human resources advice, uniform ordering, and admin functions. I am delighted that 32 forces have now agreed to become digital pathfinders, because the thought that we can transform policing through the use of technology is spreading throughout the police service.
At a time when public spending has been under severe pressure, this adds up to the most significant reform of the police in a generation. It has already led to more effective and efficient policing, which delivers value for money for the taxpayer and ensures that significant falls in overall crime continue year on year.
Of course the challenge does not end there. We need to make further cuts to public spending and the police must play their part, despite the protections that we have been able to provide. Importantly, we are taking a long-term view on police funding. Last year, we announced that the Government would undertake a fundamental review of the formula used to allocate funding between police force areas. That complex process will take time, but the first phase of the work—an internal analytical review—is already under way, and we will consult a full range of partners, both inside the police and the PCCs, at the appropriate point as the work develops.
I recognise that the funding settlement will create further challenges for PCCs and forces, but it will also bring opportunities, particularly for those prepared to innovate, collaborate and transform, drive efficiencies and deliver even better policing across England and Wales. I commend the motion to the House.
Let me make two preliminary points. First, hon. Members were here earlier for a powerful debate on the Floor of the House about Hillsborough, and it is absolutely right that where there is wrongdoing, those who are guilty of such wrongdoing are held fully and properly to account. Secondly, I agree with the Minister when he says that a progressive reform agenda—progressive is my word, not his—is a good thing and should be embraced. That is precisely why we commissioned the Stevens report and I will say more on that later. I agree with the Minister on the proposal to professionalise the police service progressively, with chartered police officers accountable to the College of Policing, a lifelong career and personal development.
Let me turn to the issue of Hillsborough and how our police service is sometimes painted. I agree with both the Home Secretary and the Police Minister when they say that it would be absolutely wrong to paint the entire police service with the brush of a very small minority guilty of wrongdoing. I want to start by paying tribute to the brave policemen and women up and down the country who put their lives on the line day in, day out to keep our communities safe; police officers like Ian Dibell who have given their lives for their community and this country. In my constituency I have seen the outstanding bravery of police officers—for example, tackling armed robbers—and the very best of neighbourhood policing. The Stockland Green neighbourhood police team is an award-winning team. Five years ago, the North Birmingham academy in Kingstanding was riven with gang violence. The school has been utterly transformed by the excellent co-operation between the new leadership of the school and the local police service.
The first duty of any Government is the safety and security of the communities we serve. In government, Labour listened to what people wanted and to what the police said. We invested in neighbourhood policing: 17,000 additional police officers who know their communities and 16,000 additional police community support officers. Neighbourhood policing worked: it proved to be deeply popular and crime fell by 43%. Today, however, as a direct result of the actions of this Government, there is a real fear that we risk a generation of progress being reversed.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When I was a local councillor, one of the biggest issues on the doorstep was the remoteness of the police. One of the biggest advantages of the introduction of neighbourhood policing was that people finally started to feel an affinity with their local bobby and their police community support officers. Is he aware that we are seeing neighbourhood policing teams covering larger geographical areas with fewer police officers and PCSOs? Those complaints about the remoteness of the police are starting to come back.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. At the heart of neighbourhood policing is the notion of local policing: roots in the local community, the community knowing who their police officers are and being able to identify with them and develop relationships with them, both in terms of providing evidence of wrongdoing and diverting people from crime—preventing crime in the first place. The intimacy of those local relationships is of the highest importance. At our peril do we go down the path of moving away from the notion of neighbourhood policing and towards remote police officers touring areas in their cars when what the neighbourhood wants to see is that presence on their streets.
I was the Minister responsible for bringing in neighbourhood policing, which, in its day, was very controversial. Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the ways forward ought to be even more radical? We should integrate response policing and neighbourhood policing, so that instead of having two strands in our policing framework we can ensure that the underlying principles of neighbourhood policing are what drives the whole of our police service.
My right hon. Friend, with her formidable experience and the remarkable achievement of building modern policing, is right to make a strong argument in favour of that kind of integration. I pay tribute to her work in government. The lasting legacy is neighbourhood policing that this country so rightly prizes, albeit that the thin blue line is now being stretched ever thinner.
I am little surprised at what I am hearing, given that it was during the previous Government and under the chairmanship of a local Labour councillor that Humberside police got rid of its neighbourhood policing teams, got rid of local instant response teams in neighbourhood areas and created much bigger local policing teams that were not on a ward basis. I do not recall any opposition from anybody in the Labour party, locally or nationally, when that happened, so I am surprised at what I am hearing today. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm whether the position of the Labour party is to support what it did when it was in power, or is this a new policy?
The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I say that I do not know the details of the issue he raises. What I do know is that, as I go up and down the country—on 50 occasions, arising out of the Stevens report—the message I get from police officers, communities and partnership agencies is that they value what the Labour Government built. That is coming under increasing pressure as a consequence of what this Government are doing.
However we term policing on the beat—as neighbourhood policing, or anything else—as a former soldier I know that being on the ground is the most effective form of gathering intelligence. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is what people want: police officers on the ground 24 hours a day where they can be seen?
I totally agree. It is the most effective form of local policing in terms of detection of crime and diverting people from crime. It is also key to the detection of very serious wrongdoing. For example, in the city I am proud to represent, Birmingham, there has been a large number of terrorist crime convictions. Some involved hi-tech monitoring, but in most cases the detection of wrongdoers came about through good neighbourhood policing and the development of local relationships; in this case, predominantly with the Muslim community. As a consequence of that co-operation, those guilty of the threat or actual commission of terrorist crime were brought to book. Whether it is a local burglary or a terrorist crime that threatens our community, there is no substitute for the local policing that the hon. Gentleman rightly identifies.
I agree with a lot of what the shadow Minister is saying. That community presence is clearly very important, but surely there is also a role for police officers in vehicles being able to respond quickly to emergencies? That is something that the public also feel very strongly about.
Of course that is right. I made reference in passing to an example in my constituency. An armed robber on the run hijacked a car, pushing aside a terrified mother of two young children, who were still in the backseat, and drove off. The speed with which the armed response unit responded and apprehended that thug was outstanding. The thug is now where he richly deserves to be: behind bars serving a very long sentence. Hon. Members will excuse me if I try to move on from the paragraph of my speech that I have been on for the past five to 10 minutes, but I will be glad to take further interventions as appropriate.
Our central concern is that, as the thin blue line gets ever thinner, the Government’s 11th hour police grant report does nothing to stop the remorseless hollowing out of our police service, with more than 10,000 police officers already gone from the front line. The delay and infighting within the Government over the threshold by which a referendum would be required for an increase to the police element of council tax bills, has put police and crime commissioners and local authorities in an impossible position with only a month left to set their budget.
Let me answer that straight up front. The Minister referred earlier to “Labour’s legacy”. If we look at what we achieved between 1997 and 2007, we reduced the debt to GDP ratio from 40.9%, which we inherited from the previous Government, to 36.4% and, in addition to all the other achievements that I see in my constituency—the health centres, the schools and the children centres—we put 17,000 police officers on the beat and 16,000 PCSOs with them. Then, after the 2007 crash, we faced up to the difficult circumstances confronting the country, and that is why the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), when he was Police Minister, said that economies were necessary. He embraced the proposal that a 12% cut could be achieved without affecting the frontline. Instead, the Government went too far, too fast, driving through a 20% cut with all the consequences that have flowed for the front line.
It is precisely because of the concern that has been widely expressed about the consequences for the police service generally, and for neighbourhood policing in particular, that we commissioned the Stevens report, which has proposed a progressive agenda and the rebuilding of neighbourhood policing. In the next Parliament, that will be one of our priorities.
In a moment. What we will not do is make a pledge in opposition for 3,000 additional police officers—the manifesto on which the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) fought the election—and then come into government and cut 10,000 officers from the front line.
I missed the bit where the hon. Gentleman congratulated my force on recruiting constables, as it is currently doing. I also missed the bit where he answered the Minister’s question. Does he have any sort of commitment for the future or does he just have a magical wish list? I wish we had had the money for those 3,000 officers: unfortunately—as I am sure he knows—when we came into office the Government were having to borrow £1 for every £4 that they spent and we could not continue like that. I wish we had had a better inheritance.
The Liberal Democrats are part of a Government who inherited a growing economy. With the greatest of respect, we will take no lessons from a party that pledges the abolition of tuition fees and 3,000 additional police officers, and then props up a Government who impose unprecedented cuts on our police service.
Looking to the next Parliament, I have been very clear about what we did in the last Parliament and what we would do now. Now, as I will argue later, we would follow the 12% proposed—including by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary—because that can be achieved without harming the front line, and we will go into the next general election as the party of neighbourhood policing. The hon. Gentleman will have to wait for our proposals on how we intend to achieve that.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can help me. Has his party declared its manifesto on the police for the next Parliament? No, it has not. We will say to the country, “Judge us on our record.” Labour is the party of neighbourhood policing. Labour built neighbourhood policing and will defend it. The Government are undermining neighbourhood policing, and we will take no lessons from the Liberal Democrats or the Conservatives.
I am glad that my hon. Friend has laid out Labour’s commitment to neighbourhood policing. The blunt truth for my constituents is that the difference between the HMIC proposals for a 12% cut in waste and the Government proposals for a 20% cut to policing is the loss of Denton police station, the loss of Reddish police station, fewer bobbies, fewer PCSOs and a more remote police service.
My hon. Friend is right. After the 2007 crash, all parties faced the question of how to make reasonable economies. The 12% proposal, which was carefully thought through and which we embraced, would not have put the front line at risk. A 20% cut has put the front line at risk. In addition, the fabric of partnership working is being stretched ever further and our communities are increasingly feeling the consequences.
The Government’s delay in announcing the threshold was unacceptable and has meant that police and crime commissioners were left in the ludicrous situation of having to propose their police precepts, under a statutory duty created by this Government, without knowing whether they would have the power to implement them. We have heard a lot about localism from the Government, but calls from police and crime commissioners for clarity about funding were repeatedly ignored in Whitehall.
Now that we have seen the settlement, I cannot say that it makes up for the hold-up by the Government. The Conservative party and their coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, are cutting police funding by 20%. In the last three years, that has already resulted in the loss of more than 15,000 police officers. I have seen firsthand in Birmingham and the west midlands some of the finest police officers one would ever want to meet or work with forced out under the A19 rule.
The loss of 15,000 officers was more than the experts predicted and a higher number than HMIC said would be safe. But the Government plough on regardless with this settlement. It is not only wrong in itself: it is increasingly damaging police morale. The pressure being put on our police by these unsafe cuts is starting to take its toll. Just last weekend, we learned that 800 police officers are off work on full pay as a result of stress-related sickness, costing the taxpayer millions of pounds every year. Just last year, police officers took 250,000 days off because of stress-related illnesses, a 15% increase over the three years up to 2013. Chief constables are blaming staff cuts for the staggering rise in sick days for depression and other mental issues.
In government and in opposition, my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn, the distinguished former police Minister, said that some reductions in expenditure were necessary, given the economic circumstances, but as hon. Members have said today, we agreed with HMIC that a cut of 12% could be achieved without harming front-line policing. As we said at the time—it is important to remember this—a reduction of 12% over a Parliament, and of around £1 billion a year by the end of the Parliament, would have involved making tough choices if we were to succeed in protecting police numbers. Such tough choices included cuts in overtime, reform of procurement, collaboration, and altering shift patterns, but we believed then and believe now that that was the right approach, and that those savings were and are possible.
Conversely, the Government’s approach—they have ignored the HMIC advice and cut police funding by 20%—resulted in the loss overall of 15,383 police officers in the first three years of this Parliament, which is more than even the most apocalyptic predictions and proof that going beyond 12% meant cutting police officers, not waste, as my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) has said. The Home Secretary has said:
“Crucially, all the savings that I have set out can be made while protecting the quality of front-line services.”—[Official Report, 23 May 2011; Vol. 528, c. 714.]
She has repeatedly said that, but 10,460 bobbies have gone from our streets since the general election.
I totally agree. Numbers are crucial, but how officers are best deployed is too. I have seen at first hand inspiring examples—I am sure the hon. Gentleman has seen the same in his constituency—of developing relationships with parts of the community in an intelligent way and doing things in a smart way with other partnership agencies, and of sharing buildings and back-office resources. That was at the heart of the 12% HMIC proposal—it said that we should be better and smarter, but cutting 20% is going too far, too fast, with unacceptable consequences for the front line.
I will come straight to that point. Precisely as a consequence of what has happened, there are worrying signs that crime, and especially violent crime, is starting to rise for the first time in nearly two decades. The latest crime figures show disturbing signs that a generation of progress in some areas is being reversed. For example, there is a worrying increase in muggings. Violence against the person has increased in 16 police force areas and violence without injury has increased in 19 police force areas. According to the British Retail Consortium, shoplifting, which is often associated with assaults on shop staff, is at a nine-year high.
Increasingly, the victims of crime are being let down as criminals get off scot-free—7,000 fewer crimes of violence have been solved under this Government. Despite a sharp increase in sexual crime, there has been a significant fall in the referral of cases to the Crown Prosecution Service for prosecution. Victims of the most heinous crimes are being let down.
On top of that, police forces are stretched to breaking point. They are taking up to 30% longer to respond to 999 calls and there was a reduction in overall crimes solved in 22 forces—nearly 14,000 more crimes were unsolved last year than when the Government came to power. In addition, crime is changing. Fraud has increased by 34%, but we know that that is just the tip of the iceberg, because much online crime goes unreported.
Despite those worrying indications that a generation of progress is being reversed, all we have heard from the Government is the constant assertion that crime is falling. However, the Government’s independent statistics watchdog has said that the statistics can no longer be relied on, and has downgraded its precious gold standard. The UK Statistics Authority chair, the eminent Sir Andrew Dilnot, has said that the more accurate the statistics become, the more likely it is that they will show that crime is rising. That is the result of three years of cutting too far and too fast, and yet here we are again. The Government refuse to see the damage being done by their reckless cuts to police and local authority budgets.
Not only Her Majesty’s Opposition are raising concerns. The Association of Chief Police Officers president, Sir Hugh Orde, has warned that we may now be at the tipping point—he has used those words. Tony Lloyd, the chair of the police and crime commissioners national body, and the Greater Manchester police and crime commissioner—he is highly respected across the spectrum as a former Member of the House—has said:
“I have warned since before I was elected that the government’s reckless programme of cuts is endangering community safety…We are now standing at the edge of a cliff . The chief constable”—
the eminent Sir Peter Fahy—
“has told me that he cannot provide the levels of policing that Greater Manchester people expect and deserve”
in future. He adds that, if the cuts continue:
“There simply will not be enough money in the pot”
for the police to discharge their duties.
The independent commission on the future of policing, led by Lord Stevens—it is a royal commission in all but name—and on which some of the most eminent figures in police and crime sit, has sounded a warning bell about the future of neighbourhood policing, which has been hit hard by Government cuts.
Lord Stevens has said that we are in danger of returning to a
“discredited model of reactive policing”.
The hon. Member for Cambridge may choose to ignore those voices, but if the head of ACPO, the head of the PCCs and the former head of the Metropolitan police speak with one voice, they send an unmistakable message that there is cause for concern.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way finally. He talks of an independent commission. Is it appropriate and honest to do so when the website says clearly that the report is published on behalf of the Labour party? It says that the Labour party will place cookies on the computers of those who read it. Can he sustain the idea that the commission is independent?
The hon. Gentleman reins back from impugning the integrity of the commission members. The shadow Home Secretary and the leader of the Labour party were absolutely right to listen to the widespread calls for what the Stevens commission became—a royal commission in all but name. It was 50 years since the last royal commission, and the police service required serious examination for the future in the 21st century. We were right to commission those eminent and responsible individuals, who produced a report independent of the Labour party. It challenges all political parties, but focuses on the growing concern in the crime and policing world at the Government’s direction of travel—the hon. Gentleman, having pledged 3,000 additional police officers, is propping them up.
It is not only police chiefs and the various people I have referred to who are raising concerns about the future of British policing. If the Minister stopped and listened to communities up and down the country, as I have been doing as part of our consultation arising from the Stevens report, he would hear their concerns loud and clear. He should talk to those in Coventry, Greater Manchester, Worcester or indeed Kent about neighbourhood policing, and they will say how crucial it is. He should talk to them about what is happening to neighbourhood policing, and they will rightly express their growing concern about that which they value and know from experience works.
I do not think my hon. Friend has been to see the Poets Corner residents association in Reddish, in the Stockport part of my constituency, but he might as well have been there, because the concerns he has just outlined are very much those it raised with me. In particular, its neighbourhood policing team is now far more remote; it is based in Stockport town centre, instead of at Reddish police station. Does my hon. Friend understand why those residents feel so isolated, on the edge of the borough, without an adequate local neighbourhood policing team?
Again, my hon. Friend speaks up admirably for his constituency, reflecting the concern I have seen on my visits for the Stevens consultation. Communities such as his have helped to build community policing, they value it and they want it to continue, but they are seeing it come apart at the seams, with the police becoming increasingly remote, often as a result of the cuts impacting on relationships with the police officers who serve their communities.
The first priority of policing is to fight crime, but it is not the only priority. If the Police Minister was to visit the Somerset levels and tell people there that the police are only crime fighters, they would be utterly uncomprehending. Yet the Home Secretary could not have been clearer when she said:
“cutting crime is the only test of a police force”.
Over the last few weeks, however, we have seen how important their wider role is. Their function, above all, is to build relationships, prevent crime, divert people from crime, detect crime and wrongdoing and bring those responsible to account, but, at times of disaster and crisis, they are also there to rebuild lives and communities. Their wider function, therefore, is of the highest importance.
The warning bells are sounding, and for that reason we are calling on the Government urgently to rethink the scale of their cuts and instead to set out a proper plan for police reform. We are now in the fourth year of this Parliament, and we are again debating a settlement that will damage the ability of police officers across the country to serve their communities. I want to stand up for the best of British policing and for our communities and their determination to fight crime. For that reason, we will vote against this settlement. It is the duty of us all in the House to fight for what our communities want and deserve—to be safe and secure in their homes and their streets and to see a continuation of the neighbourhood policing we built in government. For that reason, I urge all Members to vote with us in rejecting the Government’s plans.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) says “cuts”, which he has not promised to reverse; we say “reform”. We have the most reforming Home Secretary in the last 50 years when it comes to running and managing the police. When she entered office, she cleared away hundreds upon hundreds of Labour targets—key performance indicators, public service agreements; targets were coming out of constabularies’ ears—and she said, “We’re going to have one target—to cut crime”. And she is delivering on that target. Crime is down 10% since this coalition came into effect.
As the shadow police reform Minister in the last Parliament, I had occasion to study the history of police reform. What strikes me about the current plans is how coherent and effective Ministers have made their proposals. First, we have introduced locally elected police and crime commissioners, the idea of which was criticised even before it had begun. There was sniping about the low turnout at elections, but let us remember that 5 million people voted in those elections—5 million more than ever voted for local police authorities—and a single focal point of accountability for local people is now a reality.
My own PCC, Tim Passmore, in Suffolk, has frozen the police precept two years running, is driving collaboration with Norfolk constabulary and believes that we should, as other Members have said, look at forcing new savings from police service budgets by amalgamating and collaborating with other blue-light services. We have heard that fire services should be part of the PCC’s remit, and Mr Passmore is arguing hard for that. Also, we need to think much more imaginatively about the sharing of overheads, not just with the fire service, but with county councils. In my own area, it is shocking that the East of England ambulance service trust has four control rooms and mini-headquarters. Those should be sold off and joined up with the other blue-light headquarters of the police constabulary in Suffolk and the fire service.
The police reform agenda that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has begun contains some very coherent national themes. The new National Crime Agency brings coherence to level 2 crime, protective services and fighting organised crime, while under the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims, we have a new focus on increasing productivity among police officers. The numbers game that the Labour party wants to play simply will not wash. It talks about the loss of up to 15,000 uniformed officers since 2010, but it has not pledged to find the money to reinstate those officers, and there is a reason it probably should not bother: it is not just the number of officers that will lead to reductions in crime and better crime prevention; it is how those officers are deployed.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the reforms relating to serious and organised crime and the NCA depend on the success of neighbourhood policing, because the golden thread of intelligence, which every force relies on, starts at the community level? Unless we have that intelligence feeding all the way through to serious and organised crime and into counter-terrorism, we will lose that connection, and that requires numbers. We cannot build relationships unless we have people on the ground doing that job.
The right hon. Lady misunderstands me. I am obviously in agreement that the bedrock of British policing, whether it is level 1, 2 or 3 policing, is neighbourhood policing and safer neighbourhood teams. That is a given. I am suggesting that with better productivity among existing uniformed officers we can deliver the falls in crime further into the future that we have seen in the last three years. How might we do that? The Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims has talked about the new generation of productivity tools: electronic tablets, computerised forms and body-worn video cameras that will reduce the amount of form-filling back at the station. My right hon. Friend came to Ipswich a few months ago to see a pilot that Suffolk constabulary is running on body-worn video cameras so that police officers can spend less time behind a desk back at the station computing and filling in forms and can instead get on with visible policing on the front line.
In addition, Ministers have created something that was long overdue and which the Labour party had 13 years to create; a police ICT company that has offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to buy police technology in a joined-up way, so that we do not have 42 forces doing their own thing and wasting money, with interoperability being limited and the power of bulk purchasing completely ignored.
My right hon. Friend touched on the fact that we need to look not just at higher productivity, but at standards in policing. In that, the Home Secretary has been no slouch either. She has instituted the new College of Policing, which has taken a fresh look at how we professionalise the police service at all levels, with better training and an insistence on higher ethical standards. She is talking about direct entry so that very able men and women from other disciplines—whether the armed forces or business—do not have to do the compulsory two years’ probationary constable time before they can ever run a police force.
The Normington proposals, announced a few days ago, will radically reform the Police Federation and will also engender a higher sense of ethical responsibility among the 125,000 police officers that the federation currently represents. We also have the Winsor review, parts one and two of which are controversial as they make changes to overtime, salary levels and entitlements. But Winsor modernises the work force of the police service so that it conforms to the norms of every other part of the British economy, all other public services and the private sector. Winsor says simply that we should not just pay police officers according to time served, pretty much regardless of their performance. Instead, we should reward specialisms and capabilities so that younger officers who are going out and improving their skills, getting better training and producing higher performance, have that reflected in their remuneration. We are doing that in the teaching profession; it would be inexcusable to make the police an exception. Police exceptionalism in this regard is not sustainable in the public services today.
I would be interested in my hon. Friend’s views on the future of police community support officers who, in my county of Leicestershire, offer a good presence on the ground and are very good at gaining intelligence that they can pass on to police officers.
In response to the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears), I said that there is general consensus across the House that neighbourhood policing teams and beat officers are the bedrock of British policing, not just in providing reassurance to the local populace but in being a vital source of intelligence, whether on organised gangs, drug dealing or whatever.
I hope that my hon. Friend will have seen a fall in crime in his constituency. The dramatic 10% fall in the last three years suggests that the claims made by Jeremiahs from the Labour party, and some sections of the police service, that the Conservative spending plans would lead inevitably to a spike up in crime have proved absolutely groundless.
I wish to refer to the numbers and to provide some perspective for the benefit of Members, who might be surprised to learn that in the last year of the previous Conservative government, 1996-97, the gross revenue expenditure on policing services was £6.907 billion. Last year it was £12.887 billion. Those are cash figures that do not take account of inflation. But there has been a doubling in the gross revenue expenditure on police services since 1997. I am glad to see the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) in his place; he is an immensely distinguished and wise Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, which has drawn attention to the statistic that I have just produced.
The very idea that a very tight, and necessarily tight, spending settlement will result in the ceiling falling in, in neighbourhood policing collapsing and in crime going up is fatuous. We have seen in cash terms a doubling in fewer than 20 years. Although policing has got more sophisticated and there are no doubt many greater demands on some parts of our police constabulary, it is still beyond belief to think that these are “savage Tory cuts”. That is the stuff of caricature and we should have no more of it.
If one looks at the Home Office core grant—not the overall spend—one will see that in the last year of the Labour government, 2009-10, the core grant was £4.606 billion. This year it is £4.583 billion. I would not think that that is the kind of reduction in core grant that will lead to a diminution in the efficiency of the police. If anything, it should drive up efficiency and productivity. I repeat; Labour, in this debate and before it, has so far as I am aware—I am sure the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington will correct me after the debate—not promised to reverse those necessary reductions.
Those are truly heroic figures and great testimony to the police men and women in the Leicestershire constabulary, to the police and crime panel and to the police and crime commissioner. I have no doubt also that my hon. Friend spends a great deal of time scrutinising and holding the police service in his constituency to account, as do I with my Suffolk colleagues.
In the last year of the Labour Government, Suffolk constabulary, to be parochial just for one moment, saw a principal formula of £41,498,000—again, these are cash figures. In 2014-15, that is projected to rise in cash terms to—wait for this, Madam Deputy Speaker—£43,627,000. If we add in council tax support funding, specific grants and the business rate contribution, which has latterly taken over from the revenue support grant, the total general and specific grants received by Suffolk constabulary in the last year of the Labour Government amounted to £70,969,000. In 2014-15—the year that is the subject of this debate on the grant settlement—the figure is £77,915,000. Total funding for Suffolk in the last year of the Labour Government was £110,335,000; in 2014-15 that will rise to £116,579,000.
I give those details simply to illustrate that this caricature of cuts really does not wash. Although we had 51,000 recorded crimes 10 years ago, Suffolk constabulary posted 38,000 crimes in 2013—a significant fall in our county. Policemen and women in Suffolk deserve the credit for that, which is proof—if proof were needed—that they are doing more and being more productive, against a very tight financial backdrop.
We have had a great deal of shroud waving today and heard a lot of criticism of what should really be a source of celebration—the most modernising package of police reform in over half a century and a clear-eyed and immensely capable Home Secretary seeing through this difficult agenda with much less hostility, criticism and obstruction than anyone would have predicted before the last election. It is in that spirit of purposeful reform, which is embodied in my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, that I conclude my remarks.
It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Mr Ruffley), who is very knowledgeable about these matters. When he was shadow policing Minister—I remember him speaking from the Dispatch Box—he was one of those who always welcomed any increase in the police grant, recognising the huge importance of the police service to our country.
The hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) keeps referring to “his” county of Leicestershire—a bit greedily, I think. I am going to borrow a bit of it, because I represent a tiny proportion, compared with the large chunk that he represents. We are very proud of our police service in our county of Leicestershire. I want to give the House an example of why we are so proud of the people in our police service. Recently, PC Martin Bentley won a bravery award, for which he was nominated by the Leicestershire Police Federation. He was stabbed and slashed several times and needed 16 stitches and skin grafts, but he still went on to make the arrest.
The policing Minister was present with me and others, including the Home Secretary and the shadow policing Minister, at the bravery awards, where we recognised the huge contribution that members of the police service make—individual men and women, who every day of their lives put their lives on the line for us all. We have talked a lot in this debate about statistics, and the millions and billions of pounds being spent on the police service, but it is those individuals who go the extra mile and protect the public.
It is also right to recognise the contribution made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears), who is probably the mother of neighbourhood policing. I am not clear whether the father was Tony Blair or Jacqui Smith—I do not want to go down that line—[Interruption.] I will take your advice, Madam Deputy Speaker. In my right hon. Friend’s time as policing Minister, she established an important principle which is with us today. No matter what we talk about in the Westminster village—whether it is about these great changes that are being made or anything else—it is what happens in the neighbourhoods, on the streets and in the villages, towns and cities of our country that matters the most; and I am afraid that this is where we have a problem with the police grant.
I am worried that the sum of money now available to the police service up and down the country is giving us a great deal of concern. I am also worried that morale in the police service is regarded as at its lowest in its history. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) would want to highlight the work of the Stevens inquiry. I accept that Government Members do not regard it as an independent commission or an all-singing, all-dancing royal commission—even though it is headed by someone as distinguished as Lord Stevens—but one of the facts that came out of the Stevens report was the low morale.
My worry is that if we embark on any further reductions in funding, it will affect the morale of the police force. I will come to the changes in the policing landscape—the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds was absolutely right about the revolution in policing and police management that we have seen under this Home Secretary—but no matter what we say about that, I do not feel that ordinary bobbies on the beat feel that they have been consulted enough about the massive changes that have occurred. Alongside that is the reduction in their pay and pensions. Hon. Members only have to walk around the Westminster estate and talk to any police officer about how they feel about the present state of the police service and most of them will say, sadly, that they cannot wait to be out of the service because it has changed so much. We as politicians need to recognise that the people who count—the people who deliver, in our neighbourhoods and our towns and cities—feel that they have not been consulted.
That is a very interesting point. I do not know, but I understand that recruitment is not going terrifically well in certain areas of the country, although it is in some. That is why I am concerned about the £1,000 that people have to pay for the certificate in policing. I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about recruitment when he sums up. Of course, rather than young people joining the service, I am talking about very experienced people who want to get out. We need to take that into consideration.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend and our Front-Bench spokesman, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), would agree that when we meet the police in the west midlands—and we have done so regularly over the years—we have seen that there is a morale problem. The police seem to be used as a political football these days and although we might well quote statistics and figures about how much is being spent on them, at the end of the day when somebody’s pensions, wages and conditions are attacked that is asking for a problem. There is no doubt that there is a major morale problem in the West Midlands police. The other problem is that a city such as Coventry will have a senior police officer for three or four years and just as the public get to know who they are they go off to another post. That cannot be right either.
I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend. That is an issue we must deal with and Ministers must engage with the police service much more than they have done.
I agree 100% with the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds about the revolution in policing. I am not sure that I can get away with being quite as nice to the Home Secretary as the hon. Gentleman was, given that I am an Opposition Member of Parliament. I cannot show favouritism because the Home Secretary appears before our Committee—that of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) and myself—on a number of occasions and I must be independent. I agree that there has been a revolution in policing and I am on the record as supporting what the Government have done.
If there was a fault of the previous Government, who presided over a golden age in policing in the amount of money given, it was that no questions were asked and no reforms were required. There was a very large cheque—of course, the shadow Minister was not a Member then—
It was not. A very large cheque was given but nothing was received in return by way of reform.
The creation of the NCA and the College of Policing and the abolition of the National Policing Improvement Agency, which I do not think functioned particularly well, and of the Serious Organised Crime Agency are examples of where the Government have got it absolutely right. We have a new landscape of policing, but I wonder whether this is the time to go ahead with such widespread cuts while knowing that to get the new structure up and running successfully it must be well resourced. The worst possible thing is to have new structures without providing the money that is necessary for them to do their job. I hope that if those organisations require additional resources they will be given them.
I bumped into Keith Bristow recently as he was coming out of the Home Secretary’s office and I reminded him that he had not appeared before the Committee for a while. He told me of all the NCA’s successes. He is very much a hands-on person and will go on operations, and he invited the Select Committee to join him on an NCA operation. The problem with SOCA was that we never knew what it was doing as well as we know what Keith Bristow and the NCA are doing. Why? Members of the NCA tell the press that they are going to raid someone and everyone turns up and we all know the good work that the agency is doing.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way on the critical subject of the NCA, and I welcome the information it provides. In Northern Ireland, we are significantly handicapped by the fact that the necessary measures have not been implemented to allow the agency to operate in Northern Ireland. The border stops at Stranraer and Liverpool for us because the Northern Ireland Assembly has failed to agree a way forward for the agency’s operation. Does he agree that this House must get to grips with that and protect all its citizens all the time?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I went to Belfast on his invitation, where I met Matt Baggott, to whom I pay tribute as I understand that he has just announced that he will leave the police after many years of service. It is right that the NCA should cover the whole of the United Kingdom and we should not have a situation in which a separate deal must be made with the Police Service of Northern Ireland. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and the Chairman of the Committee for Justice in his Assembly will persist in their efforts to ensure that the NCA covers the whole of Northern Ireland.
I say to the Minister—I know that he is deep in conversation with the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose)—
It is not possible to listen and talk at the same time, distinguished though the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare is. Perhaps they are talking about his promotion, and I congratulate him on his re-promotion to the Front Bench. We will miss him on the Administration Committee and in all the important work we have to do there.
Let me give a couple of quotes. Tony Lloyd, a police and crime commissioner, has said that the police are
“on the edge of a cliff”
after £100 million of cuts. Sir Peter Fahy, a distinguished chief constable, who is not elected, has said that 700 police posts will go, reducing his force to 6,400 officers. I have a rather remarkable quote from the chief constable of South Yorkshire, David Crompton, who said:
“Contrary to popular opinion the force doesn’t deal with crime for the majority of time—less than a quarter of what we deal with is crime…while we are spending time on these things we can’t spend as much time as we might want to on crime.”
What do the officers of South Yorkshire spend 75% of their time on? We need to know that. Chief constables are concerned about these reductions and we need to listen to what they say.
The Minister and the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds referred to the reduction in crime, which I welcome. It is a good thing when crime goes down, but I am worried about what has been unearthed by the Public Administration Committee, which is the concern expressed by a number of its witnesses that crime statistics are not as accurate as they should be. That is something that Ministers should look at.
I welcome the fact that crime is falling statistically, but I hear—certainly in my constituency—that many people are not reporting it, in many cases not because the police do not do a good job but because those who have experienced crime feel that action will not be taken.
That is a serious issue. People may feel that they cannot access police officers in the way they have done, so they do not report crime. We need to consider this issue when we look at the crime reduction figures. We should be encouraging our constituents to report those crimes, enabling the police to log them and explain what happens to them.
I hope that there is enough in the budget for new technology. I know that this is a feature of what the Minister is hoping to do: better collaboration, making sure that there are economies of scale. When the Select Committee considered procurement two years ago, it felt that the Home Office should produce a catalogue of best deals for local police forces. We named it after the previous permanent secretary and called it the Ghosh list, but she left shortly after, so we decided to name it the Sedwill list, after the current permanent secretary. There are no plans for him to leave. It is important that the Home Office looks at procurement issues. Only this week, the Select Committee visited the Metropolitan police firearms unit. We were all encouraged to take up firearms and shoot at targets to see how difficult it was for officers. I am afraid that it was more Austin Powers than James Bond for the Committee, but it gave us a flavour of what officers have to go through. One point made by the assistant commissioner, Mark Rowley, was his desire and that of the commissioner to have police officers wear cameras.
The Minister nods in agreement. That is a good idea, but that will cost more money, and I am not sure that the grant will cover the ambitions that the Minister and we all have to ensure that our police service is properly equipped.
The new landscape is welcome. The cuts have probably gone as far as they should have done. I want to see better engagement with the police service. We have a debate tomorrow on the Police Federation, but that is a separate issue. At the end of the day, policing is about what happens locally, and if local people and local police feel that they are not being well served, that is a problem for all of us.
I now have to announce the result of the deferred Division on the motion relating to the draft Public Bodies Order. The Ayes were 289 and the Noes were 203, so the Question was agreed to.
[The Division list is published at the end of today’s debates.]
It is, as ever, a pleasure to follow the Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee. I recommend membership of that Committee, if only for the chance to see the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) brandishing a firearm in a training exercise. There were photos of that.
I have some sympathy with the shadow Minister, because before I was elected to this place I was leader of the opposition on Cambridgeshire county council. It is incredibly tempting simply to say, “I would do everything better and I would spend more money on it,” without identifying what would be done better and particularly where the money would come from. On the council I forced my own group to make our annual proposals go through the same scrutiny process as the administration did, so that we would be forced to work out where the money would come from to pay for what we wanted to do. That meant that our proposals were far more coherent and were at least plausible ways of doing things.
While I have some sympathy with the shadow Minister, who said encouragingly that Labour would, in principle, spend more, without specifying how much more or where it would come from, I also have a sense of déjà vu. So far as I can recall, every year when we have had this debate—at least in the current Parliament—Opposition Members have made similar comments. They have said that too little money is being spent, and that we are about to see a huge increase in crime as a result. Every year, when crime has not increased, it has been suggested that it is about to increase, and that we simply need to wait a little longer.
Let me make it absolutely clear that what the Opposition have said from the outset is that economies are necessary and can be achieved, and that we accepted expert advice on the 12% figure. The hon. Gentleman is part of a Government who have imposed a 20% cut. Has he apologised to those who elected him on the basis that he was going to put an additional 3,000 police officers on the beat?
Even in that intervention, the hon. Gentleman very carefully avoided saying where he would get the extra money. I think that we would all love to have more money to spend on policing, and, indeed, on almost everything that a Government do; the problem is where that money is to come from.
The hon. Gentleman also missed an opportunity to intervene earlier—this is relevant to the point that he raised just now—in order to congratulate Cambridgeshire constabulary, which in 2012-13 recruited 72 constables and 13 officers who transferred themselves to the area. I have not scaled up that number to cover the whole country, but it shows what can be achieved. I feel no need to apologise to the people of Cambridgeshire for the fact that we have been recruiting those extra police, and have been able to protect the front line in the county. The hon. Gentleman is welcome to intervene again to give a clearer view of what he would cut in order to raise the extra money, but if he does not wish to do so, I shall move on to the more substantive aspects of the debate.
Let me begin by paying a tribute, which I think all Members would echo, to the work done by the vast majority of the police. They do a fantastic job day in, day out. Some times are easier than others, but most times are quite tough for police officers. It is a very hard job and it makes a big difference to people’s lives, whether it involves directly combating crime and catching criminals, or the much broader role that police officers play. I have always welcomed community policing, although I must say that I was slightly concerned when, back in the days when I was a councillor, one of the best community beat officers in my constituency, who had managed to halve the crime level in a single year, was given a reprimand for not arresting enough people. I think that that was target-driven rather than being particularly sensible.
As I have said, the police in general do a fantastic job, and they feel let down by the few officers who behave badly. A number of officers have spoken to me directly about some of the issues that we explored in the Select Committee, such as Plebgate, and have told me that they are ashamed to wear the same uniform as some of those involved. Those officers deserve better. According to recent reports, in the last few years there have been more than 2,000 cases of officers and staff breaching data protection rules, in some instances by looking at the police national computer. Those officers constitute only a small fraction of the total force, and like most police officers, I wish that they would behave much better.
We are lucky in this country to have such good policing, and to have a core of policing by consent. I hope that that continues, because I am not at all keen on the idea of increasing militarisation in the police. For that reason I am concerned about Tasers, although they are a subject for another debate. Policing by consent—the sort of policing that we have here—is not just about throwing money at problems, and it is not just about passing more and more laws to make more and more actions criminal offences; it is about giving communities a say, and working closely with them. We need the police to work as part of the community, and for the community.
The hon. Gentleman has just mentioned Tasers, and said that they were a subject for a debate on another day. I wonder whether he has ever faced two or three completely drunk hooligans at three o’clock in the morning with no more protection than a protective vest.
As it happens, I had very similar experiences when I was an ambulance technician with St John Ambulance. One of the things we did in order to increase our safety was try to make it clear that we were not playing any form of quasi-militaristic role, and that the role that we were playing was much more relaxed. I worry about the message that is sent to people who see something that looks like a firearm and is used like a firearm. I agree that there is a place for Tasers as a less lethal option, but I do not think that they should be rolled out for basic use. That is a subject for another debate, however.
The police work very well. The establishment of the College of Policing is one of the best things that the Government have done in this area. It will make it much easier for policing to become a more established profession and for the police to work with a proper evidence base and a more effective way of sharing and developing information. That will follow on from the work that is already being done to reduce crime despite tight budgets.
When times are tough, it is even more important to do things that actually work to reduce crime and the fear of crime, rather than things that merely work anecdotally. A huge amount of research has been done in this area, and I pay tribute to the work of Professor Larry Sherman at the institute of criminology at Cambridge university. He is a member of the board of the College of Policing, and he has done a great deal of work on what actually makes a difference in reducing crime. How we place police officers and how we move them around a city can make a difference, for example. He has also produced proposals relating to crime harm indices. Where his proposals have been tried, they have been very effective in reducing crime. That is the sort of lesson that the college should be developing and that we should all be trying to follow.
We should also look at other ways of reducing crime. Providing more support to people serving very short sentences is a really good thing, for example. We know that some people reoffend repeatedly, and it is more efficient to invest in reducing their reoffending than to invest in catching them and dealing with them afterwards. I am also pleased to see a drive towards the use of more technology. It is far more helpful to get police officers to go out and do their job, as they want to do, rather than fighting technological problems. The police are far happier when that happens. I have spent time with a police officer, and I will never forget that it took more than an hour to download a video from a shoulder-mounted camera because of technological problems. That was an hour that could have been much better spent.
We should also give the police much more flexibility to innovate. An example is a scheme in my constituency known as “lights instead of tickets”. Cyclists who cycle without lights are given seven days to buy lights to avoid paying a fine. That has led to a huge number of people acquiring lights, which is far better than a huge number of people paying a fine and continuing to cycle without lights.
We can also ensure that money is spent more usefully by focusing on the more serious crimes. I will not go into detail, but the Deputy Prime Minister has suggested certain reforms of our drugs policy. The Home Affairs Select Committee has also found that we could do as Portugal has done, in transferring effort and money from the police and criminal justice system to the health service to help to reduce addiction. Similarly, we could reduce the stop and search that does not lead to arrests. That would save police time and free up the police to get on with other things.
Perhaps the Minister could give us an update on the reforms of stop and search. Such reforms are important because they relate to trust in the police. Certain communities start to lose trust in the police because of stop and search and, in my view, because of increasing Taser use. That lack of community interaction is a problem. It leads to distrust and makes it harder for the police to find out what is happening. It makes people work against the police rather than with them.
We could also do much more to help the police by sharing information, although that must obviously be done carefully. The Select Committee has recommended asking hospitals to share non-confidential information—about numbers of incidents, for example—with the police more often. There have been some good pilot models of that, but they do not happen often enough. The public could also have more information. The data available from police.uk is helpful, but we could go further in that regard. Indeed, Professor Sherman has some ideas on how to engage communities and give them real information about what is going on. Such data also need to include hate crime, which should not be considered separately from the main national crime statistics.
The whole information drive is important, but we do not always use the most up-to-date information. I hope that the Minister will comment on this. I note that some of the figures in the report on the police grant have used the 2001 census data. I represent a county that is growing rapidly, and I hope that we can move to using more modern censuses, because we are already facing issues based on the present population, not the one we had in 2001.
The subject of saving money has been discussed at length. I am pleased that the proposed expenditure of £1.8 billion on the communications data Bill will now be available for other policing. When I asked the Met commissioner how he would use that amount of money over 10 years, he said that he would use it to get more neighbourhood policing, more technology and more training. I am pleased that we are able to do that, rather than spending it on the original proposals.
The finances are tight. We would all love to have more money available to spend on absolutely everything, but it is a great tribute to the police that despite times being tough, crime continues to fall. I hope that that will continue for a very long time to come and that we will see more effective use of our wonderful police.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert). It is fair to say that we do not always see eye to eye on a range of issues, but it is always interesting to listen to his point of view, which is always well backed up by a scientific approach that he embraces—I find it very useful indeed.
I rarely speak in the House at length on policing issues, partly because I spent three years as police Minister and I do not think that reprising my experience is terribly helpful for Members in that same role. Today, however, I have made an exception, because I am becoming increasingly worried about the direction of travel of our police service. Part of my concern is about finance, but many of my concerns are about the stresses and strains on neighbourhood policing. This is not particularly about my introducing neighbourhood policing; this is about neighbourhood policing being such a fundamental change to the way in which we did policing in this country. I say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee that there was reform during our period of government, and neighbourhood policing was the biggest bit of reform that we introduced. It is now established not only in this country—for all time, I hope—but increasingly in other European countries and countries across the world, where it is recognised that sustainable policing must be done with people, not to them. It must be done with consent, gathering the community around who then become the eyes and ears of the police. Much more intelligence is obtained that way, and the police become far more effective in fighting crime.
Convincing the police service that neighbourhood policing was not a fuzzy, warm community development project but a hard-headed reform to make the police service more effective was quite a job in changing culture. I well remember that when I started talking to chief constables about neighbourhood policing and how we needed to build relationships—to get to know the head teacher, the shopkeepers, the children and the people in the community—some of them looked at me as though I was from Relate marriage guidance, talking to them about relationships. When I hear our shadow Minister talking in the House today about the need to have relationships, it shows how far we have moved on police culture—recognising that relationships are often far more useful than the traditional tools of policing.
I am speaking in this debate because I am very concerned about what is happening to our police service. Greater Manchester’s force has had a fantastic record over the past 10 to 15 years, but we are now seeing cuts totalling about £135 million over the five-year period between 2011 to 2015, and already 1,000 police officers have had to go. Sir Peter Fahy, who is a very respected chief constable, just as he was when he was at Cheshire during my time as Minister, and who is scrupulously non-partisan and non-political, has said:
“When I took the post the force had 8,200 officers and it is now just below 7,000. We are now on our way to 6,400—and that’s incredibly painful.”
Sir Peter Fahy is not a man to cry wolf and everyone in the House should take notice when he says that this process is incredibly painful.
It is fair to say that crime, antisocial behaviour, drugs and family breakdown were the scourge of our community of Salford and Eccles 15 years ago. It was incredibly difficult to attract business and investment to the city because of the huge amount of crime that was going on. People did not feel that the police were in control of the neighbourhoods; they felt that the criminal gangs were in control of the neighbourhoods in my city. That caused massive unemployment and a huge amount of family disintegration. Some 15 years ago my city was in a terrible state, but the fact that we have a grip of crime is the most fundamental reason why it has become a much better place to live. It is why we have been able to attract investment, such as the MediaCityUK—home to the BBC and ITV—and the regeneration programmes we have seen happen. It is one of the reasons why we had, until recently, the fastest falling level of youth unemployment in the whole north-west and why we get £200 million from visitors to Salford—who would ever have thought that it would be a tourist destination, with people wanting to come to our city? It is also why we have more people employed in the MediaCityUK area than we had when it was at its height as a docks.
Those are amazing transformations. Probably the single biggest issue was getting a grip of crime, making people feel safe in their homes, and tackling drugs and some of the serious and organised crime gangs that we had in Salford. We have been incredibly successful. Yes, the figures over the past three years have continued to be good on some of those crimes, but they are not as good as they were on burglary—we saw burglary go down by 54%—and some of the other crimes.
I saw a worrying statistic from Greater Manchester police this week which showed that antisocial behaviour has started to creep back up. Antisocial behaviour, before it was even defined by the previous Labour Government, was sometimes dismissed as petty or low-level crime—the sort of crime that we almost have to accept if we live in an inner-city environment. We had a massive drive to tackle antisocial behaviour, with a whole new set of powers and the Respect campaign. We said that we wanted to be on the side of decent people in communities and to drive out the antisocial behaviour that made people’s lives such a misery. There was long-term harassment and really serious crime, which could not be dismissed as low-level incidents.
Huge warning bells ring for me when I see a statistic that shows that that sort of crime is now beginning to break through again. I look at some of the evidence around the statistics, the veracity of which people are beginning to question. Lord Stevens has said that we could be on a tipping point for another rise in crime. If we start to see crime rise again in places such as Salford and Eccles, all of that good work over the past 10 to 15 years will be at risk. The business investment will be at risk. People will feel that it is not the kind of community in which they want to live. I am absolutely determined not to say that we need more money. I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) will ask me the same question he asked my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey). Yes, money is tight, and that means that hard decisions must be made. I would have supported a 12% cut, not a 20% cut, but we could argue that for the whole afternoon. There were things we could have done through collaboration and better procurement. Those were all on our agenda for making those cuts. In hard times, we have to use creativity, innovation and imagination. I am afraid that I am not seeing enough of that in the present Government’s approach.
When I was Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, I used to say to local government that, in order to face the coming years of austerity, we would have to have community budgets and a Total Place organisation in which all the public sector pooled its budgets, rationalised its inspection regimes, shared the same targets and had a system whereby all that public money, whether it was for policing, regeneration or whatever, was in the same pot. We thought that that was the way to survive these years of austerity without having an absolutely disastrous effect on our public services. We said that to local government, and if I get a chance in the next debate, I will reinforce these matters for the Secretary of State.
Local government has stepped up to the plate. The 10 authorities in the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities have a community budget; they are pooling resources. The police in my area have co-location with the local authority, the health service and mental health. We have a system of sharing information, which is the multi-agency system for data sharing. It is in that way that we have been able to survive some of the tremendous cuts.
The Minister will know about Operation Gulf in Salford, which has been going on for three years. It tackles the serious crime gangs—there are at least 32 of them—and it has had amazing success. It has won the Home Office national award for an operation over the past two years. Much to my delight it has put some serious criminals behind bars for a good number of years, and it has done that because it has used smart policing, imagination and creativity. It has taken the Al Capone approach: if we cannot get the criminals on the particular crime we want them for, we can get them on money laundering, employing illegal immigrants and not having tax on their cars. The police can be in their face every single day of the week, and that is the way we get results. They have been able to do that because they have had co-operation from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the local authority, the Department for Work and Pensions, the mental health services and every other bit of the system. That is the kind of creativity that is required now and over the next few years. It would mean central Government saying to local government, “Get your act together. Pool your resources. Get yourself in shape. Line yourself up. Have a strategic objective, and that is how you make an impact.”
It is fascinating to listen to my right hon. Friend speak on this subject. When we talk about how to provide policing at a time of great cuts, we must also consider the creativity that will be necessary in rural areas. Does she agree that rural police forces will need to get together and think creatively?
I do indeed. Part of the challenge facing police services is the need to deliver in many different environments and circumstances. We must consider sparsity and the difficulty of travel. In more rural areas, for example, the need for technology and communications is perhaps even greater than it is in concentrated inner-city areas. Again, creativity in the use of technology is really important.
In Greater Manchester we now have this top-slice application to the innovation fund. The chief constable is working on redesigning Greater Manchester police to see how we can get through the next few years, and I absolutely support him in that. In the process, he has taken one of my superintendents, Wayne Miller, off my Salford beat. I wish Wayne well in his new role in that change project. I want to place on the record the fact that he has been a tremendous superintendent. He brings with him real hands-on experience of neighbourhood and community policing and will make a great contribution to the plans for the future.
My chief superintendent, Kevin Mulligan, has recently retired. He was the architect of Operation Gulf. He is a fantastic, hands-on police officer who has done a tremendous job. He has made several arrests on his own and goes out policing on new year’s eve and Christmas eve—that is the kind of dedicated officer he is.
I spent a good period of time with our new chief superintendent last Friday. Chief Superintendent Mary Doyle is an incredibly impressive woman in Greater Manchester police. I have no doubt that she is up to the challenge of policing Salford and Eccles, with all the issues we face. She has also been given Trafford, so she now has double the number of people to look after and try to keep safe in our area, double the number of police officers to lead and double the number of police staff. She will be looking after 450,000 people, so her job is actually bigger than that of looking after the centre of Manchester, which has its own chief superintendent. I am worried about that. When we talk about the thin blue line being stretched, we also need to think about leadership capacity, because if we are to be creative and to do innovative things, we need really strong leadership. Chief Superintendent Mary Doyle, impressive though she is, will have her work cut out to try to take policing forward in our city.
What I think really needs to happen is something I raised with the Minister earlier. When we introduced neighbourhood policing, there was extra money available, so in some forces neighbourhood policing was layered on top of the existing response capacity. I hope that the Minister will consider integrating response policing with neighbourhood policing. Yes, we need response policing, because we need to have someone in a vehicle who can go and sort out a particular incident, but the way that they hand over the incident to the neighbourhood team is a misuse of resources. Getting the response police officers to own the neighbourhood as much as the neighbourhood police officers do would enable us to get more for less.
We recently decided to put our criminal investigation department officers out as part of the neighbourhood teams. That was incredibly controversial, because CID officers are not used to that role. However, it has made a really big difference, because our neighbourhood teams now include the people who are good at community and the CID detectives. If we get the response people in there as well, we will have a range of resources that we can draw upon, even when numbers are shrinking, to enable that extra capacity. I ask the Minister to look at some of the things Greater Manchester police have been doing to try to get that capacity to go further.
What I would say to central Government, and I say it to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, is that five years ago I said to the then Cabinet Secretary, Gus O’Donnell, that I was amazed that the success of a Cabinet Minister is judged by how big their budget is, how big their legislation is, and how big a beast they are in the Cabinet jungle. The new world requires people to be collaborative. Why do not several Cabinet Ministers have jointly shared budgets? Why are they not incentivised to collaborate? Why are they not judged on their success in terms of their ability to do teamwork? Why do we still have so many silos in central Government? When we said to local government, “You’ve got to break down your silos”, people there stepped up to the plate. It is about time that we changed the way in which national Government works so that my success as, say, Education Secretary is dependent on another Minister’s success as Justice Secretary or Home Secretary.
At the end of the day, the people who use the public services the most are all from the same families. We know this from the troubled families project, which is making a difference but is still primarily run by one Department. Why do we not have joint commissioning of the services we need to be able to deal with all those families? I could tell Members here and now the top 20 or 30 families in Salford and Eccles who use public services disproportionately, whether it be the police, education or the national health service. That is why we need joint commissioning systems, incentives to collaborate, and, I hope, an end to the days of stand-off bilaterals between Cabinet Ministers who simply seek to protect their own empire and their own Department rather than being prepared to collaborate for the greater good.
My final point is about reform. I am never short of ideas about reform and I like to talk about it. I remember that somebody once said that we are at our best when we are at our boldest, and I have never forgotten that. I make this plea to the Minister and to all Ministers involved in public services. If they want to get the best out of people and to get innovation and change, and if they want to get more for less, they have to be prepared to empower the people at the front line—the people in the service—to be able to make that change. There is a culture in Government—I do not make any allegation in respect of any individual Minister—of keeping power at the centre despite fine words about localism. It is about time that central Government acted in a way where they modelled good behaviour, as any good leader is required to do. If we want to survive these next few years, the funds are inevitably going to be less, whichever Government are in power, and therefore central Government must take a lead in being innovative, creative, collaborative and independent, just as on the board of any company where the directors would be collaborating together for the greater good. I urge the Minister to take that message back to the Home Secretary, and perhaps he could be the champion of innovation and change at the centre.
I am grateful to be called to speak in this debate, and it is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears). My tone will be as balanced as hers and that of the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who made a very thoughtful speech, as he always does.
The Minister, who has kindly sat through all the speeches, has heard me speak before about the issue I am going to raise. I hope he does not raise his eyebrows to the roof and say, “Oh dear, here comes Drax again”, but I am afraid I am going to raise it anyway because my job is to stand up for my constituents and for my police force in Dorset, which does an outstanding job. I pay credit to the outgoing chief constable, Martin Baker, who has been replaced by an another outstanding chief constable, Debbie Simpson. They have both galvanised Dorset police. They have collaborated and they have saved: they have done everything they could in the years before this spending review came in and since. We are now down to the bone. I will be parochial in the sense that I will focus my comments on Dorset police and not the police nationally.
I am grateful to our new police and crime commissioner, Martyn Underhill, for a lot of the information that I am going to give—I say “a lot”, but it is not that much and I will not take long—and I concur with his views and concerns. First, it is only fair that I praise the brave men and women of Dorset police; everyone who has spoken has done likewise. We cannot overestimate the courage that these men and women continually show to keep us safe on the streets and at home. While we are all tucked up in bed, many of them are out patrolling the streets at night and tackling some pretty ferocious people while armed with not much more than a protective jacket and occasionally with a Taser if needed.
The comprehensive spending review indicated or demanded savings of 20%. As we have heard, savings across all forces in 2014-15 will be 3.3%. For Dorset, that means a loss of £3.1 million. As has also been mentioned, taking into account the top-slicing in such areas as the police innovation fund and the Independent Police Complaints Commission, Dorset must make savings of 4.8%, which equates to well over £4 million. The point for the Minister is that that will once again place Dorset at the bottom of the pile. I simply cannot repeat it enough. I shall say it again—at the bottom of the pile.
Last year, the formula funding per head in Dorset was the lowest in the land. The needs-based funding formula for policing, which is supposed to determine how much each area receives, has never been properly implemented. Since 2010, Dorset police has been short-changed to the tune of £11 million. In real terms, the figure is a lot more. Last year, Dorset lost more officers and staff in proportion to other forces across the country—a full 6%. During the entire period of the CSR, Dorset will have lost 400 posts.
Whenever I mention or hear the dreadful word “damping”, I cannot help thinking of that awful thing that creeps up from the floor, ruins the walls and costs people a fortune in redecorating their house, but that is the technical jargon. Under damping, each force faces the same reduction in core Government funding in 2014-15, which will exacerbate the inequities that already exist in Dorset.
Let me say to the Minister—if he will stop talking to his Whips—that this situation in Dorset simply cannot go on for ever. Because of its size, topography and population centres, Dorset faces unique police challenges. The county is almost evenly split, with one half living in a large conurbation, and the other half scattered across rural communities. The two halves require substantially different forms of policing. In addition, we have tourism and the night-time economy. I know that many other constituencies have them too, but I am proud to say that Dorset is one of the most beautiful counties in the country. We attract 14 million tourists every year. The thriving night-time economy has grown, as it has in so many other parts of the country, and it requires a significant police presence all year round. One would have thought that those two aspects would be included in a common-sense funding formula, but they are not.
I was a journalist at the BBC in Dorset for some 10 years and I have spoken—often off the record—to the police wearing a different hat. From talking to officers on a busy Friday night, I know that they are very thin on the ground. There is no doubt about that. Although crime is down, which I of course welcome, the reality away from this place—we are sitting very comfortably on green Benches—is that brave men and women are out there at 3 o’clock in the morning facing the thousands of people, who are often out of control and drunk, coming out of nightclubs and bars. There are very few officers to tackle those thousands of people.
Over the years, I have been told that because there are so few police officers, they dare not get too involved in many incidents, as that would require two or three officers to go back to the cells, and they simply cannot afford to reduce their numbers on the ground. The logical conclusion is that a situation must get very bad before the police will physically intervene, because they do not have the numbers to deal with it. That is not their fault; in such situations, they simply do not have the numbers on the ground.
The formula originally evolved on the basis of a reasonably even level of council tax across the counties and parity in the policing that was delivered. It no longer works. It is perhaps blindingly obvious that a formula that gives one force 80% of its money from central Government and others, such as Dorset, less than half does not stand up to scrutiny.
I apologise for joining the debate late, Madam Deputy Speaker.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the effect of the manning formula in places such as our constituencies in Dorset. Does he agree that the manning formula needs to be reconsidered to take account of the number of visitors who come to a place? Bournemouth swells by 15,000 or 20,000 people on a Friday night. That is not taken into consideration, and it places excess pressure on the limited number of police.
I concur entirely with my hon. Friend. Because there is a demand for more officers at busy times, such as weekends, those officers are not available on other days of the week. Although there is less crime during the day and in the week, it is equally important that police officers are seen at those times.
Council tax can no longer be increased to pay for grant shortfalls. The recent changes by the Department for Communities and Local Government capped increases at 2%. Due to the shortfall in moneys from central Government, Dorset police has set its precept at 1.96% for 2014-15. Surveys of the public show that they generally support that. Mr Underhill and the chief constable are trying to maintain a balance between sustaining a viable police force and not overburdening the taxpayer. The rise will cover essential expenditure, including on 16 extra police officers, seven rural community vehicles, 300 body-worn cameras and a campaign to make people more aware of cybercrime.
The right hon. Member for Leicester East mentioned technology. Although everyone in this House recognises the value of technology, I have some advice for the Minister. I have many friends in the armed services who went to Iraq. There was a huge reliance on the technology that we and the Americans had, but there was no intelligence from people on the ground or “human int.”, as it is called. The result is there for all to see. The west did not understand what was happening on the ground or the consequences of invading a country such as Iraq.
I am sure that there is no intention to invade Dorset, but I draw the comparison because human int. is the key to a successful police force and, more importantly, to tackling crime. Nothing beats seeing police officers on the ground in our constituencies. It happens too rarely, but through no fault of the officers. In the Army, we patrolled around Northern Ireland in groups of 12, day and night. Like police officers, my soldiers brought back valuable information about what they had seen or heard and about what the local hoods were doing, who they were with, what pubs they were visiting and whether they were happy or sad. Such information is crucial in everyday policing.
Unlike the rest of local government, which received a two-year settlement, the police have a provisional finance settlement only for 2014-15. We thought that that would be the last year of savings. I am concerned that they are now likely to continue until 2017-18. It is estimated that Dorset will have to make savings of 3.7% in 2015-16 and 3.5% in each of the following two years, so annual funding will fall from £114.3 million last year to £108.7 million in 2017-18.
The future is bleak in Dorset. I do not like to be negative because I am an optimist. Dorset police is doing everything that it can, but we have been at the bottom of the pile for a long time and the funding formula is grossly unfair to us. Dorset police has identified potentially serious funding problems in 2016-17. Mr Underhill arrived in post and immediately had to face savings of £10 million. He described Dorset police as
“already stripped to the bone.”
Crime figures have fallen nationally and I welcome that—we all do—but calls for assistance and the number of incidents have risen. Despite those pressures, Dorset police has still earned one of the highest levels of public confidence of any police force in the country. But, Minister, enough is enough. For too long, Dorset police has been expected to do more with less. Dorset residents pay the same as, or more than, everyone else in the country, yet they are rewarded with gratuitously low levels of funding for their police. It is to the force’s enduring credit that they have managed so well for so long on so little.
I do not necessarily like speaking so bluntly to the Minister, and certainly not from the Government Benches, but I feel that I have no choice because the situation is so concerning. Dorset police has done all it can, and it continues to look at every possible avenue to provide a better service and better value for money. I agree, in part, with the phrase “value for money”, but if that comes at the cost of losing what I and my constituents want, which is to see police officers on the beat doing the job we want them to do, perhaps value for money should be looked at in a different way. Finally, I ask the Minister to rectify our situation now, before it is too late.
I apologise for arriving late to the debate, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I am sure you will forgive me because I was at a debate in the other place on the future of the currency in Scotland after 2014, and that is an important issue for us all.
I welcome the reality-check speech by the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax), and it is important that we pause and carry out a reality check regarding policing budgets in our constituencies and how that affects us. Let me say at the outset that I miss the voice of the former Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East. It was in debates such as this that he really made his mark because he knew the subject so well. His expertise was honed in Northern Ireland when dealing with policing and police infrastructure there, and we miss his wisdom in these debates.
Northern Ireland’s policing is going through a significant change. Our Chief Constable has announced that he intends to step down in September this year after five years of service, which means that we have to open up a new policing competition. No doubt many current deputy chief constables and police chief constables across England, Scotland and Wales will look at the opportunity offered by the job of Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Our last three Chief Constables were brought in from services on the mainland, and the position offers a significant opportunity that needs to be strongly considered.
I pay tribute to the service of Matt Baggott and what he brought to policing. He was Mr Community Police Chief Constable, and he brought important principles of community policing into our service and on to the books and activities of our police officers, and we should pay tribute to that. I also pay tribute to our Deputy Chief Constable, Judith Gillespie, who has announced her retirement in the spring this year after 32 years of service. She became the highest-ranking female police officer ever to serve in Northern Ireland, which is a huge credit to her and the service she has given. Indeed, she did not take what could have been a lucrative severance package a few years ago, because she wanted to serve her community instead. That in itself should be marked and paid tribute to.
I want to bring key issues of national significance to the attention of the Minister. The National Crime Agency, under the management of Keith Bristow, is a very important development that we support, and I am glad that the House supports it too. What concerns me gravely is that it is being prevented from having operational power in Northern Ireland, because insufficient pressure has been applied by the Minister, or by his team, on the Northern Ireland Executive to sort this matter out. While there is a significant willingness by Unionist parties and the Alliance party to sort it out, they are being checkmated by the nationalist and republican agenda—indeed, it is those people who benefit from the fact that the NCA is not operational in Northern Ireland. They benefit because some of the people they previously ran with—serious and organised criminals—have a free run as the NCA has not been extended to Northern Ireland. Smuggling, prostitution, cross-border crime are not being ignored, but they are not being given the complete, full and proper attention that the NCA could give.
Importantly, our policing budget is being stretched, because our own police officers have to deal with those issues. I, and many politicians across this House, have met Keith Bristow, and I know the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has met him. He has indicated his willingness to be held to account by the current policing infrastructure in Northern Ireland, so that he can give certainty and transparency to the concerns—some legitimate, many fictitious—that some nationalists have raised. It is important that we put that willingness to be held to account on the record. If the NCA continues to be blocked from operating in Northern Ireland, I echo the words of the Northern Ireland First Minister when he spoke to the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs when it met in Northern Ireland. He said that this House should take the matter by the throat and insist that the NCA is put in place, over the head of the Assembly if necessary. Everyone is suffering as a result of what has happened and we should deal with it.
Does the hon. Gentleman recall that he and I served on the Committee that introduced the NCA? Is he disappointed, as I am, that the assurances of the Minister have not been fulfilled? The comments that the hon. Gentleman is making now are the same as those he made in that Committee.
I thank the hon. Lady for saying that. I am delighted that she was listening to me in Committee—I thought we just spoke in this place and that no one actually listened. I am sad that my words were not heeded. We had a commitment from the then Minister with responsibility for policing to get something done and to sort the problem out. Well, it is not sorted out. We have a significant gap in policing national crime. That does not just affect Northern Ireland; it affects what these people do when they export their terrorism here to mainland Britain and on to Europe. We have a national responsibility to sort this matter out, and to sort it out fast.
I was delighted that the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, was the first Chair of that Committee to visit Northern Ireland for about 20 years. He paid significant attention to this matter and met the Justice Minister at Stormont and the Chairman of our equivalent Select Committee, Mr Paul Givan. He went through the key issues with him and said that he and his Committee wanted to see the NCA operating properly and effectively in Northern Ireland. I will leave that matter with the Minister and I hope he will pick it up.
We have significant national crime problems in Northern Ireland and that is what I want to focus on in the rest of my remarks.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The motion relates to England and Wales and the hon. Gentleman has spoken for a considerable time solely about policing in Northern Ireland. He has just told us that he wishes to go on speaking about Northern Ireland, but the motion in the name of the Secretary of State states:
“That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales)…which was laid before this House…be approved.”
There is no mention of Northern Ireland.
I do not believe that I have strayed from the issue. I have been talking about the National Crime Agency, which operates in the whole United Kingdom and whose budget is decided exclusively by this place—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) might have a bit of a giggle at that, but it is an important issue that affects criminality and how criminals operate in this country. He should know better. A so-called friend of Northern Ireland should know better than to try to raise a frivolous matter in this debate. I am surprised, because it is not a joke.
The National Crime Agency is a national issue, and the big issues of criminality that affect Northern Ireland have implications here. Of the drugs that circulate around Manchester and Liverpool, most of the cannabis is grown in Northern Ireland. Last year, 42 cannabis farms were discovered in Northern Ireland. Most of the trade was not in cannabis dealing or for smoking the drug in Northern Ireland: cannabis was brought to Liverpool on ferries and boats to be used in this part of the country. Hon. Members should wake up to that reality. The National Crime Agency is not operating as effectively as it should be operating in my part of the kingdom, so the hon. Gentleman and his constituents will face problems. He should recognise that. I am angry about that point, and it probably shows. It is just as well that I am on this side of the House and that there is a red line in front of me; I can tell the hon. Gentleman that.
Fuel smuggling is another important issue that is cross-border and cross-jurisdictional. Because of fuel smuggling in Northern Ireland, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Exchequer here lose £600 million a year. That is not a paltry sum. It is enough to run most of the hospitals in Northern Ireland. That is another national issue that is dealt with by HMRC and should also be dealt with by the National Crime Agency.
I now focus on how we pay to deal with national crime. There are 43 police services operational in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Only the Police Service of Northern Ireland picks up the tab for national security policing in its jurisdiction. That is wrong. That tab should be picked up nationally, in the same way that it is picked up for Manchester and Liverpool, here in London and in Scotland. The fact that it is not is putting policing in Northern Ireland at a significant disadvantage. This year, we are running a deficit of £30 million in policing, and next year that will increase to £57 million. In the next spending round, the figure will rise to about £200 million.
I urge the Minister, when he goes back and speaks to his Cabinet colleagues—the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister—to make the case that this issue should be brought into the centre. Expenditure on dealing with national crime issues and terrorism should be paid for centrally, not locally. If we could get that budget paid for centrally, the current budget for Northern Ireland would allow us to employ the additional police officers that we need.
The Police Federation in Northern Ireland says that we are short of 1,000 officers. The Chief Constable says that he would like to run a competition to get another 300 to 500 officers, so we need to recruit a number of officers that is somewhere in the middle of the two figures. The only way we can achieve that is by addressing the deficit in our budget. None of the other 42 police services operational here is asked to pay for national security. Why are the police in Northern Ireland asked to pay for national security? We are not only dealing with Irish-based terrorism but with national criminality—and with Islamic terrorist activity as well. We pick that tab up too, and that is wrong.
The Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee mentioned additional equipment for police officers and the wearing of cameras. They are expensive, but I believe they are useful and should be routinely deployed on police officers, not only to protect them from false allegations, but to ensure that civilians are protected whenever they come across police officers.
I agree thoroughly with the points made by the hon. Member for South Dorset. He made the point clearly that we need more bobbies on the beat. The more bobbies we have on the beat, the more we will see that they disrupt crime and play a very effective role.
I want to focus on an issue that has left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth—plebgate and its impact. Plebgate has left the police in London looking rather poor because of how officers approached a Member of Parliament. It is important that the employment in the Cabinet of the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) is remedied soon. This is the appropriate place to make that point.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) who, up until his outburst on me, I considered an hon. Friend—I agree with many of his political positions. He said he would go on to speak about policing in Northern Ireland, and I believe I was perfectly entitled to question whether or not that was in order, particularly because I have been sitting in the Chamber from the beginning of the debate waiting to speak, and because the debate relates to the police grant in England and Wales. That is not to decry our fantastic Union—it is always a pleasure and delight to hear about Northern Ireland—but I am sorry he interpreted my attempts to bring him back to order in such a manner. I am sure we will still be friends.
I shall speak to the report as it relates to England and Wales, and my police force in Humberside, which serves the East Riding of Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire. I speak on the police grant debate most years. I have always abstained on the budget because of my concern, as previous Ministers have heard, about the scale of the reductions. I fully understand and support the need for reductions, but I am concerned about their scale, particularly as they come at the same time as a change in officers’ terms and conditions, which has had an impact on morale. I shall say more about that later.
I tend to say something about the Labour position every year in such debates. In 2007, police numbers were falling in my area—they fell by 137. [Interruption.] It would be nice if I could hear myself. There seems to be some noise coming from the Government Back Benches.
Order. I will chair the proceedings. If every speaker were heard in utter silence, I would be so pleased, but that rarely happens. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman’s hon. Friends can take note that he is struggling to make himself heard above the noise.
I am happy to be ignored in perfect silence or to be heckled, but when the noise is so close, it is a little difficult to hear oneself think. One expects an element of quiet—perhaps it comes with being a schoolteacher. The hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), my neighbour, will concur with the requirement for people to listen in silence.
On the Labour position on policing cuts, 137 officers were cut in 2007 in my area. There was no opposition from Labour representatives at the time. In fact, they supported the reductions and the civilianisation of roles, so I am a little amused when local Labour politicians engage in campaigns against police cuts and reductions in police numbers. They did not have such an issue with them in 2007. I respect the shadow Minister greatly, but I was unclear on the Labour position on funding for our police. He did not rule out cuts—he clearly could not do so given the statements made by the shadow Chancellor—but he did not tell us what the scale of those cuts would be. It is a little unfair for him to be critical of the Government without putting a proper alternative forward.
I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman, but let me make myself absolutely clear: the best advice from HMIC was that 12% cuts could be made without impacting on the front line. We accepted that in government and then in opposition, and it has been our position ever since. The problem is that the Government have gone far beyond that, to 20% cuts, and as a consequence we have lost 15,000 police officers, including 10,000 from the front line.
We know the argument about whether the figure is really 12% or 14%. Either way, however, Labour has not said how it would pay for it. It has made a range of spending commitments, including repealing various welfare measures, but it has not said how it would pay for them. It is fine to say, “Let’s limit cuts to 12%”, but it is incumbent on the Opposition, who after all aspire to government, to explain how they would pay for it. We did not hear that today.
I am unclear also about neighbourhood policing. In my area, we have seen a move away from neighbourhood policing. We went from ward-based policing—a lot of public money was spent on ward-based police stations that never opened to the public—towards larger local policing teams. That happened before this Government came to power. I heard Labour’s commitment to neighbourhood policing, but we tried it in Humberside, and we have now moved to area-based policing, which has been very effective. It contains elements of neighbourhood policing and best practice, but not quite as originally envisaged.
I concur with colleagues who are unsure whether to believe crime figures—I was critical of them as a local councillor, under the last Government, when major falls were trumpeted—although there has undoubtedly been a fall in crime, particularly in antisocial behaviour. I was a local councillor for 10 years, and it used to be an issue of great concern—there were issues with street corners and public places—but in my experience it has now abated. Nevertheless, I do not believe the crime figures as they are presented, not least because a lot of crime still goes unreported. In addition, there are many crimes that years ago would have been reported, but are not now. I had my car broken into five times in 18 months, but I did not report each crime, as would have happened perhaps 10 or 15 years ago. So although we should welcome the general fall in crime, I do not believe it has fallen as far as is claimed.
Local authorities can have an impact on local policing. We have seen an excellent example of that in north Lincolnshire under the leadership of Liz Redfern, who took over the council from Labour in 2011. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Absolutely. She pledged to use local council funding to provide additional police community support officers in rural areas so that Humberside police could get on with policing in the urban areas, where the crime statistics showed such policing was necessary. We provided those additional PCSOs through local grants to the police, and only a few weeks ago, I welcomed the new PCSOs, Michelle Thorley and Dan Dreggs, who work out of Epworth and cover the whole of the isle of Axholme. They are doing a great job, funded by the local council.
Despite the massive cuts to local authorities we have heard about, the local council has also provided CCTV funding, and a new CCTV system is now coming into place in Epworth. Moreover, they, along with East Riding of Yorkshire council, have a sharing arrangement with Humberside police for fuel and vehicles, which is to be welcomed, while our police and crime commissioner, Matthew Grove, and his deputy, Paul Robinson, are working on a strategy for sharing buildings, which sometimes involves moving police stations into shared buildings. We must be careful to ensure a continuous presence—we do not want the services diminished—but in fact there is an increasing police presence, and in a couple of weeks a new station will open in my constituency.
The pressure on budgets has led to those developments, which we need to see more of, so I ask the Minister to ensure that funding for local authorities takes account of such innovative practices and working. In my area, Humberside police have received £1 million from the innovation fund to give police officers and PCSOs tablet devices so that they can get out on the front line and be more visible and do their work there, which is to be welcomed. We need funding to support those kinds of measures.
I am working through the 20-day police parliamentary scheme, which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), my near neighbour, completed a few years ago. I have found that incredibly useful. The weekend before last, I did two night shifts with an instant response team based in Clough road police station in Hull, which covers the eastern part of the city. It was an interesting experience. I have done a number of nights in Grimsby, which was also very interesting, as well as joining public order and traffic patrols in my area. I have been struck by how dedicated staff are, but I have also been struck by how under attack some of them feel. They feel the pressure of reduced resources, as well as changes to terms and conditions and to pensions. I have been very defensive on those, particularly on pensions, on which I have had some robust discussions with police officers.
I am more sympathetic on the issue of how thin the thin blue line can be stretched. I have been uncomfortable with the scale of reductions in spending, although I understand the reasons for them, given the legacy we came to office to deal with. But we have to be careful. We have protection for NHS and school funding. I hope that, in further reductions, we will look closely at policing. In the latest round there has been protection, but we need to move on that. I get a sense from local officers that they are at a point where they can hold the line at the moment, but a small upturn in crime figures might put them under pressure.
I have also been struck by how much of the police work is not actually police work, as has been mentioned. They seem to be massively involved in social work, and in dealing with family disorder and breakdown, alcohol misuse, drug misuse and serious mental health issues. A lot of police officers said to me that they would love to be able to spend their time fighting crime, but they are spending far too much time picking up failings in other services. That must be factored in when we look at the budgets.
Our police service does a fantastic job but I think reform was needed. In my 10 years as a local councillor in Hull, I remember that lots of money was showered on policing locally. Our police precept went up by 500 per cent in the 13 years of the last Government, and a lot of buildings were built that were not open to the public. A lot of money was thrown at initiatives that were not necessarily well thought through or assessed for their effectiveness. It was a question of “There is a problem. Let us throw some money at it and hope it works.” In lots of cases, it did not work. There was a huge waste of money and we are still dealing with the legacy of some of those issues, including the buildings that were built as part of Humberside police authority’s massive expansion programme of police stations that were never open to the public.
Money is not the answer to everything. We know that and I think the Government are going in the right direction in terms of trying to promote innovation. However, we have to be conscious of the fact that we are potentially getting to a point in policing where the line has been stretched very thin and we need to be careful in moving forward. I fear that if there is an upturn in crime any time soon, we may well not be able to respond as we would want to.
My hon. Friend mentioned the police and crime commissioner. Does he agree that we have seen a fundamental shift from a policing service that was too often looking to Whitehall to one that is grounded in the local community? Does he also agree that Matthew Grove in our area has done a great job of making sure that the police meet local needs, albeit they are struggling with limited resources?
With the leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will try to respond to some, although inevitably not all, of the points made in what has been a very lively and positive debate. I understand that there are concerns about reductions in funding but we are confident that they are challenging but manageable. What we see around the country in the constituencies of many hon. Members is that the police are not just making the necessary savings, but are transforming the way in which they provide the service to the public. In doing so, the measure is whether crime continues to fall—and crime does continue to fall.
Let me deal with one or two of the points made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) who speaks for the Labour party. Although he spoke for more than 30 minutes, essentially to attack Government cuts, he could not answer whether a Labour Government would reverse any of those cuts. Let me clarify for him that what the Home Secretary and I have said, along with everybody else, is that our only target for the police is to cut crime. We have removed the plethora of detailed targets that the previous Government set the police, which got in the way of cutting crime, and said that cutting crime is the only thing the police need to do.
The hon. Gentleman tried to separate that from crime prevention. Preventing crime contributes to cutting crime and of course that is the most desirable way of doing it. That brings me to neighbourhood policing, which he and the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears) emphasised. One of the things about effective neighbourhood policing—to which I am as committed as anyone—is that it leads to a cut in crime. Effective policing on the ground means that things are spotted earlier. The net effect is that the crime figures continue to come down, so we urge all police forces to do that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Mr Ruffley) was characteristically forensic and knowledgeable on this subject. He pointed out how money better spent can and does lead to better policing.
The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who chairs the Select Committee on Home Affairs, asked about recruitment and morale. I am happy to report that a number of forces are recruiting again—we have heard that Cambridgeshire now has more police. In all those areas, recruitment is extremely attractive. Forces that go out to find new police officers find people pouring in through the door wanting to do the job.
The point made about the formula by my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) is precisely why we are having the biggest review of the formula for more than a decade—so that we get it right and the current unfairnesses are removed.
A number of hon. Members talked about technology. I am glad that the House has welcomed our emphasis on innovation and technology. The whole point about technology is to release police officers to be on the beat and on the streets more often than they are now. That feeds into crime prevention, neighbourhood policing and all the other desirable things we want in policing. If we use modern, digital technology better, we will have more effective and visible police officers. That is at the heart of many of the innovations we are making, particularly those we are supporting through the police innovation fund.
People have asked how the technology will be paid for. The answer is that the first round of the police innovation fund was hugely successful and the second round will be two and a half times the size of the first. Police forces up and down the country, along with their police and crime commissioners, are using the fund to drive the use of technology, which will make policing even more effective in the future. I am confident that both the PCCs and the forces will be able to continue to deliver those efficiencies while providing the excellent service that the public deserve. I commend the motion to the House.
That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2014-15 (HC 1043), which was laid before this House on 5 February, be approved.