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Police Pay and Funding

Volume 628: debated on Thursday 14 September 2017

(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary if she will make a statement on the 2017-18 police pay settlement and police funding.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to answer the question today.

The pay award for England and Wales for 2017-18 was announced this Tuesday after the Government carefully considered the recommendations of the independent Police Remuneration Review Body and the Senior Salaries Review Body. The Government accepted in full the recommendations of the Senior Salaries Review Body. The decision to award officers in the PRRB remit group a pay award worth a total of 2% to each officer in 2017-18, consisting of a 1% consolidated pay increase in addition to a one-off 1% non-consolidated payment to officers, represents a fair deal to the taxpayer and to our hard-working police officers.

Our public sector workers, including police officers, are some of the most extraordinarily talented and hard-working people in our society. I recognise the extraordinary contribution made by police officers in response to some of the most challenging situations that our country has faced for a very long time. I also fully respect the independent conclusions of the pay review bodies.

At the same time, we have committed to taking the difficult decisions to balance the books that have enabled us to repair the damage to the economy, while keeping employment up and taxes down. This will help us to strike the right balance between being fair to police officers and to taxpayers. We believe that the award is affordable within the current police funding settlement, noting that the PRRB has highlighted in its report the potential for further efficiencies.

Police reform is working. Crime, as traditionally measured by the independent crime survey for England and Wales, is down by a third since 2010. However, we know that the nature of crime is changing, and we are engaging with the police to better understand the changing demands on the police and how these can best be managed. That includes looking at what more can be done to improve productivity and efficiency, and to make prudent use of financial reserves.

Mr Speaker, I am grateful to you for granting this urgent question.

As the Minister said, the review body this week recommended a 2% consolidated pay rise for federated and superintending ranks. The Prime Minister stated during Prime Minister’s questions yesterday that the Government had accepted that body’s recommendations in full. But, as the Minister just confirmed, they have not. The Government’s response to the recommendations was to offer a 1% pay rise and a 1% one-off non-consolidated payment that is non-pensionable. Will the Minister tell us why those recommendations were not accepted in full?

The Prime Minister then went on to suggest that police officers had received a real terms increase of 32%, which, of course, the Police Federation called a “downright lie”. I would suggest that it was a cynical attempt to create a false impression, divorced from the reality for officers on the ground. Does the Minister think that the Police Federation was lying or that the Prime Minister got it wrong?

The Prime Minister confirmed that the pay settlement would be unfunded. The Metropolitan police estimate that this will cost them £17.7 million this year. West Yorkshire police and West Midlands police both estimate that it will cost them around 80 frontline officers this year. Does the Minister accept what chief constables are telling her—that this will cost us more frontline officers? If she does not, how will she advise forces to pay for this unbudgeted increase?

The Government announcement mentioned police reserves, which they claim to have increased to £1.6 billion in 2016. Will the Minister confirm, however, that the vast majority of these reserves are earmarked for projected spending and that only £363 million remains in general reserves? As she knows, police and crime commissioners are under a legal duty to hold adequate reserves. The Audit Commission suggests that this level would be between 3% and 5%, yet some police forces have reserves at levels beneath 1%. Will the Minister therefore confirm whether the Government are actually requiring police forces to run down their general reserves to fund staffing costs? Does she consider that fiscally responsible? From my private sector experience, I gently advise her that it is not.

The Government have repeatedly claimed that they have protected police funding since 2015. We know this is not the case because crime has risen in recent years, despite what the Minister says. This week’s announcement entails a further cut to forces’ budgets. The Government have been on warning for some time that the police are near breaking point. This move may finally break them.

I am grateful for the opportunity actually to set out some facts before the House, which is hardly what we have heard from the hon. Lady. Before I address the substantive points she raised, I want to say that it really does our hard-working police officers the most horrendous disservice to portray them constantly at breaking point, as if they cannot serve communities. Confidence in the police has been rising and is much higher now than it was in 2010. Those hard-working police officers are doing an extremely good job—day in, day out—for the communities they serve.

We have accepted the independent recommendations. Police officers will receive a 2% pay increase. The hon. Lady’s key point was about affordability. Let me address this head-on. On the latest audited figures, every single police force in this country has reserves of at least 6% of its general budget. The costs of delivering on the extra 1% are a very small fraction of all the police funding this year—less than 0.5%. This is absolutely affordable for forces. They were planning on a 1% increase; the extra 1% they are going to be finding—let me be absolutely clear—is less than 0.5% of the budget. Their reserves are increasing; they are running up to £1.8 billion.

If we look at the latest inspections by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, we see that Sir Tom Winsor has made it absolutely clear that there is room for more efficiencies in police services. The Government are supporting police officers on the frontline, as well as their leaders, to make those changes and to invest in technology, so that we can have the most efficient police force, which we can all be proud of.

To summarise, I believe that this proposal is affordable and that the money is there for the chief constables and the police and crime commissioners to fund it, and the Home Office is working with the leadership of the police to make sure that they can continue their really good progress on innovation, while keeping the nation safe.

Ever since I arrived in this House in 2001, it has been clear that the national funding formula does not treat Bedfordshire police fairly, and I have lost count of the number of Policing Ministers to whom I have made that point. My request to the Minister, whom I regard very highly, is that she go back to the Home Office and ask the Home Secretary and the Policing Minister to emulate what our colleagues have done in education, by providing a fair level of funding to every police force, so that we bring those at the bottom up to nearer the average.

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words and his very good question. He is a marvellous champion for his constituency and his local police force. Like many colleagues, he has in the past made the case for changes to the funding formula, and the Policing Minister and the Home Secretary have that information and that consideration carefully under review.

Notwithstanding the unrecognisable response from the Labour Front Bench, the SNP welcomes the UK Government following the lead of the Scottish Government in lifting the pay cap for public services—recognising that pay is behind inflation and that pressure is increasing on household budgets. Given that Steve White, the chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, has said that many of his members would be “angry and deflated” at their pay award, does the Minister recognise that the police force at the frontline of our services must be supported? Does she also agree with the First Minister of Scotland, who said that it is not just police officers but nurses, teachers, firefighters and workers right across the public service who deserve a fairer deal for the future?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for welcoming the Government’s decision. It is a pity, as he says, that the Labour party is not supporting the fact that the Government are recognising the extraordinary contribution that our police officers make every single day, in facing up to the even greater pressures they have been put under in the last 12 months, as they have responded so magnificently to the terrorist threats we have faced as a country. The Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear that the views of the independent pay review bodies for all parts of the public sector will be carefully considered and carefully listened to, and the Chancellor will respond to those at the appropriate time, which will be when those bodies report later this year.

The first duty of the Government is to protect the public, but I have to say to the Minister that there is a very real and very worrying spike in crime right across my constituency, which the police are trying valiantly to deal with. West Yorkshire police are increasing police numbers, and that is very welcome, but what can she do to make sure they can increase them much further and much faster, to help them reassure the public in my constituency, clear up these crimes, and do what we want to do, which is to protect the public and reassure them?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. I can absolutely assure him that everyone in the Home Office wakes up every morning thinking, “What more can we do to keep our nation safe?” That is our absolute first duty. In terms of the crime statistics, it is not fair to say that all crime is rising. There has been a worrying increase in violent crime, and we have been acting on that at pace, with determination, supporting frontline police officers. There are whole series of action plans related to knife crime, to acid attacks and to the spate of activity we have seen in London around moped-enabled crime. There is very strong partnership working across the criminal justice system to make sure that it has the powers and the resources it needs to go and prosecute these crimes as swiftly as possible so that my hon. Friend’s community and every community across our country feels safe.

The Government clearly inhabit another planet. After a generation of progress on crime, 20,000 police officers have gone—2,000 in the west midlands—and crime is once again rising. Knife crime is up, gun crime is up, violent crime is up, crime across the board is up, and the public are increasingly at risk. Does the Minister not accept that she is now confronting the police service with a double whammy: on the one hand, for our brave police officers, a pay rise that is in real terms a pay cut; and on the other hand, asking beleaguered police forces to fund that pay rise? If the Government do not act, does the Minister not accept that they are betraying the first duty of any Government, which is the safety and security of the British public?

I yet again reiterate that, within the current budget, these pay increases are affordable. Of course it is our first duty to keep people safe. Again, the hon. Gentleman, like other Opposition Members, is talking down the police force and the huge strides they have made with falling crime. I have absolutely accepted in this House, not just today but in the past, that there has been, and there is, a rise in violent crime. We are acting with determination, at pace, to make sure that police officers in every community have the resources and the powers that they need to tackle that crime.

I never cease to be amazed by the dedication and bravery of Cleveland police officers, who do a fantastic job protecting our community. Does my hon. Friend agree that this award is all about being fair to those officers for their dedicated record of service but also fair to the taxpayer and to the wider public services at a time when we are running a deficit of £52 billion this year, posing a real threat to the sustainability of public services?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, those brave police officers are also taxpayers, and they will absolutely understand that we have to strike the right balance, because without the strong and growing economy that this Government are delivering, we will not raise the taxes, so that we can have the world-class public services that we all want to see.

Order. I have been a bit worried about the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) because she has been jumping up and down quite a bit and has not been heard yet—so she must be heard.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Figures obtained from West Yorkshire police show that they have dealt with 33,000 more 999 calls this year than last—an increase of nearly 10%—yet officer numbers are down by nearly a fifth due to Government cuts. It would cost the equivalent of another 80 officers to fully fund the Government pay settlement. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), I too used to work in the police, and I know that frontline staff feel that this Government treat them not as public servants but as public enemies. Can the Minister guarantee that we will not face any further cuts to police numbers?

That is a totally unacceptable thing to say. My sister was a police officer. My nephew, I am very proud to say, has just joined our local police force. I do not see members of my family—members of the community—as enemies, and neither does anybody in the Home Office or any Member on any one of these Benches. Unlike Opposition Members, we have to inhabit the real world and we have to make the tough choices of having a strong and growing economy, so that we can fund the first-class public services that we want to see.

I am sure that residents in Kettering will welcome this pay rise for the police, not least because every single police officer I have ever met always works more hours than their shift requires. But may I join calls for changes to the national police funding formula? Counties such as Northamptonshire are clearly underfunded relative to their peers.

I thank my hon. Friend for standing up passionately, over a long period, for his local police officers and insisting that they receive a fair allocation of resources. I am sure that when the Home Secretary is looking at police allocations, she will bear that very much in mind. I want to take the opportunity to say that the Policing Minister is engaging with chief constables and police and crime commissioners all over the country to understand the nature of policing and the way in which it is changing, so that remuneration can properly reflect modern policing in the 21st century.

A police community support officer in my constituency would face a cut of more than £1,000 if they started as a police constable just up the road in West Yorkshire. Does the Minister accept the impact that that has on police recruitment, and what will she do to tackle it?

I am pleased to let the hon. Lady know that police forces across the country, including Devon and Cornwall constabulary, are recruiting, and there are many more people wanting to join the police force than there are opportunities available. Clearly, pay and remuneration are not deterring people from coming forward and taking up the marvellous careers that being in the police force offers them.

I warmly welcome the decision to double the amount that was expected to be given to our brave police officers on the frontline. However, the Labour Mayor of London is consulting on widespread police station closures, the amalgamation of boroughs and a reduction in the number of police officers. Is any extra money going to be allocated to London to cover the costs of this pay increase, which I warmly welcome, or is it expected that there will have to be further closures of police stations and a further loss of police officers?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important matter. Local police forces—the Metropolitan police is no exception—have funding from the taxpayer via the Government, but they also have the ability to raise precepts in the local community. All police forces that use their precepting powers are seeing an increase in the amount of money that they have to spend. I strongly encourage all London Members, across the political divide, to ask the Mayor to use his precepting powers, so that cuts do not have to be made to services.

I have met both the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable of Gloucestershire over the last couple of weeks. They already faced a very difficult funding situation, but this announcement will only make it worse. They have made all the back-office savings that they can possibly make, and their worry is that restructuring is again on the Government’s agenda. Will the Minister at least rule that out today, so that I can go back to them and give them the assurance that they are not expected to waste yet more time and money on a useless restructuring exercise?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me this opportunity to say that it is plain scaremongering to suggest that there is some hidden agenda of reorganisation. Operational decisions are made by police officers.

As a Cornish MP, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that Devon and Cornwall police leaders have decided for themselves to work in partnership with Dorset. That has been a very successful partnership, which is saving back-office expenditure and enabling the force to be more efficient and keep our communities in Devon, Cornwall and Dorset safer. These are independent operational decisions made by the police themselves.

To answer the hon. Gentleman’s question directly, the police in his constabulary area have reserves of more than 6% of their annual budget that they could prudently use—they would have to use only a very small percentage—to reward extremely brave and hard-working frontline officers. I am sure all his constituents would want them to do that.

Just last week, the chief constable of Northumbria said that his force was getting “very, very close” to not being able to deliver a professional service because of budget cuts. Does the Minister think that burdening him with extra expenditure without giving him any extra budget is going to make that situation better or worse?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question, but I do not consider that paying our brave and hard-working frontline officers, who have faced the most extraordinary year, extra pay is a burden. It is absolutely right that their extraordinary public service should be rewarded with this richly deserved extra 1%; that is absolutely the correct thing to do. Police forces will be sitting on reserves, and reserves are there for a reason: they are there, in part, for extraordinary circumstances. The police have faced extraordinary circumstances this year, and they richly deserve this pay rise.

On Wednesday, the National Police Chiefs Council said that

“without better real terms funding protection from government, an award above one per cent will inevitably impact on our ability to deliver policing services and maintain staffing levels.”

Does the Minister think that the unfunded pay deal will lead to a reduction in the number of officers, or is she suggesting that the council is making this up?

I say to the hon. Gentleman, as I have said to a number of his colleagues, that if we take the police budget as a whole, the extra 1% is less than—I repeat, less than—0.5% of the budget. All police forces are sitting on reserves of at least 6% of their annual funding, so these pay rises are affordable. I think they are richly deserved by frontline officers, and I thoroughly support the independent pay review bodies that made these recommendations.

I hate to burst the Minister’s bubble, but PC Joseph Torkington has just resigned from Greater Manchester police, citing, in addition to the pay freeze, cuts to frontline resources and attacks on terms and conditions. In his words:

“To the government I have nothing good to say whatsoever, they should hang their heads in shame.”

What effect does the Minister think that this below-inflation pay award, which is unfunded, will have on already plummeting staff morale?

We only have to look at the evidence for the fact that people want to join the police force, and more and more people are coming forward to do so. Police pay is not just made up of this annual increase; they have incremental increases, good terms and conditions, and pensions that they absolutely richly deserve. I think the police force today offers a great career for men and women across our country, and, by the way, the public are really delighted with the work that is being done in the hon. Lady’s community and across the country. Confidence in the police and in their ability to keep us safe is rising, and it is much higher than the level we inherited from the Labour Government back in 2010.

The Minister says that we should look at the evidence. The evidence is that Greater Manchester police has lost 2,000 staff—officers—since 2010 as a result of Government cuts, and the strain is showing right across south Manchester. How can she claim that these unfunded rises are affordable for police forces such as Greater Manchester police when they are already desperately short of funds?

I will not repeat myself again, but I will say that I think the police have risen magnificently to the challenge of having to deal with the reductions in their funding. We only have to look at this in terms of the reduction in crime and the rising public confidence in the police. The nature of policing is changing, and the nature of policing needs to change because the nature of crime is changing. The Government are supporting the police in that transformational work. In addition to the annual budgets given to police forces, we also give significant funding for transformation—up to £175 million—and we are doing a huge amount of work on innovation to support crime prevention and crime reduction. The Government are standing four-square behind the excellent and determined work that our police officers are doing all across our country in facing up to and dealing with the new crimes and emerging threats.

Is not making half the pay award non-consolidated a sleight of hand, which officers will see right through? If they are worth a 2% pay increase, why can the Minister not make it a genuine consolidated 2% increase?

I do not think we can be accused of sleight of hand when we are standing here in Parliament being very clear about what we have done and why we have done it. In addition to all the support we are giving to frontline officers and their leadership through the transformation funding, we are doing a huge amount to enable police officers to be supported by the wider public sector. Every day, police officers have to deal with vulnerable people, who are often suffering a mental health crisis. The Government have supported the wonderful partnership work between the NHS and police officers so people—and police officers—are properly supported. This is about not just the amount of money that is going into police funding, but the transformation and partnership work, which is being enabled far better than it was in 2010.

The Minister will know that the police force that covers both our constituencies has lost 597 police officers since 2010. What estimate has she made of how many experienced police officers will leave Devon and Cornwall police this year because they feel undervalued and devalued by a below-inflation pay rise, which is a real-terms pay cut?

I always welcome any opportunity to praise the work of our excellent Devon and Cornwall police. When I go about my business there, I see highly motivated police officers and lots of people who want to join the Devon and Cornwall constabulary. As we have discussed before, it is doing very innovative work, not least with the police force in Dorset. I do not accept the very negative picture that the hon. Gentleman is trying to paint. I encourage him to speak more positively and represent its extremely good work in the House. Crime is falling and it is keeping us safe in Devon and Cornwall.

The Minister ended her response to the urgent question by talking about the prudent use of reserves, but why does she think she knows better than the National Audit Office, which demands that police forces keep adequate reserves and says that taking staffing costs out of reserves is financially irresponsible? My chief constable in Humberside explained to me last week how important reserves are when unexpected demands are made on the police service, such as multiple murders that have to be investigated. The money is not there to cover the increased pay costs.

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I talked about the prudent use of reserves, but it is important to note that they have been growing year on year. They now stand at £1.8 billion, so there is clearly an opportunity for forces to use them to pay for the extra 1% pay rise. I refer her to the work that Sir Tom Winsor does with Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary reporting on police forces. He has said clearly and consistently that police officers can do much more to improve efficiency.

The Metropolitan police have warned of steep increases in gun and knife crime in London over the past year: gun and knife crime have risen 42% and 24% respectively, and recorded crime is up across virtually every category, which does not chime with what the Minister is saying. Police numbers fell for the seventh consecutive year in July, and many forces are at breaking point. I do not see how asking the police to foot the £50 million bill for the Government’s disingenuous pay deal will help to solve the crisis. To talk about the Mayor’s precept in London is simply trying to pass on to hard-pressed Londoners the cost of the Government’s failed policies.[Official Report, 9 October 2017, Vol. 629, c. 2MC.]

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, which gives me the opportunity to thank the Metropolitan police for its deep and consistent engagement with my colleagues in the Home Office working on action plans to tackle the spike in violent crime in London. We do a huge amount of joined-up work supporting our colleagues in the police force in London to tackle these issues. Taxpayers all over the country pay for policing through a combination of general taxation and local precepts. Given that the Metropolitan police consumes about a third of the police budget for England, I do not think it is too much to ask Londoners to pay their fair share of the precept, just as my constituents have to pay their fair share.

In Calderdale in the past 12 months, we have lost 50% of our neighbourhood policing officers. The picture being painted by the Minister could not be any further from the reality on the streets of Halifax. The pay bonus would cost West Yorkshire police an additional £4 million, which is the equivalent of 83 police officers. How does the Minister expect our forces to be able to deliver the pay bonus without it impacting on frontline services? And may I be very clear about this point, Mr Speaker? Those of us on the Labour Benches are speaking up for our police officers, not talking them down.

As I said, I believe the reserves held by police forces should be used to cover the cost. I do not see that they have to make frontline cuts to officer numbers. Operational decisions are totally down to chief constables and police and crime commissioners. I believe the costs are affordable. I encourage the hon. Lady to go back and speak to her police and crime commissioner about her concerns about local operational decisions. The decision that has been made will enable us to do the right thing for our brave and hardworking police officers, who have had the most extraordinary year facing up to some of the greatest challenges that our country has faced for a very long time. They richly deserve this extra pay rise.