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Police Funding

Volume 629: debated on Monday 16 October 2017

Mr Speaker, I may be testing your legendary benevolence to the limit by seeking to group Question 7 with Questions 9, 14, 17 and 23.

The hon. Gentleman has slipped in Question 23, which was not part of the original request. That should not be the normal practice, but on this occasion, notwithstanding a certain amount of twitching by the learned souls who advise me, I am inclined to try to be helpful.

I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker. The twitches are noted for future occasions.

In 2017, the taxpayer will invest more than £11 billion in our police system, an increase of more than £114 million on 2015. However, we recognise that demand on the police is changing, and we are very sensitive to the pressure they are under. That is why we are reviewing demand and resilience, and we will consult on plans for the 2018-19 settlement before the end of the year.

With direct resource funding amounting to a budget cut due to inflation and with the chief constable stating that the force is getting very near to not being able to deliver a professional service, how can the Minister guarantee to keep people across Northumbria safe?

I had a productive meeting with the chief constable and Commissioner Baird, and I have a good understanding of some of the policing challenges they face and of the historic ratio of precept funding to core grant funding. All I will say is that, as with every single force, we are reviewing the demands on Northumbria police and its resilience before we make decisions on the 2018-19 funding settlement, on which we will consult before the end of the year.

The chief constable of West Yorkshire police said, “Our officers are exhausted” and that policing is “not sustainable” in the long term without an uplift in funding. We have lost more than 1,000 officers in West Yorkshire, yet this weekend Ministers briefed the press that there is room for more cuts. If the Government’s first duty is the safety of their citizens, how can they possibly justify more cuts in the face of such warnings?

We are not cutting. As I have made clear, the amount of taxpayers’ money going into the police system has gone up and individual police budgets are flat. The amount of funding for West Yorkshire police rose in 2015-16 by £3.7 million, and the force is sitting on £91 million of reserves, some 22% of revenue.

Since January 2017, policing the anti-fracking protest in Lancashire has cost Lancashire constabulary close to £4 million. Given that 78% of the protestors are not from Lancashire, when will the Government step in to meet those costs? It cannot be right for the council tax payers of Lancashire to bear the burden of what is essentially a national protest.

I understand the hon. Lady’s point. I am sure she is aware that we have a special grant pot, from which police forces can bid to cover significant, unexpected costs. A number of forces, including Lancashire, have put in bids to cover the costs of fracking protests. That is under review.

Last month, my constituent Jude Gayle, a young father, was stabbed to death as he returned home—yet another tragic and senseless loss in a growing number of knife attacks, which are up 20% in London over the past year. Will the Home Secretary finally accept that cutting hundreds of millions of pounds from the Metropolitan police budget since 2010 is a reckless approach to the safety and security of Londoners?

We have not, and I do not necessarily think there is any link between a reduction in police numbers and the outcome in terms of the complex drivers of the crime that the hon. Lady mentioned. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) is totally on top of this in terms of new legislation to ban the sale of zombie knives, for example. What I say, as a London MP, is that the budget for the Met is under review, as is that of every other force in the country, ahead of the 2018-19 funding settlement.

“With officer numbers at 1985 levels, crime up 10% in the last year and police work becoming ever more complex, this additional pressure is not sustainable.

The current flat cash settlement for forces announced in 2015 is no longer enough.”

Those were the words of Britain’s most senior police chief. Which part of that does the Minister disagree with?

The hon. Lady will know, because her shadow Minister put it on the record last time, that police budgets have been protected in the round—that is the reality—but we recognise that demand on the police is changing. I echo the Home Secretary’s words: we are absolutely determined to make sure that the police have the resources they need to do the job properly, while continuing to support and challenge them to be more efficient and effective.

Wiltshire police force’s investigation into the pretty flimsy allegations against Sir Edward Heath—a matter to which I hope to return in topical questions, if I am lucky enough to catch your eye, Mr Speaker—has cost between £1.5 million and £2 million, depending on whom one listens to. Most of us think that is an idiotic waste of money. I am grateful to the Home Office for agreeing to pay £1.1 million of that, thereby relieving my constituents in terms of their council tax obligations, but if this is a national matter, why is the Home Office paying only £1.1 million and not the whole thing?

I understand the strength of feeling from my hon. Friend on this matter. I can assure him that applications for grants and support for this inquiry went through all the normal processes, with the appropriate checks and balances on this.

Essex’s police service is doing an amazing job, but it is the second lowest funded in the country and our local policing precept is also very low. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Essex police on the job they do? Will he also be prepared to meet Essex MPs to discuss the possibility of increasing the local funding contribution, without the cost of a referendum?

I thank my hon. Friend for that, and I join her in celebrating the success of Essex police. I have received representations from the Essex police and crime commissioner—now also the fire commissioner—and other commissioners about flexibility on precept funding, and that is all part of the analysis we are doing as we look to the settlement for next year. Of course, I would be delighted to meet Essex Members of Parliament.

Antisocial behaviour and so-called low-level crime are a blight on Mansfield’s town centre, limiting investment and regeneration. Opposition Members are always keen to talk about budgets, which we know have risen, but it is not enough to throw money at a problem without having a plan. Will the Minister therefore tell me what proposals might come forward to try new methods of policing issues such as antisocial behaviour?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I understand that antisocial behaviour, particularly in town centres, is a blight, not least on the economy. I think three things need to happen: the Government need to make sure local police forces have the resources they need; the local commissioner and the chief have to make sure they have a smart system for allocating resources to demand and local priorities; and the police have to be very smart in how they work in partnership with local agencies and local businesses to work together to confront those issues, which is exactly what I saw recently in Newcastle.

The Minister will be aware of proposals to merge Devon and Cornwall police with the Dorset police force. Will he reassure me that if that merger goes ahead, there will be no loss in funding and the funding for the new combined force will be at least equal to that which the two separate forces currently enjoy?

I understand the point my hon. Friend is making on behalf of Cornwall. I have received representations on this potential merger, but there is no question of our imposing it; it has come out of the system and we will look at it, carefully examining the business case and indications of support from both parts involved in any merger, particularly Cornwall.

The policing of shale gas protests in Kirby Misperton in my constituency is putting pressure on local budgets, but many of the protestors are connected to national campaigns. Will the Minister agree to a meeting with me and the police and crime commissioner, so that we can make our case on why the costs should be met with national funds rather than by local taxpayers?

We know the pressures on police resources from a rise in violent crime, a huge increase in 999 and 101 calls, an unprecedented terrorist threat and a surge in non-crime demand because of mental health issues and missing persons. The police simply do not have the resources to respond to every report of crime. Were the Minister’s house burgled, how would he feel if the police did not show up?

I would feel frustrated and angry, as anyone else would. Government Members totally recognise the pressure that the police are under; in fact, I am currently concluding a process of speaking to or visiting every single police force in England and Wales, so I do not need any lectures on how pressured and stretched the police system is. We are listening and that is feeding into the work we are doing ahead of the consultation on the 2018-19 funding settlement. We are determined to make sure that the police have the resources they need to do the job, while we also continue to challenge them to be efficient and effective.