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Police: Financial Sustainability

Volume 646: debated on Wednesday 12 September 2018

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the National Audit Office’s report, “Financial sustainability of police forces in England and Wales 2018”.

I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. The NAO does incredibly important work and the Government are very grateful to it for its work on police financial sustainability. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made extremely clear to police superintendents yesterday, we absolutely understand and agree that the police are under pressure, and we are absolutely determined to support them.

I do not recognise the suggestion, however, that Ministers do not understand the pressures on the police. Last year, I spoke personally to all 43 police forces in England and Wales, including frontline officers. I also commissioned analysis to improve our understanding of police demand and resilience, and I explained our findings to the House last year, at the time of the provisional police funding settlement. We recognise the pressures on the police, including from complex crime and the threat of terrorism, and we have provided a funding settlement that is increasing total investment in the police system by more than £460 million in the current financial year. This includes £50 million of additional funding for counter-terrorism, £130 million for national priorities and £280 million in force funding from increases in precept income.

We are not stopping there. I have already indicated that we will afford the police the same precept flexibility in 2019-20 subject to their meeting productivity and efficiency asks. We are also working very closely with the police to jointly build the evidence base on police demand, resilience and capability ahead of the spending review.

The report is, then, valuable in highlighting the pressure on the police, but we do not believe that it gives adequate weight to a number of important issues: first, the strength of the local accountability structure through police and crime commissioners, which were introduced by this Government; secondly, our support to the independent inspectorate in developing force management statements—a key tool in getting better data to identify and manage future demand; thirdly, our public and regular monitoring of service effectiveness through Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services, whose independent authority we have strengthened; and, fourthly, our request to the police that they reform themselves, meaning it is appropriate that the police have their own strategy, which they do, in “Police Vision 2025”.

Having said that, we of course take the report extremely seriously, and our permanent secretary has written to the NAO to accept these points. The House should be under no illusion, however: the Government remain extremely committed to ensuring that forces have the resources they need to do the extremely difficult work that they do on behalf of all of us, which the whole House appreciates.

The House appreciates that the Minister has met the leaders of all the police forces, but it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this National Audit Office report is an indictment of successive Conservative Home Secretaries and their handling of police financial sustainability.

Does the Minister now accept what the NAO sets out—that total funding to police forces, which is a combination of central Government funding and council tax, has fallen by 19% in real terms since 2010-11? Does the Minister accept what the NAO further sets out the:

“main way that police forces have managed financial pressure is by reducing the size of their workforces”?

It says that the total workforce across forces fell by 18% between 2010 and March 2018. Does the Minister accept the NAO conclusion that, although crime recorded by the crime survey for England and Wales decreased by 36% between 2011 and 2018, at the same time police forces faced an upsurge in the reporting of low volume and high harm crime—the crimes that alarm the public most?

Most damning of all, the National Audit Office says it has found early indicators that the police are “struggling”—that is the NAO’s word—to deliver an effective service. Is the Minister aware of the NAO’s conclusion that the Home Office simply does not have a clear picture of what individual forces need to meet local and national demands? Why is that, and what are Ministers going to do about it? Yesterday Commissioner Cressida Dick, the head of the Met police, said that she did not want the Government to wait until the police were struggling like the Prison Service. Can the Minister give the House an assurance that that will not happen?

First, I should make it clear that I did not speak just to police leaders. Whenever I visit a force I make a point of speaking to frontline officers, and through those conversations I gained a very clear picture of the stretch and pressure that they are experiencing.

The right hon. Lady asked me to confirm that police budgets had been reduced since 2010, and asked whether we had fewer police officers. The numbers do not lie: the numbers are very clear. They are hardly news. What the right hon. Lady omitted to mention, of course, was the underlying driver of the decisions that were made in 2010. The state of the public finances that we inherited from the previous Government led to the radical action that was needed.

It is not desperate. Those are the stark economic facts that the coalition Government faced in 2010. There was a need to take radical action to return the public finances to some sort of order. That is an uncomfortable truth about which the Labour party remains in denial.

It is not rubbish. [Hon. Members: “Yes, it is.”] The state of the public finances is a matter of absolute record.

I welcome the right hon. Lady’s recognition that traditional crime continues to decrease. Of course we are all concerned about the clear increase in serious violent crime, and we have faced up to it in clear statements of our determination to get on top of it, not just with words but with actions through the Serious Violence Strategy, which has been welcomed by the police and which is supported by funding.

The right hon. Lady said that forces were struggling to manage demand. It is absolutely true that some of them are, but we do not need the National Audit Office to tell us that; the HMIC reports on effectiveness make the point very plainly. We are working with those forces. We should reject any groupthink that suggests that this is just an issue of financial resources, although they are clearly important. Police leaders recognise that there is considerable scope for improvement in the way in which police time and demand are managed. HMIC has made that point very clearly, and has taken an initiative that we support in requiring force management statements in which police forces must explain their view of future demand and how they intend to manage it.

The right hon. Lady asked what the Government were going to do. I will tell her exactly what we are doing, and exactly what the Home Secretary said yesterday to the police superintendents. We will continue to support the police, and we have put more money into the police system. The Home Secretary has made it very clear that police funding is a priority for him, and we are working closely with the police in preparing for the comprehensive spending review. There needs to be a strong evidence base in respect of demand and resilience, and it is exactly that work that we are putting together. The Government attach the highest priority to public safety, and to ensuring that our police system has the support that it needs.

The Minister is right to mention the vital role that police and crime commissioners play in budgeting and spending. A good and effective police and crime commissioner such as ours in Kent, Matthew Scott—who can husband resources well enough to ensure that over the coming year Kent people will be blessed with up to 200 more police officers—can work well within a budget, and can provide the extra safety in our streets that people demand.

My right hon. Friend has made an important point. We introduced police and crime commissioners, and Matthew Scott is an outstanding example of the difference that they make, both through local accountability and through stewardship of police budgets. I am delighted, not least for the people of Kent, that as a result of the measures that we have taken—and we could only do so because of the improvements in the economy—more money is going into Kent policing, which Matthew is using to recruit more officers. I am sure that that is very welcome throughout Kent.

England’s most senior police officer, Cressida Dick, said yesterday that the police were now

“taking up the slack of other public services that are struggling to deliver.”

Will the Home Secretary, ahead of the Budget, argue for not just more cash for the police but extra cash for the NHS so that it can collaborate with them, especially when it comes to people with mental health issues?

The right hon. Gentleman has raised an extremely important point. One of the clear messages that I received during my tour of the police system was about the frustration caused by the amount of time that officers spend—in their words—doing other people’s jobs, away from core policing work, and a large part of that frustration relates to the amount of time spent supporting people with mental health issues. We are doing a piece of work on this, because evidence must support the initiatives that we take. We need to understand the problem, and think about how we can make local collaboration work more effectively so that time can be freed up to allow police officers to do what the public expect, and focus on core policing.

Policing should always be a spending priority for a Conservative Government. I have voted against cuts in police grants every year since their introduction in 2010. Our police are overstretched, and that is of increasing concern to many of our constituents. Is it not time that the Government broke the habit of a lifetime and did something popular? [Laughter.] Is it not time that they scrapped some of the huge, ridiculous sums that are going into the overseas aid budget, and passed them to our hard-pressed police forces? That would be popular with our local communities.

Does the Minister agree that calls for increases in the police budget—which I consistently make—are not helped by morons such as the police and crime commissioner in South Yorkshire, who seems to think that his force has so much money that it can now start asking people to report non-crimes as well as crimes?

My hon. Friend is a great and long-standing champion of the police, and I have great respect for that. However, he should know—because he is good at numbers—that this year the Government are spending, on behalf of the public and the taxpayer, more than £1 billion more on our police system than we were three years ago. I hope he welcomes that, because, as he fully recognises, the police system is stretched, and it is our responsibility to ensure that it has the resources that it needs.

The most expensive way to fund policing is through the mechanism of overtime, which is now at its highest-ever level. Would it not be sensible for the Government, rather than allowing hard-working police officers to work longer hours and cost the taxpayer more, to revisit the issue of police funding and revert to the figures that obtained in 2009-10, when Labour was in office?

Like most Labour Members, the right hon. Gentleman remains in complete denial of economic reality and the adjustments that have been needed since 2010 to put our public finances back in order. As I have said very publicly for at least a year, I accept the argument that the police system needs more resources, and that is exactly what we have delivered. This year, as a country, we have put an additional £460 million into the system, over £1 billion more than three years ago. However, it is not just about resources—as a former Minister, the right hon. Gentleman knows that—but about more efficient and effective use of police time.

I pay tribute to the hard-working police force of Avon and Somerset, which is making changes in its operating system. I was in touch with the force recently because it has altered its inquiry opening hours, but that is because it is having to adapt to changing demands. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is right to adapt to such changes, and will he reassure me that he remains committed to working closely with the police on funding following the delivery of a £460 million increase in the overall police budget for 2018-19?

I do agree, and that £460 million includes an additional £8 million for Avon and Somerset, which I know my hon. Friend will welcome. She is entirely right: Avon and Somerset is a superb example of a force that has adapted and innovated. I consider it to be best in class in respect of its smart use of data to manage demand, which means that it has some of the best response time statistics in the system. It provides an example to the rest of the system of how demand can be managed better through a more intelligent use of data, and I congratulate it on that.

The former permanent secretary at the Home Office has acknowledged that the funding formula for policing is ineffective. However, as there has been a delay, it now looks like we will be waiting until the spending review before the new formula is agreed and comes into force. On my calculation that means it will not come into force or make a difference until 2020-21. Can the Minister give us any comfort on that and explain when the funding formula will be properly revisited?

I say to the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, as I have said publicly, that the appropriate point to address this issue—which is very sensitive and which a number of forces and MPs representing forces feel very strongly about—is in the context of the CSR, which is the most important framework for long-term financial planning in the police. I will be very frank: my priority, working with the Home Secretary, is to make an argument to set the size of the total cake. We have made it clear that we will then need to deliver a compelling analysis and plan for how that cake gets divided up in a way that more fairly reflects the demands on the current policing system, which are evolving. We are very serious about that, but we just happen to think that the CSR is the most appropriate framework in which to do this work.

In God’s own town of Lymington a robber was captured but had to be released because there was no police officer available to be sent. We do need more police officers, don’t we?

We do; I agree and totally accept the argument that we need more resources for the police, which is exactly what we have delivered. That includes an additional £9.7 million for Hampshire police, whom I meet regularly. Across the country forces are using that money to recruit additional officers: 500 more here in London, 200-odd in Kent, 150-odd in Essex, 150-odd in Nottingham, and 100 in West Mercia. Across the country police forces are using the additional resources we are able to deliver, as a result of our successful stewardship of the economy since 2010, to deliver what the public want, which is more policing. We would not be able to do that under the Labour party’s policies.

With 2,000 police officers cut in West Midlands police, crime is soaring, violent crime by 59%. Communities increasingly live in fear, as Ministers are in denial as to the consequences of their actions. Does the Minister not accept that the first duty of any Government is the safety and security of their citizens, and that it is absolutely wrong that under the existing formula the West Midlands cut is in excess of twice that of Surrey?

The hon. Gentleman and I have had many exchanges over the year about West Midlands police and I hope he welcomes—although he voted against it—the funding settlement that will see an additional £9.9 million go into West Midlands policing. David Thompson, the chief, has made many representations to me about fair funding and I refer the hon. Gentleman to my earlier remarks: substantive work needs to be done around fairer funding of the police system and the CSR is the right place to do that.

My right hon. Friend has already mentioned the 100 new police officers for West Mercia that John-Paul Campion, our excellent police and crime commissioner, is about to recruit. I would like to see these new officers fighting rural crime, so will my right hon. Friend look again at road traffic offences, especially speeding? Speed awareness courses help the safety of all of us on the roads, but they can only happen once every three years. May we have them on an annual basis, please?

I join my hon. Friend in welcoming the initiative of West Mercia’s police and crime commissioner to use the additional £4.6 million made available to him to recruit additional officers. I wholly understand the weight my hon. Friend attaches to rural crime, as I have heard that very clearly from other Members representing rural constituencies. It is obviously for the local PCC in his local plan to establish his local priorities, but I will take my hon. Friend’s point about road traffic away and come back to him.

Opposition Members all know the impact of this Government’s cuts on police officers—they are having an impact locally—but we also all acknowledge the hard work police officers are doing. Does the Minister agree with Cressida Dick that the pay award offered was like a “punch on the nose”?

I wholly agree about the hard work police officers do—[Interruption.] They are extremely stretched, and I will go further: I completely understand, as does the Home Secretary, as he said yesterday at the police superintendents’ conference, why police officers feel extremely disappointed by the Government’s decision. The reality is that, as the Home Secretary said yesterday, the Government have to balance fairness and affordability. We continue to operate in a very constrained environment in terms of the public finances as a direct consequence of the actions of the last Labour Government, and we are still navigating our way through those difficulties. The Government took a collective decision based on fairness and affordability and looking at public pay in the round. We completely recognise that police officers are disappointed by that, and our priority going forward is to make the argument to the Treasury about the resources the police need in the future.

Tomorrow evening there will be a public meeting in Glastonbury at which residents from across the community will air their concerns about antisocial behaviour in the town. Avon and Somerset police hitherto has been limited in the way it has been able to respond to that because of the challenges of delivering policing across a large rural county such as Somerset. Will the Minister of State ensure that, in all future decisions on police funding, the cost of rurality is factored in and that rural areas are therefore well provided for?

I thank my hon. Friend for that insight. I completely understand this point as I have had many representations from Members representing rural forces making exactly that point. In our work planning for the CSR, and the application of a fairer funding formula, that is one of the factors that we take fully into account.

The appalling murder of Nicholas Churton last year in my constituency highlighted deficiencies in both policing and the probation service; at Prime Minister’s questions today we heard about deficiencies in Wolverhampton, too. There is a widespread increase in violent crime, which is having a direct impact on the lives of our constituents. Will the Minister ensure that that message is conveyed to the whole Government so that when he secures funding in the CSR, priority is given to policing, which is a massive issue in our constituencies up and down the land?

I understand exactly the point the hon. Gentleman makes and I hope he can take some assurance—they are words at this stage; I fully accept that—from the statements by the Home Secretary about the personal priority he attaches to police funding; he states it is clearly his priority. The hon. Gentleman mentions serious violent crime. I think the whole House is united in a determination to bear down on that horrific problem. He talks about policing being at the core of this. He is right, but what is required is a cross-Government response because this is not just about robust law enforcement, although that is essential; it is also about much more effective work on prevention and early intervention, which requires other Departments and the whole system at national and local levels to work more effectively to steer young people away from crime and violence and the devastating consequences it has for them, their families, friends and communities.

It is pointless having an independent pay panel if its findings are ignored. This summer, I had the pleasure of spending a day with Greater Manchester police in its give a day to policing scheme, as I know many other Members did. Will my right hon. Friend take back the firm message to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to bring forward additional resources for policing in the autumn Budget?

I understand the point my hon. Friend makes about the police remuneration board. It is hard not to. I have made very clear—more importantly the Home Secretary has made very clear—the personal priority we attach to police funding. We recognise, in a way the NAO report underestimates, and understand the pressures on the police system. Demand on the police is rising. Crime is changing and becoming more complex. We must respond because public safety is the No. 1 priority of any Government.

My local police force, Suffolk constabulary, is the third lowest funded police force in England per head of population. About 300 officers have been lost in the last eight years, which is a large proportion for a small force, and about a third of support staff have also been lost. Violent crime, and especially drug-related violent crime, in my constituency of Ipswich has mushroomed and we have seen multiple gang stabbings in the last year. Can the Minister see that there is a connection and will he speak to the Chancellor to secure the funds that the service he is responsible for needs?

The hon. Gentleman and I have had a number of exchanges over the last year about Suffolk policing, and I have had many conversations with the Suffolk PCC, which reinforces the point that we feel the NAO report attaches insufficient weight to the local accountability mechanisms that we have in place. There are very few PCCs who have not made representations to me about the pressure on their system and the argument for more resources or fairer allocation of resources, and the Suffolk PCC would be pre-eminent in that. I have made it clear, and the Home Secretary has made it clear, that we are determined and—more than words—that the Home Office, in a way we have never done before, is working closely with the police to build the evidence base that is going to be needed in a very competitive CSR to ensure that our police system has the resources it needs, because public safety is the No. 1 priority of any Government.

My right hon. Friend is aware of the excellent work being done by Lincolnshire police to keep us safe. I regularly meet our excellent police and crime commissioner, Marc Jones, to discuss the challenges involved in policing such a large rural area. Lincolnshire police has 5,500 miles of road and 2,500 square miles to police. What more can the Minister do to ensure that our dedicated police force has the funds it needs to police this rural area?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and to all those who have been absolutely assiduous in making representations on behalf of Lincolnshire police, which is a stretched force that is facing financial challenges. Marc Jones has also been assiduous as a PCC in making these points, and we have worked closely with him to understand the pressures on that police force. It has received an additional £3.3 million this year, which I hope my hon. Friend welcomes. It has also been the recipient of some special grants through the special grant programme. We will work closely with Marc and other PCCs to make the case in the next CSR for increased resources for our police system, which I hope Lincolnshire will benefit from. I would add that Lincolnshire is another example of a force that has worked superbly to adapt and harness technology to make more productive use of police time. It is a leader in the use of mobile working technology and I congratulate it on that.

The Minister talks a lot about seeking evidence, and he has rightly praised Avon and Somerset police for its data and for being best in class, but I am afraid that those words will not serve my constituents properly by protecting them from crime. When will we be getting the money to meet the demand that we have evidenced?

The hon. Lady ignores the fact that Avon and Somerset is receiving an additional £8 million this year through the settlement that I think she voted against. I have made it clear that, for 2019-20, we expect to do something similar, and I have also made it clear that, as a ministerial team led by the Home Secretary, we are doing a great deal of work to develop the evidence base and to make the argument about the resources that the police need for the next five years. That includes Avon and Somerset, which does outstanding work on behalf of its residents, not least, as we have agreed, in terms of best practice in demand management.

I know that the Minister cares deeply about these issues. The Chair of the Public Accounts Committee is right when she draws attention to the unfairness of the formula, which has been unfair since damping was brought in in 2004. Four hundred people turned up to a meeting with the police in my constituency just a couple of weeks ago. That should give my right hon. Friend an indication of the level of concern about this issue. We in Bedfordshire cannot wait until the next comprehensive spending review. Because of the unfairness in funding, we do not get what the national formula says we should get, and we have not done so since 2004. That needs action now.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on being absolutely assiduous in making representations to me about Bedfordshire policing, about which I know he cares deeply. His passion is shared by Kathryn Holloway, the police and crime commissioner, who is in regular contact with me about these matters. He knows that Bedfordshire has had another £3.2 million this year, and I am sure he knows that the force has put in applications to the special grant programme. He will also know that the long-term solution is through the CSR and the application of a fairer funding formula. He knows from the conversations that we have had that I am personally absolutely committed to this, but I undertake to work closely with him, the PCC and Bedfordshire police over the next two years as they work through the challenges that they face. I completely understand the concern that he has expressed so well on behalf of his constituents.

Over the summer, I spent a day with officers at Stretford police station, and I have to tell the Minister that I was quite shocked when I saw the extent of the pressure they are under. This is arising in part because of new demands on the police, including those relating to radical extremism, to child criminal exploitation and to additional requirements relating to disclosure. Will the Minister ensure not only that the police are funded adequately to meet their current needs but that there is a real understanding of these new and growing pressures?

As ever, the hon. Lady makes an extremely good point. She is absolutely right, and the shadow Home Secretary also understands that demand on the police is changing. Traditional crime rates continue to fall, but demand on the system is coming from new and increasingly complex resource-intensive areas. We understand that, and we have responded to it, but there is more that we need to do in terms of ensuring that the police have the support that they need. We completely get that.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to ensuring that the police have the powers they need. We debated the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill on the Floor of the House yesterday, and the Offensive Weapons Bill will soon come to the House for our consideration. Can he reassure me and my constituents that he understands the pressures being faced by the police, not least those being caused by the use of drugs such as Spice?

My hon. Friend has been assiduous in registering his concerns to the House and the Government about the effect of Spice, which I have seen for myself. We have had exchanges on that point, and those concerns are shared by many colleagues. I also thank him for making the point about police powers. For reasons that we all understand, conversations about the police tend to focus on resources and money, but in terms of what the Government can do to support the police, it is not just about money. It is also about new powers such as those in the Offensive Weapons Bill that is going through the House. We are constantly reviewing how we can support the police with the powers they need to counter the changing demands on the system, and how we can work with them to anticipate demand. The one thing we do know about the policing environment at the moment is that it is one of constant change, and we need to work closely with the police to ensure that they are fit for purpose in terms of managing existing demand and getting on top of future demand.

Further to the answer that the Minister gave to the hon. Member for Wells (James Heappey), and acknowledging the need for the funding formula to appreciate the specific needs that rurality creates for forces such as Dyfed-Powys, will the Minister also consider in any forthcoming review the fact that the population in many rural areas increases significantly during the summer months and as such places additional pressures on the local force?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. It is a prime responsibility of the Government to look at how these limited, stretched public resources, which come from the taxpayer, are raised and spent, and it is obviously one of our responsibilities to ensure that decisions are taken that fully reflect and understand the shifts and changes in society and in how this country works. That is our responsibility, and it is a serious bit of work, which is why I think that it is best done in the context of the CSR.

I am grateful to the Minister for the engagement that he has shown with Lincolnshire police and for the praise that he has given to the force for doing more with less, but does he agree that, however big the funding cake is for the police, Lincolnshire deserves a larger slice of it?

I have received assiduous representations on that point from Lincolnshire MPs, the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner. Some work has been done on fair funding and more work needs to be done. I recognise that the Lincolnshire police force is stretched and challenged. We have done what we can to help in the short term. I give my commitment that I will continue to do what I can there, if that is what the evidence shows, but in the context of the CSR, which is the most important event in terms of framing the future of police funding for the next five years, I undertake that we will look again at the fair funding.

The chief constable of Bedfordshire, Jon Boutcher, told me this morning that in his 35 years as a police officer he had never seen such a high demand on his force, yet he has to deal with this with fewer police officers than he had in 2010 and a £47 million budget cut. He simply cannot find enough officers to attend all the 999 calls. Our police force is at breaking point. When will the Minister’s Government admit that their funding formula is broken, understand what forces such as Bedfordshire are dealing with and give them the funding they need to protect the public?

I am in regular contact with Bedfordshire’s chief constable and the police and crime commissioner. I am extremely aware of their concerns, and we are doing more than listening. We have put an additional £3.2 million into Bedfordshire policing this year, and I have already signalled that we intend again to give PCCs flexibility over precepts in 2019-20. We are engaging with Bedfordshire about applications to the special grant pot, which we increased in the funding settlement that the hon. Gentleman voted against. We are serious about the work that needs to be done for the CSR, both in terms of increasing the resources available to the police and the fair allocation of the cake once it has been established.

The Minister will know that Derbyshire’s police are particularly unfairly treated by the formula, but the force has a practical suggestion relating to the amount of policing it does involving Black Mamba that it says will help it to manage its scarce resources. The force says that it would greatly help if the drug could be reclassified to class A to provide a far better sentencing deterrent to the use of that drug. Is that something that the Minister could do quickly to help forces to manage the issue?

I thank Derbyshire for its pragmatic, constructive approach to some of the challenges we face. My hon. Friend will know, not least from sitting next to my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), that the Government keep the classification of Spice and other synthetic drugs under regular review. We rely on advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, and its position is unchanged, but we are extremely aware of the public concern, and I expect that that advice will be kept under regular scrutiny and refreshment.

May I pay tribute to the bravery of the police officers in Humberside who ran towards a serious incident in Hull city centre yesterday? Despite the best efforts of our excellent police and crime commissioner, Keith Hunter, to refocus resources to the frontline, we still have fewer officers than in 2010. We have lost equipment, including the force’s helicopter, and powers for police officers on antisocial behaviour were weakened under the coalition Government. With rising levels of crime—antisocial behaviour is rising in particular in my constituency—what is the Minister going to do about that?

The hon. Lady talks about financial resources. I have already taken steps that have led to an additional £4 million of public money going into Humberside policing. I hope that she will welcome that, although she voted against it, and we intend to do something similar this year. We will work closely with the police, including Humberside, to make the case for additional investment in policing.

The hon. Lady and other Labour MPs continue to talk about the cuts since 2010, but they are in complete denial of the economic reality. The budget reductions were taken for two good reasons. First, we had to take radical action to control the deficit that we inherited from a Government that she sometimes supported. Secondly, everyone agreed at the time that demand on the police was flat. Even the shadow Home Secretary at the time agreed that the police could deliver efficiencies, which is exactly what they have done. However, demand has changed since 2014 and we have to respond to that.

I will continue to lobby for more funds for West Midlands police, but this is not just about cash. Will the Minister confirm that police forces led by Conservative police and crime commissioners perform better across all measures, according to a report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary?

I would be delighted to accept that analysis, and I totally recognise the work that my hon. Friend does to champion West Midlands police, which is an incredibly important police force that does extremely good work. We have put additional resources into the force, and I note that the Labour police and crime commissioner has managed to go about increasing reserves by £26.9 million since 2011—the period in which he has complained about being cash-starved.

Like many of my colleagues, I recently spent a day shadowing Greater Manchester police in my constituency. From trainees to inspectors, they all expressed concerns about underfunding and short-staffing, not to mention having to pick up the pieces from cuts to mental health and ambulance services. What will the Minister do to ensure that the police in my constituency have the resources to do their jobs and that my constituents feel safe?

I understand the truth of the messages that the hon. Lady has received, because I have heard exactly the same thing. We are responding to that with the additional money that is going into the system— £10.7 million for Greater Manchester. I have already laboured the point that we see that as a start. We are building the case for additional resources, reflecting the fact that demand on the system has changed and has become increasingly complex. However, this is not just about money; it is also about how demand on the police is managed. I have heard exactly the same frustrations that she heard from officers in her area about how their time is managed. That is based partly on demand from other bits of the system and partly on failings or room for improvement in how their bosses manage their time. We have to press and pursue both those things, which is exactly what I am doing.

Our police forces have never had to work harder. They are working more efficiently than ever in tackling crime, not least in Northamptonshire, where individual police officers do a fantastic job, but they need to be paid properly. It is wrong not to accept the recommendations of the independent pay review body, which should be honoured in full. Conservative Governments always used to prioritise police pay. Please can we get back to doing that?

I completely understand my hon. Friend’s point. I also fully appreciate the frustration and, in places, anger that police officers feel at the decision. As a representative of the Government—this was a collective decision—I can say that we are still in a difficult position in relation to the public finances, and the Treasury and others have a difficult job to do in terms of balancing fairness and affordability, which is what underlies this decision.

With a 59% increase in violent crime, a 70% increase in murders and an increase in occasions when police are unable to attend serious disorder events on time, my community in Birmingham and those in the west midlands are being put at risk. Trying to wring more out of the budget towel is not possible, because there is a lack of officers and finances.

We have already touched on the west midlands, and the hon. Gentleman and I have had meetings about this matter, as is the case for all west midlands MPs. As a result of those representations, we have taken steps, which I hope he will welcome, to put an additional £9.9 million into west midlands policing. We have regular conversations with the leadership of West Midlands police about the force’s needs, which feeds into our demand work, into the 2019-20 settlement and into the CSR.

When the Minister took the time to attend our special seminar on the long-distance county lines drug-running problem last week, he heard the drive and determination, and the new ideas, of senior officers from forces around the country. Does he accept that that determination will be hamstrung unless he can tackle the issues outlined in the damning National Audit Office report?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on convening that meeting about county lines. The fact that it was so well attended by so many different groups involved in the issue is a great credit to him. It is a classic example of a growing problem that is challenging for the police because it crosses force borders and requires them to co-ordinate their work in ways that they have historically found difficult. That is exactly why the Home Office is playing a role by providing £3 million to support a co-ordination centre to help police forces better co-operate in their work on county lines. I hope the hon. Gentleman welcomes that.

South Wales police has seen a 30% cut in central Government funding since 2010 and faced a 12% cut overall. Remarkably, that represents only the second smallest set of cuts across the UK, and I am unsure whether the Minister thinks that south Wales MPs should be grateful for that. The reality is that we have a capital city in Cardiff and another large city in Swansea, and major events lead to real-time pressures, but the Government still have not increased budgets. Police and Crime Commissioner Alun Michael has called for additional funding, because undue pressure is being placed on rural policing and the policing of smaller communities, such as Ogmore.

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point about Cardiff, because he has made it to me before, and I certainly do undertake to speak directly to the police and crime commissioner about it. I ask him to recognise that something has changed in the Government’s approach to police funding, which is reflected in the fact that we recognise the increasing demands on the system and the pressures on places such as Cardiff. I hope that he will welcome South Wales police receiving an additional £8.2 million of taxpayers’ money this year.

Greater Manchester police has lost 2,000 officers—a quarter of its strength—in the past eight years. The Minister is right to refer to the increasing demands, and particularly to the huge and increasing amount of time that the police have to spend dealing with people in mental health crisis, which is a massive problem in south Manchester. If the Government are going to make massive cuts to council services, mental health services, substance abuse services, homelessness support, domestic violence services and youth services, are they not going to have to increase funding to the police disproportionately because it is the police who have to pick up the pieces from all those other cuts?

I challenge the hon. Gentleman’s premise. I want to see police officers focused on core policing and demand better managed in Greater Manchester and other areas between local partners. He talks about cuts. Actually, the Government are, rightly, investing an additional £1 billion a year in mental health. I am determined, as police Minister, to ensure that that money is felt on the ground and that agencies on the ground are supported to take some pressure off our police system.

Bill Presented

Agriculture Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Secretary Michael Gove, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary David Mundell, Secretary Alun Cairns, Secretary Karen Bradley, Dr Secretary Fox, Secretary Dominic Raab, Elizabeth Truss and George Eustice, presented a Bill to authorise new expenditure for certain agricultural and other purposes; to make provision about direct payments during an agricultural transition period following the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union; to make provision about the acquisition and use of information connected with food supply chains; to confer power to respond to exceptional market conditions affecting agricultural markets; to confer power to modify retained direct EU legislation relating to agricultural and rural development payments and public market intervention and private storage aid; to make provision about marketing standards and the classification of carcasses; to make provision for the recognition of associations of agricultural producers which may benefit from certain exemptions from competition law; to confer power to make regulations about contracts for the purchase of agricultural products from agricultural producers and securing compliance with the WTO Agreement on Agriculture; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 266) with explanatory notes (Bill 266-EN).