Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mike Freer.)
It is good to see such widespread interest in the House in the matter of policing and pensions, and the impact on police numbers. I want to begin by saying that I share the House’s frustration that we have almost four hours in which we could deal in plenty of time with the substantive matter of the agreement that has been struck over the past 24 hours.
However, turning to the subject before us, this debate is about the impact of changes to employer pension contribution rates on our policing service. These changes, of course, have broader implications for other public services, but this afternoon I want to concentrate on policing. My contention is quite simple: against a backdrop of steep cuts in police numbers and rising violent crime levels, it would be intolerable if the pension changes announced by the Government resulted in another round of cuts to police numbers around the country.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that this debate actually has much wider implications with regard to the issue of recruitment to the police force? If police officers see that their pensions are going to be affected by what the Government are proposing, fewer people will apply to join the police force because they see no future in public service where they are not rewarded with a decent pension, and that will affect the constabularies in every single area of England and Wales.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that Greater Manchester police and the deputy mayor for policing, my noble Friend Baroness Beverley Hughes, have raised real concerns about the additional costs of police pensions and the insufficiency of the precept to meet them. Further to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), Baroness Hughes has particularly pointed out that the impact on recruitment will also affect the plans that Greater Manchester police had to increase diversity in the force. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Ministers ought to be mindful of that concern?
I absolutely agree; this has a number of implications.
My central point is that the public should not be asked to accept that a consequence of this is a further round of cuts to police numbers; the cuts to police numbers in recent years have already gone far too far. We cannot responsibly allow the public’s freedom to go about their daily business to continue to be eroded as is happening at the moment.
The police risk life and limb to protect the public. They deserve nothing but the best, including a secure income in retirement. With crime rising rapidly and 2,000 police officers cut in the west midlands, does my right hon. Friend agree that it simply cannot be right that the police service has to fund police pensions, because the consequences of that will be further police officers being lost on the one hand and crime continuing to rise on the other?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He shares my contention that the public and police should not be asked to bear the brunt of this.
For many years, the Government have claimed that there is no link between the number of police on the streets and the levels of crime, but this week we had an important change in direction when the Home Secretary said that he now accepted the link between crime levels and police numbers. After years of the Government denying it, the Home Secretary this week finally acknowledged the importance of police numbers in fighting crime when he said:
“I think actually police numbers have to be an important part of the solution. Let’s not pretend that it’s not.”
I am grateful for that admission. It is long overdue. Let us be honest—if it was a Labour Government that had cut police numbers by more than 20,000 against a backdrop of rising violent crime, the Conservatives would not be saying that police numbers are not part of the issue; they would be screaming about it from the rooftops.
The police budget has been cut, so how can the Government say that they are giving the police the resources to increase numbers and make the job attractive? I visited a police station a couple of weeks ago, and police there were being asked to act as medics and assess prisoners who had mental difficulties. That is the sort of job they are being asked to do now, and it must have a demoralising effect on the police.
My hon. Friend is right that as time changes, the pressures on the police change, and the things they are asked to do are changing.
The Home Secretary’s admission this week is hugely important. Now that he has admitted that we need more police officers, it is up to the Home Office to secure the cash from the Treasury needed to deliver that pledge.
I wholeheartedly agree with what my right hon. Friend is saying. I have spent time over recent weeks behind the scenes with South Wales police, as part of the police service parliamentary scheme, and I have seen directly the pressures they are facing and heard the concerns about their pensions, pay and conditions. To be fair to the Minister, I know that he has been listening carefully to concerns about funding for Cardiff in particular.
Does my right hon. Friend share my dismay that the permanent secretary at the Home Office yesterday confirmed that the Home Office had nearly half a billion extra over the last two years to deal with no-deal preparations for Brexit, and that he was putting in a bid for hundreds of millions of pounds of new funding just to deal with Brexit, not to pay for our police?
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing this Adjournment debate. This week, a chief constable said that police
“may no longer be able to provide anything but the most basic services to the most vulnerable sectors of our community”.
Does he agree that that must be a wake-up call for the Government to ensure that resources and funding are available?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. Several chief constables have issued similar warnings about their capacity to give the public the service that they expect. This also has major implications for police morale because officers want to do a good job and to serve the public to the best of their ability.
In Durham, since 2010, we have seen a reduction of 400 in the number of police officers. With these cuts, Durham is going to lose a further 30 police officers. It is officially an outstanding force, but crime is going up. It is fair to say that the general public are going to say, “Has austerity actually ended?” They will not be thinking about pensions and so on. They will be thinking about the lack of bobbies on the beat. It would be fair for them to assess that austerity has not ended.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. There is simply no point in the Prime Minister promising to her conference, and to the public through her conference, that austerity has ended and then bringing in a set of changes that ends up with us seeing fewer police on the streets.
Was not this crisis not only predictable, but predicted? Under the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), not only in her role as Prime Minister, but in her previous role as Home Secretary, police forces—I regret to say that the then chief constable of West Midlands police was enthusiastic—cut the number of experienced police officers savagely and lost a huge strength in that regard. At the time, we said, “How are you saving money? This money will fall on the pensions scheme.” We were told, “That is not West Midlands’ problem”, but that has come back to haunt them. At the time, the Home Secretary and the Home Office were the ones encouraging chief constables to do that. Now people on the streets of the west midlands are paying the price.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. As I said in my opening sentences, the issue affects many public services. I have focused particularly on the police in this debate, but Members could be having a similar debate about a number of other public services.
In Scotland, things are the same. The issue exists across the country. Far too much emphasis has been put on Brexit, but this is bread and butter stuff; this is the police who are looking after our streets. So many children and young people in London—supposedly the heart of the UK—are getting murdered on the streets because of the lack of police numbers. Those young people should be growing up and getting a pension, not fighting. Start getting the police on the street again.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point about the level of crime and I will come on to that issue.
There is no point in the Home Secretary publicly saying that we need more officers and then loading an increased pension burden on to police forces that could result in precisely the opposite outcome from the one he wants to see. Just last week, the Public Accounts Committee published a report that sets out starkly what has happened to policing in recent years. Total police staffing numbers in England and Wales have dropped from a peak of 244,000 in March 2010 to 200,000 in March this year. Within that overall number, police officer numbers—this is probably the figure our constituents are most concerned by—have dropped from 143,734 in 2010 to 122,404 this year. That is a loss of more than 21,000 officers from our streets and communities. Police community support officers are down by around 40%. Other police staff are down by 21%, from around 80,000 to 68,000. Whether it is in civilian staff, PCSOs or the uniformed officers on our streets, we have seen hugely steep cuts over the past eight years.
Those figures include the 500 police officers lost to the Cleveland police authority since 2010. Despite adaptations, such as the privatisation of back-room services and the sharing of services with Durham constabulary colleagues, the police are still feeling the squeeze. The people of Hartlepool have told me that they prioritise bobbies on the beat. We are not going to get them any time soon if these cuts continue.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point.
The reason for these cuts in numbers, which I have read out to the House, is a steep cut in Government funding to the police. In this financial year, police forces around the country will receive 30% less, in real terms, in Government grant than they received in 2010-11. In total, taking into account the local precept, police forces’ funding has been cut by 19%.
Those cuts do not fall in a uniform manner, because some forces are more reliant than others on Government grant, and some get more help from the precept. For a force such as my own in the west midlands, where Government grant income comprises a very large part of the police budget, the impact of the cuts is even sharper than would otherwise be the case. That has resulted in the West Midlands police force losing more than 2,000 officers since 2010.
Police officers in West Yorkshire police have said to me that, given the cumulative effect of the pay squeeze, funding cuts and resource constraints, the pensions issue is the straw that broke the camel’s back and they are considering voluntarily leaving the police force for what they consider to be better employment. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this might be the straw that broke the camel’s back?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for this engaging Adjournment debate. He will be interested to hear that in Scotland we have the lowest number of police officers in a decade, and a £200 million shortfall in the next few years, with the Justice Minister saying that police numbers are no longer a priority. This is happening in Scotland as well as across England.
I do not know what the Minister in Scotland has said, but I welcome the admission from the Home Secretary this week that police numbers matter, that they are important and that they are part of the solution. I contend that, having said that, the Home Office now needs to deliver.
I would like to make some progress.
The first part of the picture that I am setting out is clear. We have far fewer police officers than we did— 2,000 fewer in my force, and more than 20,000 fewer across the country. That has, inevitably, resulted in the police being able to do less. Last month, Dave Thompson, the chief constable of my force in the west midlands, said:
“Core aspects of policing—such as answering calls, attending emergencies, investigating crime, bringing offenders to justice and neighbourhood policing—are being pushed beyond sustainability”.
Beyond sustainability—that is the verdict of one of the country’s most senior and respected police officers. That is the impact of the funding and police officer numbers that I have set out.
Which parts of policing bear the biggest brunt? Often, it is neighbourhood policing that does so. By 2010, after years of investment, a comprehensive network of neighbourhood policing teams had been painstakingly built up. The investment had gone in and officers had been recruited, and the result was dedicated, visible police teams—often one per local authority ward—providing reassurance on the ground and gathering priceless local intelligence. They were an instrument not only of public safety, but equality. Let us not forget that crime is not uniform in its effect. Neighbourhood teams were a visible reminder to those most at risk of crime that the state was there for them, on their side trying to protect them. Conversely, when cuts come, these teams are the ones that take the hit. The impact is not only on public safety, but inequality.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. He will be aware that the Civil Nuclear Constabulary backfills for armed police offers all over the United Kingdom. The CNC is awaiting an equality impact assessment to have its pension age reinstated. The offer it has made will cost the Treasury no money whatever and all it is waiting for is that equality impact assessment. So the pressure is across the whole of our police. From our uniformed and plain clothes officers to those officers who backfill at the most essential level, they are being let down by the Government.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point about the ripple effect of the loss of numbers throughout other related services.
In evidence to the Public Accounts Committee, the police and crime commissioner for Devon and Cornwall described the effect on public confidence of the cuts I have set out:
“at the moment in my community I know that our communities do not feel safe. We have got public confidence reducing”.
The chief constable of Durham police set out starkly to the same Committee the contrast between the public’s desire for visible neighbourhood policing and the reality of not being able to deliver it. He told the Public Accounts Committee:
“The problem with listening to people is that they want neighbourhood policing, which we can’t give them because we can’t afford it.”
That is not a situation that falls from the sky. It was not the situation pertaining in 2010. When we left office, we had put in place a comprehensive network of community neighbourhood policing teams which provided the visible presence we know our constituents want to see.
I repeat that this is an issue of equality, too. When the police retreat to become more of a rapid response service and less of a neighbourhood service, it is working-class communities and people on low incomes who are at the sharpest end.
The police and crime commissioner for Cheshire recently wrote to me and the other MPs in the area stating that cuts of £60 million have already been imposed, with a further £12 million of cuts proposed going forward. That is 250 officers taken from the frontline.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The point I am making is that the effect of this is not uniform in all parts of the country. My contention is that ensuring adequate police numbers is a progressive cause. It confers freedom on those who cannot afford to move house to get away from the problem. It provides help where it is needed most. Conversely, when it is not there, it is those who need help most who lose out.
For a time the Government claimed that there was nothing to worry about, because cuts in police numbers were not resulting in higher crime. Well, no longer. In the west midlands over the past year, violence against the person was up 21%, sexual offences up 23%, robbery up 22%, possession of weapon offences up 17% and knife crime up 18%. Nationally, homicides were up 14%, robbery up 22% and knife crime up 12%. The toll of knife crime, in particular, has horrified the country. Night after night, we hear of young lives brutally and senselessly cut short. Just last week, in the midst of a horrendous series of stabbings in our capital city of London, the Evening Standard pictured two of the victims on its front page. They were aged just 15 and 17. These were the faces of boys, not men; children killed in the most awful way. This has happened far too often on our streets. I am sure that all of us—on whichever side of the House—would agree that combating the upsurge in knife crime is a national cause of the utmost urgency.
The Minister may say that policing is not the sole answer, and I accept that. Clearly, there needs to be a further expansion of schemes, such as the early youth intervention scheme, that seek to tackle the root causes. Money for that scheme was distributed earlier this week, including some to my force in the west midlands, and I welcome that. However, if policing is not the sole answer, it is certainly an essential part of it, and we are going to need adequate numbers of police officers to get on top of this national emergency.
My right hon. Friend is making an extremely effective speech. He referenced, in particular, the upsurge in knife crime in London. Is he aware that Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has written to the Prime Minister setting out that the extra pension costs, which my right hon. Friend has rightly sought to draw to the House’s attention, represent £130 million extra a year, which is equivalent potentially to the loss of 2,000 police officers?
Those are shocking numbers, both financially and in the potential impact on police numbers. As I said, it is simply intolerable to expect the public to cope with the consequences if they unfold in that way.
It is in those twin contexts—falling police numbers and rising violent crime, including a particular emergency relating to knife crime—that we must consider police resources. The origin of the changes to the pension scheme, which could affect these numbers further, are two changes in what is called the discount rate for calculating pension liabilities. The effect of the changes in the discount rate has been to increase the liabilities for employers—in other words, to increase their costs. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) just quoted the potential impact on London. According to the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, the changes to pension costs across the country could mean that they have to find another £165 million next year, rising to £417 million the year after. By way of comparison, that is the same amount as the total budget for West Yorkshire police, which is the fourth biggest police force in England.
My right hon. Friend has painted a graphic picture of the increased pressure on employer pension contributions for the country as a whole. When we boil it down to different police forces, the impact is truly clear. Let me give a small example—I say small, because Gwent, my area, is a relatively small police force. The ongoing pressure amounts to an annual increase of £5 million a year. That could mean a reduction of 100 police officers. In an area such as Gwent, that is very significant.
My hon. Friend has graphically set out the potential impact on a smaller police force such as Gwent. For my force in the west midlands, the commissioner and chief constable estimate that the extra costs from these pension changes could be around £22 million over the next two years. If these costs came from their budgets alone, the impact would be around 450 officers lost. That would be on top of the 2,000 that we have already lost. As I said to the Minister at the beginning of the debate, expecting the public to accept reductions of this magnitude in force levels after the cuts that have taken place over the past eight years would be intolerable.
Julia Mulligan, the Conservative police and crime commissioner in North Yorkshire, wrote to me yesterday to highlight how for her police force, the £1.6 million to be cut in 2019-20 and the £4 million in 2020-21, on top of the £10 million savings that also have to be made, will mean that 30 officers will be lost immediately and then another 80 the following year. How can that be sustainable?
It is not sustainable, which is why leading chief constables have said that forces are already stretched beyond sustainability.
I turn now to how the changes might be paid for. The Budget allocated no extra money for local policing, but it did allocate extra funds for national counter-terrorism work, which I welcome. Of course, it is an essential part of protecting the public—we are all aware of the grave terrorist threat facing the country, so we all support extra funds for this essential counter-terrorism work—but it is not a substitute for the local neighbourhood policing that all our communities need on an all-year-round basis.
In evidence to the Treasury Select Committee on Monday 5 November, shortly after the Budget, the Chancellor implied that the Treasury would meet the extra costs of the pension changes. He said:
“In 2018 the Government decided that it was necessary to reduce the scope discount rate still further but on that decision we decided that the Treasury would absorb the additional cost. We have added a sum to the reserve and Departments will be reimbursed for the additional costs of the 2018 scope change.”
When asked if that would be for every year ongoing, the Treasury official accompanying the Chancellor at that evidence session said:
“It is actually for every year”.
On the face of it, that sounds as though the Government are ready to compensate Departments for the extra costs incurred. I hope the Minister will address this when he sums up, because if that is the case, it will be warmly welcomed by chief constables, the public and Members on both sides of the House.
The picture is not really that clear though, because in response to an urgent question on Tuesday 6 November, the Minister for Policing did not say that the money would come from the reserve and go through Departments. In response to a question from me, he said that
“it is my intention to work through the issue and come to the House in early December with a funding settlement that works.”—[Official Report, 6 November 2018; Vol. 648, c. 1387.]
He also said that the outcome of the question of where these extra costs would fall would be decided in the comprehensive spending review. These two statements appear to be in contradiction: either the Treasury will fund it, or the issue is not settled and will be settled, or not, in the CSR.
To add to the confusion, a written answer from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on 9 November read:
“Budget 2018 confirmed additional funding for expected costs in excess of the level envisaged at Budget 2016. Government will review police spending power and further options for reform at the provisional police funding settlement in December.”
I hope the Minister can clear this up. Has the Budget set aside further funds for the police to cover these costs, so that the fears of chief constables about their impact need not come to pass, or as he has implied, is the matter undecided and to be settled in the CSR? It cannot be both: either it has been settled, or it has not. What is the correct understanding that the House should have of the financial position?
I want to deal with one more issue that often comes up in these debates: the issue of reserves. During last week’s urgent question, there were several references to these reserves, the implication being that there was a large unused pot of cash sitting there, ready-made to deal with such situations. My own force in the west midlands has publicly set out the position on reserves. It does have reserves, but they are there to deal with issues such as capital costs, the self-insurance of vehicles, protective equipment, major incidents and so on, and the West Midlands force is already committed to running down these reserves at around £20 million per year. The capital and budget reserves will be gone completely by the end of the next financial year, and on current plans, 70% of the total current reserves will be gone by 2020, so this money is already committed and not available to meet the pension costs. In a couple of years, all that will remain will be reserves for essentials such as civil unrest, terrorist attacks and the self-insurance of vehicles.
My right hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way. Whether we are talking about local government or any other form of government, reserves can only be spent once. Anyone in local government will confirm that. If there are any surpluses, they are needed for emergencies. We take up these issues with the Minister, but when I asked him a question the other day, the only answer I got was “Well, you voted against it.” That is no answer. I can tell the Minister that we voted against it because there was not enough in the first place.
My right hon. Friend is making a very persuasive case. The police and crime commissioner for my region, Thames Valley, is a member of the governing party rather than my party, but he wrote to me saying:
“During the debate the Minister may say that Police service can afford to meet this additional pension cost from our reserves, but this is simply not true and should be refuted. We already have plans to use these, and cannot afford a further withdrawal to fund these police officer pension costs.”
Is that not exactly my right hon. Friend’s point?
It is exactly the same point. The Government cannot expect reserves which—as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham)—are there to cover one-off costs, and which, in most cases, are already committed, to be used also to fund ongoing pension liabilities that will grow year on year.
Policing faces a desperately difficult situation. Violent crime is rising, and a national crisis of knife crime is unfolding. That has to be a top priority for the Government. We have police forces saying that they cannot do what would have been routinely expected of them a few years ago, and we have some forces saying that they cannot respond in person to certain types of crime. All the while, as funds from central Government funds are cut, the public are being asked to pay more and more for all this through rising precept levels. In other words, the public are paying more and getting less from their police service. That cannot be right, given that it is the Government’s duty to protect the public. It is bad for police morale, because the police want to do a good job, and it is not a good deal for the public.
No wonder confidence in the police’s ability is being hit. I believe that we need a change of direction, a halt to the cuts in police numbers, and an acceptance that it is a right of citizenship, wherever people live, to be protected by an adequate level of policing. My contention throughout the debate has been that this is not just a matter of public protection, but a matter of equality as well.
The pension changes that have been announced, should they all be loaded on to existing force budgets, will exacerbate the problems that we now face, and will make adequate levels of policing even harder to achieve. We cannot allow further cuts in police numbers to happen. The Minister and his Department must work with the Treasury to make sure that the changes are fully funded, so that the police can get on with the job we want them to do, which is protecting the public and ensuring that our constituents can live their lives and go about their business free from the fear of crime.
Let me begin by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) on securing this important Adjournment debate. Let me also express my view, which I think is widely held—certainly among Labour Members—on how outrageous it is that while the Cabinet is making a decision that has the potential to affect this country for generations to come, it is the reported intention of the Prime Minister to make a statement to the press immediately after—
Order. I am being very good, and I am going to keep this debate going, but these are the rules of the House. They are not my rules; they are rules that we have all agreed to, and the fact is that those are the rules. We have to work within the rules, and as much as everybody is disappointed, the rules are there; they are made by Members, so please do not complain about the rules that have been introduced.
I would never knowingly criticise myself, Mr Deputy Speaker, and you will be pleased to know that my constituents care about and raise with me far more than Brexit the issue of policing and in particular the consequences of Government changes to employer national insurance contributions and what that will mean for the funding of policing in my constituency and every other community up and down the country, because, as was stated in the excellent opening speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East, the consequence of increasing employer contributions will be a cost on police forces of an entirely unexpected and unplanned £165 million for 2019-20, and, as has been stated, that employer pension contribution liability will rise over time, so by the time that we get to 2020-21 the liability will be more like £420 million.
Money, as we know, does not grow on trees, and those responsible for managing police budgets and resources and making sure the budget is properly deployed to keep our constituents and country safe will be faced with an invidious choice. Of course they will want to make the right contributions to people’s pensions, but, as the National Police Chiefs Council has warned, the reality is that this could amount to the loss of a further 10,000 police officers right across the country, with every police force in this land being affected.
I apologise for missing the opening of this debate as I had a clash of business. In Humberside, we have seen police numbers rising in the past couple of years, but these changes would reverse that, and our chief constable has issued a very stark warning. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is completely unacceptable for these changes to be loaded on to police authorities? I make it very clear in this Chamber to the Minister that if this continues, I will vote against the police grant when it comes before the House next year, as I did between 2010 and 2015.
I am grateful for that intervention. I have known the hon. Gentleman for many years, including before I was elected to this place, in my previous role as president of the National Union of Students, and I know that when he says he is prepared to vote against his own Government he genuinely means it, not out of disloyalty to his party, but out of loyalty to the interests of his constituents and our country.
I could make the point that the Government Benches are almost entirely empty, but we know that that would be unfair because Adjournment debates are very rarely well attended and this one is better attended than most. But the truth is that Government Whips know that, even in parliamentary prime time, in debates about police budgets and employer pension contributions in particular, they have to struggle and strong-arm to get loyal Back Benchers in to defend the indefensible. Conservative Members know this is an indefensible position and that the consequence of these changes to employer pension contributions will be to cost police numbers in their constituencies, and which constituency MP in their right mind would, no matter what the size of their majority and however secure they might feel about their own electoral prospects, want to come here to defend police cuts that will affect public safety in their own constituencies? No one wants to do that; it is not why we come into politics.
We must see the budgetary pressures presented by changes to employer pension contributions in the context of what has happened to policing budgets more generally. The hon. Gentleman mentioned police numbers in Humberside, and we do not have a happy situation in my city either—our capital city. The Metropolitan police have had to grapple with budget cuts amounting to more than £1 billion. Ministers stand at the Dispatch Box and in Westminster Hall debates and try to justify their budget decisions. They try to pass the buck by blaming the Mayor of London for the police cuts, but the truth is that when central Government are cutting funding to local policing on the scale that they have done, there is only so much that Mayors and police and crime commissioners can do to offset the impact of those cuts.
The Home Secretary has finally acknowledged that cuts have consequences, and we are seeing those consequences in the rising violent crime in my constituency, across our city and across the country. The Government consistently attack the Mayor of London and try to make this a party political issue, but the facts speak for themselves. It is not just in Labour-led cities that violent crime is rising; it is rising in the leafy Tory-led shires. Violent crime has doubled in counties such as Hampshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk in the past three years. People do not have to be experts to understand the obvious: if there are fewer police on the streets to catch criminals and deter criminal activity, crime will rise. This applies not only to violent crime but to motor vehicle crime, for example, and it is leading to people feeling less safe and secure in their communities. It is changing people’s way of life. They do not want to go out of their homes or run errands of an evening because they are afraid of being mugged or attacked. That is the reality.
Every time I speak on policing in this House and publish the video on my Facebook page or on Twitter, it goes viral because people are really concerned about this. They cannot understand it. As one now former Conservative councillor in my borough told me, they cannot understand why any Government would cut policing to this extent. Before the local elections this year, even a Conservative councillor told me that Conservative voters were saying, “We know there are difficult choices to be made; we expect the Government to be tightening their belt, but we do not expect a Conservative Government to cut policing in the way they have.”
My hon. Friend is making a very good speech, and he has talked about the attitude of his constituents in north-east London. Those concerns are shared in north-west London. I have lived in my constituency all my life, and I cannot remember a time before now when there was gun crime on the streets of Harrow. In the past 12 months, we have found ourselves in the unprecedented situation of having two significant incidents of gun crime. That is unparalleled.
I am really grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I say without any prejudice towards inner London that, in reality, inner London has always had to grapple with violent crime. For MPs in boroughs such as Lambeth and Lewisham, gun crime, knife crime and gang crime have always been part and parcel of their work as constituency MPs. We know that there are problems concentrated in inner cities. That is an unfortunate fact of life, and it is one that we are working really hard to try to tackle. Frankly, no one should have to tolerate violent crime, wherever they live. My hon. Friend has just mentioned suburban London. My constituency borders the county of Essex, and I did not expect to see these levels of knife crime and violent crime there when I was elected to this place three years ago.
At Prime Minister’s questions today, I referred to an awful incident, which I would actually not associate with the police cuts, but I would draw to the Minister’s attention the stabbings and the gang crime in my constituency, as well as the county lines activity. Young people are being actively groomed at school gates. They are being identified because of their vulnerability and because they are the kids that are falling behind at school, and they are being groomed to run drugs across the country. We need police on our streets to deal with this. It is not just about grabbing people and nicking them; it is about the intelligence that community policing provides. It is about intelligence gathering and relationship building. It is about building trust so that people will come forward and speak to the police. All that is put at risk by the impact of the cuts to police budgets and police numbers. Given that that is the overall context, it is totally unacceptable to throw on top of that these changes to employer pension contributions, which are adding to the budgetary pressures.
To his credit, the Mayor of London has tried, with the resources he has available, to stem the tide of police cuts. Sadiq Khan has put in £140 million to fund 1,000 police officers, who would otherwise not be there. That has come at the cost of diverting into the policing budget money that the Greater London Authority gathers through business rates. It has also come at a cost to my constituents and to residents right across our capital city, who are paying more through their precept for policing.
It is so difficult to have a conversation about this with voters on the doorstep—this applies to council tax generally, by the way. I knock on people’s doors, and they say really clearly, “Hang on a minute. How is it that my local services are getting worse and there are fewer police officers on the street? My precept is going up—I am paying more. Why aren’t we getting more police?” That is a perfectly reasonable question. I have to explain to my constituents something I think is unjustifiable, which is that the Mayor of London is having to put up their precept because he is doing his best to stem the tide of cuts from central Government. This is a repeat pattern of behaviour: central Government make decisions here and pass the buck to local decision makers, who are responsible for implementing the cuts.
My hon. Friend is making an extremely powerful speech. Does he agree that it is not just in London that there is this deeply familiar pattern of deep cuts to police budgets, consequent cuts in police numbers and consequent rises in crime? Crime is getting ever more complex. The police are having to deal, as he said, with county lines issues and drugs issues more broadly—the use of new psychoactive substances, which are spreading throughout many of our communities—and precepts are having to be put up to try to stem some of these cuts. Is my hon. Friend surprised, as I am, that 1,600 officers and staff have lost their jobs in Wales over the past 10 years of Conservative and Conservative-led coalition Governments? That is deeply damaging to the ability of the police to deliver effective policing. I am sure that he agrees that it is completely unacceptable for this additional burden now to be placed on policing.
That is a powerful, well-made point, and it really does emphasise that this is a UK-wide problem and a common experience in a diverse range of communities up and down the country. It is so difficult to tell constituents that their taxes are rising, while their services are getting worse. It will be even more difficult to say that there will be fewer police officers on the streets of my constituency because the Government have changed some pension rules. My constituents will wonder what on earth the Government are playing at.
The Chancellor managed to find 500 million quid here, 500 million quid there and 500 million quid virtually everywhere to get a few good, cheap headlines the day after the Budget to create the illusion that the Government are putting money back into public services, even though we know that these sums were largely one-off grants for, as he so badly put it, the nice little extras. What I found most astonishing was that, even as the Chancellor, like Father Christmas a few months early, was sprinkling money across Departments, he did not find a single penny for policing. I genuinely found that astonishing; it suggests that the Treasury is out of touch—in fact, what it is doing with these rules, given the impact on police budgets, tells me that it is out of touch.
I am sure that I am not alone in having policing and crime as the No. 1 concern in my constituency. As I said at the outset, this place is understandably focused on Brexit and its generational consequences for years to come, but the discussion around dinner tables in my constituency tonight is more likely to be about crime and community safety, particularly given recent events. My constituents will be horrified at the way the Treasury is conducting itself in relation to these pension changes and the resources it puts into policing.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way; he is being extremely generous with his time. I put it to him that it is not true that the Treasury is out of touch on this; I think it knows exactly what it is doing. It is not just in respect of police pensions that it is changing the rules, pushing extra cuts on to policing. The same is true in respect of further education colleges and university pensions. There is a consistent pattern; it is repeat offending by the Treasury in this regard. It is not just policing that we should be addressing this evening; it is all the other public services that are equally subject to these sorts of changes, which will entail cuts.
As my hon. Friend says, it is not just policing. Before I was elected to this place, I was deputy leader of the London Borough of Redbridge. I had the enormous privilege of representing my home community on Redbridge Borough Council for eight years, and what I consistently saw across local government services was exactly the same pattern of behaviour: decisions taken in the Treasury brutalised the budgets of Government Departments, and then the Government Departments devolved the cuts, and the responsibility for those cuts, to local authorities. That is absolutely outrageous.
When the austerity agenda first began, I think everyone would acknowledge that some cuts were made to services that, frankly, some people did not really notice. What has changed over the past eight years is that the Government started by clamping down on some of the inevitable inefficiencies and waste that exist in any organisation with big infrastructure, then they began to impact on services—particularly specialist services that do not necessarily benefit the largest number of people but that have a substantial impact on particular service users—and now we are in a position where these cuts and the austerity agenda are not just widely felt, but deeply felt. That is why the Government have felt compelled to change their narrative on austerity.
Order. The hon. Gentleman is doing very well, and I know he wants to keep it going, but he has to try to stick to the subject. By talking about austerity, he will widen the debate completely out of where we are meant to be. This is about police pension cuts. I do not mind a debate around policing, but we cannot go over everything. There are a lot of other speakers, so he does not need to filibuster.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will take your advice.
In London we have already lost 3,000 police officers, which is having a serious impact on community policing. In fact, my constituents are now under no illusion. Community policing only really exists in speeches by Ministers at the Dispatch Box; it certainly does not exist in reality on the ground. The few stretched resources that we have left on the ground are really struggling.
The changes to police employer pension contributions are one of the most egregious changes that the Government have made to policing, and no doubt we will hear the same rhetoric as they try to make the contribution changes sound as technocratic and as irrelevant to people’s everyday experiences as possible. The reality is that people have really noticed the police cuts. This invidious language, saying, “Don’t worry, because we have cut out all the back office,” is not only disrespectful to public servants who did an excellent job, and who have now lost their job. I can tell the Minister that what police officers in my constituency tell me is that they are now spending more time processing criminals than catching them. That is not an acceptable state of play, and I fear that things will become far worse as a result of these changes to police employer pension contributions.
I give fair notice via the Treasury Bench that, when the Chancellor next comes before the Treasury Committee, he can be assured of a rough ride on the decisions he is taking and their impact on Home Office budgets, and therefore on police budgets. What he and his predecessor have done is absolutely outrageous, and I note the irony of editorials in the Evening Standard railing against police cuts and rising crime in London, and trying to pin responsibility on the Mayor of London. The editor of my local newspaper might like to look in the mirror before dishing out blame to others.
How the Government are proceeding is a terrible mistake, and we must not countenance it. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East for securing this Adjournment debate, and I am grateful to the Government, because their shambolic handling of the business of the House means that we now have so many hours to debate this subject before the House adjourns.
We have so long, but I will draw my remarks to a conclusion. [Hon. Members: “More!”] This is a novelty I am not used to. We know why we are here—obviously, we are trying to draw out the business—but this is a serious issue. We would not have stuck around for any old Adjournment debate on an obscure issue; this is so important to us in our constituencies. Whatever is going on in the wider world around Brexit, I cannot emphasise strongly enough that no issue is more important to my constituents than policing, police numbers, police budgets, crime and community safety, and therefore no issue is more important to me.
It is a pleasure to follow the excellent speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) about the real issue of policing here in the capital, but I want to reflect on North Yorkshire. Everybody says what a wonderful city York is, and I agree with that, but it is really challenged, too. Crime is an issue that has been brought to my attention by so many of my constituents, and we have challenges and pressures on our police service.
I want to raise a number of points associated with that. Antisocial behaviour has provided our city with a poor label at night and we do not have the policing available to bring that under control. As is the case for other hon. Members, county lines has also had a real impact on our city. Individuals are preying on the most vulnerable people in our city. I spent an evening with the police recently, and I was devastated to hear how the county lines special operations unit was being cut. These are vital prevention services being cut, and it is because the money clearly is not in the budgets to be able to provide security and safety to the most vulnerable children in our communities and the most vulnerable people in our cities.
The police also pick up capacity where other services fail. We cannot dismiss the 50% cut in local authority funding and of course the cuts to safer neighbourhoods partnerships, which are formed with the police. The police are ever more having to subsidise for those serious cuts in our communities. I must also raise the issue of the serious impact on mental health and the fact that our police officers are often at the frontline of providing mental health services to some of the most vulnerable people we know in our communities. Of course, where there are pressures on the mental health service—despite the warm words from the Prime Minister—the money is not reaching the frontline. Services are seriously at risk and stretched, and this is putting people in my constituency at risk. If the cuts we are hearing about to our police service are added to that, it will put a real pressure on those services.
Again, I want to reflect on an evening I spent with the police. I was meant to be looking at some of the work they were doing to tackle county lines, but instead I was diverted to spend five hours with a woman with dementia, whose partner had tried to take his life. Fourteen professionals were involved in that case, which diverted resources. Five police officers were involved in trying to provide safety for that individual because of the failed mental health services. The police are having to pick up the price of other services which are not able to fill those spaces, an issue I am sure the Minister will wish to respond to because it has an overall impact on the budgets available to policing. That is what we are discussing tonight: the impact that this is having on our communities, and on their security and safety. Crime in York has now become an issue that is frequently not only in the headlines of our newspapers, but on the lips of my constituents, as I speak to them day by day. They are increasingly concerned about what is happening in our community. We have many pressures in our city, but crime has shot up the agenda—
Order. Sorry, but this debate is about contributions to pensions. We have to very careful here, because otherwise we could open up all areas. As much as I love York and know how important it is, and as much as you may be right and I understand all the aspects you have raised, I must ask you to include pension contributions as well, in order to help me.
I am grateful for your guidance, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was about to turn to the pension changes. Police and crime commissioner Julia Mulligan wrote to me just yesterday about the pressures. This issue applies not only to North Yorkshire police; as the Minister will know, as of tomorrow it will affect the North Yorkshire fire and rescue service because the services are to be amalgamated. We are therefore not only putting community safety at risk but risking safety with regard to the fire service—
Order. Sorry, but as much as the hon. Lady wants to spread the debate, it is not a debate about the fire service and it is not about dementia. It is about police pension contributions. I am trying to be as helpful as I can be; if Members can ensure that the debate is about pension contributions, the lack of police numbers and the fact that they may have to be cut, that will help me a lot. Bringing in the fire authority does not help me in the slightest.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. The motion refers to changes to police employer pension contributions. As I was just explaining to the House, in North Yorkshire, as of tomorrow, the fire and rescue authority and the police will be amalgamated, so the fire and rescue service is absolutely pertinent to the debate. I shall therefore continue as I was, Mr Deputy Speaker.
As I have already highlighted, the cost to North Yorkshire police will be £1.6 million in 2019-20 and £4 million in 2020-21. That is on top of the £10 million that is already having to be saved. The police authority was seeking to recruit another 70 police officers but is now having to put that opportunity on hold.
My hon. Friend is advancing an important argument, which is that every penny that the police now have to put into increased employer contributions is one penny less that they have to spend on the mental health services and employer support that they have to provide, and on vital community services. Does she agree with my local chief constable in Staffordshire, who has said that cuts like this will not only impact on police numbers, but mean that in some parts of the county the services that he provides in addition to traditional policing will just have to stop?
I will just make a little progress, then I will be happy to give way.
The problem raised by the police and crime commissioner is that there is no certainty in the future, beyond 2019-20, about the impact of the cuts to pension contributions, so it is really important that we have clarity from the Minister about the future of the police force, not only in the short term but in the long term.
My hon. Friend is making a good speech about her area. Does she agree that the Minister and his Home Office colleagues will have an early opportunity to put right the debacle that has motivated my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) to secure this debate? The report on the police grant has to come before the House soon; perhaps my hon. Friend might like to encourage the Minister to intervene on her, perhaps at 5 o’clock, to set out a specific guarantee that the Government are going to fill the gap identified by my right hon. Friend?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the Minister has a real opportunity to alleviate the fears of police and crime commissioners and those with responsibility for policing up and down the country, and to address the real shortfall they are facing in their budgets. I would of course welcome any intervention from the Minister in which he did that, because there is clearly a lot of concern throughout the country, not only for our constituents’ security but for the services themselves.
In the absence of an intervention from the Minister, perhaps I can echo what my hon. Friend is saying. Northumbria police and crime commissioner Vera Baird has written to me to say that the
“pension changes demanded by the government could cost Northumbria £11 million per year…equivalent to a loss of 220 Police Officers.”
That follows a cut of a third in funding since 2010, which has already led to the loss of 1,000 police officers.
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. We all know that Vera Baird, a police and crime commissioner, commands so much respect across the whole community of police and crime commissioners. She does not mince her words in highlighting the real pressures that are now bearing down on her budgets in Northumbria. It is clear that, across the country, police and crime commissioners are being put under undue stress in trying to balance sheets that cannot be balanced.
Let me return, if I may, Mr Deputy Speaker, to the situation in North Yorkshire. I am not sure whether you heard my response to the point that you made to me about the fire and rescue service.
Just to help: I recognise that you are bringing the subjects together. It is about trying to save money and being forced to do so, but what I want you to do is to link that up to pensions. As long as you link the subject to pensions, I am comfortable, I can assure you.
I am really grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for providing that clarity. This absolutely does link into the pensions, as the police and crime commissioner has set out for me. There is a perception that there is a large financial reserve within the budgets to absorb costs such as pensions but, clearly, that is not the case, and it is certainly not the case in North Yorkshire. Home Office figures of 6 November 2018 showed that the financial reserves of the North Yorkshire fire and rescue service, as a share of core spending power, were the third lowest in the country, at just over 20%, which equates to £6.6 million. The amalgamation of the fire service and the police will, therefore, bear down on the police pension. The same is happening in the areas represented by my colleagues. In fact, it is estimated that the fire and rescue service will have to lose 37 firefighters, which is 12% of the overall total number of firefighters in my constituency. Again, that will have a real negative impact on safety. That is a direct result of the cuts that we are debating this evening.
I must say to the hon. Lady that we are not debating cuts; we are debating the pension contributions to the police. I am trying really hard to allow you to raise cuts in other areas, but I would be much happier if you could please keep pension contributions in part of your speech.
Let me clarify my point, Mr Deputy Speaker. Cuts are coming because, obviously, the police and crime commissioner is having to divert the budget into pensions. As a result, services are being cut. Therefore, that has a negative impact on the services that are being provided. So this is directly about cuts as a result of having to divert budgets. I hope that that clarifies that point. That is what police and crime commissioners are having to manage.
Julia Mulligan wrote to me yesterday, before this debate, to urge me—[Interruption.] Yes, a Conservative police and crime commissioner. She wrote to me to urge me to make the case to the Minister about the impact that these pension contribution changes will have. Clearly, that has a direct effect on the services that can be run, so it is not posturing. We are deeply, deeply concerned about the safety of our communities as a result of the redirection of resources.
Let me emphasise and underline my hon. Friend’s point about the connection between the changes to pension contributions and future cuts. The police and crime commissioner for Northumbria has said that, should these changes to pension contributions go ahead, she will need to make savings of £4.3 million in 2019-20 and a further £6.7 million in 2020-21.
I thank my hon. Friend for providing that clarity. Yet again, we are talking about services that are having to be reduced as a result of resources being diverted into pension pots. These services have clearly not been receiving the revenue to properly substantiate their current pensions. For our police and crime commissioners, this means that £1.5 million will have to be diverted just to address the fire service alone. I have mentioned the loss of firefighters as a result, but there is also a lack of resource to deliver the replacement of five fire engines because of the budget being diverted. When it comes to crewing, over a third of the day’s shifts at fire stations are affected as the budget is diverted into the pension contributions that will have to be made. This is happening as a result of the new pressures and demands on the service. The police and crime commissioner also highlights the cost of crewing three quarters of the 24 retained fire stations.
I really am sorry; I am trying very hard to be helpful. It is no use the hon. Lady shaking her head at me. I did not pick the title of the debate. The title is very clear: police pension contributions. As much as fire crew numbers, fire stations and fire engines are important—and I am 100% in agreement on those points—unfortunately the debate is not about the fire service.
No, it is not. I am sorry, but the title is on the annunciator: police. It does not mention fire services. I am going to have to give a ruling, which I did not want to do. The debate is about the police, not fire services. I understand that there is a consequence, but let us stick to the effect of police pension contributions.
With respect, Mr Deputy Speaker, I can see that the title on the annunciator is actually different from that on the Order Paper. I am speaking to the title on the Order Paper, which is “Changes to police employer pension contributions.” North Yorkshire police will tomorrow incorporate the North Yorkshire fire and rescue service, so these points are directly related to the title on the Order Paper, as opposed to the title on the annunciator.
Unfortunately, I think you have answered your own question—tomorrow, not today. Let me help the House. There are other Members who wish to speak. The 5 o’clock deadline has passed, so there is going to be no statement from the Government tonight. By all means, let us hear speeches, but if this is about keeping the House going, there is no purpose at this stage.
Thank you for that clarity, Mr Deputy Speaker. As I was saying, we are talking about future contributions to the pensions scheme across the board. Therefore, whether the changes to the police are happening tomorrow or into the future beyond that, clearly there will be a devastating impact across North Yorkshire, as I have highlighted in my contribution. I will leave it there because I know that other hon. Members wish to speak.
I would like to talk about why the police matter; the impact thus far of cuts to the police service; and just how serious the impact will be if this situation continues, particularly when it comes to pension costs.
The first duty of any Government is the safety and security of their citizens. That is a duty that Labour took very seriously while in government. We invested in the police service, with 17,000 extra police officers, 16,000 police community support officers, and the establishment of neighbourhood policing, celebrated worldwide for its effectiveness and much loved by the public, bringing crime down by 43%. We have now seen the dramatic turning of the tide. Under this Government, 21,000 police officers have gone, with crime rapidly rising as a consequence. In the west midlands, 2,100 police officers have gone, and the impact on the public and the police has been catastrophic.
In the Perry Common area of my constituency, fear stalks a certain street. One woman said to me, “I have lived here for 44 years, Jack, but I now cannot go out at night because I fear the consequences.” There has been an outbreak of knife crime and gun crime. In another part of my constituency, Frances Road, there has been a rapid growth of houses in multiple occupation, with the associated crime and antisocial behaviour, transforming a settled community into a place where a mother told me, “Every time my daughter wants to get the bus on Slade Road, I have to take her down there because she fears going out by herself.” There is the impact on a settled, strong community such as Castle Vale, with the outbreak of crime and antisocial behaviour. As ever fewer police officers have been on the beat, the problems have got ever worse. There is also the impact on the Fort shopping area, with a rapid growth in crime and antisocial behaviour.
We will see whether the statement made by the Home Secretary is translated into practical action at the next stages. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) said in his brilliant speech, if the Government are saying that they get it, they now need to act on it. What is so extraordinary is that, up until now, the Government have been in complete denial. The current Prime Minister, previously the Home Secretary for the best part of seven years, would say, “We cut police, yes, but we cut crime.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
The explosion in crime all over Britain is deeply worrying, as is the progressive hollowing-out of neighbourhood policing. At the heart of this debate are the concerns being expressed by the West Midlands police service as to what will happen to neighbourhood policing. Neighbourhood policing is not just crucial in terms of safety and security—actually, neighbourhood policing is the bedrock of counter-terrorism. It is about the systematic cultivation of relationships with the community, the acquiring of intelligence and the identifying of wrongdoing that is absolutely essential. The West Midlands police have said that, if they have to pay these pension costs, 450 more police officers will go as a consequence. That will stretch the thin blue line ever thinner, with ever more serious consequences.
I think we all know in this House the dedication that my hon. Friend has to the police services not just in the west midlands but across the country. He speaks very much to the situation we have in Staffordshire, where neighbourhood teams are now being asked to look after increasingly large areas, meaning that they lose the connections with local communities whereby they gather intelligence and prevent much more serious crime from happening. Does he share my concern that there is only so far that we can stretch neighbourhood policing before it becomes meaningless and before what we actually have is policing that is no more than numbers of officers sitting at a desk because they simply cannot patrol the patch they have been sent to?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is the hollowing-out of neighbourhood policing, with the immense dangers that I have described in relation to, for example, counter-terrorism, as well as the role that neighbourhood policing plays in engaging people, diverting them from crime, and preventing crime in the first place. All of that goes. Across the west midlands—and, indeed, across the country—every effort is being made by our chief constable and our police and crime commissioner to preserve neighbourhood policing, but increasingly it is neighbourhood policing in name only because police officers are getting pulled off neighbourhood policing and put on to response. That absolutely cannot be right.
I thank my hon. Friend for the excellent speech he is making. Over the summer, I spent a day with my Northumbria police force, where what he is speaking about was so evident. Police officers and neighbourhood police are already working through their own breaks—in effect, working unpaid overtime—in order to try to deliver the service that they could deliver before, and in the knowledge that future cuts would make this absolutely untenable. As a consequence of that, I am, for the first time, having to hold a surgery in Newcastle dedicated entirely to crime because of the concerns in our neighbourhoods.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In the debate on the impact of increased pension costs, the point has been made to me that this is about the impact not just on the public but on the police themselves. We are seeing real and growing problems of sickness, ill-health and sometimes mental stress as a consequence of the thin blue line being stretched ever thinner.
These are dedicated men and women. I pay tribute to our police service. The job that they do, often in the most difficult of circumstances, is truly outstanding, and to see the way that they have been treated and disparaged is fundamentally wrong. I remember when regulation A19 was used in the early stages of police cuts, and some of the most outstanding police officers in the west midlands were forced out of the service—people such as Detective Constable Tim Kennedy, who was one of the best in Britain, and Inspector Mark Stokes, whose leadership was outstanding. Those were excellent men and women who had served in the police for 30 years and were forced out at the age of 51, 52 and 53, all as a consequence of the Government’s determination to reduce the police service, betraying the first duty of any Government.
My hon. Friend is making a truly excellent contribution. Does he accept that one problem—we see this in Gloucestershire—is that an increasing number of police officers do not see through their course of duty? They are retiring early, which has a huge impact on the pension fund because they are not contributing for their whole 30-year service, as they used to, and that is having a deleterious effect.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right.
In the context of this discussion on the impact of yet further cuts to the police service, I want to mention a police officer in my constituency—it would not be right to name him—who was in tears because he could not believe what was happening. He was under real and growing pressure. He was absolutely dedicated to the service that he had given his life to, and he wanted to remain in the service. The fact that really good men and women are contemplating leaving the service they love as a consequence of the growing impact of cuts is fundamentally wrong.
The Government can no longer be in denial. It is simply not true that they cut police and they cut crime. Crime is soaring, including new forms of crime. The police statistics now take account of cyber-crime, of which there are 5 million incidents a year and more. We are at a defining moment in the history of the police service in our country. At the sharp end, our police and crime commissioner David Jamieson and Chief Constable Dave Thompson, who give outstanding leadership, are doing everything they can. They are modelling what happens if they have to find the money necessary to avoid 450 more police officers going as a result of police cuts.
The voice of the police service is clear: enough is enough. The Government cannot ask the overstretched and underfunded police service to pay the costs of much-deserved increases to pension entitlements. Neither should they ask the public to pay. The Government are saying to local authorities, “Oh yes, by all means fund the increase—use the precept,” which devolves responsibility and blame, and absolves the Government of their responsibility through the Treasury to give priority to investment in our police service.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving away a second time. Does he share my concern regarding the precept that the indiscriminate way in which council tax varies so greatly across the country means that there is a 2% increase in Staffordshire, but it is considerably less than 2% in some London boroughs and possibly 2% more in other places? We are therefore building inequality into police funding, rather than the equality we need.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have a bizarre situation under the current formula in which high-need, high-crime west midlands suffers disproportionately much more than low-need, relatively low-crime Surrey. That cannot be right.
In conclusion, this is a defining moment for the police service. Labour, led by our excellent shadow Policing Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), is time and again making the argument as to why policing matters. If the Policing Minister came to the streets and estates of Erdington, he would see increasing fear and hear people saying, “The police are great, Jack, but we never see them any longer. We’re losing contact. We rang up, but they couldn’t come out; they said they were overstretched.” That cannot be right. That is why it is crucial that the Government commit to funding these much-deserved pension increases, reversing the tide of the last eight years and investing in their first duty, which is the safety and security of the British public.
I am grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to participate in this debate on the increase in employers’ pension contributions that is expected of the police. I want to reference in particular the situation in London. If the House will forgive me, I will be largely parochial in my comments.
The context for my comments is the potential demand facing London for £130 million to meet the gap resulting from how the Government have decided employer pension contributions should be calculated. As I said in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has identified that the change will potentially cost the Met police £130 million, which is equivalent to some 2,000 police officer positions. As my hon. Friend rightly set out, that comes in the context of some 3,000 police officers having already been lost from London since 2010.
In my London Borough of Harrow, we have seen just shy of 200 police officer positions lost since 2010. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) effectively challenged the Minister for Policing to go to the estates in his community and hear the concerns about rising crime. The Minister has already been to many of the estates and roads in my constituency and already heard many of the concerns, because every general election he is to be found knocking on doors in Harrow West. He is ostensibly campaigning for the Conservative opponent to the sitting Labour and Co-operative Member for Harrow West, but perhaps he is quietly canvassing for me—I do not know. He is assiduous in ostensibly trying to help every Conservative candidate, and as a result will have consistently heard the concerns about policing in Harrow.
The Minister will know, for example, of the rise in violent crime. That is noticeable in particular over the past 12 months in Rayners Lane and the Grange Farm estate, where we have seen guns used in incidents of violent crime. That is an unprecedented situation in my time living in the borough. Many of my constituents are well aware of the prevalence of drugs being consumed and traded in South Harrow and along the Northolt Road. They are also aware of that in the Harrow part of the Racecourse estate. They are concerned about incidents of antisocial behaviour, particularly aggressive drinking, in Wealdstone and South Harrow. They ask where the police are in dealing with that.
What has happened in recent years has been the slow reduction in police numbers. If the Minister for Policing and his boss the Home Secretary again fail to persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer in advance of the police grant report to make good the £400 million-odd that is required nationally to stop further cuts to policing due to the increase in police employer contributions, the concern is that there will be further cuts to policing in Harrow, and that is profoundly worrying. As a result of the merger of police borough command units that Sadiq Khan has had to make happen, Harrow—a still comparatively low-crime borough in comparison to its neighbours—Barnet and Brent have been merged. We face the very real prospect of the police officers assigned to the three boroughs increasingly being used to fight crime in Barnet and Brent and more police being diverted out of Harrow for that purpose.
The concerns of my constituents have been exacerbated by the fact that the response teams for the new borough command unit will be based not at Harrow police station, but in the police stations in Colindale and Wembley. That will, inevitably, increase the response time for violent incidents in Harrow. Let us bear in mind the fact that the custody suite at Harrow police station has been earmarked for closure for some time, so those who are arrested in Harrow will be taken primarily to Colindale, but potentially also to Wembley. That will increase the amount of time for which police officers are outside our borough and unavailable to respond to crime.
Like, I suspect, many other Members of the House, I took time out over the summer to go on patrol with the police. It was striking to me just how thin the thin blue line is in Harrow. Officers who are required to be part of response teams also have to deal with ongoing police matters. Because of the small size of the response teams, it takes longer and longer to gather evidence and deal with incidents of crime. Unsurprisingly, the number of people who are taken to court and convicted of crimes is substantially down. If the money cannot be found to make good the increase in the shortfall in employers’ pension contributions, the situation will get worse.
I am struck by the rise in gang tensions in outer London. When I was first elected as a Member of Parliament, gang tensions—to the extent that they existed—were a feature of inner London, but they have now become a feature of outer London. There have been many good initiatives, and I take the opportunity to praise in passing the Ignite Trust, a superb charity that operates in my constituency, for its efforts to resolve some of the tensions between a gang based in my constituency and another based in the neighbouring borough of Ealing. Despite such work, without the support of a more visible police presence, I suspect that we will continue to face difficulties with rising gang crime.
Other hon. Members have raised the significant impact on neighbourhood policing of the loss of police numbers. I remember when the last Labour Government introduced neighbourhood policing, and what a difference it made in the south Harrow part of my constituency. At one high school, unsavoury characters used to collect outside the school gates. When police from the ward-based neighbourhood policing team were deployed outside the school gates for half an hour, those unsavoury characters instantly disappeared, and any who did show their face could be pursued. The neighbourhood police were able to provide an immediate and effective response. The visibility of PCSOs and police officers substantially reduced the fear of crime in my constituency and across London. It is profoundly concerning that the Government have not grasped the scale of the fear of crime in inner and outer London.
My hon. Friend talks about the effectiveness of neighbourhood policing and PCSOs. Does he agree that they are the eyes and ears of the police? The reason for the rising crime rate under this Tory Government is the removal of neighbourhood policing, which gathers intelligence for the whole police service.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Whether in the north of England or in our great capital city, it has been a false choice to allow the funding cuts to the police that have led to the reduction in neighbourhood policing. Unsurprisingly, there has been a reduction in the number of people convicted for committing crime as a result. There are not the police officers to access the necessary intelligence to find those who are guilty of offences or to process them through the courts. I hope it will not be long before the Minister comes to Harrow West again. I am willing to take him on a tour of the hotspots of crime in Harrow to help him better understand his responsibilities, not just to my constituents and the constituents of London, but to all the people of this great country who deserve far better than they are getting from this Government in terms of funding to fight crime.
I end by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) for securing this debate. I hope that at the conclusion of this debate, and if not today then perhaps at the police grant report or at Prime Minister’s questions next week, we hear an announcement that there will not be a requirement on police forces to find an extra contribution to pension funds and that we will not see the substantial reduction in police numbers many of us fear will happen if the Government go ahead with this measure.
I am delighted to provide an update and to say how much I have enjoyed this important debate, although it is slightly longer than I anticipated when I woke up this morning.
I am authorised to give an update to the House in response to the many points of order raised by Members on the clear sensitivity around due process in relation to the hugely important issue of any Brexit deal. I am authorised to inform the House that there will be no press statement this evening. There was considerable concern in the House about that happening before the Prime Minister came to Parliament. I can also confirm to the House that the Cabinet meeting is still ongoing. I am sure the House will therefore appreciate that the Prime Minister is not in a position to come to the House. I hope that gives some reassurance to Members who are concerned about due courtesy and respect being shown to Parliament.
I will now respond to the substantive issue raised in the debate. I thank the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) for securing this long debate, which has had many contributions. In doing so, he has done me a favour by sending another signal to the Treasury about the importance of resolving this issue. I do not want to sound facetious, because we are talking about an extremely important issue that affects one of the most important public services in the country and a service, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) rightly said, that is the envy of most countries around the world. Let me be clear, not least to my constituency neighbour the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas), that I am extremely aware, not least as a constituency MP, of the public’s rising anxiety about crime and the police. The Government absolutely understand that this is a system under pressure. I will come on to say more about that, but let me try to address the issues raised by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East and, with his permission, some of the issues raised by other Members who contributed to the debate.
It may surprise the right hon. Gentleman to hear that he and I are in agreement. Neither he, nor I, nor the Home Secretary wants to see any further reduction in police numbers. The right hon. Gentleman will know, because I am sure that he will have done his research, that police officer numbers have been stable over the past year. However, let me make it clear to him, as I have to police audiences, that one of the priorities for the Home Secretary and me is to increase the capacity of the police, because we have to increase their capacity to help them to respond to demand, which has risen and become increasingly complex. Therefore, without getting too technocratic, resource-weighted demand is the concern. They are getting drawn into more complex activity, which requires more time, more resource and longer, more complex investigations.
Underlying this—we have seen this shift since around 2014-15—are three elements. One is definitely the very unwelcome increase in certain categories of crime, and of course, the most alarming and most unacceptable is the violent crime—the knife crime—that the right hon. Gentleman rightly emphasised. Whatever the politics, I sense that there is absolutely cross-party support in the House to bear down on this, which is arguably one of the biggest challenges that we face as a society, given the complexity of the issues. We are definitely seeing some increase in crime—that is genuine and very unwelcome.
We are also seeing—I hope that the House sees this as something we can welcome—an increasing demand as a result of the police becoming much better at recording crime. We have to remember that it is not that long ago—2014—that the independent Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary was telling us that in its estimation the police were failing to record one in five crimes registered with them. That is absolutely unacceptable, and to the great credit of the police, they have responded to that criticism, but that generates additional demand.
I hope that the House would also welcome the third dimension of this increased demand, as made clear by the Office for National Statistics, which is an increased willingness of victims of so-called hidden crime to come forward to the police. I think that this represents very welcome, significant progress in society. If the victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and modern slavery feel increasingly confident about coming forward to the police, that is a sign of progress in the messages we send about the seriousness that we attach to investigating those crimes. I am prepared, as I hope that others are—whatever our politics—to show some respect to the current Prime Minister and previous Home Secretary for her leadership on this issue, including not least on modern slavery. This combination of factors has undeniably increased demand on the police, and the complexity of that demand makes their task even more difficult.
Does the Minister accept, though, that those who see gang-related violence will not be encouraged to come forward and report what they have seen if they do not see the police securing convictions? I am worried that that is beginning to happen in my constituency.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern because I recognise the underlying concern, which has been expressed by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick and the Mayor, about encouraging people to come forward. There are issues around trust and confidence. That requires a robust police system to be there for people. We are increasingly seeing that in London, but we are also all aware of some of the underlying challenges with regard to trust in the police in certain communities, on which, to their great credit, the Metropolitan police have done a lot of work over many years to try to improve. This is not straightforward, but it is a real issue.
When I said that our priority is to increase the capacity of the police, that was not just rhetoric. Last year, as part of the police funding settlement, I stood at this Dispatch Box and took the first step on that journey—a step welcomed by David Thompson in the west midlands. It was not enough in his opinion, but he saw it for what it was: a first step in the right direction towards increasing the capacity of our police system with a police and funding settlement that has resulted in an additional £460 million of public money in our police system.
I also signalled last year our intention to do something similar for 2019-20, subject to the police meeting certain conditions on efficiency and productivity, again sending a signal of our intention to support investment in, not cuts to, policing. As a result, almost every police force in the country is recruiting additional officers. The hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) talked about the Met. As a fellow London MP, I share his concern, but I am sure he will also welcome the steps taken to recruit extra officers to the Met. I believe that 700 have been recruited through a combination of what was enabled under the funding settlement and the actions of the Mayor himself. As London MPs, we should recognise that the Met is recruiting additional officers at scale.
Alongside the funding settlement and the support for local forces is the additional investment that continues to be made from the centre, through the police transformation fund, in working with police to build their national capabilities. We know the importance of building those capabilities in a fragmented system. More money has gone in to uplift armed officer capability, to support the increasing number of detectives and to support important new facets of policing, such as the first national wellbeing programme for frontline officers, which I hope the Labour party will support, and the investment in helping the police to build something that is critical for their future: their digital capability. There is, then, additional investment in policing.
There are challenges though. I find myself in full agreement again with Labour MPs over the importance of neighbourhood policing, which has come under considerable pressure in recent years, as the independent inspectorate made clear. There has been an inconsistent picture in neighbourhood policing across the country. I hope the Labour party will support what the police are doing now to agree new guidelines on what represents best practice in neighbourhood policing. The majority of forces are now adopting that best practice, meaning we will be developing a much more consistent model of neighbourhood policing.
With that comes a growing emphasis on crime prevention. I agree absolutely with the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East. We cannot afford a police force that is reactive, but the police are increasingly concerned about becoming reactive. We all surely understand the importance of crime prevention. It is always smarter to invest in the fence at the top of the cliff than in the ambulance at the bottom. With that additional capacity and rebuilding of the neighbourhood policing model, I hope and expect to see a reassertion of traditional police strengths in problem solving.
I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about knife crime. Of course, there is a need for a robust policing pillar for that. It needs to be a combination of robust policing and prevention work to tackle the root causes. He understands, as does everyone, all the lessons from places that have beaten down on this problem in the past. It is that combination that is important and which I see being put in place through the serious violence strategy. I thank him also for recognising the importance of the additional funding for counter-terrorism policing in the Budget. We all understand the importance of that, and I am delighted to hear that the Labour party supports it.
The hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) is no longer in her place—[Interruption.] I am so sorry. She has moved, which is really unhelpful for Ministers at the Dispatch Box—[Laughter.]—but I am delighted she is still here. She rightly raised the very important issue of mental health. All MPs engaged closely with their forces will know the growing frustration and unease among our police offices at how long they spend supporting people with mental health issues in their communities, so I hope the Labour party will welcome the additional investment in mental health locally. I am clear in my mind that one of the dividends from that additional investment must be a reduction in demand on the police, and I have made that point directly to the Secretary of State for Health.
The point I am labouring is that, although there is a lot of talk about cuts, in fact the Government have recognised that the demands on policing have changed, and, bearing in mind the limited resources and our concern for how much tax our constituents are able and prepared to pay, we have taken steps to increase investment in policing. With the £460 million, we are investing £1 billion more in our police system than we were three years ago.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for taking me on to my next point, which is a very uncharacteristically tribal one. I say with great respect to Labour Members who have stood up and talked with great pride about the amount that the last Labour Government invested in public services and policing that the honest, hard truth is that, as ever, they ran out of money. The Labour party likes to talk about cuts having consequences, but the frank truth is that cuts are themselves the consequences of the legacy of a Government in which, I may say, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East served with great distinction as a Minister. The biggest legacy of that Government is the biggest peacetime budget deficit in the history of this country. Yet again, my party had to intervene to sort out a mess, which required radical action and tough decisions.
Let me make another point to the hon. Lady. There are two reasons—about which, again, we need to be frank—for the fact that, back in 2010, it was possible to reduce police budgets. First, demand on the police was stable at that time, and secondly, there was cross-party consensus in the House that the police system was inefficient. Even Andy Burnham, sitting opposite where I stand now, was quite prepared to admit that there was inefficiency in the police system that needed to be addressed, and it has been addressed.
I am almost certain that this is what my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) would have said, given the opportunity. Let us not lose sight of the fact that the challenge facing the Government after 2008 was the result of a global banking crisis. If it is true, as the Minister is suggesting, that the last Labour Government were profligate, perhaps he would like to explain why the shadow Chancellor and the Leader of the Opposition at the time, up to the crash, were backing Labour spending pound for pound.
The voice of Ilford should never be silenced, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He is entitled to his own version of events, but the fundamental fact is that the coalition Government inherited the biggest peacetime budget deficit in the history of this country, and had to take some radical action.
I want to deal with the pension issue, which is the substance of the debate, but before I do so, let me make the point that when the situation has changed—and the situation in 2018 is different from that in 2010, because the picture of demand on the police has changed and the financial efficiency of the police has changed—so have the Government. We are not talking about cuts. We are talking about additional public investment in our police system: over £1 billion more this year than three years ago.
Let me now address the pension issue. There is a problem, and I want to be frank about it. As I stand here at the Dispatch Box, it remains unresolved, but, as I have said at the Dispatch Box during an urgent question and subsequently, our intention is to resolve it in the police funding settlement scheduled for early December.
I will resist the temptation to go back over the crisis with the Minister. I thought he was doing all right until then. Instead, may I ask him to clarify a point? I read out statements made by the Chancellor to the Treasury Committee and a written answer from the Chief Secretary. I genuinely want us to leave the Chamber with the same understanding, so will the Minister confirm that no money has been set aside from the Government reserve for Departments and so on? This is an issue in which a cost has been identified, but, as yet, the question of how to pay for it remains unresolved. Will that be a correct understanding as we leave?
As I said during the urgent question, our intention is to resolve the issue at the time of the police funding settlement. It is my responsibility to bring that to Parliament and it is currently scheduled for early December. That is when we will announce our police funding proposal for next year, and I hope to resolve the pension issue.
The Government have made it clear that the costs for beyond 2019-20 will be resolved in the comprehensive spending review. So there is an issue for 2019-20, which I hope to resolve at the 2019-20 funding settlement in early December, and we have made it clear that the costs beyond 2020 will be resolved in the CSR process. I want to give a little more detail and context to that.
Does that mean that I can go back to the chief constable of Humberside—he is a first-class police officer, and, as I have said, we have managed to secure increased police numbers in recent years in our area—and say that the Government will absolutely ensure that Humberside Police does not have to cut a single police officer or all of its police community support officers, which is the potential effect of these changes in Humberside?
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I would not normally intervene on a speech by a Minister replying to a debate, but I am seeing on social media that, despite the Minister saying there will be no statement about the Cabinet’s discussions on Brexit, there is now due to be a statement by the Prime Minister to the press afterwards. I wonder if there is any way in which we can clarify the situation.
That is not a matter for me, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. I am sure if somebody wishes to come forward, they can do so, but the Minister did give a very honest, open statement. I have no more to add other than what has been said. I suggest that the Minister continues with the debate unless he has an answer to the question.
Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Minister is of course correct that there will be no press conference, but there is still a microphone outside No. 10 Downing Street and it is being briefed that the Prime Minister will come to that microphone and give a statement. Why is she not coming to the microphone at the Dispatch Box?
To continue with the Adjournment debate, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East understands the context of the pensions issue. There was a Treasury decision, on independent advice, to revalue the public pension. I say to the hon. Member for Ilford North that this is not a technocratic issue. Only the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) referred to this issue in human terms; it is about safeguarding the affordability, sustainability and value of the pensions of the public sector workers in our constituencies. So it is an important issue, and there is no other motivation behind it. In the 2016 Budget the Treasury indicated its intention to change the discount rate that applies from 3% to 2.8%. In the 2018 Budget, again on independent advice, it indicated that it intends to make a further change to 2.4% and, as a result of that, increased contributions are required from public sector employers.
The net impact on the police in 2019-20 would be an additional cost of £417 million. The Treasury clearly indicated very early that it would meet most of that, but its position has been to ask the police to find £165 million, which is broadly equivalent to what it felt it had indicated at the 2016 Budget. However, as hon. Members know, police and crime commissioners did not budget for it and they are therefore quite understandably concerned about the impact of this. The Government recognise their concern and, as the Chancellor said in his Budget statement, he recognises the pressure on the police and it is his intention to work with Home Office Ministers and the Home Secretary to find a resolution to this in the 2019-20 funding settlement. That is exactly what we intend to do.
I repeat my message of what I hope is reassurance to my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) about our intention to build on the work that I did last year and to take the steps that are required to increase the capacity of the police, to help them to meet the demand on them, because public security is the No. 1 priority of this Government. We are determined to do what we can within the resources we have to ensure that the police have the resources they need.
Question put and agreed to.