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Cost of Policing Football

Volume 661: debated on Tuesday 4 June 2019

[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the cost of policing football.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and I am grateful to have been granted this important debate. Football policing is an interest of mine and is of particular local interest in my constituency, which is home to the famous Hillsborough stadium—one of England’s largest grounds and home to Sheffield Wednesday, which my family have supported for generations. Let us hope they do better this season, but there we go.

I am proud of our football history and of having such an important football ground in our community. However, the cost of policing matches is increasing, and the burden is falling on our already stretched police forces. Despite Wednesday’s extended stay in the second tier of English football—something that I am sure will end soon—South Yorkshire police incurs significant match day costs. According to the BBC, the steel city derby between Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United in September 2017 was the country’s most expensive match to police that year, costing over £200,000. Figures from South Yorkshire police, using a recent improved methodology for calculating match day policing costs, put the cost of this April’s steel city derby at Hillsborough at £203,000. That is against a backdrop of unprecedented cuts to our police services.

The Tories’ record on policing is one of failure and broken promises. Over 21,000 police officers and 7,000 community support officers have been axed since 2010, despite a promise to protect the frontline. While officer numbers have been slashed, the police have recorded the highest number of offences in a decade, and violent crime has doubled under the Tories and is now at record levels. The Tories have slashed billions from the police since coming into office and broken their promise to protect police budgets after 2015.

Our police forces have had resources drained out by a Government intent on policing on the cheap. Sadly, that means competing and conflicting demands on those vital, yet limited, resources. Knife crime continues to rise, as do other forms of violent crime. Alongside large sporting events such as football games, the police are struggling to keep pace with the scale of incidents to be responded to. In a sense, this debate is regrettable, in that if the Government had not abandoned our police forces, we might not be in the position of asking clubs to help foot the bill. However, given the overstretched nature of policing, we are where we are. The Labour party will invest in our police forces, giving them the proper resources to ensure that our communities are safe.

Professional football clubs rely heavily on the support of police to ensure football matches are safe for fans. Police officers do not just provide safety and reassurance within the bounds of a stadium, but have essential duties in preventing disorder around football grounds before and after matches. I will use my time today to highlight three factors that threaten the ability of our police forces to maintain order at football matches. First, as I said in opening, police forces are under the biggest strain they have faced in modern times. They have vastly reduced budgets and are dealing with a rising tide of violence and organised crime within our communities—something that, sadly, I know too well in my constituency. The number of officers available to cover matches is lower than it was, which unfortunately means that police officers must be taken away from neighbourhoods to support match day policing.

Secondly, disorder at football matches is rising. The figures presented to me by the UK football policing unit are stark: disorder has risen, with nearly 38% of professional matches reporting some form of violence or disorder incident during the 2017-18 season, compared with 25% of matches during the 2013-14 season. I have seen police footage of recent disorder at football matches, some of which is truly shocking. Many of those incidents took place away from the ground, where police are often less well positioned to respond. The consistent and sharp rise in hate crime at football matches is particularly concerning: police received reports of hate crime at 127 fixtures in 2017-18, and the campaign group Kick It Out received over 500 reports during the same season. As a society, we still have a long way to go in stamping racism, homophobia and sexism out of our beautiful game. Although education is at the heart of that work, police officers need to be able and ready to clamp down hard on the tiny minority of people who pollute football.

The third problem facing the police is that despite the rise in disorder over recent years, they are able to recover only a small proportion of the money they spend on policing. Mark Roberts, the football policing lead for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, has put the cost of policing professional football matches in England and Wales at over £48 million a year, of which police are able to claim back only around £5.5 million from clubs. Why are the police repaid only a fraction of their costs? The question of who pays for football policing is complicated, and has been in dispute for many years. The argument chiefly centres on the cost of policing outside stadiums, whether on closed streets immediately surrounding them or routes to and from the match. Despite the huge wealth that many football clubs have, they consistently challenge the extent to which they should refund the police for their expenditure outside the ground itself.

Currently, the legal position on the extent to which police can charge clubs for match costs is based on an October 2017 Court of Appeal ruling that went in favour of Ipswich Town and against Suffolk police. The ruling in that case was that the police could recover only the costs of policing the stadium itself—not even the immediate surroundings, let alone the wider area. To any of us who attend matches, it is clear that police do a significant amount of extra work outside the stadium to ensure that fans can go to and from matches safely. In giving their judgment, the judges recognised that the situation seemed unfair, but argued that it was for the Government to fix it. That difficult legal situation is significantly worse than it was previously, when the roads around stadiums were often deemed to be under the control of the football club, and policing costs were therefore recoverable.

The three combined problems of severe police cuts, a rise in match day disorder and legal rulings that are unfavourable to the police mean that both the safety of fans and the sustainability of policing are under threat. It is hardly for me to talk in detail about just how much money is in football, but a few figures will illustrate the resources available, and therefore the ability of clubs to pay a higher percentage of policing costs. In 2017-18, the 20 Premier League clubs alone had combined revenues of over £4.8 billion—almost double the entire budget of the Metropolitan police. One particularly stark fact, which comes from analysis undertaken by the National Police Chiefs’ Council, is that the £211 million paid to football agents last year is more than the annual budgets of 27 of the 43 territorial police forces in England and Wales. We should be in no doubt that there is far more money available to top football clubs than to local police forces.

What might be done to create a better situation? I would not want to be too prescriptive in suggesting to the Minister how the situation could be resolved. However, I ask whether he agrees that action needs to be taken. I also ask whether he agrees that any such action needs to be proportionate in how it targets clubs. We need to be aware of those clubs that may suffer incidents of disorder but do not have the financial resources of the top leagues. Full cost recovery could be damaging for many local league clubs, which leads me to support a suggestion by the police that a levy on football TV rights might be the fairest way for police to receive additional funding. The Premier League’s total TV rights are now expected to exceed £3 billion a year. To illustrate, a 1% levy could recover enough money to cover a substantial portion of football policing costs and relieve clubs and the police of expensive and time-consuming arguments about the extent of payments.

In public policy today, there is often cross-party support for policies that ensure the costs of dealing with a problem for society are borne by the organisation responsible for the activity causing the issue. We see that with recycling levies for packaging firms and carbon taxes for power companies. Does the Minister agree that the taxes paid by football clubs or footballers cannot be used as an argument against clubs contributing properly to policing costs? Taxes pay for the benefits we all share as a society; football clubs should bear a more representative fraction of the burden for the costs incurred in keeping fans safe.

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. She is making a strongly argued case. The problem is that football clubs are their own worst enemies. They say, “No spectators on the pitch,” but they blatantly ignore that when spectators do come on the pitch, as they do when fans bring pyrotechnics or provocative signs into the ground. Clubs owe a responsibility to the vast majority of fans to stamp that out. Does my hon. Friend agree that they could do much more on that?

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, which makes exactly the point that I am raising. Being a lifelong Wednesday fan builds character, as my nana used to say, but it also helped me realise that football is wonderful. I am in no way anti-football. We love football; we are a footballing country. I am seeking fair play and a level playing field for police and football clubs. The clubs absolutely can do more. We do not want to go back to the bad old days of 30 or 40 years ago, which some of us will remember, when football was not the family game we have now successfully made it. That is really what I want to get over to the Minister today.

To conclude, I will not let up campaigning for police funding to tackle knife crime and to better protect our communities, but I hope that today’s debate raises some important issues for us to consider. Will the Minister outline what the Government will do to share the costs more reasonably between the large clubs and our police forces? In that way, we can not only ensure that football events are properly policed, but support our local police services and ensure that they have sufficient resources to meet all the demands that are placed upon them.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I am most grateful to you, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss) and the Minister for allowing me to say a few words. At the outset I must declare an interest, in that I am a lifelong supporter of Ipswich Town. I am a season ticket holder and a shareholder, although those shares are worthless following the club’s administration and the subsequent sale of a controlling interest in the club to the Marcus Evans Group in 2007.

The 2018-19 season goes down as the worst in the club’s history, as we finished rock bottom of the championship. Next season, we shall play outside the top two divisions for the first time in 62 years. In that period, we have achieved a great deal. Under the management of two football knights—Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson—we won the league championship, the FA cup and the UEFA cup. We are the only British club never to lose a home tie in a mainstream European club competition—a record, I sense, we may well retain in perpetuity.

Ipswich’s 2018-19 annus horribilis is not the only recent stain on the club’s reputation. I am afraid we are one of the reasons for the hon. Lady having to secure a debate on this matter. It was Ipswich Town, under the ownership of Marcus Evans, that took Suffolk constabulary to court, and in so doing overturned the principle whereby police forces were able to charge for the deployment of officers on land “owned, leased or controlled” by football clubs. That ruling changed the interpretation of the word “controlled”. Land outside the stadium that is used by a football club, such as to facilitate the entrance and exit of supporters, for granting concessions, such as to burger vans, or for restricting vehicle access by way of temporary road restriction orders, is now defined as “public land”. Police forces are unable to charge full cost recovery on such areas.

I should briefly explain what happens at Ipswich on match days. A few hours before the match until a few hours afterwards, two public roads—Portman Road and Sir Alf Ramsey Way—that immediately adjoin the ground are closed to traffic. They, in effect, become part of the stadium. In the court case, Suffolk constabulary’s contention was that policing the roads during those periods is inseparably linked to activities taking place inside the stadium, and thus they fall within Ipswich Town’s responsibility. To me, that seems a logical conclusion. While in many ways I am not qualified to question the court’s ruling, its decision appears perverse.

At Ipswich, the away supporters are seated in the Cobbold stand, which is on Portman Road. A potential trouble hotspot for policing is the junction between Portman Road and Sir Alf Ramsey Way, where home and away fans mingle. That risk was heightened in the matches with Leeds United in the past two seasons. Season ticket holders were moved from their seats in the Cobbold stand so that the whole upper tier could be used by away fans, which generated additional income for Ipswich Town.

In that context, it is wrong that Suffolk police are currently not able to recover in full the cost of policing Portman Road and Sir Alf Ramsey Way. For the two matches against Leeds United, it was necessary for them to deploy additional resources, including mounted police from a neighbouring force. The system before the court case, which had operated since 2012, worked well and thus I urge the Government to bring forward legislation as soon as practically possible. I think there would be strong support from all parts of the House for embedding the previous 2012 framework in statute as soon as possible.

It is a huge pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and to respond to a debate secured by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss). I was delighted to be shadowed by her when I was Minister with responsibility for industry. I know she is passionate about steel and Sheffield, but we now learn that she has long had the character-forming habit of supporting Sheffield Wednesday. There was a whiff of nostalgia in the air during the debate, which has taken us back to the glory days of Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich Town. I declare an interest: I am a proud but disappointed Spurs fan. I am ably supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan), who is a proud and exhilarated Scouser.

Three issues underlie this important debate. First, are the public more or less safe than they were at football matches? That matters. Secondly, are we in the right place with regard to the role of the police and how they recover their costs for their work at football games? Thirdly, there is the much bigger issue of whether the police have the support they need to do difficult and invaluable work on our behalf. I hope to address all three issues in the time I have.

First, are the public more or less safe in attending a football match now? The answer has to be yes, they are safer. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough alluded to that when she harked back to the bad old days of the ’70s and ’80s, when the beautiful game was marred by what we saw and heard in our football stadiums and arenas. They are a completely different place now. The number of football-related arrests has reduced steadily since 2000 and is down 50% since 2010. We now have a combination of preventive football banning orders, targeting, public order policing, stadium ejections and modern in-stadium security. Frankly, there have also been changes in supporter attitudes. We are in a different place, as a result of very good work over the years by the Government, football authorities, football clubs, the police and fans. Everyone has played their part.

We must keep this in perspective, but a minority of supporters will always be prepared to organise violence, engage in disorder and, as the hon. Lady rightly pointed out, indulge in racism, homophobia and hate crime. That is where we are, so of course the police need to continue to be involved in keeping the peace around big football games. I will now address how that works, and how they recover costs.

As the hon. Lady pointed out, the police can charge for special police services under section 25 of the Police Act 1996. Legislation and case law—a point raised powerfully by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous)—means that the police can claim back only those preventive policing costs that were incurred on land owned by football clubs, which in practice normally means inside the grounds, and they must be asked to do such policing by the club. The result is that football clubs often rely on stewards inside the grounds, with the police waiting outside, ready to be called in. That means that the cost of the police is borne by the taxpayer.

What does that mean for costs? The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough rightly reported the costs relayed to us by the police. I pay tribute to the work of Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts, who was passionate and assiduous in pressing Ministers at the Home Office on the issue, and in making the case for rethinking how the partnership between police and football works. The numbers presented to us are exactly those presented by the hon. Lady. The police estimate a cost of around £48 million a year, of which they feel they can recover just over £5 million, leaving a £42 million shortfall. That is a significant number when broken down into the number of police officers, for example, and as the Minister with responsibility for the police, I am concerned about that.

The hon. Lady made a point that I think everyone will understand about the enormous amounts of money in the game or, more specifically, at the top of the game. People will rightly wonder why on earth rich football clubs do not do more to contribute to the costs of policing their games, given how much money they earn from them. The hon. Lady was typically thoughtful in her approach. She did not have much time for the arguments of the Premier League in this context, but we should recognise and place on the record that my colleagues at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport negotiate with the football leagues a very significant—£100 million a year—contribution to grassroots projects.

The Premier League pays a great deal of tax. Football supporters are taxpayers—indeed, they will argue that they are entitled to a service—and the Premier League will ask why football should be singled out in this context. Those are all arguments to be had and to be made. I give a commitment to the hon. Lady, and to other interested colleagues, that I will meet the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies), next week to talk specifically and exclusively about how we can structure a better, fairer partnership between police and football and, in doing so, reduce the demand on police resources. I am open-minded about how we do that, including about looking at all current frameworks and arrangements.

My third and final point is that we have to put this conversation into the much bigger picture of the funding and resources available to the police. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough referred to this directly and made political points about it. The £42 million shortfall, if the number from the police is accurate, sits in the context of the £14 billion a year that we taxpayers invest in our police system. The honest truth is that we are asking more and more of our police. The police are extremely stretched. Yes, there continues to be scope to improve their efficiency, but I have been persuaded, almost since I started as Minister with responsibility for the police almost two years ago, that they are too stretched, and that we as a society and as a Government need to give them more support. That has been my priority ever since I have been in the job.

As a result of that work, and the support of successive Home Secretaries and senior colleagues, we as a country are investing over £2 billion more in our police system this year than three years ago. I agreed with almost everything that the hon. Lady said, but I am afraid that she was playing some old tunes from the Labour jukebox around cuts to policing. The music has changed; the Government have recognised the pressure on the police. The demand on the police has risen and become increasingly complex, and they are too stretched and need more support from us and from the taxpayer.

Overall, crime is stable. Some crime is rising, but police work is becoming increasingly complex and resource intensive. They need more support, and we absolutely get that. I have been very clear on that as the Policing Minister. There will be an additional £1 billion this year—£2 billion more than three years ago. For South Yorkshire Police, that is an additional £16 million this year, on top of three years of special grant funding of £24 million, and an additional £2.5 million this year to support the work against serious violence to which the hon. Lady referred. I am sure that she will welcome the fact that the chief constable is recruiting more officers in South Yorkshire, though she will argue that more needs to be done. For what it is worth, I agree.

Although we have made considerable progress in securing more resource for the police, looking forward to the comprehensive spending review and considering what is likely to happen in terms of the demand on the police, I am clear that we need to go further. I am delighted to have the support of the Home Secretary, who has made it crystal clear, explicitly and in public, that should he remain Home Secretary, which is not the summit of his ambitions at the moment, he will prioritise police funding in the Home Office bid for the comprehensive spending review.

I reassure the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough that we are working more closely than ever with the police on building a credible bid to secure additional resources, so that they can: increase their capacity and capabilities, which is necessary; do more crime prevention, which is necessary; upgrade their technology, which is necessary; and give better support to frontline officers—the most important assets in the police system—which is necessary. Those are all necessary conditions if the police are to improve the service that they deliver to our constituents and the public. That improvement is necessary given the rapidly shifting picture of rising demand on the police. I am committed, as I know the Home Secretary is, to doing more to support the police in that way.

On the points about funding and football, I make the following commitment: I will sit down with the Minister with responsibility for sport next week to discuss further what we can do as a Government to get a better balance in this relationship, to make the partnership between police and football work more effectively, and to reduce the cost on policing. We should keep things in perspective; going to a football match is a lot safer than it was many years ago, and it is a much more enjoyable environment. The police do extremely important work in that area, and will continue to do so.

We must get the structure right. I am not persuaded that we are in the right place at the moment, and I value the debate, and the contribution made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough and other Members. She has my full undertaking that I will follow this matter up next week. Critically, when it comes to the comprehensive spending review, I fully intend to build on the work of the last two years in ensuring that our police officers and police system have the support that they need to do such incredibly important work on our behalf.

Question put and agreed to.