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Police Funding

Volume 678: debated on Monday 13 July 2020

The Government are now spending over £15 billion on policing—an increase of £1 billion on last year, with £700 million being allocated to police and crime commissioners to recruit 6,000 additional officers by the end of March 2021. While there is no direct connection between police numbers and crime, this will give them the capacity to be much more agile in the face of changing crime.

Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary recently stated in its annual assessment of policing that policing and some other public services are closely linked, and that the level of investment in one public service will have an effect, good or bad, on another, referring to health, particularly mental health, drug and alcohol services, housing and social services as examples. What assessment has the Minister made of the huge detrimental impact that covid-19 has had on local authorities responsible for these services, and the fact that many local councils, including Luton Borough Council in my constituency, are being forced into making significant in-year budget cuts, thus having an impact on local policing?

The hon. Lady is quite right to draw the connections between policing and other services in the public sector. I cannot speak for the resilience or otherwise of the finances of her particular local authority. I can say, however, that the Prime Minister has tasked me and the Home Secretary with the job of driving cross-Government working to deal with some of the causal factors in crime, beyond enforcement, and we will be talking to local authorities across this country about the part that they can play.

Money for additional police officers is welcomed across the board, even though it does not take police numbers back to pre-2010 levels. Surely the Minister would acknowledge, though, that baseline budgets in police forces are being cut again this year, and capital funding is almost non-existent, so unless the Secretary of State is able to win more money for policing generally, forces will be unable to keep the officers they have got.

The hon. Gentleman is obviously a cup-half-empty person rather than a cup-nearly-three-quarters-full person. The biggest settlement for policing in a decade should be welcomed by everybody across this House, as it has been across the whole of the policing family. But that is not to say that policing is not without challenges and that it cannot be more efficient. While we do want to see more police officers and a better response to crime, there is always the challenge in public services to do things better for less.

Lancashire has been allocated funding of £4.3 million to deliver an additional 153 police officers by the end of this financial year, but that award reflects a part-year cost, as 153 officers cannot be employed for the whole year because the cost is £9.8 million. So will the Minister commit to providing the full funding for 2021-22, and for future years, to sustain these additional officers?

The hon. Lady is perhaps confusing her figures, shall we say? Lancashire police received a £22.6 million increase in funding this year, which will allow it to recruit another 153 police officers over the next 12 months—less than 12 months now—up to March next year. It is making good progress, and has recruited 66 already.

Recently, coastal communities such as West Kirby and Caldy in my constituency have seen huge numbers of visitors in search of relaxation and exercise. This has placed additional strain on Merseyside police, which has been working hard to respond to the concerns of local residents about crowds on beaches and in parks. Merseyside police estimates that the cost of the pandemic to date is £4.1 million, due to overtime, the cost of PPE, specialist cleaning and lost income. Will the Minister give an assurance that Merseyside police will be reimbursed for these costs?

I have had a number of telephone conversations with the chief constable of Merseyside police over the last few weeks and months, as has my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and I am pleased to say that that force is in good heart, as far as we could tell. Happily, it is running well in advance of its recruitment allocation. I am told that, at the end of March, it had recruited 220 police officers, against an allocation of 200, which does give it extra capacity to deal with the problems that the hon. Member has outlined. Notwithstanding that fact, there are obviously extra costs for policing with covid-19, and we are in conversation with the Treasury about how we might address them.

Following the excellent announcement that my hon. Friend has given the House this afternoon, which goes a long way towards meeting our Conservative party pledge to recruit an extra 20,000 police officers, would he agree that the real importance of those police officers is that every criminal will know that it is much more likely their crime is going to be investigated and, if it is proved, will result in a prosecution?

With his usual perspicacity, my hon. Friend puts his finger on the button. We know that the greatest deterrent of crime is the perception of the likelihood of being caught, and the fact that Gloucestershire police has now more than recruited its annual allocation of police officers—he will be pleased to hear—at 48, over 46, already so far this year, means that that is much more likely to be the case in his county.

Suffolk constabulary, one of the lowest funded forces from central Government, has made significant efficiency savings and the council tax has increased by over 25% in three years. Can my hon. Friend the Minister confirm that the review of the grant funding formula is still going ahead in the next few months, as this is vital to the future of policing in Suffolk?

My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for his constituency and his county, and I understand his impatience and his desire to battle for their financial interests, as I did as a Back Bencher for Hampshire. Both the Home Secretary and I have said in public in the past that the funding formula, while it is the only formula we have at the moment, is a bit old-fashioned and probably needs to be looked at, and as part of our vision for policing in the future, no doubt we will get to it in time.

Will the Minister join me in praising Nottinghamshire police, which has acted so quickly to recruit more officers that it is 12 months ahead of the Government’s recruitment target and was the first force to introduce police officer degree apprenticeships? Does he agree with me that forces such as Nottinghamshire, which are leading the way and which have also increased their diversity, should be first in line for any additional Government funding?

It is very heartening to see that one of my hon. Friend’s priorities as a new Member in this House is to stand with and defend her local police, and she is quite right to do so. I join her in offering our thanks and praise to them for the work they have done. In fact, I was able to do so in person because I was on the phone with her chief constable just this morning. She is quite right that Nottinghamshire is a forward-looking police force, and we will be supporting it in its endeavours to innovate and challenge crime in the months to come.

On the one hand, the Prime Minister has hailed an end to austerity and promised 20,000 new frontline police officers, and on the other, we had alarming reports at the weekend of forces facing up to 15% cuts. Covid, on top of 10 years of austerity, has created a perfect storm for police funding, with lower council tax coming in, the costs of PPE and lower income from some of their sources, such as airports and large events. I have heard from multiple sources that essential staff jobs will have to be cut, meaning that frontline police officers will end up covering non-frontline roles, which is completely the opposite of what the Prime Minister intends. One senior police officer said to me this morning, “This looks like austerity by the back door.” Can the Minister commit today to plugging the funding gap from council precepts to guarantee there will not be a need to cut police staff?

First, on a technical front, perhaps the hon. Lady misunderstands how the precept works. The primary liability, if you like, is covered by the precepting authority, which has by law to pass on the precept in full, notwithstanding any issues it might have with collection. And perhaps, alongside her many skills, she has acquired telepathy and foresight, because she seems to be pre-empting a spending review that has not even started.