I beg to move,
That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2021-22 (HC 1162), which was laid before this House on 4 February, be approved.
It is a great pleasure to follow our own version of Dorian Gray, and to announce to the House the final police funding settlement for 2021-22. Although I appreciate that it is not ideal that the House is debating this publication prior to the consideration by the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, it is essential that suitable preparatory time is given to the relevant parties prior to implementation. This—coupled with the difficulty in securing suitable Floor of the House approval slots, and the February recess—has meant that, unfortunately, it has not proved possible to achieve pre-scrutiny on this occasion, and I am sorry about that. Nevertheless, public safety is an absolute priority for this Government, which is why we are backing the police with the resources and powers that they need to protect our communities.
The professionalism, bravery and commitment shown by officers during the coronavirus pandemic has been truly extraordinary. Across the country, police forces continue to work tirelessly, building understanding with the public to help to control the virus while also tackling crime. Despite all the challenges that we have faced in the last year, the police have been there to answer the call, and I express my immense gratitude for their contribution to this unprecedented national effort. I also wish to place on record that my thoughts and condolences are with those who have lost loved ones, and with our brave police officers and staff who have lost their lives to covid-19.
I congratulate the Minister on his remarks and on the work he does with the police. Is he as concerned as I am that during the pandemic, across the country but particularly in Northamptonshire, the number of police officers coughed on, spat at, or bitten, rose to 130 attacks between February and November last year, which was up from 110 attacks during the same period the year before? Is that not especially disgraceful, given that the pandemic has been raging through our country?
My hon. Friend is right: it is a complete disgrace, and unfortunately during the pandemic we have seen a rise in the particularly unpleasant practice of spitting or coughing on police officers and claiming to have covid. Sadly, that comes off the back of a general rise in assaults on police and emergency workers. I confess that I do not know what goes through the twisted mind of somebody who would do such an unspeakable thing.
I hope my hon. Friend will join me in voting with enthusiasm when the Police Powers and Protections Bill comes forward, both for the police covenant, which is there to protect police officers and ensure we pay attention to their wellbeing and protection, and for the doubling of the sentences for assaults on emergency workers. He and I both stood on that as a promise in our 2019 manifesto. We need the penalties for such awful offences to be increased, to deter those who think about such unspeakable things, and to punish those who cross that appalling line.
I know that our police forces have the thanks and respect of this House, and the settlement demonstrates our ongoing commitment to tackling crime and delivering the safer communities that the law-abiding majority in this country rightly want. Last year, Parliament approved the funding settlement, which made an additional £1.1 billion available to the policing system. That made it the biggest increase in funding for the policing system since 2010. Included in that was an increase to Government grant funding of £700 million for the first 6,000 additional police officers as part of the uplift programme, a £90 million increase in funding for counter-terrorism policing, £247 million for local forces from the council tax precept, and an extra £126 million provided for national policing programmes and priorities.
Last year’s settlement underlined the Government’s determination to strengthen our police service and tackle crime across the whole country. Next year’s settlement will also enable the police to continue on that trajectory. For 2021-22, the Government will invest up to 15.8 thousand million pounds in the policing system, up by an additional £636 million compared with last year. Of that additional investment, the Government will make available an additional £450 million for police and crime commissioners in England and Wales to support the next wave of officer recruitment. That funding will enable PCCs to meet the necessary investment and ongoing support costs associated with the recruitment of 6,000 new officers by the end of financial year 2021-22.
I am delighted to say that forces are delivering on recruitment. As of 31 December, an extraordinary 6,620 additional officers have been recruited as part of the uplift programme, surpassing the programme’s first-year recruitment three months ahead of schedule. That superb progress is testament to the hard work of forces and the brave men and women who signed up to join the police and keep our communities safe. We thank them all for their continued efforts, particularly those involved in the recruitment process.
To ensure the secure management and success of the uplift programme in the coming year, the Government will once again create a ring-fenced grant. Forces will be allocated a share of that £100 million in line with their funding formula allocation. They will be able to access that funding as they make further progress on their recruitment targets. As has been the case this year, that is intended to ensure that forces deliver a return for the substantial uplift in funding.
In 2021-22 we will take recruitment one step further. We are expanding the scope of the programme to include regional organised crime units, including the equivalent units in the Metropolitan and City of London police, and counter-terrorism policing. By strengthening officer numbers across capabilities we are sending a clear message to both policing and the public that we are committed to cutting crime in all its guises.
Police and crime commissioners have continued to request further flexibility around levels of police precept, to make additional funding available for their local priorities. The settlement empowers them, particularly in England, to raise council tax contributions for local policing by less than 30p a week for a typical band D household, or up to £15 a year. Local precept decisions should be carefully considered, with their impact on household budgets being an important factor. Many families face difficult circumstances as a result of the pandemic.
If all police and crime commissioners decide to maximise their flexibility, the result will be a further £288 million of additional funding for local policing. I reiterate that the level of the police precept is a local decision and elected PCCs will, I know, carefully consider what they are asking their local constituents to pay. Locally elected commissioners will need to decide how to use the flexibility appropriately, based on local policing needs, and will be held accountable for the delivery of a return on that public investment, not least in May this year.
PCCs will also benefit from the additional funding announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government—whose motions on local government finance will follow this one—as part of the local government finance settlement for local council tax support. This funding will enable councils to continue to reduce council tax bills for those least able to pay. Additionally, the Government will compensate local authorities for 75% of the irrecoverable losses in council tax income arising in 2021, and collection fund deficits accrued for 2021 will be repayable over the next three years, as opposed to one year.
Beyond the increases to the core grant and precept, I am pleased to announce £1.1 billion of funding to support national policing priorities. This includes £180 million for combating serious and organised crime, including drug trafficking and child sexual exploitation and abuse, and money to protect National Crime Agency funding. We are providing £39 million for national support of the police uplift programme, to continue its success, and we are investing £500 million in Home Office-led police technology programmes, which will replace out- dated legacy IT systems and provide the police with the modern digital infrastructure and tools that they need to protect the public. In addition, we are investing £38.7 million to support forces with several national programmes and with digital policing priorities such as public contact, data analytics and agile working for police forces.
For next year, we are allocating £20 million to the safer streets fund, to build on the excellent work that is taking place this year to prevent acquisitive crime such as theft and burglary in the worst-affected areas. I hope, Madam Deputy Speaker, that your local police and crime commissioner will apply to that fund. The funding will enable police and crime commissioners and local authorities to invest in well-evidenced crime-prevention measures, such as CCTV and street lighting, in new areas throughout the country.
As I have said, public safety is a key priority. Funding for counter-terrorism policing will be maintained at more than £900 million for the coming year. In addition, £32 million will be made available for the development of the new CT operations centre, which will bring together partners from counter-terrorism policing, the intelligence agencies and the criminal justice system, co-ordinating their expertise, resource and intelligence in a state-of-the-art facility. This investment is critical to help to continue the vital work of counter-terrorism police officers throughout the whole country.
The settlement confirms significant investment in our police forces, and it is only right that we expect to see continued improvements in efficiency and productivity to demonstrate to the public that they are getting the most out of the increased funding. The Government therefore expect to see £120 million of efficiency savings delivered next year across the law enforcement sector. That expectation is reflected in the funding set out as part of the wider settlement.
We expect the savings to be delivered through improved procurement practices, including the delivery of £20 million of savings through the new BlueLight Commercial organisation, as well as through savings in other areas, such as estates, agile working and shared services. To ensure progress in those areas, the policing sector has worked closely with the Home Office to set up and support a new efficiency and productivity board. The board will improve the evidence base to date, identify opportunities for gains for this and future spending review periods, and monitor and support delivery gains.
This is the last settlement before the next spending review. We will continue to monitor the demands that face policing and the impact of additional officer recruitment on improving services to the public in responding to threats from terrorism, organised crime and serious violence. The Government recognise that things have changed significantly since the previous police funding settlement, one year ago. We understand that our police forces are playing a critical role in our response to the pandemic, and I once again express my immense gratitude—and, I am sure, yours, Madam Deputy Speaker—for their heroic effort. When it comes to law and order, we will always back the police to go after criminals and protect our communities and neighbourhoods. That is what the public rightly expect and that is what we are delivering this year and next.
I would like to begin by putting on record our continuing gratitude for the selfless service, bravery and professionalism shown by our police officers and police staff. This pandemic has been a powerful reminder—not, frankly, that one should have been needed—of the risks they take daily on our behalf. I say to the Minister that warm words are not enough. It is scant recognition for these officers and staff that they are rewarded for their efforts throughout the pandemic with a pay freeze.
I call on the Minister to work quickly with the Health Secretary to introduce concrete plans to make good on lukewarm commitments to prioritise frontline officers in the vaccine roll-out. We know that officers are not able to control who they come into contact with—they are unable to socially distance as they go about their duties—so it is vital that they are able to be vaccinated as soon as possible. Officers have made the ultimate sacrifice and died from covid while on service, so it is vital that we extend that protection as soon as possible.
Even before the pandemic, the risks and the pressures heaped on police officers have increased significantly over the past decade. Attacks on police officers have jumped by 50% over the past five years. That is, sadly, unsurprising when we have seen such steep increases in violence and violent crime on the streets and in homes across the country. Officers have been placed in an impossible position. This Government oversaw huge cuts to police officer and staff numbers. Between 2010 and 2019, police officer numbers fell by 21,000. At the same time, there have been huge cuts to the services that are vital to preventing crime in the first place—youth clubs, mental health services, local councils and probation.
The Home Secretary and other Ministers like to talk tough, but the reality is that they are soft on crime and soft on the causes of crime. [Interruption.] The results have been devastating for victims of crime right across the country. The Minister chuckles, but in fact, violent crime has risen in every single police force area. In 2019-20, violence as a proportion of all police recorded crime reached its highest level since comparable records began. The Home Office’s own research has shown the link between cuts to police officer numbers and violent crime. It is good that the Government have finally woken up to the huge damage that their police cuts have done to public safety and started to replace some of the huge numbers of officers they have cut. However, it should not have taken the devastation that rising crime has caused to families and communities across the country to spark that action.
In terms of the new recruits promised, I call on the Government to do everything possible to improve diversity in recruitment. I know all Members will agree that joining the police is a noble calling, and it is vital that police services look like the communities they serve. That is one of the many lessons we need to learn from the powerful testimonies that so many black people have shared in the past nine months, and it is incumbent upon us to act. There are excellent examples of initiatives to try to improve diversity that it would be good to share across the country. Much more needs to be done to ensure that officers from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities rise through the policing ranks, and we must put in place better structures to enable greater community involvement in police training.
Looking more widely across the criminal justice landscape, I again call on Ministers to properly commit to fully implementing the recommendations in the Lammy review and other reviews that the Government have commissioned in recent years. It is vital that we all live up to the words uttered on building a more equal society.
I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for giving way. He suggests that the Government are giving warm words in their commitment to the police, which I wholly disagree with. The Mayor of London has kindly given an exemption from the congestion charge in London to emergency workers, but not to police officers and police staff. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman might share his view on whether real prioritisation of the police is something that the Labour party supports.
It is nice actually to take an intervention. That is not something we can do regularly in House debates at the moment, but on the point raised by the hon. Gentleman in his attempt to criticise the Mayor of London, I have to say that the Mayor of London has been taking action on violent crime. The rise in violent crime is right across the country. In terms of prioritising police officers for the vaccine, that is precisely the case I am putting to the Government. They have been saying warm words about that, too, and I am asking them to make good on those warm words that I know they have been uttering to police representatives for some time. We would all agree about the dangers that police officers put themselves in every day, which is why I am asking for this action to take place.
Moving back to the funding of the commitment on police recruitment, as ever with this Government, the devil is in the detail, and the policing grant is no different. I point out, first, that when the Prime Minister pledged to increase the number of police officers, he did not make it clear to voters that a significant proportion of it would rely on increasing the council tax precept by £15 a year, at a time when family finances are very hard-pressed. In his opening remarks, the Minister described it as flexibility; I would describe it as a Government who are not putting the needs of families first.
Will the Minister confirm why the Government have decided to slow the speed of police recruitment so sharply? He will be aware that police forces across the country were planning for 6,000 officers to be recruited in year 1, 8,000 in year 2, and 6,000 in year 3. However, we now know that there will be 6,000 officers recruited this year and presumably 8,000 in year 3. What is the reason for this worrying slowdown, which will mean thousands fewer officers on our streets?
Also, it will not have escaped attention that there is a sharp decline in the amount of funding that the Government have allocated to recruiting the promised officers for this year. When setting a target for 6,000 officers for 2020-21, the amount of money allocated was £750 million, but for 2021-22 the amount for the same number of officers—6,000—has sharply reduced to £400 million. The Minister may say that that is in part due to so-called front-loading of costs for additional officers.
Indeed, the Minister confirms that is what he would say. However, we know that in fact police forces have been incredibly stretched. Even with the promises of additional officers, there are huge budget pressures elsewhere, and that is why many forces have had to freeze police staff recruitment.
Since 2010, there has been a fall of more than 13% in police staff numbers. Police staff across the board, as I am sure the Minister would agree, play a vital role in keeping communities safe, through key roles such as answering emergency calls from the public, staffing our custody suites, crime analysis and crime scene investigations. That fall also includes the loss of PCSOs, who played and play such a vital role in neighbourhood policing.
Undermining all those functions makes our communities less safe and keeps police officers behind desks and away from the streets where we want them to be. It is little wonder that the number of police officers in frontline roles fell by 16% between 2010 and 2019. These funding pressures are likely to be even more keenly felt when the required £120 million of efficiency savings outlined in the provisional police grant report in December —indeed, they were repeated by the Minister from the Dispatch Box today—come to pass.
The fact that our brave officers have been forced to work with reduced numbers of colleagues and with a pay freeze is particularly galling when such huge sums of money are being wasted on Government inefficiencies. That is why the answer given to the shadow policing and fire Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones), at Home Office questions was so revealing. So poor, frankly, is Conservative management at the Home Office that delays to the emergency services network mean that police forces will have to spend an extra £600 million—bringing the total to £1.5 billion—to replace the old radios, while they wait even longer for new equipment.
Perhaps we should not be surprised at the Home Office’s complacent attitude to serious errors or the impact that they can have. Members will have seen the deeply worrying statements and the lack of grip at the Home Office over the catastrophic loss of police data. It is a confused picture that has seen Ministers contradicted by the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s letter and now an independent review having to be held to get to the bottom of what went wrong. One thing is clear: thousands of police records have been deleted and criminals will, in all likelihood, go free as a result of this fiasco. Frankly, more effective Home Secretaries than this one have gone for lesser mistakes on their watch. These errors are not isolated incidents. They are part of a picture of Ministers who have lost their grip on vital issues of national security. We have seen it over the failures on quarantine, the rises in violent crime, and the failure to get a grip of the data deletion, and too often we fail to see the Home Secretary taking charge of these issues and delivering results.
Today, we welcome the fact that Members across the House now all agree that it is vital to at least start to fill the hole created by the Conservative cuts to policing since 2010. None the less, there remain a number of worrying aspects, including the huge general financial pressures for the police; officers being forced off the streets to backfill for police staff; and the slowing down of police recruitment. We will judge the Government by their actions on this, as people are fed up with empty promises. Although we welcome the new police officers and staff joining the ranks, and we thank them for their service, we will continue to campaign for them to have the support they need to keep us all safe.
I rise to support the motion on the Order Paper and to thank the Government for the extra money going into local policing. I thank the Minister for his endeavours; he has been a superb Minister of State for Crime and Policing. I also wish to highlight the excellent work done by Chief Constable Nick Adderley in Northamptonshire, Chief Fire Officer Darren Dovey and our superb police, fire and crime commissioner, Stephen Mold and to thank all the police and fire officers in Northamptonshire for the superb work they do.
It is not enough to talk about how much extra money is going into policing this year. The important thing is to highlight what the police do with that money. I am pleased that, as a result of the funding that has been announced, there are 57 new officers so far in Northamptonshire, taking the total police headcount to 1,300, sending us well on our way to our ultimate target of about 1,500 in 2023. It is worth reminding residents in Northamptonshire that they pay on average, on a band D council tax, £5 a week for their policing. In return for a fiver a week, they get a tremendous range of police resources.
Madam Deputy Speaker, with your permission, I will concentrate on four particular issues that affect Northamptonshire: first, county lines drug gangs; secondly, automatic number plate recognition technology; thirdly, assaults on police officers; and fourthly, Tasers.
Northamptonshire police should be congratulated on the efforts they have undertaken—over the past two years especially—in busting county lines drug gangs. It was only last week that the national press reported that Northamptonshire was responsible for the biggest ever takedown of a UK narcotics network when, as a result of an extensive investigation over a long period of time, it managed ultimately to jail 72 gangsters who had been described as untouchable, with a total sentencing of 220 years. As a result of this drugs bust, 18 county lines and 12 local drug lines were busted and £1.3 million of drugs taken from our streets. Disgracefully, Northamptonshire police found these gangs exploiting vulnerable children as young as 14 to sell crack cocaine and heroin on local streets. The four big players of the operation were jailed for a total of 36 years for conspiracy to supply drugs.
It is an immense source of pride for Northamptonshire police that they should be responsible for this biggest ever county lines bust and I congratulate Chief Constable Nick Adderley on the operation. It began at the beginning of 2019 and involved investigations in the east midlands, the west midlands, London and elsewhere. In fact, contacts were in London, Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Northampton. Warrants were made for multiple arrests at the end of 2019, taking that amount of drugs off our streets.
It is an immense source of pride for the local force that it is the biggest conviction of its kind by a single UK police force to date. I can do no better than quote Detective Chief Inspector Adam Pendlebury of Northamptonshire police, who said that drug dealers like these
“truly think they are untouchable.
They exploit vulnerable people like children and adults suffering with addiction, and make them take all the risks, while they sit at home counting their money. There is no honour in this.
Over the past two years we have warned them and their associates directly that one day, we would get them, one day we would come through their door, and one day they would be looking at the inside of a prison cell.
Today is that day and I could not be prouder of the exceptional work that has gone into this investigation by a group of detectives, uniformed officers and experienced criminal analysts, who have made this operation their lives for the past two years.”
For breaking the biggest-ever narcotics operation, Northamptonshire police deserves the praise of the whole House.
I now wish to move on to automatic number plate recognition technology, which I think we should be doing far more about across the country. The good news in Northamptonshire is that work is beginning to install 150 new ANPR cameras, which will more than double the size of the network in Northamptonshire. They will increase coverage across rural areas, as well as in the larger towns and on the county borders. That is a £1.3 million investment in ANPR technology by Northamptonshire police. Importantly, if used appropriately and on a wide scale, it can deny criminals the use of our roads. Most crime has a vehicle involved in it at some point. Criminals use vehicles to get around the country, and if their vehicles can be spotted and intercepted, crime can be reduced.
The new camera sites were chosen following analysis of where they will be most effective in supporting the investigation of crime, and have been subject to public consultation. For Members who do not know, ANPR reads the registration of passing vehicles and checks it across several databases, raising the alert if a vehicle is stolen, linked to crime or uninsured. I have had the privilege to sit in a Northamptonshire police vehicle and see ANPR in action. When a suspect vehicle goes past, a ping goes off in the police vehicle. They can quickly check the police national database, and with their new interceptor vehicles they can set off in pursuit. I think that the success of Northamptonshire police in focusing resources on that issue should be rolled out across the country. If we can deny criminals the use of our roads, we will see the footprint of crime reduce.
I now wish to turn to the very grave issue of assaults, which I raised at the beginning of the debate in an intervention to the Minister. In Northamptonshire over the past year, 609 officers out of a force of 1,300 were assaulted, which included being headbutted, being punched and kicked in the face, being attacked with weapons, having boiling water thrown at them, and being hit by cars. As Chief Constable Nick Adderley said,
“This list is distressing and disturbing.”
In November, two police officers were injured, one needing surgery, after boiling water was poured over them during a shocking incident in Northampton. One officer suffered second degree burns, which meant that he required plastic surgery, and his colleague received minor injuries to his hands. Both had to be taken to hospital. A 15-year-old girl was arrested at the scene and charged with grievous bodily harm and assaulting an emergency worker. Despite boiling water having been thrown over the officers, in December the 15-year-old girl got community service and a token £250 fine. We have passed legislation in this House to increase the sentencing for assaults on emergency workers. It seems, however, that some of the courts are simply not listening.
In another case, in October 2019, paramedics were trying to treat a 22-year-old in Kettering when he had a head injury but was refusing treatment. Police were called to assist by East Midlands Ambulance Service, but when the officers arrived, he kicked out at the female officer, bending her knee sideways. It left her with pain, weakness and mobility issues, added to the emotional toll of being assaulted at work. He was sentenced in February this year to rehabilitation activities, unpaid work in the community and a fine of £300. A Northamptonshire police spokesman said:
“Assaults against our officers are disgraceful and we will always pursue action against those who commit them. Being assaulted is not part of the job and never will be. Our officers go to work to protect the public and do not deserve to be assaulted in the line of duty.”
We have passed legislation in this House for those who assault police officers to go to jail. If a judge had boiling water poured over him or her, I very much doubt that the offender would be let off with community service and a £300 fine. If a magistrate had their knee kicked sideways so that they were unable to walk properly, I very much doubt that the offender would avoid a custodial sentence. So in his role in the Justice Department, will the Minister emphasise to those who issue these sentences that anyone who assaults a police officer should go to jail?
I support the calls of John Apter, the national chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, who has said that attacks on police officers during the pandemic are
“a serious issue for us all”.
He went on to say:
“Those who attack emergency workers have a complete lack of respect for anything or anybody. Without doubt, we are living in a more violent society which needs to take a long hard look at itself. We need officers to have the very best protection, and there must be a strong deterrent—that deterrent should be time in prison, no ifs, no buts. Time and time again we see officers who have been badly assaulted, and they see their attacker being let off with little more than just a slap on the wrist. This is offensive and fails to give that deterrent which is so desperately needed.”
Overall, attacks against police officers in Northamptonshire have increased, with 507 recorded from February to November last year, up from 440 in the same period in 2019. As I said, in the year as a whole, 609 officers have been assaulted.
Finally, I wish to draw the Minister’s attention to the roll-out of Tasers in Northamptonshire. Because police officers are not being properly protected by the courts, and because there is not a sufficient deterrent for people not to assault police officers, Chief Constable Nick Adderley has made the brave decision to roll out Tasers to any frontline officer who chooses to use them. This makes Northamptonshire the first police force in the whole country to arm all its frontline officers with Tasers, if that is what they wish to do. The move means that over 300 officers have the option to be trained and equipped with Tasers, and the latest numbers show that 328 officers locally routinely carry Tasers.
Chief Constable Adderley says:
“Enough is enough. Every week, I am made aware of more and more sickening attacks on my officers—they are spat at, assaulted on a daily basis, and are being exposed to increasing levels of violence when they are deployed to incidents.
No-one comes to work to be assaulted and I want to make it crystal clear that my officers certainly don’t. It’s time to give all frontline officers the ability to defend themselves and defend members of the public, which involves equipping them with more than a baton, handcuffs and a can of pepper spray.”
Some people may think that if officers are armed with Tasers, Tasers are being deployed too often and the barbs that come out of them are regularly being fired. That is not how Tasers work in the vast majority of cases. Home Office figures show that Tasers were used in just over 17,000 incidents across the country in the year to March 2018—the Minister will have more up-to-date figures than I do—and that was up from 11,500 the year before. However, in 85% of cases where a Taser is deployed —where an officer takes the Taser out of its holster and points it at the suspect—it is not discharged. That is because when an officer draws, aims and places the Taser red dot on the suspect, and the suspect can see the red dot on their chest, their arm or their leg, the weapon is officially used but not actually discharged. All too often, the red dot is enough to quell the threat, meaning that the officer rarely has to discharge the weapon.
I believe, as the chief constable does, that Taser works. Just last week, according to the chief constable, a police officer used a Taser locally in Northamptonshire to stop a man strangling a colleague and saved that colleague’s life. Two weekends ago, a Northamptonshire officer was forced to the ground and strangled to the point where he nearly lost consciousness. Due to the size of the offender, strikes proved ineffective. PAVA spray was also ineffective. Thank goodness, the officer’s colleague had a Taser, which saved the officer’s life. The man who was assaulting the officer was heavily intoxicated. When the officers tried to arrest him, he set upon them and pinned one of them to the ground. He was a large individual and was strangling the officer to the point that the accompanying officer could not get him off his colleague. The only thing that prevented the officer from being more seriously injured or potentially killed was the discharge of the Taser.
Can we have more county lines drugs busts? Can we have more ANPR technology? Can we have a wider roll-out of Tasers? And can we have fewer assaults on police officers?
I would like to begin by paying tribute to the officers, community support staff and other staff at Merseyside Police, and to police forces across the country, for all the work they have been doing to help keep our communities safe. The past year has been particularly challenging, and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude. I would also like to express my condolences to the families and friends of those officers who have lost their lives to covid.
A decade of Conservative Government austerity policies has had a damaging effect on police forces up and down the country. There are almost 24,000 fewer people working in the police now than in 2010—that is around 9,000 fewer police officers, 7,000 fewer police staff and 7,000 fewer police community support officers. The service cannot deal with these levels of cuts without there being an impact on public safety and on the stress levels of the remaining police workforce. That has to be a concern for us all.
Ministers will point to repeated statements about plans to recruit an additional 20,000 police officers as cause for celebration. However, the Government’s increase in police numbers will happen only over several years. In the meantime, our overstretched police officers are having to make up for 10 years of Conservative Government austerity.
In Wirral West, we have felt the impact of Government austerity. A decade of budget cuts by central Government reduced the number of officers in Merseyside Police by nearly a quarter. In 2010, Merseyside Police had over 4,500 police officers, but then, because of Government cuts, they lost over 1,100 of those officers. Those figures are breathtaking and have impacted on the safety of our communities.
Now, numbers in Merseyside are increasing, and by the end of March next year the force will have more than 4,000 officers, but that will still fall short of the numbers we had in 2010 and the Government have not announced any plans to replace the PCSOs or the police staff who have been cut. So, when the Prime Minister says,
“The most important thing politicians can do is back the police”,
does he really mean it? Why, then, is he freezing police pay?
The chair of the National Police Chiefs Council has spoken out about how
“sustained pay restraint can have wider impacts on the wellbeing of officers and staff, who work so hard to protect the public.”
Freezing pay is no way to value hard-working public sector workers, nor is it any way to build a service, and there is concern that the retention of police officers could become an issue.
According to the Minister for Crime and Policing,
“The retention of experienced police officers is a priority”,
and yet the Government are freezing their pay. How can it be right that the Government are freezing the pay of police officers and staff at a time when they have made such a vital contribution to public safety throughout the course of the pandemic? Will the Minister think again and press the Chancellor to make sure that the police receive the pay rise they deserve?
This year police and crime commissioners have had to take very difficult decisions at local level. The Merseyside commissioner proposed an increase to the police precept, the part of council tax ring-fenced for local policing. The increase to the police precept equates to £10 a year on a band A property—the lowest council tax band but the one paid by the majority of households on Merseyside. It is no secret that there is growing reluctance from police and crime panels to continue to support raising precepts in this way. Indeed, while endorsing the commissioner’s budget plans, the police and crime panel on Merseyside also recommended that she strenuously raise their concerns with Home Office and Treasury Ministers and challenge Government decisions to shift the burden of paying for the police from central taxation on to the shoulders of local council tax payers.
That the Government expect council tax payers to pay more to help towards the cost of policing shows that they have totally failed to understand the devastating impact of their austerity policies on people up and down the country. At a time when we are seeing a huge increase in the number of people using food banks, this increase in council tax will hit those families who are already worried about keeping up with their bills and putting food on the table. It is a fundamental responsibility of Government to keep citizens safe, and along with that comes Government responsibility to ensure that the police are properly resourced.
To conclude, I would like to ask some questions of the Minister. How long will it take for police officer numbers in Merseyside to reach 2010 levels? Will he confirm whether the Government have any plans to replace the police staff and PCSO roles that have been cut since 2010? And what steps will he take to repair the damage that this Government have done to policing since 2010?
I thank the police for all they do, in particular the way in which they have policed the pandemic in this very challenging time. I thank the Government for their investment in the police force and, in particular, their commitment to increase the number of officers, which has meant nearly 300 additional officers in Devon and Cornwall so far, on top of the local growth numbers funded by our council tax payers. I understand that this additional resource has helped morale in our local force, which is incredibly important to our communities.
In my own police area, our excellent police and crime commissioner, Alison Hernandez, piloted an allowance for our hard-working special constables, who did a set amount of hours over the winter months. Will the Department work with her and the chief constable, look at that pilot and explore options to enable police forces to develop a special constabulary as a paid reserve, in the same way as Army reserves provide additional resources at times of need? This could be particularly useful to Cornwall when we have peak needs, as we do in the summer, when we will, I hope, again have an influx of tourists.
My second request is for the force to be able to do home-based lateral flow Covid testing of officers. It is essential that officers, who work shifts and often come into close contact with people through their job, have the ability to test close at hand. I ask the Department to look at that as a matter of urgency.
I should declare an interest in that my partner works for a local police force.
I, like other hon. Members, begin by paying tribute to the often unsung, much unseen and extraordinary work of our police throughout the pandemic. It goes without saying that the bravery and dedication of officers in my local force, and other forces throughout the country—my local force, and the local force of my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), the shadow Home Secretary, is Gwent police—is in evidence 24/7, 365 days a year, even in normal times.
However, the new challenges of the pandemic have only put additional strain on the frontline. The option of staying at home to keep safe was never a possibility for frontline officers, who have continued to put themselves in harm’s way to protect and serve the public. All forces have had to deal with staff shortages as a result of the pandemic, and police officers, who so often have to enter homes and non-socially distanced spaces, as well as dealing with disgraceful assaults, including spitting, are still waiting to receive a vaccine. The hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) made an important point about the impact of assaults.
Despite all this, that deeply ingrained, selfless commitment to keeping us all safe has never wavered. On behalf of my constituents, I want to convey heartfelt thanks to all our police officers and staff. We value you and we support you.
It is important to re-emphasise the context of the Government cuts that loom large over today’s debate on police spending. Between 2010 and 2020, 21,000 police officers were cut, as were 16,000 police staff and over 6,000 PCSOs. Gwent police saw its budget reduced by over 40% over the course of the decade, leading to a loss of 350 frontline officers and 200 members of staff.
Today, the police workforce has nearly 24,000 fewer personnel than in 2010, and it is important to point out that the loss of PCSOs in Wales was only offset by the Welsh Labour Government, who of course have no jurisdiction over policing, stepping in to fund 500 PCSOs when the UK Government cuts came into effect, and we thank them for that.
Although the introduction of the police officer uplift programme was a belated recognition from Ministers of the impact of their cuts, the scheme goes nowhere near far enough to address the damage caused by a decade of ideological austerity that undermined our police forces. The police grant for 2021-22 promises an increase of £636 million on last year’s settlement. However, analysis reveals that there is a £2.2 billion real-terms gap in the central Government funding formula grant and a £1.6 billion real-terms gap in overall funding compared with 2010-11.
The 2021-22 provisional settlement does not remedy the past disinvestment in policing, nor does it fully address existing and future pressures, such as pay awards for existing police officers and staff or increases in things such as national ICT costs from the Home Office. Even after taking account of rises in central Government revenue grant funding over the 2020 to 2022 financial years to deliver the uplift programme, the overall cash reduction in central Government revenue grant funding across England and Wales stands at around 12%. When the effect of inflation and pay awards is built in, the real reduction is actually around 25% over the past 12 years.
During that time, policing demand has become considerably more complex and labour-intensive, with the challenges of cyber-crime and new outlets for serious and organised crime. Officers, having so often become the service of first resort in protecting the most vulnerable in society, feel that, too.
Despite these enormous pressures, Gwent maintained one of the highest spends on neighbourhood policing of any police force in the country. The force began recruiting again as soon as it could, and it has continued to add new officers to the ranks. That may not have been possible if our local police and crime commissioner, Jeff Cuthbert, had not stepped in and made the difficult decision to increase the policing precept for local residents. On current financial forecasts, by 2024-25 council tax payers in Gwent will fund over half of the net budget of Gwent police, thereby becoming the majority stakeholders. Is this the Government’s strategic funding direction for policing? Local PCCs should not have to plug the gap of Home Office failings.
Furthermore, the precept increases alone have not been able to keep pace with the unavoidable expenditure increases each year. As a result, in the past 11 years, Gwent police have been forced to deliver savings. Even with the £4.2 million extra funding from Government for the police officer uplift programme, Gwent police will still need to deliver further budget savings as they look to address a funding deficit that could rise to £3.5 million by 2026. All forces will face a similar or even more daunting outlook. The fact that police forces are still grappling with this painful balancing act shows that central Government are still not meeting the challenge of properly resourcing our police.
Another example of this failure is the woefully inadequate Home Office capital grant. Gwent’s capital grant from the Home Office will be £120,000. When we consider that spending on the fleet replacement programme alone amounts to £1.4 million and the total capital programme, including estate and information and communications technology upgrades, amounts to £18.7 million, the grant looks all the more paltry. This of course means increased pressure on both revenue budgets and reserve funds.
Then there is the issue of pensions. Following the re-evaluation of public sector pension schemes in 2016, Gwent police’s specific pension grant from the Home Office remains flat at 2019-20 levels. This results in a £1.7 million shortfall for the next financial year, as the pension liability has increased in the intervening years while Government spending has not.
As many have said, the work of the police is often unsung, but this should not mean that our police are undervalued too. We really need to see a long-term strategy on funding that addresses the current and evolving challenges that our police face. Otherwise there is a real risk that this year’s police grant will just be another short-term sticking plaster over the wound of a decade of swingeing cuts. I do not doubt that Ministers value and support the work of our police, as we all do across this House, but warm words can only go so far. Our police have had a raw deal for too long and deserve better than they are getting from the Government.
I would like to begin by thanking Bedfordshire police officers and staff for the magnificent job they do in keeping my constituents safe. I also register my disgust at those people who spit and cough over police officers, or indeed attack or try to harm them in any way.
Keeping the public safe is the highest duty of any Government. When I was first elected to Parliament in 2001, I campaigned on a platform to restore the 88 police officers who had recently been lost at the force. In 2005, I stood on a platform of recruiting an extra 5,000 police officers. Only just over a year ago, this Government were elected on a pledge to recruit 20,000 more officers, and we are making good progress on that target, with Bedfordshire having already received an additional 54 officers from that funding, and now having more officers than ever before, at 1,257. Back in 2017-18, Bedfordshire police had a budget of £102.2 million. For 2021-22, it will be £127.4 million—an increase of 25% during a four-year period. It would therefore be wrong for me not to recognise that significant uplift and thank the Government for it.
Over this five-year period, the force has made savings of £13.5 million, showing that we have also focused on efficiency and value for money. However, if we examine the budget more carefully from 1 April 2018 to the end of next month, it will be seen that the £0.4 million underspend in 2018, the £1 million underspend in 2019 and the break-even financial position for this financial year were only achieved as a result of additional special grants for the guns and gangs team of £4.4 million, £3 million and a further £3 million respectively. In other words, without those additional special grants, the force would have been £9 million overspent in the past three financial years. This is not sustainable. Indeed, anything that cannot be done for the long term is not sustainable. Those special grants cannot be relied on in the way that core funding can. What happens if they are suddenly withdrawn? That is not a secure and prudent basis on which to employ police officers.
The problems with Bedfordshire police’s budget go back to 2004, when damping was brought in. That meant that a number of police forces, including Bedfordshire, did not receive the full amount of funding that the national police funding formula said they should. In Bedfordshire’s case, the shortfall was around £3 million a year, which was the equivalent of employing around 95 police officers. It is not an accident that of the five Bedfordshire Members of Parliament who could speak in this debate, three are doing so. We have always worked in a cross-party way on this for the good of the whole county, and I have met every Police Minister to raise this issue since I was first elected in 2001.
Bedfordshire police is the best-represented police force in this debate because of the severity and profile of crime across Bedfordshire. If a school had a 25% increase in funding over four years, we might think that was a very good result. If the number of children in the school increased by 50%, however, we might take a different view. Budgets must be looked at in relation to what they have to be used for. Let me spell out the severity and profile of crime in Bedfordshire. Bedfordshire police manages more organised criminal groups than do Norfolk and Suffolk combined. It manages 12 organised criminal groups involved with firearms, which is more than Norfolk, Suffolk, Kent and Hertfordshire combined. The police force also manages 18 identified county lines, and it ranks fourth nationally in relation to county lines, surpassed only by the Metropolitan police, West Midlands police and Greater Manchester police, in that order. In proportion to its population, Bedfordshire police force is not funded in anything like the same way as those three police forces. The issue of county lines in Bedfordshire concerns residents in the areas covered by the Metropolitan police, West Midlands police, Greater Manchester police and even Avon and Somerset police, because Bedfordshire supplies drugs to all those areas. Overall, the supply of drugs out of the county is the fourth highest in England and Wales.
All that was true before the infiltration of the EncroChat server by European law enforcement agencies in Operation Venetic. Bedfordshire police have been allocated 26 separate packages of intelligence about criminality through Operation Venetic. That compares with only 11 packages for Hertfordshire —a police force area three times the size of Bedfordshire—and no packages at all for Cambridgeshire, a county with roughly the same population as Bedfordshire. It is absolutely right that Bedfordshire police should devote resources to tackling crime that is uncovered through that intelligence, but doing so is not cheap and it comes at a significant cost in police officers and budget. That has led to a lack of resilience within Bedfordshire police, and it places the force in a difficult position. I note with great concern, for example, that one recent investigation undertaken by the child and vulnerable adult abuse team took three years to reach a successful conclusion. The result was, of course, a good one, but the conclusion could have been reached within a year. The 11 vulnerable survivors were therefore exposed to horrific crimes for two years longer than should have been the case.
The impact of all that in Bedfordshire is that our police resources get concentrated on our two largest urban centres. That dates back to a change made in October 2012, a month before the very first police and crime commissioner election, and it means that there is not an even distribution of police officers across the whole county. Understandably, the chief constable will place his resource where it is most needed, but that leaves many areas of the county with significantly less police presence than they used to have—and less than people have a right to expect, given that they pay increasing taxes and police precept for police presence in their area.
Let me illustrate that by looking at the police establishment that my largest town, Leighton Buzzard, had in 1988. Back then the town had its own police station, with 12 civilian staff, one inspector, six sergeants and 27 constables. That is a total of 34 warranted officers based in the town. There was also a 24/7 first responder presence, which is something that I want to see in all three of my towns. Other police forces in towns of a similar size with similar budgets do manage to achieve this, but they are not dealing with the crime profile in Bedfordshire.
Today, Leighton Buzzard and Linslade have eight police constables and three PCSOs operating out of the shared services site. There is also a reduced police presence in Dunstable and Houghton Regis. Many years ago, the villages in my constituency had police officers living in police houses. That has all gone, and some residents in my villages live in fear that the police will not be able to get to them in time. This has had very serious consequences indeed for some of my constituents and for a number of local businesses. There have been major incidents of modern slavery on some local Traveller sites, and 100 officers from two neighbouring forces, in addition to Bedfordshire, were required to police one Traveller funeral. That is a great deal of police resource that is not available to the rest of the county to undertake covid-19 enforcement and to respond to all manner of crime. There has also been a very large police presence at at least three other Traveller funerals.
Although we are grateful for the increased budgets and the increasing number of police officers, the resources need to be equal to the challenges they face. The Government need to be fair about the challenges facing Bedfordshire police. My constituents expect no less. Successive Governments of all political parties have continually failed to recognise the challenges facing Bedfordshire. That needs to change and it needs to do so on a sustainable basis, so that the force can plan for the long term based on its core budget and does not have to hope that it will continue to receive one-off special grants, which are not a sustainable basis to plan for the long term. The Minister said in his opening remarks that he would continue to monitor the demands on police forces. That monitoring needs to be improved, and to lead to action and change as far as Bedfordshire is concerned.
While crime has risen across the country, it has risen every single year since the Warwickshire police and crime commissioner was elected. Since 2015, crime has risen by 45% in Warwickshire. Furthermore, victim satisfaction has gone down. I am afraid to say that this is now a Government of crime and disorder. Nationally in 2019-20, violence as a proportion of all crime recorded by the police reached its highest level since comparative records began. At the same time, violence against the person has increased in every police force across the country. More specifically, offences involving a knife have increased in every police force in England and Wales. There was a 10% increase in the total number of domestic abuse offences recorded by the police in the year ending September 2020 compared with the previous year. Most depressingly of all, only one in 14 crimes leads to a charge.
As the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) said, the national statistics are reflected in counties such as Warwickshire and Northamptonshire, and particularly locally in my constituency of Warwick and Leamington, where communities are alarmed by the shocking rise in violent crime. Knife crime is often spoken of as a metropolitan or city issue, but it is clear that towns across the UK are impacted, in particular due to county lines drug gangs. Towns such as Bedworth, Leamington, Nuneaton and Rugby have all been victim, with our residents on the frontline watching as knife crime has quadrupled across Warwickshire since 2013-14. In Leamington alone we have had at least five stabbing incidents in just over a year, with the latest on 16 January when a 15-year-old boy had a substance thrown in his face and was stabbed after refusing to hand over his mobile phone.
It would be easy to say that we simply need more officers, but we need more specialist staff, too. One should not be substituted for the other. When it comes to domestic abuse, there were 1,628 arrests for domestic abuse-related crimes across Warwickshire between 1 April and 30 June 2020. In fact, a staggering 15% of all recorded crime here is now domestic abuse-related, so why is it such a low priority for the police and crime commissioner of Warwickshire and, indeed, for the Government?
The Government have made much of their claim that they are putting more police on the streets, but in truth it is nonsense. They are putting police on the streets but withdrawing and sacking officers and staff working behind the scenes who are just as valuable as our frontline officers.
The police grant report confirms fears that the funding allocated for promised additional officers is far lower than last year, falling by £285 million throughout the UK from last year. This will put huge strain on police finances, meaning fewer police staff and PCSOs and therefore fewer officers on the beat—unless something gives. By the year ending March 2018, more than 21,000 officers had been lost, taking their numbers to the lowest level since 1988. There are still more than 9,000 fewer officers today than in 2010. Rather than properly fund the police, Ministers have chosen to heap the burden on hard-pressed homeowners—local taxpayers—by raising the precept to £15 for band D properties.
Unlike the Conservatives, Labour’s record in government shows that we can be trusted on policing and crime. Let us remember that by 2010 crime was down by more than a third compared with 1997, with 6 million fewer crimes each year and the risk of being a victim of crime at its lowest since the crime survey began in 1981. Police numbers had reached record levels, up by almost 17,000 since 1997, and Labour invested in safety and security in our communities, with the addition of 16,000 police community support officers.
Let me turn to the picture locally and the cuts to Warwickshire police. Since 2010, we have seen a real-terms funding cut of 2%—a cut of £2.4 million—resulting in a decade of rising and more-violent crime. The Conservative police and crime commissioner has hiked the precept, which is often confused with council tax, every year since he was elected except one, when he kept it the same. He proposes a precept increase for a band D property of a further £15, or 6.3%, in 2021-22. That follows a 5% to 6% increase every year for the past few years. Council tax band D properties in Warwickshire are being charged almost £50 more annually for policing than when the police and crime commissioner was elected in 2016, resulting in local people paying more but getting less.
Most disturbing have been the cuts to Warwickshire’s domestic abuse unit, to which I alluded earlier. The police and crime commissioner plans to replace all nine staff, with some 70 years’ experience in police service between them, with new police constables. More than half the people in Warwickshire police custody over Christmas were arrested for domestic abuse. A petition against the cuts, organised by local residents, has gained more than 1,000 signatures.
After Warwickshire police announced the redundancies to backroom staff, I contacted Unison, which told me that around 125 posts previously carried out by members of police staff have been redesignated as police officer posts. Police staff doing those roles freed up police officers to get out on the streets—that was the great value of how it worked—where the public can see them and be reassured by their presence, rather than them being sat behind their desks in offices. The decision to put these police officers into offices and to make the staff redundant is more expensive and a questionable use of public money.
In all, Warwickshire police is losing 87 hard-working employees of the force in the middle of a pandemic, yet the police and crime commissioner is claiming that an uplift of 40 police officers will offset that. The public know they are being duped—they know they are paying more for less. It is not often in life that people are prepared to pay more for less and be content. The public of Warwickshire are not happy. They demand greater security and greater safety, and they demand better.
Cleveland has some of the most hard-working, incredible, determined, committed police officers in the country. They go above and beyond day in, day out. I therefore welcome the fact that we will have one of the highest settlements per head of population in the country—in fact, second only to the Met—but it will not stop me asking for more.
Cleveland is the holder of two very grim national awards. It is devastating to know that we need this money, and we need more. You are more likely to be a victim of crime in Cleveland than anywhere else in this country. Ours was the first police force in the country to be put into special measures after failing on every measure of performance and be deemed inadequate. While Cleveland’s incredible frontline police officers put themselves in harm’s way day in, day out, serving our community with distinction, our force has been let down by Labour’s political leadership. A Labour-controlled police authority and then a Labour police and crime commissioner have seen our force stumble from one scandal to another for decades.
Since 2011, we have had seven different chief constables. One left while being investigated for gross misconduct. Another was dismissed for it. The force was found to be institutionally racist. It was found to have illegally used surveillance powers to tap the phones of journalists and a whistleblower. There were questions of negligence around an investigation into an officer who was found to be a serial rapist. We had a Labour PCC who appeared to be more interested in employing press officers than police officers. He resigned last year amid questions around his conduct. Our residents deserve better. Our brave frontline police officers deserve better.
I am delighted that we have a new acting police and crime commissioner and a determined, committed new chief constable. We are turning a corner and leaving this dark history behind us. In May, people can choose to return our force to Labour’s grubby little hands or elect Steve Turner as the PCC, restoring confidence in our force, putting more police on our streets and taking the fight to Cleveland’s criminals. Legacy issues continue to eat into resource and focus, adding pressure to our ongoing movement with Cleveland police. I hope that the Minister will meet me and the chief constable to look at how we can wipe the slate clean, end the discussions and debates about the history of Cleveland police and deal with the legal services and HR issues.
The Government get the challenges facing the police and our country, delivering 20,000 more police officers on to our streets with better equipment and stronger powers to stop and search, and a renewed, tougher approach to sentencing. That already means 159 more police officers on Cleveland’s streets. In Stockton, that resource has been used to set up a community action team, reclaiming our streets, carrying out stop-and-search like never before, taking down the doors of drug dens and facing up to organised crime groups.
Alongside more officers, we want better equipment. I am delighted to see the roll-out of more Tasers, backed by the Government. We recently had issues with woefully inadequate body-worn cameras in my part of the world. We were sending hard-working police officers out there in harm’s way with cameras that were not fit for purpose. I am delighted to say that we have improved that, but the police officers in my part of the world still do not benefit from good-quality sat-nav or GPS. The Government have a responsibility to ensure that police and crime commissioners equip our frontline officers with the things they need to do their job. We are making moves in the right direction, but we need to go much further. There are also greater powers to stop and search and a renewed approach to sentencing, getting tough and giving real justice out to those who deserve it.
Cleveland police has sorted itself out. It is making use of additional Government resource. It is on the side of the victims, and Cleveland’s criminals should watch out. I look forward to speaking in this debate in a year’s time, when you are no more likely to be a victim of crime in Cleveland than anywhere else. We can make a real difference with this resource to the lives of people across Stockton South.
Like others, I first wish to express my thanks to all Bedfordshire police officers and staff for all that they do on the front- line, keeping our communities safe, particularly in the face of significant challenges thrown up by the pandemic, which come hot on the heels of a decade of austerity that saw police numbers cut and violent crime rise.
Today, I want to raise the issues already raised by the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) about the funding provided to Bedfordshire police in the police grant report, which is a continuation of the structurally flawed funding model that has left Bedfordshire police under-resourced for years. The force has struggled to balance the budget at the same time as protecting our communities, due to inadequate central Government funding. Since 2018-19, it has had to rely on yearly, one-off special grants to tackle serious crime in order to ensure that it does not overspend. Short-term funding arrangements inhibit our police’s ability to plan ahead to support and protect our communities. Just last year, Crest Advisory found that total police demand will continue to increase over the next three years, at the same time as the service continues to be underfunded and understaffed. Stakeholders across Luton and Bedfordshire—this is cross-party and includes those in non-political roles—do not think that the funding formula is fit for purpose. It needs to be reviewed and amended to better reflect data on actual recorded crime levels and levels of threat.
I know that the Government recognise that, but by choosing to press ahead with allocating the grant under the current formula they are failing to properly resource Bedfordshire police to tackle the nature and quantity of crime that we face. Although Bedfordshire police’s budget has increased, it has increased only at the same rate as those of other forces and is therefore still disproportionately underfunded.
Bedfordshire is funded as a rural county, but with two major towns, Luton and Bedford, it suffers from crime typically found in metropolitan city areas. Our county also—normally—has the fifth busiest airport in the country, a mainline railway and the M1, all of which fall within my constituency. As has already been outlined, Bedfordshire has more active organised crime groups than Norfolk and Suffolk put together, and more than Kent and Essex, and more Bedfordshire-based organised crime groups have links to firearms than do those in Hertfordshire, Kent, Norfolk and Suffolk put together. The drugs supply out of Bedfordshire to other areas of the country is the fourth highest in England and Wales, and in many cases is the origin of county lines crime.
Bedfordshire police is dedicated to maximising public safety, but at the moment it is being done on a shoestring. Rather than introducing a fair and equitable funding formula, Ministers have chosen to heap the burden on to hard-pressed local residents by raising the police precept to £15 for band D properties. This regressive form of taxation will mean that the most deprived communities, those with fewer band D properties, will get the least. There should be no winners and losers when it comes to public safety. In Bedfordshire, the increase in the precept will raise £6.9 million, but it is economically illiterate to expect local residents to foot the bill at the same time as their incomes and living standards have been devastated by the economic fallout from the pandemic. Short-term, one-off grants and the passing of the burden on to residents must stop. The Government must take ownership of this issue and implement an urgent review of the funding formula to ensure that Bedfordshire’s police service receives the central Government support it needs. I hope that the Minister recognises that although Bedfordshire’s police force is under-represented in funding, this debate is over-represented by Members from across Luton and Bedfordshire to make that point.
At the outset, it is important to recognise the great job done by Suffolk police in what are, at present, incredibly challenging circumstances. The proposed increase in grant funding of £7.4 million, from £135.1 million to £142.5 million, coupled with the maximum increase in council tax of £15 per band D household, does enable the Suffolk police and crime commissioner, Tim Passmore, to put in place policies that enable the Suffolk constabulary to properly police the county and keep people safe. However, this is becoming an increasingly difficult task, with Suffolk being the fourth lowest centrally funded force per head of population in the country, and with the local taxpayer having to pay an ever-increasing share of this burden.
There is an urgent need, as my colleagues from Bedfordshire have said, for the police funding formula to be reviewed as part of the next comprehensive spending review. Moreover, a three-year settlement would greatly assist with long-term planning and responsible budgeting. It is welcome that Suffolk police is recruiting more officers. As a result of Operation Uplift, there will be 162 more officers over the next three years, with more police out on the streets. They are tackling county lines and violent crime. There will be investment in the cyber-crime unit, more work on fraud prevention and rural crime, an improved 101 service and, at a time when it is much needed, more support for the vulnerable and those at risk.
Suffolk is also at the forefront of collaboration with neighbouring forces, with the joint work with Norfolk yielding recurring annual savings of £22.2 million to the Suffolk taxpayer. These initiatives are welcome, but the Suffolk council tax payer is being asked to pay too high a proportion of their cost. There does need to be a rebalancing of the national grant to bring Suffolk in line with similar counties, properly taking into account the levels of wages and incomes, and as part of a fair and transparent levelling-up process. When my hon. Friend the Minister sums up, I ask him to commit to a full review of the funding formula ahead of the comprehensive spending review.
Since the Prime Minister’s first speech on the steps of Downing Street, it has been made clear that keeping our communities safe, increasing police numbers and providing them with the necessary funding has been a priority of this Conservative Government. The drive to recruit 20,000 new police officers has demonstrated a very real shift in policy to prioritise law and order.
West Yorkshire police, headquartered in my Wakefield constituency, has been bolstered by an additional 308 officers in the first year of this major recruitment drive, bringing the total number across West Yorkshire to 5,494 officers as of October 2020. The West Yorkshire police training and development centre, which lies in Wakefield district, is crucial in providing recruits with the skills needed to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour. As we continue recruiting more police officers, such training centres will be invaluable in training our frontline officers and therefore making a crucial contribution towards keeping our communities safe.
Important provisions are also being made by Her Majesty’s Government to ensure our officers are better protected in the conduct of their duties, including equipping more officers with Tasers, as well as toughening sentences for those who assault our emergency workers, all of whom deserve the respect of all of us they are dedicated to safeguarding. Today’s publication of the police funding settlement for 2021-22 marks a continuation of this Conservative Government’s commitment to ensuring that our communities are kept safe and our police forces have the numbers, training and equipment necessary to operate effectively.
During a year in which all arms of Government have been brought together to bear down on tackling the spread of covid-19, growing police officer numbers, along with growing budgets and providing better protective measures to frontline officers have remained key objectives of this Government, which they are successfully securing. The 2021-22 funding settlement will provide £15.8 billion of funding for the policing system, an increase of £636 million on the 2020-21 settlement. I am delighted that West Yorkshire police will receive £512.3 million this year, £27,300,000 more than last year’s funding.
Although I enthusiastically welcome the funding, it is of fundamental importance that it leads to positive, visible and measurable outcomes and results. The increase in police numbers must lead to more police officers actively patrolling our streets. We must not allow ourselves to be deceived by the lazy Labour thinking that more money is always the solution to problems in and of itself. It is not. However, increased budgets do, when correctly employed, make it easier for important improvements to be made, whether they be changing systems, culture or training.
Wakefield is proudly home to West Yorkshire police force, the fourth largest territorial police force in England and Wales, yet, despite this, crime and antisocial behaviour remain an issue in Wakefield, whether that be rough sleeping, drug use, or reported crimes.
Over the past year, I have enjoyed the privilege of accompanying Wakefield district’s neighbourhood policing team, headed by the inspirational Sergeant Matthew Jackson, in patrolling the streets of Wakefield, and I am in awe of their purposeful work and seek to see them fully resourced. They are a truly impressive and determined group of civic-minded officers who love and take pride in their communities, city, country and police force. Places that are proud homes of major police forces, such as Wakefield, must be examples of how we maintain law and order for the rest of the country.
I welcome today’s police grant report and the new annual funding settlement, which, during this unprecedented global pandemic, clearly demonstrates for all that the Conservative party is the only party that can be truly relied on to support our police force, both in Wakefield and across the entire kingdom. Conservatives remain vigilant to ensure that this massive boost in funding is reflected in the sight of more police on our streets, safer communities and lower crime rates.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Imran Ahmad Khan), but even more of a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) and my colleague, the hon. Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins). I am now the third of the three Members of Parliament from Bedfordshire to press the case to the Minister for solving the problem that has beset our local force: the conundrum of the national funding formula.
I will, if I may, add to my colleagues’ thanks to the officers of Bedfordshire police for their outstanding service to the community. In our relatively small county, our police not only have to deal with the regular crime that affects many other parts of the country, but have a special responsibility for security in and around our airport at Luton. They have responsibilities for motorway networks that course through Bedfordshire. They have issues of social community cohesion in our urban centres and they have to deal with rural crime as well. For any police force, they would be immense challenges at the best of times, but for Bedfordshire police in these difficult covid times, it has required of our officers an exceptional level of dedication and service. On behalf of all the Members of Parliament for Bedfordshire, I thank them for their service.
I have listened to some of the contributions to the debate. I have heard some—if I might call it this—knocking copy against certain police and crime commissioners. In Bedfordshire, we do not need to do that. In Bedfordshire, we do not need to do that. We have an outstanding police and crime commissioner in Kathryn Holloway, who has cleaned out some of the problems she inherited, strongly implemented a number of her programmes and created a strong basis for Bedfordshire police. She and Festus Akinbusoye, the candidate for PCC in the elections in May, have clear plans that will deliver a fair amount of effective policing across the whole of Bedfordshire. I will pose a couple of questions to the Minister a little later about some of Festus’s proposals so that we can be confident that, when he is elected, they will be able to be funded and go forward.
On the national funding formula, it is sobering to realise, as my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire said, that this goes all the way back to 2004. Since then, there have been a total of 10 policing Ministers, including the current Minister, and five Prime Ministers, yet the pervasive underfunding of Bedfordshire police persists. I wonder whether my hon. Friend the Minister is that one in 10 who will say, “You know what? I’ve found a solution to it. I’ll find a way of giving Bedfordshire police the funding they deserve.” Seeing as it is nearly 6,000 days that the police officers of Bedfordshire have gone out every day and done their service for the community, it is time that we had a police Minister who says, “Yes, this is a challenge that I will meet and face up to.” I have every confidence that the Minister will respond positively to that.
The success of Bedfordshire police requires a clear strategy, and under Kathryn Holloway we have seen a reallocation of police resources towards dealing with rural crime. That is very important for Bedfordshire, where it is an undue weight on our limited resources. As a number of Members said, we ask our taxpayers to fund our police, and they have an expectation that the police will be there when they need them.
This Government and this Minister have delivered increased numbers of officers into Bedfordshire, and this year have delivered an above national average increase for Bedfordshire police. We are very grateful to the Minister and the Prime Minister for being so clear in their resolve to support our officers by putting funds behind them and more officers into the police force, but there are still some things that we need to do.
I turn to two issues that are of importance locally, and which Festus said are his priorities. They bear listening to by the Minister. The first is community-based policing. To be able to continue the commitment to provide policing across Bedfordshire, we need to be 100% sure—there needs to be a cast-iron guarantee from the Minister—that he will ensure that the Conservative manifesto commitment to increasing police numbers will continue, and that Bedfordshire police will continue to get its fair share, if not more, of the increase in officers. We stood on that manifesto pledge, and I am confident that when the Minister comes to the Dispatch Box he will give us that confirmation.
Secondly, in Festus’s plan there is a renewed focus on drug rehabilitation programmes. I am very interested to hear from the Minister where he sees the priority for drug rehabilitation. I am sure he heard my colleagues talk about how Bedfordshire is the source of quite a lot of the drugs that spread across the country, so this is a very well targeted campaign by Festus. It will help with crime prevention in Bedfordshire and across the country too.
I am very grateful for the Minister’s positive words about the defence of our police officers. I know that he and all Members, whatever their political persuasion, are disgusted at the ways in which some people are using the covid pandemic to put extra pressure on our police by threatening them in despicable ways. I hope the clear message comes from this debate that the force of law will come down very strongly on people who abuse our police in that way.
I thank the Minister for his announcements today. I would also like to thank the Home Secretary, because I know how much she values all our police forces. That is why, with 6,620 extra police officers, we are now on target to deliver on our manifesto pledge of 20,000 new officers, 613 of whom are already working in the West Midlands. The financial settlement will see the West Midlands receiving an inflation-busting 5.8%. increase to their budget. That is a staggering £36 million, and nearly eight times the rate of inflation. In addition, the local tax rises that residents pay, together with their council tax, put the West Midlands at the top of the league table for precept increases across England, with a staggering increase of 79% since 2012 that the Labour police and crime commissioner has imposed on local people in Dudley North and across the West Midlands.
However, figures show that crime continues to rise. Violent crime in the West Midlands has more than doubled since 2015, so we need robust regional leadership to tackle this, and a police and crime commissioner who is willing to work with the Home Secretary and the Policing Minister to deliver safer streets in our communities. Despite the unprecedented level of funding, sadly, I must report to the House that gang warfare recently broke out on Dudley High Street and that, a week later, a local businessman was murdered. It would seem that the Labour PCC has lost control of policing.
Dudley people and, I am quite certain, the people of the West Midlands can see that effective policing is about more than just money; it is about local decision making and how that filters down from the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner. Here, the facts sadly speak for themselves. This is about having the right strategy to deploy all the new police officers we are recruiting, about making the right decisions locally and about having the will and competence to deliver on them.
The Labour PCC has closed several police stations while spending more than £30 million on refurbishing plush offices at his headquarters at Lloyd House in Birmingham. Meanwhile, Dudley police station and Sedgley police station have closed. Some hope was given to Dudley people when a new police station in Dudley was promised. In fact, it was hailed by my predecessor as a new multimillion-pound station to replace the Brierley Hill one. Several years later, we are still waiting for it. In 2019, it was announced that it would open in 2021, yet no detailed plans have been submitted by the PCC to the council planning department. Dudley, a major metropolitan town, has a town centre that has been without a police station since late 2017, and we are now paying the price for no presence as a result of inaction and incompetence.
We have seen the stark difference when we have elected Mayors and police and crime commissioners who are able and make things happen, compared with those who just play politics. I stated earlier that it is much more than money that fixes problems; it is competence and leadership. Effective people can open doors in Government and unlock further funding, but only when coupled with plans that can show clear deliverability. This is what Andy Street has proved as our Mayor, and it is what I know we would have with Jay Singh-Sohal and with Andy again after the May elections. I will always back the police, and this Conservative Government will always back the police, because that is what people expect.
It is a pleasure to be called to speak in this debate. I have listened intently to the debate this afternoon, and there have been many impassioned contributions to it. There has been much criticism of the Government, but I just want to say to Members on the Opposition Front Bench that there are opportunities for the Labour Mayor of London to show real appreciation of our police officers here by making sure that police officers can be exempt from the congestion charge in the same way as other emergency service workers are. I would implore them to make their petitions to the Mayor.
Today I would like to very much commend Chief Constable James Vaughan of Dorset Police and the whole Dorset force for the sterling work they have done over the years, but particularly over the last 12 months. It is also fitting that I thank the outgoing police and crime commissioner, Martyn Underhill, for his service and work as an independent police and crime commissioner for Dorset. I also very much commend the Conservative candidate, David Sidwick, who will be standing in the forthcoming election in May.
I am particularly pleased that, despite some political movements calling for the police force to be defunded, the Government continue their commitment not just to fund the police but to grow their capability. Dorset policing has had an uplift under those arrangements of £7.7 million. Thirty-nine more police officers are committed to Dorset, and I know that the coastal town of Lyme Regis in my constituency will benefit specifically.
I cannot let this opportunity pass without specifically commending those Dorset police officers who have worked extremely hard during this period of covid. Many Dorset police officers were prepared to go and support other parts of the country—particularly Kent, with the ports in the run-up to the end of the year. On behalf of all the constituents of West Dorset, I cannot say enough how grateful we are to those fearless members of the police force. I should also say that I speak on behalf of my colleague and neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) and, I am sure, all other Members from Dorset in the debate.
It is quite rare for a Member from Dorset to be interested in Northumbria. Despite the fact that the Government are making good progress and we are seeing an extra £7.7 million, the Minister will well know from our previous correspondence that the police funding formula, and Dorset seeing more and being more fairly treated under it, are very important to me. We in Dorset received just 51% of our police funding through the national police funding formula, whereas Northumbria receives 80%. I very much look forward to the coming year, when I am sure the Minister will do as much as he can to review that formula.
As I have pointed out, Dorset has done a huge amount, but I would like to highlight the fact that we have many challenges with crime. The ongoing difficulty is actually growing when it comes to county lines. Small market towns—my home town of Sherborne, as well as Lyme Regis, Bridport, Dorchester and Beaminster—are now seeing county lines activity, and not just a little. We are seeing cuckooing at a level I never, ever thought I would see in the rural constituency of West Dorset. We see drugs being trafficked from Liverpool, from London, from Bristol and from across the country to this rural and coastal constituency. That is what is driving me to ensure that the Minister knows we feel very strongly about the funding formula. We in Dorset need to get to grips, as other parts of the country do, with the county lines disgrace we see across our country today. I am sure the Minister will take that on board. Hon. Members who have spoken in the debate—particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) and for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous)—have articulated similar concerns from their constituencies, and I reiterate those.
In 2014, when I was a councillor on West Dorset District Council, I fought hard to ensure that our rural police stations remained open. That was at a time when I did not quite see eye to eye with the outgoing police commissioner, but none the less we found a way to keep them open and to keep access to them open to the local community. It is fair to say that we need to do more in that area now, and I implore the Minister, in his work going forward, to give that due consideration, for which I thank him very much.
It was a key manifesto commitment to recruit 20,000 more police officers into the force and, despite the pandemic, the Government are honouring that commitment. By the end of December we had already seen more than 6,500 extra officers, surpassing the recruitment target three months ahead of time.
Laws protect our general safety, ensure our rights as citizens against abuses and help to create a society based on fairness and respect for one another. Strong relationships of mutual trust between police agencies and the communities they serve are critical to maintaining public safety, effective policing and ensuring those laws are followed. We govern by consent, and that is the same way we police. Trust in the police hinges on society believing that police actions reflect community values and incorporate the principles of procedural justice and legitimacy. To do that, the police need the funding, and this £15.8 billion settlement, with a rise of £636 million, is welcomed by my chief constable.
Norfolk is extremely lucky. We have an exemplary chief constable in Simon Bailey, who is also the national lead on child protection. He has led his team through this pandemic with his usual professionalism and utter dedication. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to him and all his staff and officers not just for protecting the county at this most difficult of times, but for working tirelessly to keep infection levels low by enforcing the Government regulations. My constituency alone has been a magnet for visitors, given its picturesque draw, so I thank Norfolk police for all they have been doing.
The £15 cap on a band D property is very welcome in boosting much-needed core funding. For Norfolk constabulary, that equates to a 5.6% increase, or £4.5 million in the base budget. We must bear it in mind that 2% of the uplift is required just to stand still and keep current resourcing and spend and current service levels when there is rising demand, but the remaining budget will be well used. We will see a domestic abuse perpetrators programme and 90 more officers on the frontline in Norfolk, which is getting on for a third more than the allocation from the 20,000 programme. The fact that Norfolk is over-recruiting is to be applauded and shows total commitment to keeping our public safe and secure.
Moreover, I commend Mr Bailey for investing heavily in a number of police digital investigators. As crime changes, the need to tackle hidden crimes grows ever more. Abuse and exploitation of the vulnerable is despicable, and we will see justice served today in Norfolk with sentencing for an individual charged with grooming hundreds of young people. These heinous crimes can only be stopped with digital investment in officers.
I end with a mention of police and crime commissioners. Many constituents feel slightly unsure what they are and what they do, and it is important to raise that. An effective crime commissioner understands their role and responsibility. Their role is to be the voice of the people and to hold the police to account. It is to explain and engage with the electorate on the decisions taken and how budgets are used. If that is got right, working hand in hand with the chief constable, it can be an exemplar relationship.
Law and order is one of the cornerstones of our democracy. The Government are providing not just the funding, but the tools to let the police do their job properly. It is with that in mind that I commend this funding settlement to the House.
It is a pleasure to follow on from the excellent contributions we have had in today’s debate. I begin, as many others have, by thanking our police officers and staff for everything they do to keep us safe. Covid has placed enormous strain on our police service, and I thank them in the House today for putting their lives on the line for us.
As the shadow Home Secretary said in opening this debate, it is galling to hear warm words from this Government followed by a pay freeze and no news on when our police officers will be vaccinated. We do not oppose this year’s settlement—we would not oppose a motion that puts more resource into our cash-strapped police forces—but we will not pretend that this is enough; that it fills the deep hole in resources that 10 years of cuts have caused; that it makes up for the catastrophic rise in violent crime and the collapse in charge rates that this Government have overseen knowingly for many years; that it forgives a Government who have sat back and watched for a decade as hundreds of thousands of victims of crime have seen no justice done; or that it makes up for the levels of incompetence that have got us to a place where, when every taxpayer’s pound counts towards tackling crime, the Government waste billions on bungled IT projects. This Government have a chaotic approach to crime, and it is the police and the public who are paying the price.
Let us begin with the funding formula, which has been debated so powerfully by cross-party representatives from Bedfordshire. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) and the hon. Members for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) and for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) were united in calling for a change to the formula, which is outdated and unfair. In 2015 the now Minister for Crime and Policing himself described the formula as “manifestly unfair” and praised the then Minister for having “the cojones” to finally deal with it. However, much like the cladding crisis that the House heard about earlier today, the Government have not dealt with it. Northumbria’s funding has fallen by 25%, while the figure for Surrey is only 11%. If the Government are serious about levelling up, they need to act. Perhaps the Minister can tell us when—or, indeed, if—he plans to address that inequality.
Turning to the police grant for 2021-22, we are told that overall funding will increase by £636 million from last year’s settlement, and that includes £415 million for local police forces. Unfortunately, the £415 million increase is dwarfed by the £600 million that has just been slapped on to local forces to fund the vastly increased costs of the emergency services network. Although they may have a few years to pay, it is more than a major and completely unnecessary headache for local police chiefs, but the Minister has brushed it off as minimal. The hon. Member for Wakefield (Imran Ahmad Khan) challenged the Government to be vigilant in how they spend their money, and I agree with him.
Of course, we all know that there is still a £2.2 billon real-terms gap in central Government funding grants to local police forces, and a £1.6 billion real-terms gap in overall funding compared with 2010-11. Is it any wonder that charge rates have collapsed and that criminals go free and victims see no justice? To add insult to injury, instead of directly increasing funding for the police, Ministers have chosen to heap the burden on to hard-pressed local taxpayers, through the council tax precept. As my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) said, they are being asked to pay more for less. Through smoke and mirrors, the Government are passing on a bill of £15 a year to precept payers in the middle of a pandemic. Does the Minister accept that there is a £2.2 billion real-terms funding gap compared with 2010, and what does he think have been the consequences of that funding gap? Does he really think that now is the time to increase the tax burden on local people?
As my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) and others have said, the police workforce stand at 23,824 fewer personnel than in 2010. That includes 7,179 fewer police staff and 7,262 fewer police community support officers. I am hearing from police forces around the country that this is having a significant impact on the new officer uplift. The cuts to police staff mean that newly recruited officers will end up behind desks, covering for the vital work of police staff instead of being on the streets. As my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington said, one should not be substituted for the other.
Cambridgeshire is having to cut 40 police community support officers, the entire team of seven community safety officers, and six inquiry desk officers. In Devon and Cornwall, the Conservative police and crime commissioner Alison Hernandez has announced plans to replace PCSOs with volunteer special constables. Warwickshire, as we have heard, is having to cut 56 police staff investigators, nine domestic abuse risk officers, 10 intelligence officers and 10 multi-agency support staff. Unison has described these moves as an “act of desperation.” We have raised this before with the Minister, but he brushes it off as down to local decision making. Police staff are investigators, intelligence officers, forensic crime scene investigators and domestic abuse officers. They investigate and prevent crime to protect our communities.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) mentioned, the Prime Minister said last year that the most important thing politicians can do is back the police, yet this Government have no plans to replace the PCSOs or police staff that have been cut, despite the Government overseeing increases in violent crime and record levels of knife crime. Perhaps the Minister can tell me what his Government have against PCSOs, or perhaps he will correct me and announce plans to fund more.
If this Government want to start getting a grip on the exponential rise in violent crime we have seen under their watch, they need to seriously up their game on prevention, with a public health approach to tackling violence. Many hon. Members have raised the issue of county lines and the impact it has on their communities. The Government announced funding for another year of violence reduction units, but they need a long-term funding commitment from the Government to carry out their vital preventive work.
Many areas that really need them do not have a violence reduction unit. I recently visited Cleveland virtually, and it has one of the highest violent crime rates in the country—the hon. Member for Stockton South (Matt Vickers) talked about it today—but it does not have a violence reduction unit. Perhaps the Minister can tell us why Cleveland and areas like it do not have a VRU. Why is tackling violent crime less important in those areas? Does he have any plans to address that imbalance?
Since the Conservatives took office, attempted murders have nearly doubled. Before lockdown, robberies were up 18% and weapons possession offences had increased by four fifths. Violence against the person has increased in every police force area in the country and, as many hon. Members pointed out, only one in 14 crimes leads to a charge. Can the Minister tell us what plans he has to tackle this crisis?
Unlike this Government, Labour’s record in government shows that we can be trusted on policing and crime. By the time we left government, there were 6 million fewer crimes than there were in 1997. The risk of being a victim of crime was at its lowest since the crime survey began in 1981, and police officers reached record numbers —up by almost 17,000 since 1997, alongside more than 16,000 police community support officers. It took us years to build up neighbourhood policing, and the Government are spending their years undoing that good work.
The first duty of any Government is the safety and security of the people they represent in our towns, our villages, our cities and all our communities across the country. This Government need to step up, and fast.
This has been an interesting and stimulating debate, with some great contributions from both sides of the House. Before I start, I want to thank all hon. Members for the tributes they have paid to our brave police officers across the country.
This has been possibly the most challenging period for UK policing since the second world war. We have been asking police officers to do jobs that we never thought they would have to do in our lifetime, and they have done it with skill, aplomb and courage. The fact that many of them have fallen victim to the virus—indeed, a number have lost their life—is a cause of great sorrow, but I know they will take comfort from the support that hon. Members on both sides of the House have unequivocally given to them this afternoon.
I also express gratitude for the overwhelming revulsion at the increase in assaults on police officers that we have seen over the past few months and the past couple of years. It is something that we are determined to tackle as a Government, and it appears to me that we will have cross-party support for that measure when it comes forward in legislation later this year.
We had a number of good and interesting speeches throughout the debate, and I will address some of the themes that have been raised by hon. Members, rather than individual speeches. First, I want to address a couple of themes pursued by the Opposition Front Benchers and, in fact, by Opposition Members throughout the debate.
First, I want to address an issue raised by the shadow Home Secretary right at the start, when he accused me and the Home Secretary of being “soft on crime”. Well, I do not think that the Home Secretary has ever been accused of being soft on anything, let alone crime. Given my own record of fighting crime in London—I am proud of the contribution that I made—I think that is an unfair accusation. The hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) was boasting about Labour’s performance in the crime survey, so she will of course know that, according to the crime survey, overall crime and violent crime is below the level it was in 2010. Although that number has stabilised and we have seen a different pattern—certainly from violence in recorded police crime—if she is judging us on that particular measure, as she is judging her party, she has to accept that crime remains below the 2010 figure. Nevertheless, there are some significant issues that need to be addressed and I will come to those in a moment.
There was a strong theme in Opposition speeches—I note that there was no Liberal Democrat participation, but nevertheless a small number of Labour Members have participated—that was effectively accusing the Government over the last 10 years of somehow cutting police officer numbers or cutting the resources to police as a discretionary choice. In fact, as you will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, we were dealing with the consequences of the largest crash that we have seen in this country—indeed, the largest global crash seen since the 1930s. It was a crash brought about by deregulation of the financial services industry largely propelled by, I guess, Labour party dogma in terms of financial services. We have traded this argument many times during the nearly 18 months in which I have been in this job. In fact, it was a debate that was had to a high degree during the campaign in the run-up to the 2019 election.
The British people are smart enough to realise that where the public finances are concerned, we have to cut the cloth accordingly. They recognise that post that crash, we had to do something to get the balance sheet in order, and that required restrictions in expenditure across the whole public sector. To be honest, given what we have had to do during this pandemic to support people across the country and their businesses, thank God we did. If we had not, God knows what parlous state the finances would be in now. As it is, we have been able to get through this as best we can, supporting neighbourhoods, communities and businesses across the country because we rebuilt the balance sheet and rebuilt sound public finances. I make no apology for that at all.
A number of themes were promulgated during the debate, and I will address them in turn. First, my congratulations to the team from Bedfordshire for their pincer manoeuvre. Happily for them, I have recently visited Bedfordshire police and seen for myself the burdens that crime—particularly serious and organised crime—places on that force. I also had a discussion with the chief constable earlier this week about the challenges that that force is facing at the moment. I think I am due to meet my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) and residents from Leighton Buzzard quite soon to talk about crime in his area; we will certainly have a look at that.
The key theme raised by a number of Members across the House was the funding formula. I am happy to reiterate the commitment that I have made from this Dispatch Box in the past, which is that we are going to review it this side of the election. I am happy to say that the scoping work has already started in the Home Office. We are hopeful of bringing forward the various steps we have to go through for the funding formula in the future. The hon. Member for Croydon Central is quite right that, as a Back Bencher, I railed against the existing funding formula, not least because of the effect that it has on Hampshire police, but at the moment it remains the most reliable—if slightly elderly—formula that we have for allocating resources, so until we manage to devise a new one, the work for which we will be doing soon, I am afraid that we have to stick with it.
A number of Members quite rightly raised the issue of vaccinations for police officers. As I have said publicly and, indeed, in meetings with the federation and others, both the Home Secretary and I have made the point to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and through Government that police officers face a particular exposure to the virus that we think necessitates their being prioritised once the first four groups have been dealt with. That decision is not in our hands—it sits with the independent committee that makes the decisions about who gets vaccinated—but nevertheless we, along with the federation and others, have made that point strongly.
A number of Members, not least my hon. Friends the Members for West Dorset (Chris Loder) and for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker), made representations about county lines and the violence that is being promulgated throughout the country by drugs gangs. We are making enormous strides in confronting those gangs, with 550 county lines closed down in the past 12 months, and we have doubled the money that we are putting into county lines, with a further £20 million being allocated this year and more money going into dealing with serious and organised crime and the upstream effects of drugs.
Over past four or five years, the issue of drugs has become central to crime in this country and, as a Government, we are determined to confront it. I think it is fair to say that every time I speak to the Prime Minister he has an obsession with the impact of drugs in society and wants us to work as hard as we can to roll back the effects of that horrendous industry in our neighbourhoods, towns and cities. Over the next few months, Members will see an even more assertive approach to it.
Let me turn to one or two particular specific themes that were raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) made an excellent speech touching on several themes that were echoed by a number of other Members. Along with my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Imran Ahmad Khan), he pointed out that it is not about how big a budget is; it is about what we do with it. Much of that comes down to the collaboration between the police and crime commissioner and the local chief constable. Given that we are approaching an election for police and crime commissioners, it is no surprise that we heard a number of, shall we say, political interventions and speeches, with a view towards that collaboration and helping people to put their cross in the right box.
Police and crime commissioners can have an enormous impact on performance in their area. Alongside the new National Policing Board and the performance board that sits underneath it, we are going to do our best to make sure that it is about not just the budget but the effect, the focus and a drive for change in every single police area throughout the country. I hope people will see that in future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kettering also raised ANPR as an issue, and, in correspondence to me, a number of Members have previously referred to traffic police and the need to grip the transport network. We believe that is the key to fighting crime.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kettering—I am privileging him because he is one of the few Members who is actually present—also raised the issue of taser roll-out. He will know that last year we announced £10 million of extra taser funding to allow chiefs to roll tasers out to those who wish to use them. Using a taser is often less impactful, shall we say, and likely to cause less injury than hitting somebody with an ASP, and it provides officers with protection in a way that perhaps other defensive equipment may not. We are keen to see that those officers who want a taser can acquire one to use for their own protection. I hope that when we bring forward in legislation the police covenant, which will contain a commitment from the Government to look towards the safety and wellbeing of police officers, my hon. Friend will support that as enthusiastically as he has offered his support this afternoon.
Finally—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] I hear murmuring from the Whips. I had a challenge from a number of Members, not least my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller), about the Government’s commitment to increasing the number of police officers by 20,000 over last year and the next two years. As I said on Monday in Home Office questions, to me that commitment is as strong as the ravens’ to the Tower, and the legend goes that should the ravens ever leave the tower, the kingdom will fall. Our commitment to the 20,000 police officers is about as rock-solid as it gets. If we fail to achieve that target—I am confident that we will—there will obviously be significant implications, not least for me, so we will be working very hard to ensure that, whatever the disposition of police officers over the next two or three years, we get to that 20,000 by the target date.
Finally, Members raised the burden that covid has placed on police forces and the financial cost to them over the last few months. I am happy to say that later this week, we will make further announcements about more money that we will be giving to police forces—we are finalising the figures at the moment—on top of the £30 million that we have given them in the interim. I hope that that means we can round off this year as one of the most generous for policing in the last decade, if not the most generous, and move into a second year that continues the trajectory of growth and performance as we drive down crime across the whole country.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2021-22 (HC 1162), which was laid before this House on 4 February, be approved.
I have now to announce the result of today’s deferred Division on the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers and Self-Isolation) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2021, statutory instrument No. 97. The Ayes were 526 and the Noes were 24, so the Ayes have it. I will briefly suspend the House in order that the necessary arrangements for the next business can be made.
[The Division list is published at the end of today’s debates.]