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Police Grant Report

Volume 727: debated on Wednesday 8 February 2023

I beg to move,

That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) 2023–24 (HC 1066), which was laid before this House on 31 January, be approved.

I note that, regrettably, the House must debate this report prior to consideration by the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, owing to the need to provide adequate preparatory time for the relevant parties prior to implementation, which was compounded by difficulties with securing time on the Floor of the House due to the February recess and other pressing parliamentary businesses.

I am sure that colleagues on both sides of the House will agree that the police perform a special and unique public service, keeping our constituents, us and our families safe on a daily basis and often putting themselves in the way of danger. While we have seen some recent cases of very bad conduct, which are being addressed, the vast majority of police officers are brave, selfless and hard-working. We owe them our gratitude and I am sure that the whole House will want to convey that sentiment.

This Government have repeatedly shown that we are on the side of the law-abiding majority. We want safer streets and less crime. The police are essential to that mission, which is why overall police funding will go up once again next year by £287 million in total, compared with the previous year. As a result of how we are allocating the funding between police and crime commissioners, who deliver frontline services, and the Home Office, which spends money centrally, the amount of money received by police and crime commissioners will go up by £523 million. The total police funding settlement will stand at £17.2 billion.

I was first elected to this House in 2015, eight years ago. The equivalent figure to that £17.2 billion when I was first elected was £11.9 billion. It has gone up by around £5 billion, or 45%, which is considerably more than inflation in the intervening period.

The Minister says there is extra money for policing, but this year he is again pushing the tax on to local council tax payers. Although he says that local police and crime commissioners have a choice, in many cases, including in Durham, they have no choice but to levy the maximum because of the way in which the formula is funded.

As I have said, we are preparing to consult in the near future on updating the wider police funding formula. Of course, police and crime commissioners have a choice on where to set the precept; it is for them to decide locally. The overall funding envelope, including the grant from the Home Office, is going up, which is why we have been able to fund extra police officers over the past three years. We set a target of 20,000 new police officers by March 2023 and, as of the end of December 2022, we had delivered 84% of that target. According to the figures I have seen—and we will have this confirmed in a couple of months’ time—it is very likely that about two weeks ago we crossed the threshold, and that we now have the most police officers in this country’s history.

Can the Minister explain to my electors why, even after the 20,000 extra police officers, County Durham will have 144 fewer police officers than we had in 2010?

In the past, different police and crime commissioners have done different things. As far as the national picture is concerned, by the end of March we will comfortably have more police officers in England and Wales than we have had at any point in this country’s history. This Government are very proud of that, and I expect the Opposition will be hearing quite a lot about it in the coming weeks, months and years.

The extra police officers are essentially filling jobs that were previously cut, of course. The money is ringfenced for police officers, and one of the unintended consequences is that police forces are having to reduce back-office staff. My police force, Dyfed-Powys police, has lost 100 jobs, which means many new officers find themselves undertaking administrative roles, rather than public-facing roles.

The hon. Gentleman suggests that the newly recruited officers are replacing those lost when the coalition Government were fixing the appalling financial mess left behind by the previous Labour Government. By the time we are done with this recruitment programme, we will have approximately 3,000 more officers than there were—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) shakes his head, but it is true. We will have about 3,000 more officers than we had in 2010. There will be around 148,000, compared with 145,000 in 2010. It will be a record number of officers.

Of the record total of £17.2 billion, £275 million is ringfenced, but it is essentially conditional on forces maintaining their uplift numbers. Provided that police forces maintain the higher number of police officers through the next financial year, they keep the £275 million.

I wanted to expand a little on the point made by the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones). There will be more police officers overall than we have ever had in our history, but they will not be evenly distributed. In general, the police forces that will have more than they have ever had started from a higher base, and that was the product of decisions made by police and crime commissioners in the previous decade. Although it is not totally the case, it is generally the case that forces that will not have more than ever before had a Labour PCC during that decade. Those that did not, such as London, which had a Conservative Mayor who prioritised police numbers over other staff, who may or may not be unionised, and over buildings and other bits and pieces, are now benefiting from those decisions over the previous decade.

My right hon. Friend, a former Policing Minister, makes the point extremely well. Labour PCCs have often made bad decisions and, unfortunately, that is continuing. As we speak, Labour’s West Midlands PCC is contemplating closing 20 police stations, despite this funding settlement. That is not something I would support or condone at all.

I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s commitment to looking again at the funding formula. We should have done that a very long time ago, but I have faith in him and the Home Secretary, as he knows. In doing that, it is crucial that rural areas such as Lincolnshire do better. We need fair funding, and that means taking account of sparsity, rurality and distances travelled. Those are critical issues in both delivering public services and maintaining public confidence. That must be done, and done quickly.

I agree with my right hon. Friend’s sentiments. Considerations such as sparsity and rurality, along with things such as prevailing levels of crime, are exactly the kinds of things that the consultation will address.

On the funding formula, will the Minister meet a group of cross-party MPs from Bedfordshire to discuss the specificity associated with Bedfordshire? We have relied on special grant funding for more than five years to tackle significant organised crime gangs in Bedfordshire, but the funding formula is still yet to be addressed. Will he meet us so that we can set out for him the difficulties we find in Bedfordshire?

I strongly encourage the hon. Lady to engage with the consultation once it comes forward and outline the points she is making. Of course, I will also be happy to meet her and her colleagues in Bedfordshire, from both sides of the House. I also urge Members on both sides to engage with that consultation fully and enthusiastically.

In a debate we had last week on crime and policing, I raised the fact that the Wirral MPs and the Merseyside PCC—the group was led by my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Dame Angela Eagle)—have written to the Home Secretary following the tragic murder of a young woman on Christmas eve in Wallasey. That incident was one of a spate of horrific violent crimes in Wirral in recent months. In our letter, we asked for a meeting to discuss the crime situation and for more support for our communities. We sent that letter on 17 January but we are still to have a response. These issues have really shaken the local communities, so will the Minister raise this matter directly with the Home Secretary and impress on her the importance of that meeting?

Yes, I would be happy to do that. I know that some extra money was given to Merseyside—in the late summer, I believe—in response to some of the terrible tragedies that have occurred there. I believe that the letter the hon. Lady refers to, which was sent a couple of weeks ago, has been passed to me. I will be responding very shortly and I would, of course, be happy to meet to discuss those issues.

We have talked about the choice that the PCCs have in setting where their precepts sit. Although they have the flexibility, and I believe many of them intend to use it, I wish to remind the House and PCCs that before they turn to taxpayers, asking them to increase their contributions, it is important that PCCs and chief constables seek efficiencies and maximise productivity. They should do that before increasing levels of tax.

The decision in Lancashire, which does have a Conservative PCC, does not appear to be in line with what the Minister is saying. We have seen a fall in the number of police community support officers. If people do not see them on the street, they feel less safe. Crime in Lancashire is going up. The Minister mentioned the amount of money that Lancashire is getting, but in fact only 1.8% of it comes from central Government, while council tax payers are facing a 7.4% increase, so they are getting less service but paying more money, despite what the Minister claims.

Since March 2015, Lancashire has received an additional 435 police officers. I met the hon. Lady’s police and crime commissioner earlier this week, and he explained to me how he has restored dedicated neighbourhood policing teams in Lancashire, which had been scrapped by the previous Labour PCC. He also told me about Operation Warrior in Lancashire, which has seen, I think, 2 kg of drugs being seized a week on average and an average of £55,000 of illicit cash being taken off Lancashire’s streets on a weekly basis, so I think that the PCC in Lancashire is doing a pretty good job.

As my right hon. Friend has just said, the picture in Lancashire is very different from what has been described. We have a brilliant Conservative police and crime commissioner who is doing a brilliant job. Our neighbourhood policing team in Burnley and Padiham is growing exponentially, and I have been out with the taskforces. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Conservative PCCs are using their resources more effectively to crack down on county lines, antisocial behaviour and all the other issues that residents raise with us, day in, day out?

I agree entirely; it is about police and crime commissioners using their resources wisely, as the Conservative PCC in Lancashire is doing. Sadly, that is unlike the Labour PCC in the west midlands, who is contemplating the closure of 20 police stations, despite the fact that the funding settlement is going up.

Does the Minister accept that central Government funding has gone down now to 33%, while 67% is raised from the precept? With precepts to be raised by £15, what we are now seeing is a shift from central to local taxation, which puts a disproportionate burden on the low-paid, unemployed and minimum wage workers. Poorer people are constantly being affected by this Government, who are shifting the burden from the centre on to indirect taxation.

As an average across the country, around two thirds of PCC funding comes from Government and about one third is raised by the precept. I shall give the hon. Lady the precise figures. In 2023-24, Government funding will be £10.9 billion and the precept funding £5.3 billion, so it is about two thirds Government and one third precept.

In some local areas, the council tax base is different. That is one of the components that will be looked at in the funding formula, to make sure that is fully reflected, because it varies from area to area. People on lower incomes will pay lower council tax, or indeed will get council tax benefit. The hon. Lady made a point about supporting people on low incomes. I would just observe in passing that this Government have increased the income tax threshold to £12,500, which means that the first £12,500 is completely tax free, disproportionately benefiting people on low incomes. It is also this Government who have increased the national minimum wage, which is going up to £10.42 an hour in a few months’ time, up from a miserly £5.03 under the last Labour Government—a 76% increase. I am, however, veering slightly off the topic of the police grant, to which I probably ought to return.

I have given way twice to the right hon. Gentleman.

Besides providing all this extra money—more than half a billion pounds extra—to PCCs through the police funding settlement, to spend, I hope, wisely, we are also spending about £1 billion centrally on national priorities, which include critical initiatives to combat serious violence, such as violence reduction units and the Grip hotspot policing programme, both of which are delivering fantastic results around the country, and both of which I intend to continue prioritising. Now would be a good time to pay tribute to my long-serving predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), who served in this role for three years and put in train many of these initiatives, which are now bearing such successful fruit.

On the topic of bearing fruit, the objective of all these endeavours is to reduce crime, and the most reliable set of statistics on crime, as we all know, is the crime survey of England and Wales. It is the only set of crime statistics that is endorsed by the Office for National Statistics. Let us take a quick look at what those crime statistics say. Since 2010, overall crime, excluding fraud and computer misuse, which was only counted in the figures more recently, is down by 50%—it was double under the last Labour Government—criminal damage is down by 65%, domestic burglary is down 56%, robbery is down 57%, theft from the person is down 52%, vehicle-related theft is down 39% and violence is down 38%. There is one thing we are cutting, and that is crime.

This settlement recognises the need for continued investment in the criminal justice system, and that is why we are continuing the commitments made through the rape review and why Operation Soteria will be rolled out across the country by June. We are supporting regional organised crime units and funding counter-terrorism policing, which will receive over £1 billion in the next financial year. Efficiency is also important. We are working with Sir Stephen House and others to reduce the administrative and bureaucratic burdens placed on policing, including unreasonably high burdens to record non-crime incidents, which frankly should not be recorded. That will allow police to spend their time chasing criminals, not chasing paperwork. I emphasise that this financial settlement provides a record amount of money—£17.2 billion—for the police and for fighting crime.

I must conclude.

By March, we will see more police officers in England and Wales than ever in our country’s history. Since 2010, we have seen a 50% reduction in crime, according to the crime survey. The report will continue that work, and I commend it to the House.

Order. Before I call the shadow Minister, I should inform the House that I have been told that the police grant report and the three local government finance reports that will be debated later have now been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, and it has made no report to the House. I call the shadow Minister.

I put on the record my gratitude and, I suspect, that of everyone in this place, to the victims who reported David Carrick to the police in Hertfordshire and elsewhere, and who put the case against him together, and to the judge for her sentencing yesterday. Now is not the time for more reviews or for sitting back and thinking the job is done; now is the time for action. I hope the Policing Minister will be lobbying the Home Secretary with some urgency to introduce mandatory standards on vetting and misconduct.

Last year, we stood in this place debating the police grant report in the midst of rising inflation, energy bills, billions lost on fraud and dodgy PPE contracts during covid, and an economy limping under the weight of this Government’s hapless policies. It was 10 days after that debate that Russia invaded Ukraine, and none of us could have foreseen that we would be here today with President Zelensky, a year after the start of that war. None of us—apart from perhaps the Policing Minister, who played a key role—could have foreseen the economic collapse following the last Prime Minister’s extraordinary crash-and-burn Budget, which cost us tens of billions of pounds.

I gently remind the hon. Member that in the 2021 calendar year the United Kingdom had the highest GDP growth in the G7, and in the last calendar year—2022—the United Kingdom also had the highest growth in the G7. Hardly an economic collapse, is it?

I thank the Policing Minister for that intervention; I think the public will judge what he says and what I say in the next general election, and I suspect they will agree with me.

We come to this year’s debate with a perfect storm facing the country and facing policing. Record numbers are leaving the police force, demoralised and worn out. Charge rates are plummeting, arrest rates have halved, there is a gaping hole in neighbourhood policing and the police are in a crisis of resources, results and public confidence. What is the Government’s response to this, in this policing budget? It is to put up local taxes, put up council tax, push the problem on to local forces, shrug their shoulders and tell us everything is fine, when the whole country will tell them it is not.

Inflation is soaring at 10.5%, but rather than deal with this economic crisis properly, Ministers have chosen to heap the burden on to hard-pressed local taxpayers through the precept. Government funding for policing—the PCC grant, counter-terrorism and reallocations—is £62 million less than it was last year. Core Government money for PCCs has gone up £174 million, although that includes the ring-fenced uplift for new officers. In real terms, taking inflation into account, it is a real-terms cut of around £134 million.

The Government have therefore lifted the cap on the local police precepts, so that local PCCs can increase council tax by up to £15. That is how we reach the Minister’s figure of a £523 million increase: he assumes that all PCCs in all areas will use their full flexibility to increase the council tax burden on local people. Nearly two thirds of the Government’s increase in funding now comes from the council tax precept. There has never been a more important time to invest in policing, yet grant funding this year is down in real terms. The Government’s offer to local forces is that, if they want money, they have to raise it locally.

Of course, as has been pointed out, the money is not spread fairly. It is the most deprived communities, with fewest band E properties, that will get the least. In North Yorkshire, the Prime Minister’s patch, police can raise £2 million more than in Durham. In Merseyside, even if they maximise the precept, they still have to find over £16 million in savings. There is a lower council tax base in Merseyside, so £15 precept increases will only raise £6.7 million, but inflation has cost Merseyside £4.2 million, so that will swallow up most of the council tax increases.

The hon. Lady is making some serious points. In that vein, perhaps she can answer these questions: would it be her intention to roll back the increases in council taxes that pay for police forces, and where would she find the extra tax moneys to pay for the extra policing? She is probably coming on to state that, but I would be interested to hear her cover that point.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention; I know that he and Labour colleagues in his area will be making the case for changing the funding formula, something we have all called for and hoped for for a long time. Indeed, the former Policing Minister, the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), said in 2015 that the formula was unfair and needed to be changed, and here we are. I suggest that we press the Government collectively to look at changing the funding formula to make it fairer, because at the moment the cost is falling on those who have the least.

The hon. Lady is doing an excellent job of highlighting some of the creative accounting used by the Home Office when it comes to funding the police, but is there not also an issue, from what I understand, when it comes to capital funding? There is not much capital funding for police forces. My own police force and the other south Wales police forces are building a firearms training centre for the three police forces in south Wales. That is an England and Wales requirement, but there is no capital funding for it, so that is about £58 million that has to come out of their revenue.

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. Of course, a lot of the increase is protected for the uplift, which has itself brought challenges, as has already been mentioned. That means that, yes, there is less money for capital spend—he makes a good point. I know that a lot of forces are looking at this and at their property portfolio because the Conservative Government have closed something like 670 police stations across the country. Now, we are looking at whether it is enough and what we can do to fill that gap.

The areas that have fewer band D properties, and that can therefore raise less money locally, are the communities that have the most victims of crime and are most likely to suffer from antisocial behaviour, theft and burglaries. They are the communities that will get the least under this Government’s unequal distribution. Levelling up? Don’t make me laugh.

The Minister lauds his increase in funding, when two thirds of it is increasing local taxes. To add to his convoluted hypocrisy—[Interruption.] Forgive me; I retract that word. To add to his convoluted argument, he said in his statement:

“Local taxation should not be in the place of sound financial management, and therefore I expect PCCs to exhaust all other options to reprioritise their budgets…before looking to local taxpayers for additional funding.”—[Official Report, 14 December 2022; Vol. 724, c. 57WS.]

So the headline is that this increased funding assumes that everybody will increase tax by 15%, but the detail tells those local areas that they should not do that because it is against the Government’s agenda.

I tried to intervene on the Minister when he was talking about efficiency. Durham constabulary is outstanding in terms of efficiency—one of the most outstanding forces in the country—but because of the funding formula, the PCC and the chief constable have no option but to put the precept up to the maximum to plug the funding gap. It is a spurious argument—and one that we have heard from many over the last 13 years—to say that, if forces cut a bit of inefficiency, they will be able to plug the funding gap. That is just not possible.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and having been there and seen it, I pay tribute to him for the work that he has done in his area. Indeed, that force makes good use of the public money that is available to it.

On the one hand, the Government are bragging about letting local areas put up council tax on hard-working people and, on the other, they are telling police and crime commissioners not to. We think that they will all be forced into doing it because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) just said, what else can they do? The truth is that the Government are failing to support a police service that is already overstretched and struggling to deliver justice for victims.

What about the funding formula more broadly? How many times have we stood here and heard Ministers say that there will be a consultation, which is then kicked into the long grass? The Minister’s predecessor, the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire, said in 2015 that the formula was “manifestly unfair”, and many colleagues from across the House have called for change every single time we debate policing. West Midlands police estimate that it costs them £40 million a year and that, despite the police replacement uplift, they will still have 1,000 fewer officers than in 2010. Merseyside police are still 450 officers short of their 2010 numbers. North Yorkshire will end up with more police officers in 2023 than they had in 2010. Durham will have 144 fewer.

The chair of the Police Federation says that the uplift programme is:

“misleading and fails to recognise reality.”

Of course, forces will be fined for not meeting uplift targets when, at the same time, record numbers are leaving the force. In the year to March 2022, 8,117 police officers left the service—the highest number of leavers since comparable records began. Police chiefs are tied to the Government’s pledge to recruit officers, so they are losing vital civilian and police staff and are forced to backfill them with new officer recruits. The ring-fenced uplift puts huge pressure on forces to make savings without touching officer posts.

Does the Minister agree with his predecessor, the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire, that the funding formula is “manifestly unfair”? Will he work at pace to introduce a new funding formula so that we can tackle some of those disparities?

I am the only Scot in the Chamber this afternoon; if the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) were here, he would agree with the general point that I am about to make.

Policing in Scotland, which is devolved, is not in a good state. We have fewer policemen in my area of the highlands of Scotland than we have had for five years. Road deaths are up. My point is that if policing north of the border—not in England and Wales—falls back, that in turn impacts on policing in England and Wales. Criminals are no respecters of borders; they can move about.

The hon. Gentleman makes the reasonable point that criminals do not respect borders. Indeed, in the modern age they do not respect physical borders at all. Most crime now is online—fraud that the Government do not even recognise as a proper crime, even though millions of people are defrauded of their savings every year.

The sad truth is that the public have come to expect less from the police since 2010, and that is a big part of the declining trust in policing. Twice as many people as in 2010 say they never see police on the streets. Thousands walk away from court cases, either because of how they have been treated or because of the long waiting times involved in bringing cases to court. It is absolutely true that overall crime levels are falling long term, but 72% of people think that crime has gone up nationally and 42% think it has gone up in their local area. Millions fail to report crime because they have given up on any sense of anything happening about it.

Poorer areas are seven times more likely than wealthier areas to be affected by high rates of antisocial behaviour. Some 1.1 million incidents of antisocial behaviour were reported to the police in the year to September 2022—more than 21,000 incidents a week or 3,000 incidents every day. Those are the reported incidents; we know that the actual numbers are much higher. Over 10% of people have witnessed drug dealing or drug use. Those on the Government Benches see antisocial behaviour as a low-level crime, but Labour takes it seriously.

We saw today in the papers that just four scam texters have been prosecuted for fraud in the last year, despite the estimated 45 million people who receive them. Four prosecutions in a year, the lowest on record—a pathetic level of enforcement. When will the Government get a grip and stop allowing fraudsters to get away?

Neighbourhood policing has been decimated. Some 6,000 neighbourhood police officers have been cut since 2015 and 8,500 PCSOs since 2010. The Conservatives have got rid of thousands of police staff, vetting officers, staff detectives, call handlers and data analysts. The police are having to pick up the pieces where other services fail. When ambulances or mental health teams do not turn up because of the Tories’ NHS crisis, the police step in. In one force, mental health-related calls are up by over 450% since 2010 because there is simply no one else to pick up the pieces. That leaves fewer officers to deal with burglary or knife crime and all the other crimes that people care about but get no response to.

Does my hon. Friend agree that these decisions are having a serious effect on police morale? According to a recent survey from the Police Federation, 94% of respondents from Lancashire’s constabulary say that they do not feel respected by the Government. Some 89% of respondents felt that morale within the force is currently low or very low. Does the shadow Minister agree?

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, which is absolutely right. Police feel demoralised because of their pay, the way they were treated during covid, and the fact that they cannot get done the job they are so desperate to do. On top of that, there have been the awful cases that have put them into public attention as never before. Yes, police are very demoralised. I thank the Police Federation for its survey, which shows how acute the problem is. That is reflected by the record numbers of people leaving the force.

I have talked to hardworking police officers who are in despair about what is happening. Brave officers who run towards danger when the rest of us run away tell me how little support or leadership they get from the Government to deal with the growing challenges. The Minister’s written statement sets out his national priorities. They include investing in a victim satisfaction survey, but what about bringing forward the Victims’ Bill? Another is prioritising commitments from the rape review, but why not put a rape and serious sexual offences, or RASSO, unit in every police force? Tackling exploitation, abuse and modern slavery is another priority, so why are the Minister’s Government in breach of their own anti-slavery laws by failing to appoint a new Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner? The Minister also mentioned tackling county lines, so why will he not support Labour’s plan to outlaw the grooming and criminal exploitation of children and crack down on criminal gangs?

The Minister is asking forces to save £100 million and he is investing in IT capabilities, but let us look at the emergency services network programme: £5.1 billion of taxpayers’ money has been wasted on that botched Home Office project. That is nearly a third of the overall police budget and it is close to the entire precept allocation for this year, if every force uses it in full. How about some efficiency savings from this Minister for the emergency services network project? It is an unthinkable waste of money, and it is incredibly grating for struggling households to know that higher council tax bills might have been avoided if Ministers had not catastrophically messed up the network.

So there we are, that is the context in which this police grant motion is being debated. After 13 years of failure from this Government—13 years of sitting back and leaving it to individual forces and then pushing blame on them when things go wrong—the police grant motion is just another sticking plaster that will not fix the problems our police face. Where the Conservatives push blame to local forces and never take the lead, a Labour Government will fix this mess that the Government have created. The next Labour Government will work with the police, while the Tories turn their backs. We will put neighbourhood police back on our streets, deliver proper local partnerships to prevent crime, respond to mental health crises and crack down on dangerous criminals. A Labour Government means safer streets, safer homes and safer communities.

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate on the “Police Grant Report (England and Wales)”. I am a veteran of speaking in this debate, because we have an ongoing issue in Bedfordshire that has already been mentioned, which is the gross unfairness of the national police funding formula.

Bedfordshire and a number of other forces are concerned that they simply do not get the amount of money that the national police funding formula says they should get. Many years ago, this was referred to as damping. I remember sitting in meetings with the father of the hon. Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) when he was an MP many years ago, so these ancient issues should have been resolved, under her Government and my Government. I am not playing party politics with this, but it is high time that we sort out the national police funding formula. The most welcome part of the Home Secretary’s letter of 1 February was the recommitment to doing that in this Parliament. It has taken a very long time, so all speed please, because it simply is not right or fair.

The reason the current funding formula is not fair for Bedfordshire is that it simply does not reflect the complex crime picture we have, with organised criminal gangs, knife and gun crime and county lines being rife across our county. As an example, Bedfordshire was disproportionately affected by the EncroChat investigation. We had more Operation Venetic packages than most of our neighbouring forces put together. We are helped to deal with that by special grants. We have this position in Bedfordshire where we manage to survive financially with our inadequate central grant—thanks to the defective funding formula—through a series of special grants that top us up every year. At the moment, we get £6.8 million for the Operation Boson and Operation Costello work, and that is critical to the financial stability of Bedfordshire police.

The Government, however, are now starting to taper downwards those special grants. It does not seem fair or right to start doing that before the change to the funding formula. There has been a request from Bedfordshire police and our police and crime commissioner that that taper, if it does have to happen, should not go as low as 65% and should go only to a minimum of 70%. That has been requested by the excellent Festus Akinbusoye, the Bedfordshire police and crime commissioner, and I really hope that the Police Minister can agree to it, because it is very reasonable. The special grants are not “nice to have” for Bedfordshire; they are fundamental to helping us balance the budget.

We have a happier story in Bedfordshire than I have heard is the case in Durham, in that we now have 1,403 police officers, a record number. I am very grateful for that, and I say thank you to each and every one of them for their brave and invaluable service, as well as to the whole police family of PCSOs and police staff who back them up, without whom they could not do their job. They are there to protect us and they would literally lay their lives on the line for us. We owe them a massive debt of gratitude.

On the profile of those 1,403 officers in Bedfordshire, 401 are currently student officers, which means that they are not as present and available across the whole county as we would like them to be. A particular request that I have for my chief constable is that he restores the presence of 24/7 first response officers to my towns of Leighton Buzzard, Dunstable and Houghton Regis, as we had up to October 2012. With modern technology, I think we can do that. I note that he is telling me that that will happen as and when those student officers finish their training. As far as I am concerned, it cannot happen a moment too soon.

I will not go on for much longer, as others want to speak and there is pressure on time. Let me end by referring to what the Minister said about the balance of the precept and the grant. If I heard him correctly, he said that, nationally, two thirds of the funding came as a national grant from the Government and a third was from the precept, so I took a quick canter through some figures in the Home Secretary’s letter and observed that the situation is variable across the country. In the west midlands, the contribution from the precept is 21%. In Greater Manchester, it is 25% and, for the Met, the contribution is 27%. For my county, the contribution is 39%, which is quite a lot more than a third, but a bit lower than Hertfordshire, a neighbouring force, at 42% and Cambridgeshire at 45%. There is an unfairness. There are poor people struggling everywhere, in every constituency, and the funding formula needs to address that, because it is not fair. It is great that we have a commitment to sort out the funding formula. That cannot happen a day too soon, and please do not taper down our special grants before the funding formula has been sorted out.

Let me begin by joining others in thanking all the men and women who work in our police forces. In particular, I put on record my thanks to Jo Farrell, the chief constable for Durham constabulary, and her staff—those in uniform, the support staff without whom the constabulary could not carry out its duties and the PCSOs. We owe them all a great debt for the work that they do unselfishly on our behalf.

I listened to the Minister, and what can I say? He reminds me a bit of one of those overexcited electric bunnies that people can turn on. No matter what the subject is, and no matter how ill thought out or indefensible something is, he will spout it. I think he needs repro-gramming, though, because he clearly went back into his Treasury mode halfway through the contribution from the Opposition Front Bencher, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones). I never thought that I would think fondly, “Please bring back the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse)”, but I am sorry—despite the ranting that we had from this Minister, when he tried to say that everything in the garden is rosy and that it is a great credit to this wonderful Government that there are no problems, there are severe problems.

The Government are fixated on levelling up Britain, but levelling up for this Government is really about capital projects and things that they can open, put a plaque on and say, “Your local Conservative Member of Parliament got this, and the Government have provided it”. What that does not do is look at other areas. On levelling up for the police, I would say that in the last 13 years the Government have done exactly the opposite by moving resource from areas such as County Durham to areas that are wealthier and have far lower crime levels than in some of the most deprived areas in our country. That has not been done by accident; that is a deliberate Government policy.

The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) highlighted the issue of the funding formula. Clearly, the Minister does not understand it if he thinks all police authorities are getting two thirds of their funding from central Government. As the hon. Gentleman said, it varies throughout the country.

Well, if the Minister wants to intervene, I am quite happy for him to intervene. Somebody had perhaps turned his switch off, so he had gone to sleep.

I say to the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire that I accept what he says about the funding formula, but if we look at figures, we see that Bedfordshire is still among the top 15 gainers. I think the call for change is needed.

The other argument the Minister put forward was that local PCCs somehow have choice in the matter of whether to put up council tax precepts. Well, they do not have a choice to put up precepts, and I will explain the situation in Durham in a minute. It is also a bit of a false argument to say that, if only they were more efficient and looked at cutting back costs, they would somehow be able to keep council tax precepts down. Durham constabulary is—and this is on record—an outstanding force for efficiency, and there is nothing more it can do to make that force more efficient, so where does such extra money come from? That completely blows a hole in the argument.

Another point about what the Government have done over the last 13 years, which was mentioned earlier, is not only that moving from national to local expenditure has affected some of the poorest communities in our country, but that, as we all know, council tax with the precept is a very regressive tax. Those who can least afford to pay pay more, and that cannot be right in a fair system.

In County Durham, the PCC has decided that, in 2023-24, the precept will go up by the maximum, which is £15, but has she got a choice? I would argue that she has not got a choice, because the way in which the precept is allocated is based on tax council bands, and it is not surprising that the majority of properties in County Durham are in the lowest council tax band—band A. That goes for many communities across the country as well. So the ability to fill the gap, which the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire talked about, is very limited in places such as County Durham, because a 1% precept increase in County Durham will not raise anything like it would in, for example, Surrey or other places where there are larger numbers of higher-band council tax properties.

I hear what the Government are saying, which is that they are going to look at the formula. Well, this has long been going on. I think I have spoken in every single one of these debates every year, and I have heard the same argument that this will be done. The Government say they are going to look at the formula, but we could fix this by just increasing the premium, for those areas such as County Durham that are affected by the premium, with some more central Government funding. That could be fixed today.

If we look at the actual figures for who gains through this system, we see that the average increase in funding for the police this time is 3.6%. I will just read out those that are lowest below the 3.6%: Lancashire, Nottinghamshire, Northumbria, West Yorkshire, Humberside, South Wales, Gwent, Durham, South Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, West Midlands, Cleveland and Merseyside. What do all these have in common? Many of them are deprived communities, and they all have in common the problem that County Durham has of having a high number of council tax payers in band A properties. Some of the most deprived communities are getting the least funding, not just this year but every year.

Let us look at the top gainers from this year’s round, which will get up to 4.3%. The top forces are Wiltshire, Essex, Herefordshire, Sussex, Thames Valley, Dorset, Surrey, Hampshire, and Kent. The Government claim that they want to level up Britain and ensure that resources go to deprived areas, but this is doing exactly the opposite. This is restricting the amount of money going to the north-east, and turning that on its head by ensuring that more affluent areas get more. I am not suggesting that those areas do not have crime, but crime is certainly different in inner-city Merseyside, for example, and other places.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Gwent, Merseyside and some other constabularies to support his narrative, but does he agree that those constabularies already receive the highest amount of public money per capita of any forces in the country? The Government are trying to level up. He mentioned Dorset, and it is important to note that Dorset was right at the bottom of this table when we were having this debate in the House last year. Does he accept that some of the points he makes are not quite right when put in the context of per capita funding?

The hon. Gentleman talks about per capita funding, but the overall effect is on an area’s ability to raise funding. For example, I do not know how many Dorset properties are in band A, but I doubt that it is nearly 60% as it is in County Durham. The Government argue that somehow they are raising extra money for policing, but they are actually forcing local council tax payers in the most deprived areas of the country to pay more. They are then saying to local police and crime commissioners, “It is down to you. You’ve got to make a decision.” Well they have no bloomin’ choice about that decision, because without it, some of those police forces would have to make more cuts.

The settlement that has been put forward is more of the same, and I doubt that before the next general election we will get anywhere on the police grants formula at all. As I said earlier, levelling up should be more than just a political slogan—that is clearly what it is, an empty political slogan. As has been said, demands on poorer communities are greater, but we have had this philosophy since 2010 that everywhere in the UK is basically the same and that services can be delivered the same no matter where they are—I will be speaking about that again in the next debate, on local government funding. Well, we know that is not true of the demands on our policing in higher crime areas. The system is fundamentally unfair, yet as I said, it has been going on for 10 years.

The Government set great store by saying that we will get an extra 20,000 police officers. That is another slogan being put out as if it were a great achievement, and as though somehow the Government had nothing to do with the fact that we lost police officers in the first place. If those police were additional to what we had in 2010 that would be great, but they are not. In some case they are replacing other police officers, but County Durham is actually ending up with fewer police officers than we had in 2010. After this process, we will have 144 fewer police officers on the streets of County Durham than we had in 2010. All I say is that people should look past the slogans.

The other issue—I think the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire referred to this—is that we are not replacing like with like.

The experience lost in many police forces, as well as the historical knowledge of dealing with crime in a local area, cannot be replaced overnight, as has been suggested, by recruiting new police officers. A police officer can be replaced with a new police officer, but experience, built up over many years, will take many years to replace. I suggest people look not only at the number of police officers, but at the effects caused over the last 13 years as experienced police officers have retired and left or been made redundant and gone, taking away their knowledge of policing their area. That will take a long time to replace.

My other concern about the sudden injection of 20,000 new police officers is about the impact on the profile of some police forces, which will not affect them until a few years hence. There will be a bulge in numbers one year and a drought afterwards, which will affect pensions as well as operational ability. Again, I suggest people should look at that issue.

On efficiency—I have said it already and I will say it again—the Conservative party is not following a new playbook. We had this playbook before, when Eric Pickles, now Lord Pickles, argued that the way to implement cuts was through local efficiencies and that having fewer pot plants in the office or getting rid of one or two offices would somehow plug the gap that had been created by central Government decisions. We know that is a fallacy. I am a strong believer in value for money and efficiency in any public services. Durham constabulary has shown it can make such efficiencies, but there is no more fat to cut to make more to fill the gap.

I am sorry that the Minister is no longer in his place, but all I say to the Government is just to be honest. Just say, “Look, what are you doing?” They should not try to tell people to make efficiencies and then claim credit, as they try to do every year, for the extra money they say is going into policing. It is not extra money; the bulk of it is from local council taxpayers in the poorest areas, who are least able to pay. They should not blame police and crime commissioners, as they do not have an option about putting up the maximum.

This settlement is more of the same—it has not changed in the last 13 years and it will continue. Those areas that can afford it will get more while areas such as County Durham, which cannot afford it, will get less, despite the dedication and hard work of some very dedicated individuals who work for Durham police.

Before I give my brief speech, I want to pay tribute to President Zelensky. What a touching, poignant and remarkable speech it was, and how courageous of him to come here. I very much hope we do exactly what he wants to support him and his vulnerable nation.

First, I pay tribute to Dorset police, which is a wonderful force that does a fantastic job of keeping us all safe and catching criminals, which are its two primary tasks. I thank the outgoing chief constable, Scott Chilton. Sadly, he has gone across to Hampshire, where his home is, having served three years with us; we wish him well. He is a remarkable chief constable, and the Hampshire and Isle of Wight constabulary is very lucky to have him. He is Dorset’s loss. I welcome his replacement, Amanda Pearson, who will take up post at the end of March. I understand she is outstanding. I have corresponded with her already, and we look forward to meeting and supporting her. I also pay tribute to David Sidwick, our excellent police and crime commissioner, who works alongside the chief constable.

I spoke to the Minister, who sadly is no longer in his place, and I was very grateful to hear yesterday that at last—we have heard it from all sides of the House—the funding formula will be looked at. Let us hope it finally will be. I was also very grateful to hear contributions from Conservative Members on topics such as rurality. Millions of people visit Dorset. We have 20 million visitors a year because it is, of course, the most attractive county in the country. However, the police funding formula does not account for that and that puts huge pressures on our force. We welcome the extra funding that Dorset has received, but we still have issues with the funding formula.

The police and crime commissioner, David Sidwick, and the chief constable have taken part in negotiations with the Home Office on the funding formula review, which I understand is still ongoing. They are optimistic that rurality and other issues that have previously not been taken into account, not least sparsity in Dorset, will be taken into account. That is all welcome news. However, two particular areas have been identified that I want to raise this afternoon.

First, on the illegal use of drugs, as I understand it the funding is based on population, so big cities do better. However, the Government’s harm to hope strategy identifies that some areas such as Bournemouth, which is not in my seat but is certainly in Dorset, have greater use of illicit substances, cannabis factories and some of the highest crack and heroin usage in the country. Funding should be allocated proportionally to assist such areas.

Secondly, the police precept has been mentioned on both sides of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) spoke eloquently, and complained about 45% or thereabouts coming from his precept. I think that was right. I can tell my hon. Friend—dare I say it—that in Dorset the figure is 51.5%. We have probably one of the highest rates in the country. We pay a huge amount in council tax as it is. That is historical and is down to the fact that we have such a rural community. It is just another tax on local people, which I just do not think is fair.

Funding for Dorset, with all the issues we have, must come from central Government. I urge the Government please to come up with the funding formula correction as soon as they possibly can and I ask for some indication of where we are on that when the Minister sums up. I assume it will not happen until the Budget, because he cannot say what he can and cannot do until the Chancellor has given him the okay. For some police forces, 20% of activities are funded from the precept. As I said a moment ago, our precept accounts for 51.5%, which I really do not think is fair. Dorset police force has been one of the lowest funded forces for as long as I recall. I remember campaigning on that back in 2006 when I first became the candidate for South Dorset. That seems an awful long time ago and not much has changed.

Finally, before I sit down, may I go back to my old hobby horse which is police stations? I think they have been mentioned by someone on the far side, on the Opposition Benches. It is a fact that hundreds have been closed. I am, I am afraid, an old-fashioned Conservative MP and I like police stations. I like them because they are where people, not least women and the vulnerable, can go to at 2 o’clock in the morning when they are being chased by some lunatic down the street. Sadly, that happens all too frequently nowadays it seems. They can run to a police station. It is somewhere safe to go to and it is manned 24 hours day. Officers who are based there patrol on foot—obviously, they have vehicles to back them up—to gather all the intelligence, meet people on the street, and reassure women, children and others coming home, maybe in the early hours, from wherever they have been. They see a policeman, policewoman or PCSO on the street in uniform and they know they are home. That gives them the confidence and reassurance to go out, and that is what we are desperately missing—a police station. I urge the Government to please, please consider, when it comes to funding, that police officers should have enough money to buy up—or certainly not sell off—police property.

I will end by touching on Portland, a beautiful island in my constituency that now has a population of circa 13,000. It used to have a police station, and I can confidently say that it had an inspector and more than 10 officers. Now, it gets a visit by car, if it is lucky, plus responses to crimes. I believe that an island of 13,000 people needs a police station, and islanders think so too. I make that point firmly to the Minister and the Government.

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax), and not just today. We repeat this debate year after year; I followed him last year, if I recall correctly. One of the downsides of following such an excellent constituency MP and neighbour is that his speech had most of the lines I wanted to use, but I have a few important extras to share.

First, I thank the Government very much indeed for their continued investment in our policing, which is very important: £287 million is impressive. I am pleased that we can have this debate. It is a step forward, although of course we know that there are things we need to address.

From Dorset’s perspective, there is a lot of good news to share about what the force has achieved. In no small part, that is down to our police and crime commissioner, David Sidwick. Over the past year, the rural crime team has quadrupled in size to tackle some of the most difficult rural crimes, which in many cases have not received the necessary attention for many years. Dorset police have made huge strides forward with Operation Viper, the drug enforcement initiative that they launched in April 2022. In the first six weeks alone, £100,000-worth of illegal drugs were seized and there were 29 arrests. Officers made 48 cuckooing prevention visits and 22 related arrests in one week, as well as seizing 146 wraps of heroin and crack cocaine and various weapons. Those were not headlines that I could have shared with the House this time last year.

It is very important to note that there has been a step forward. When we had this debate last year, we were in a very difficult position and I was not at all happy about the increase in funding that we were facing. We were at the bottom of the league table—I think we were 40th out of 41 constabularies across the country—but we have now come up the scale somewhat and are 28th. It is important to state that for the sake of fairness.

Further to my intervention on the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), it is really important to understand what has been going on underneath the mechanism, and what I think the Government are starting to correct. The right hon. Gentleman referred to Gwent, Merseyside and other forces, but the reality is that those forces have received higher funding per capita than anywhere else in the country for a very long time. Cleveland, for example, has a fairly new police and crime commissioner who is having to deal with many difficult issues, but the House should note that it is more often than not Labour police and crime commissioners who are fortunate enough to have such per capita income, whereas Conservative police and crime commissioners often do not.

The police grant report shows that we are starting to make strides ahead in terms of fairness. That said, we ought not to forget that the split between Government funding and local funding through the precept is fair. My hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) commented on his situation earlier. I am not sure whether I am right or my hon. Friend and neighbour is right, but according to my figures 49% of our funding comes from the precept, and that is much more than for the vast majority of other constabularies—49% is enormous.

The hon. Member must look at the facts. Dorset is No. 6 in the league table, and its increase in this spending round will be 4.2%. The figure for Cleveland, which the hon. Member also mentioned, is 3.12%. I do not blame him for arguing for his area, because that is exactly what he was elected to do, but he is arguing that somehow Dorset is badly done by in comparison with other areas. I am sorry, but it is not.

As always, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but the reality is that we are playing years and years’ worth of catch-up, because the overall police funding settlement has been directed to areas such as his and those of other Members which have benefited year after year, while the good people of Dorset, Bedfordshire and other counties have been bearing the brunt of the policing costs to enable the Government to direct their finance capability towards helping areas such as his.

I am very conscious of the fact that crime dynamics will differ—I am not suggesting that that is not the case—but the reality is that we have faced a particular problem in rural areas with county lines drugs and rural crime. We in Dorset have survived for years with just three officers in the rural crime team. However, we have not been able to do the crime statistics justice, which is why I made those points at the beginning of my speech.

Surely this is about meeting needs. In Merseyside we have a port; we import crime. Drugs come through the port and there are all kinds of organised crime. Does the hon. Gentleman have that in his area?

No, he does not. Where do we get the finance to handle that? The funds have to go where they are needed, but we are not getting the funds and we are not getting the truth. If there is a desire for us to work together to tackle the needs of communities, let us be honest and let us work together. It is no use standing up and giving false statistics involving disproportionate amounts. Even the Prime Minister, the former Chancellor, boasted about shifting funds away from these areas—the red wall areas, as he described them—to other areas. He boasted about that during his own campaign, so the hon. Gentleman cannot deny it.

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention; I do value the points she has made in response to some of the things I have said, and I agree with her to an extent. In West Dorset—it is probably the same in South Dorset—we are dealing with county lines coming from Merseyside that actually cause us great difficulty.

I am sorry, but I have already given way once to the hon. Lady, and I need to respond to the points that she has made.

It is frustrating for me to look at the per capita funding for policing and see that consistently, year after year, Merseyside has benefited from considerable extra funding to help it deal with these issues, while we in Dorset, along with other rural constabularies in particular, have suffered—it might not be fair for me to say “at the expense of other areas”, but I think it is fair to say that we have cut our cloth to fit. We have reached a point at which we have had to act. Our population increases by a third during the summer season.

I know that the hon. Lady is particularly keen to intervene again. I will happily give way to her, but it will be the last time.

Yes, it can. I fully accept what the hon. Member says about county lines. We have had major issues and a lot of work is going on. Yes, a lot of that comes out of Merseyside and St Helens, but does he know that the police follow them? The Merseyside police follow the crime out of Merseyside, so a lot of our police are going out to get those people back.

I do not like to criticise the hon. Lady’s constabulary, but I can tell her that, clearly from my experiences, it has not been following the crime to Dorset, because that has been a huge problem for us and, I suspect, for neighbouring colleagues in Dorset and probably in Somerset as well.

Let me make a very quick and rather cheeky observation: it may be useful if the police got those people in Merseyside before they had to follow them all the way to Dorset.

That is indeed the ideal situation—that the police stem the issue at the root. I agree with some of what the hon. Lady has to say, but the reality, from what I can see, is that the funding has gone to those forces and commissioners in order to address it, but I do not think it has happened. That is why we must now intervene.

The hon. Member is talking about Merseyside, and I am a Merseyside MP. In actual fact, we are still short 450 officers compared to 2010. We have had a big loss of officers, which we have felt in our communities. I think the hon. Gentleman agrees with my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) that local policing is about national policing, too.

Indeed, but it is worth noting that my point, which I will make again, is that when it comes to per capita funding for the police, Dorset has been historically at the bottom of the pile and Merseyside has been near the top. That is the point I am making in this debate, and it is an important one. To be honest, if either of the hon. Members wishes to make the case for Merseyside, they may have the opportunity to speak a little later. I am conscious that I have had my fair share of time and we probably ought to move on.

I want to emphasise that parts of what the Government have brought forward do not take into account some of the pressures that we face on an annual basis. As I may have mentioned, the population rises by a third during the summertime. There is no measure in the current police funding arrangements to take that into account. That puts huge pressure on us in Dorset, particularly because we are not eligible, regrettably, for the violence reduction funding that others are. I am conscious of the fact that some things need addressing, especially given that we are at the top of the list in the crime pressure calculation—I am not sure whether Members are familiar with that, but it is the severity of crime against the number of officers available. It proves that for a long time we have had a particularly lean machine in Dorset. I am pleased that the Government have pushed us up that league table for extra funds to help deal with that.

I will conclude my remarks by saying that when the House considered this matter 12 months ago, we debated the reform required for the police funding formula. My right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), who is no longer in his place, was at the Dispatch Box and, if I recall correctly, he told the House that we would be seeing a consultation on this imminently and that we would see progress coming forth in short order. We are now 12 months on from that. It is very important to my constituents in West Dorset, and indeed to those who live across the county of Dorset, that we see this police funding formula revision and reform come forward quickly, and I would urge the Minister to take this back to her Department and to make that point clear.

Royal Assent

I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that His Majesty has signified his Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Stamp Duty Land Tax (Temporary Relief) Act 2023

Northern Ireland Budget Act 2023