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Police Forces: Financial Stability

Volume 792: debated on Wednesday 12 September 2018


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given to an Urgent Question answered earlier by my right honourable friend the Minister for Policing. The Statement is as follows:

“The NAO does incredibly important work and the Government are grateful for their work on police financial sustainability. The Home Secretary made clear to the Police Superintendents’ Association conference that we understand and agree that the police are under pressure and we are determined to support them. I am hugely appreciative of the hard work our police officers put in daily to keep the public safe.

I should say to this House that I do not recognise the suggestion that Ministers do not understand the pressures on the police. Last year, I personally spoke to all 43 police forces in England and Wales, including front-line officers, and I commissioned analysis to improve our understanding of police demand and resilience. I did explain our findings before this House last year at the time of the provisional police funding settlement. We recognised the pressures on the police, including from complex crime and the threat of terrorism. We provided a funding settlement which is increasing total investment in the police system by over £460 million in 2018-19. This includes £50 million for counterterrorism, £130 million for national priorities and £280 million in force funding from increases in precept income.

We are not stopping there. I have already indicated that we will afford the police the same precept flexibility in 2019-20, subject to them meeting productivity and efficiency asks. We are working closely with the police to jointly build the evidence base on police demand, resilience and capability ahead of the spending review.

The report is valuable in highlighting pressure on the police, but we do not believe it gives weight to these issues: first, the strength of the local accountability structure through PCCs, which were introduced by this Government; secondly, our support to the independent inspectorate in developing force management statements—a key tool in getting better data to identify and manage future demand; thirdly, we monitor effectiveness publicly through HMICFRS, whose independent authority we have strengthened; fourthly, we have asked the police to reform themselves and, as such, it is appropriate that the police have their own strategy in their Policing Vision 2025.

We take the report extremely seriously and our Permanent Secretary has written to the NAO to accept these points. However, the House should be under no illusion: this Government remain extremely committed to ensuring that forces have the resources they need to do the important work that they do”.

My Lords, there is a bit of a conflict. On the one hand, the NAO report is recognised and accepted but, on the other, the Home Secretary immediately says that he does not recognise the picture that it paints. But the NAO says, on its good evidence, that the Home Office,

“lacks a long-term plan for policing”,


“does not know if the police system is financially sustainable”,

and does not understand the pressures on our police forces. I accept what the NAO says more than what the Home Secretary does. Will the Minister confirm that police funding has fallen by 19% in real terms since 2010-11? Will she accept that forces are finding it harder and harder to deliver an effective service?

To address the last question first, both the Policing Minister and the Home Secretary recognise the demands on the police. They have said it before and my right honourable friend the Policing Minister said it again today. Not only is the picture of crime changing, but the police have had to deal—so bravely—with the various terrorist attacks we have had over the past year. When it comes to understanding demand, I have said before that my right honourable friend the Policing Minister visited all 43 forces in England and Wales leading up to the comprehensive settlement for 2018-19, which provided that £460 million increase. Looking forward to the next spending review, he stated in December last year that he would revisit plans to change the funding formula at the time of the next spending review. I have outlined the 2018 settlement, but in 2019-20 he will seek to maintain the protection of the broadly flat police grant, alongside the same flexibility of the precept that happened this year.

My Lords, the NAO report finds that central government funding for the police service has fallen by 30% in real terms since 2010-11, resulting between March 2010 and March 2018 in a 15% reduction in police officers, a 40% reduction in PCSOs and a 21% reduction in other police staff. Despite what the Minister has just said, the NAO says the Government have,

“no national picture of what forces need”.

Do the Government agree with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who said yesterday:

“This is not a service that needs reform, this is a service that needs support and needs resources … the NAO report shows this”?

Will the Minister finally admit that the Government can no longer argue that the police service has sufficient resources to deliver an effective service? The NAO says that the Government do not have a clue whether or not the police service has sufficient resources.

As I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, the Policing Minister visited every single police force in England and Wales to establish what the demands on the police were before he announced the increase in overall funding for this year. He has made some commitments towards the spending review. With regard to a national plan, Policing Vision 2025 is the plan for the police, and we are supporting them to achieve it. On funding, we arrived at the figure for this year because the police told us they wanted to put an extra 5,000 police in place. The settlement we arrived at allowed for an additional 11,000 police officers—if every police force maximised its precept.

My Lords, the Minister, for whom we have a high regard, knows of my concerns and, I suspect, those of others, about the rather soft approach of the Home Office towards police services in creating, at the centre, this gap in the knowledge of what is actually happening on the ground. I have a number of concerns in the social care field about what is happening. In particular, the Minister knows that I am deeply concerned about the future of the specialist child protection teams, which are so vital in the protection of children.

I always take what the noble Lord says seriously, particularly in relation to child social care. I have not got a particular answer about specialist child protection officers, but I will certainly take that back to the department. In terms of a gap in knowledge at the centre, this autonomy for the police was a deliberate move towards much more local accountability—something that had been called for for a long time. We expect PCCs to have that local knowledge and put forward their plans in light of it.

My Lords, it is good to hear about the 5,000 extra police, but I wonder whether the Government have a particular dimension of policing in mind when they arrive at the figures they think are appropriate. When one asks Government whether what we have is appropriate, since the number is smaller than we used to have, the answer is that equipment and deployment will solve the problems. It does not solve the problem of public disorder, where we need boots on the ground—and we need them in quantity. Will the Minister ask her colleagues to ask the police forces of this country to cast their minds back over the last 20 years and consider whether they could contain the public disorder that occurred over those 20 years with the equipment they have now, bearing in mind that communications have changed and they are faced with disorder that is co-ordinated by means of WhatsApp, which cannot be penetrated by the police?

My noble friend makes a very good point about the changing face of crime in the light of technology. Of course, we have the recent rise in knife crime. In terms of whether the police have the equipment they need, or whether we have enough boots on the ground to tackle crime, it is up to local police forces to decide the number of police they need in relation to the demands they face and the crime patterns in their area. For some police, gang violence is a particular problem; in other areas, it might be knife crime; and where I live in London, in Camden, moped crime is a particular problem. Resource need is something that needs to be locally determined.

The Minister has referred at least twice, or perhaps three times, to the incredible efforts of her colleague the Policing Minister in going round all 43 forces. Can she tell the House how many of the police and crime commissioners, whom he no doubt met on those visits, expressed support for the current level of policing resources that was available to them and what proportion of the population they represent? Further to the question that has just been asked about public order, given that the police were barely able to cope with the disorder that happened in 2011, what level of policing numbers are there now, even with this extra 5,000, compared to the numbers then, and would the police be able to cope with a similar incident in the future?

The noble Lord will probably know that I have not got an answer off the top of my head about what PCCs said to the Policing Minister about the financial settlement. In terms of whether the policing numbers that existed in 2011 would be able to cope with some of the demands now, it is not an entirely simple equation to say that numbers equal resilience to cope, though I am certainly not dismissing what the noble Lord says. All I can say is that, when the Policing Minister went round all the police forces, he did ask specifically about the numbers necessary to meet demand.