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Police and Crime Commissioners: Budget

Volume 820: debated on Monday 28 March 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the decisions of Police and Crime Commissioners who have (1) cut the number of police officers in their police force area in their 2022/23 budget, and (2) applied for a grant from year 3 of the Police Uplift Programme.

My Lords, through the police uplift programme, police forces in England and Wales have recruited over 11,000 additional officers. Police and crime commissioners can also fund the recruitment of officers on top of the uplift allocations from local funding such as precept outside of the uplift grant. We collect data annually on local ambitions to recruit additional officers, to ensure that growth is tracked accurately.

My Lords, I remind the House that I am a former police and crime commissioner and I thank the Minister for her Answer. According to the Prime Minister himself, the Government are committed, as a priority, to increasing the number of police officers. How do they not see the need to criticise those PCCs, such as the new police and crime commissioner for Leicestershire, who even though they have the resources through government grant and maximum council tax, have chosen in their 2022-23 budgets to cut the number of police officers rather than increase it? Surely the Government have the courage to tell them that they are wrong.

First, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, whom I saw first-hand doing an excellent job as a PCC for Leicestershire. Secondly, how PCCs allocate their funding and their officers is obviously a decision for local areas. Thirdly, if that PCC does not perform in line with the public’s expectations, they have the remedy at the ballot box.

My Lords, is it not outrageous that the PCC for Leicestershire and Rutland, who describes himself as a Conservative, is cutting police numbers while paying £100,000 plus expenses to Mike Veale, a man facing severe misconduct proceedings who, as chief constable for Wiltshire, besmirched the reputation of Sir Edward Heath—a wicked deed for which he has still not been called to account? Should not this dishonourable PCC be thrown out of the Conservative Party and the proceedings against Mr Veale started as soon as possible?

My Lords, his membership of the Conservative Party is clearly a matter for the Conservative Party. Whether he should continue as PCC, as I said earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, is entirely a matter for the electorate.

My Lords, what power does the Home Secretary have to overrule police and crime commissioners—for example, if they refused to increase police numbers to achieve the Government’s planned 20,000 uplift, or when the Mayor of London forced the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to resign? If the Home Secretary did not agree that Dame Cressida Dick should go, why did she not intervene at the time, rather than commission an inquiry after the event?

Clearly, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service has given notice of the end of her tenure. It appeared to be quite short notice, although she has yet to depart. I understand she will be departing in April and I join the Home Secretary in paying tribute to her work. I say to the noble Lord that the police are operationally independent and the PCC sets the direction for the local area. If the public in that area are not happy, they have the remedy at the ballot box.

Is it not the reality that the new PCC for Leicestershire has, from the third tranche of the Government’s police uplift programme and the maximum permitted increase in council tax of £10 per year per dwelling, the resources for another 100 officers in 2022-23, as previously budgeted for and agreed? He has decided not to use the money for that purpose, even in part. The number of officers there will remain under 2010 levels in 2022-23, despite the Government saying that the overall 20,000 additional officers nationally are to restore the cuts in numbers since 2010. Does the Answer to my noble friend Lord Bach mean that the Government condone what the new PCC for Leicestershire is doing in using money intended to increase police officer numbers for other purposes in 2022-23?

My Lords, the Government have been absolutely clear on the police uplift programme: we expect that funding to go towards the 20,000 police officers. That is not in any doubt. What is in debate this afternoon is whether the precept should be used on top of that to fund police officers. Whether a local PCC decides to do that is down to that local PCC. Should local areas need to invest in additional police officers, they have the funding to do so through either the police uplift programme or indeed the precept.

My Lords, in welcoming the increase in police numbers that the Government have achieved, will my noble friend assure me that police and crime commissioners will have the flexibility to best respond to local circumstances? We are seeing that cybercrime does not necessarily need a uniformed officer to investigate it; police and crime commissioners may decide there are better ways to do it, and surely that is the point of having them.

My noble friend is absolutely right: local circumstances will dictate different needs in different places. He is absolutely correct to say that cyber and other types of crime—county lines, for example—may necessitate different solutions in different areas.

My Lords, following that specific question and the implication that somehow this money was being spent on cybercrime, the principal cybercrime in this country is fraud. Some 42% of reported crime is fraud—despite the fact that the Government regularly drop off this figure when they talk about crime. Some 1% of police resources are used in policing fraud—so it clearly cannot be the case that these resources are being used for other policing purposes; they must be being used for something else.

I return to the point made by my noble friend: it is down to local elected PCCs to decide. Also, cyber is not just about fraud; it can be about all sorts of things, such as disruption et cetera. There are other bodies that deal with fraud as well, but, frankly, we deal with fraud and other types of crime across several agencies.

My Lords, I declare that I have met several PCCs during my long interest in policing. It is true that Conservatives have a propensity to cut—they cut figures, costs and budgets all the time. It is exactly what the Conservatives did back in 2010, which caused chaos in policing, because the budget was cut so savagely and so quickly. So perhaps this PCC did not get the memo that the Government are now recruiting.

My Lords, I think all PCCs got the memo. The funding and the precept capability are there for police to not just get the numbers through the police uplift programme but to add to them through the precept, if they see fit in their area.

My Lords, there is serious concern about the recruitment of police officers from the diverse communities in this country. If the number is cut, how will we improve on this record?

My Lords, the numbers will not be cut; they are going up quite significantly—I think they went up 9% in the last year. On the point about diversity, the noble Lord is absolutely right; we talked about this last year in relation to the HMICFRS report on the back of the Daniel Morgan inquiry. Over the last four years, numbers have gone steadily up in terms of BME representation in the Metropolitan Police.

My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register. Of course, it is to be commended that the Government are putting more resources into police numbers, but that is only to reverse the cuts that they themselves made. Can the Minister tell us how many of those who are being recruited as part of the uplift programme have actually completed their training and not dropped out or been found not to have met the necessary requirements? What are the Government doing about the chronic shortage of detectives, which is now apparent partly because of the loss of police officers over the last 12 years?

My Lords, the noble Lord raises an important point about how many officers have taken up their posts. The total number of officers recruited is nearly 140,000, which is an increase of nearly 10%, as I said. I do not know the dropout number. I suspect that 140,000 is the overall number, but if there are any dropouts I will let the noble Lord know.