I beg to move,
That this House has considered police funding in London.
I pay tribute to the police officers who work hard every day to keep us safe, but the Metropolitan police continue to struggle with crippling cost pressures. The Met has had to find £600 million in savings since 2010 and is expected to find another £400 million by 2021. The chair of the National Police Chiefs Council, Chief Constable Sara Thornton, confirmed last month that police funding for counter-terrorism is set to fall by 7% in the next three years.
My hon. Friend is right to mention what Sara Thornton said. Does she agree with Mark Rowley, the head of national counter-terrorism policing, who told the Select Committee on Home Affairs yesterday that the hollowing out of neighbourhood policing is deeply damaging and dangerous, both to our intelligence-gathering capacity and to our surge capacity in the event of a terrorist attack? The first duty of any Government is the safety and security of their citizens. The Government are putting the British people at risk.
There is no doubt that neighbourhood policing was the biggest police reform in London back in about 2000; it was rolled out in every ward. It made an incredible difference, particularly in our cities, but in rural areas as well. Its diminution over the years is a huge shame.
Police stations are closing and neighbourhood policing is under attack across the capital. Half of London’s remaining 73 police station counters are set to close, including a number in Hornsey and Wood Green. There are fewer police officers on the street. The UK has 20,000 fewer police officers than at the peak in 2010, and 924 fewer than last year. The Police Federation has branded those startling statistics “deeply worrying and disappointing”.
Our constituents are worried. In my surgeries, I regularly see people who are concerned and scared about the rise in reported gun, knife and moped crime.
In my constituency, there is now not a single operating police station. Diminishing the police presence in the streets and removing the preventive force across the capital is making people more vulnerable, or at least more fearful.
The argument is often trotted out that a police station is just a building, but we all know that it has an authoritative image. Closing all police stations says something about the diminution of the state’s role in our communities.
Some stations and counters have very low levels of usage, so the case can be made for closing them. However, does the hon. Lady agree that if that process continues, which it almost certainly will, we will need to do something about the shocking levels of underservice by the 101 system? I have constituents who no longer bother to report crime because they do not get an answer when they call 101.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The debate is similar to the one about hospital closures: we want community-based services, but once hospitals are closed, it is easy to close those services without people noticing. The same rule applies to the 101 service.
Many people feel less safe in London. Figures from the Met suggest a 5% rise in crime overall between 2015-16 and 2016-17.
Has my hon. Friend, as I have, seen an upsurge in the number of people who have witnessed or experienced moped crime? Does she agree that the police need greater powers? Funding for response vehicles has been slashed to ribbons, as it has for everything else. My caseworker Milad, who is ex-Met, tells me that the police feel powerless to deal with moped crime, because criminals can exploit legal and procedural loopholes. The police need greater pursuit powers and legal protections. These cuts have consequences.
Indeed. Sadly, moped crime is increasingly prevalent in all our constituencies. We can debate whether to change the law, but first and foremost let us get bobbies back on the beat. If criminals see people they are a bit afraid of, they may be disinclined to jump on the back of a motorbike and steal from old ladies.
I habitually receive emails, letters and phone calls from constituents who want to feel safe and secure in their community and in our capital. Our ability to respond to terror attacks is being weakened; the number of armed officers has fallen by 10% since 2010. Meanwhile, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime fears that officer numbers in London are at risk of falling below 30,000 for the first time since 2003, despite the growing threat of terror and our rapidly growing population. The number of officers per capita has fallen 20% over the past five years. We face ever more austerity, ever more cuts, and the ever more inevitable closure of public services. There is a deep sense that the Government’s decisions are bypassing us completely and are failing to take into account the views of those affected.
The Government argue that the police can do more with less, but crime is being increasingly reported and is increasingly violent, including gun, knife and moped crime. Our emergency services put themselves in harm’s way every single day to protect us. Our police keep us safe. They are dedicated and professional, despite cuts to their resources. As Steve White, chair of the Police Federation, recently said:
“Whenever a crisis happens there is talk of ‘extra’ officers being put on patrol but these aren’t ‘extra’ officers. They are the same officers working longer shifts, or who have had days off cancelled and are being run ragged. This has a negative impact on their health and wellbeing, which has an impact on sickness levels, which has a further impact on their colleagues.”
The Government’s record is damning. They are led by a former Home Secretary who oversaw and enforced deep cost pressures that have left some in the police force demoralised—there were a record number of resignations from the Metropolitan police last year. In the forthcoming Budget, the Government have an opportunity to amend that record and put us back on the right track. They must increase overall real-terms funding for the police in November. The police must be given the resources they need, not 20,000 cuts.
The Mayor has warned that our city faces losing up to 4,000 police officers at a time of “unprecedented” challenges and that the £400 million gap may endanger the safety of residents. Just this month, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Mark Simmons told us that the Metropolitan police will stop investigating “lower level” crimes, including assaults and burglary, as a result of these cuts. The Met has sold off almost £1 billion-worth of London property over the past five years to fill its funding gap.
A recent cross-party report by the London Assembly’s budget and performance committee, chaired by Conservative Assembly member Gareth Bacon, found that even if these cost savings go to plan,
“the Met still faces a financial black-hole of £185 million over the next four years… Home Office Ministers appear to have ignored the advice of their own scrutiny panel and are underfunding the Met for the cost of policing an international capital city. Furthermore, their guidelines effectively prevent the Met from claiming any financial help for dealing with extraordinary events such as the London Bridge attack or the Grenfell fire.”
That is unjustified, unreasonable and unfair.
Police officers deserve their overdue pay rise, but it has fallen on the Met to find the money in its existing budget, which is already under attack. That is an additional pressure of £10.7 million—money that should come from central Government. The Mayor already increased the council tax police precept last year to fill some of the gap, but it is not enough. The Home Office still has not released the criteria that it will use to calculate the police general grant, but the Met expects further reductions of up to £700 million if the funding formula review goes ahead.
Uncertainty, with no official decision yet from the Home Office on general Government grant, prevents the Met from making considered and long-term financial decisions. The size of the budget for policing across the UK is too small, and it needs to be increased across the board and in our city. While the Government drag their feet, they do so in secret, unwilling to share calculations for how budgets are settled.
Some 70% of the Met’s funding comes from the Home Office, which must wake up and realise that, without urgent action, the headcount will fall further. We cannot protect our communities on the cheap. It has been a difficult year in keeping London and Londoners safe, with rising crime and escalating terror incidents. Throughout these events, our Metropolitan police have risen to the challenges. Let our Government now do the same.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) on securing this important debate on the future funding of policing in London.
I will start by talking about the situation in the borough of Harrow, which my honourable neighbour, the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas), and I share. Back in 2014, Harrow became the safest borough in London, with crime at its lowest level ever. There were still challenges, the key one being that, despite having the lowest level of crime in London, we had one of the highest levels of fear of crime in London. Because crime in the borough was so low, every crime—particularly every violent crime—was on the front pages of our local newspapers, so of course everyone feared that they would either be burgled or mugged on the streets. Dealing with the fear of crime is fundamental.
The hon. Lady forgot one issue in her speech: that the Mayor of London is responsible for policing in London. He is effectively the police and crime commissioner for London, and he must bear responsibility every bit as much—at least—as the Government when it comes to decisions on policing in London.
I rise because although I am not a Labour Member— I am a Liberal Democrat—I think the hon. Gentleman, if he is to be fair and honest to this Chamber, should admit that a large part of the police funding grant for the Mayor comes from the Home Office. Is that true, or is it not?
Quite clearly it is true that funding comes from the Government, but it is the key decisions that the Mayor of London makes about the whole budget for London that shows what his priorities are.
Before I allow the right hon. Gentleman to intervene again, I will point out that we should remember that the Mayor of London took decisions. For example, he took a decision to freeze partially fares on the underground, the result of which is that my constituents will not now get upgrades on the Jubilee and Northern lines, and will suffer accordingly. That decision was a deliberate one by the Mayor of London. He can make it because it is political, but he cannot then complain about lack of funding. He made decisions—this is the key point—including a decision to increase the precept marginally. He could have decided to increase the precept and the council tax further, which would have brought in approximately £14.1 million extra. He makes the decisions about where the funding that comes from the Government—from the taxpayer—and the council tax and business rates is apportioned. That is his decision.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
It is not for the Government to determine that decision; it is for the Mayor to do that. Under the previous Mayor, decisions were taken to ensure that 32,000 police officers were kept in the Metropolitan police, and indeed crime was gradually falling in London. That is the reality.
I will give way to the hon. Lady, as I have already given way to the right hon. Gentleman.
Is the hon. Gentleman not being a bit disingenuous about the Transport for London resource grant, £2.8 billion of which was cut—
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but she may not use the word “disingenuous” with regard to another Member. Perhaps she will be kind enough to withdraw that expression.
Is the hon. Gentleman not being tendentious, and overlooking the fact that the former Chancellor, who is now the editor of the Evening Standard, cut the TfL resource budget?
I think we have got the general point, thank you.
The key point is that we should recognise that when decisions are made about funding and how that funding is spent, we should consider the Government, because the Home Office is providing funding, but we should also consider the key person making the decisions on where that funding goes, who is the Mayor of London. The Mayor has decisions to make and it would be wrong of the Government to interfere in those decisions. He can and should make the case to the Government on behalf of London for additional funding for policing if he believes that we need it.
I will now touch on several of the other issues that affect my constituency and my constituents. The Mayor of London and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime are now consulting on closing police stations. The position is, as my honourable neighbour knows, that every single police station in Harrow bar one will close, and even the one that we have in south Harrow has had its custody suite closed. That means that people who are arrested on the streets of Harrow must now be taken either to Colindale, on the Edgware Road, or to Heathrow airport. I suspect that what that will mean for crime in Harrow is that when police officers apprehend an individual on the streets, they will contemplate the question, “Should I spend the next four hours transporting this potential criminal”—the person who has been arrested—“to Colindale or Heathrow in order to process them, or should I just give them a ticking-off?”
Now, individuals who are apprehended on the streets of Harrow, who are suspected of committing a crime and taken to a police station, can be processed, their fingerprints and a DNA sample can be recorded, and they can be investigated not only for what they are suspected of doing and what they have been arrested for, but potentially for other crimes that have not been cleared up already. The risk—a direct risk that arises because of both the proposed police station closures and, more important, the closure of the custody suite—is that we will not apprehend those criminals on the streets and that we will not obtain information about them. There is a risk not only of criminals getting away with crime but of the police being unable to clear up the crime that has already been committed. I think that is a very serious risk in Harrow and, I suspect, across London. At operational level, we have to lay some blame at the door of the Mayor and we must ensure that he understands the risk that is ever present as a result of the decisions that he is making.
The other problem is that I suspect our local criminal investigation department unit will transfer from Harrow, probably to Wembley in Brent. Those who work in the custody suite and who do an excellent job there were informed by the Metropolitan police on a Friday afternoon, by email, that the suite was to close. It is unacceptable that employees are informed in such a way that their job will move quite dramatically, from one place to another. That is fundamentally wrong and should be addressed.
Policing London, as the capital city, has two aspects. One is the policing of crime that we all want to see, but because we are the capital city our police have additional responsibilities. As the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green said, there are issues of terrorism. One element of the terrorist crime that we saw at London Bridge was that the terrorists were eliminated within eight minutes of the call to the police being made. That was a remarkable performance by the Metropolitan police, but the reality is that, short of having armed police officers in every hotspot around London, it is not reasonable to expect the police to respond any faster than that.
As I say, the police do a remarkable job, and they do it literally every day. There is a case for additional funding for the Metropolitan police; I always believe that we should look for more funding for the Met.
I agree with everything that my hon. Friend is saying and I agreed with a lot of what the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) said, but one thing that has not been mentioned so far is that the Metropolitan police cover the whole of London. That does not just mean inner London; outer London boroughs also need proper resources. The reality is that far too much is being focused on the inner London areas and boroughs such as mine, the London Borough of Havering, are being underfunded when crime is rising in our areas. Does he agree?
I quite agree that that is the problem. One of the changes that is under consultation and seems to be rolling out is the merger of boroughs: instead of having a borough commander and a police force for each borough, we are seeing mergers. In our case, Harrow will be merged with Brent and Barnet. The level of crime in Brent—particularly in the southern bit of Brent, which is close to the inner-city area—is far higher than in any of the other places. As a result, the borough commander of those three boroughs will have to transfer resources to where the crime is, which may well push the criminals to go somewhere that the police are not. That is the dilemma and the risk we face.
Where those mergers are being tried—I think the constituency of the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green might be one where they have been tried—we have seen police response times increase and people feel less safe. That is another decision to be made by the Mayor of London, not the Government. As a London MP, I want more funding for policing in London—clearly we all do—but we must remember that the operational decisions and how that budget is determined are the Mayor of London’s job. Since he has been elected, he has been trying to deny responsibility and to get away with it by saying, “It’s nothing to do with me. It’s all the Government’s fault.”
This is just outrageous. The Conservatives have the cheek to turn up this morning and cry crocodile tears and attack every single measure that the Mayor is taking to manage a difficult budget. The responsibility for the disaster we face in London is central Government funding, or indeed the lack of it. We have already lost £600 million with another £400 million being lost. That is the core of the issue.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I will conclude my remarks because I know that other colleagues want to speak.
The reality is that the Met police have had, broadly speaking, a flat cash settlement for a long time indeed—since 2010. The previous Mayor managed to manage that budget, and reduce crime, and maintain 32,000 police officers on the beat and on the streets at the same time. The reality is that the current Mayor of London has failed. Violent crime is up; gun crime, knife crime and acid attacks are all up dramatically under his watch. He has to answer for that. He has responsibility for that. He is the Mayor of London and he speaks on behalf of London. If he fails to do that job, he should get out the way and let someone else who is more competent do the job.
It may be helpful to the House to know that I intend to call the first of the three Front Benchers at 10.30. I do not believe in formal time limits—I think they are a bit obnoxious—but I do think that Members should consider each other in the length of their speeches. In other words, they should keep their speeches very short. I start by calling Stephen Pound, who is always short.
It is a pleasure to serve under your command, Mr Gray. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) on securing this debate. She and I have met the deputy Mayor for policing—I cannot remember a more utterly depressing, soul-destroying meeting. The deputy Mayor is an excellent officer, but during that meeting we realised the scale of the impact of police cuts on our capital city. It is eye-watering and terrifying.
Parts of our city are like Dodge City now, yet the response we get from the Harrovian Dr Pangloss is that things are all right in some areas and we should somehow complete this unbelievable miracle of expanding the cake that the Mayor of London has so that he can provide different slices. What absolute nonsense! I realise that we cannot use certain words—my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) has been rightly ruled out of order—but I have to say that the last speech was dripping with mendacity. The brute dichotomy in which the hon. Gentleman tried to somehow—
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that the expression “dripping with mendacity” implies that the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) was not telling the truth. The hon. Gentleman is not allowed to do that. Will he please withdraw that remark and apologise for it?
I most certainly withdraw the remark and, through gritted teeth, apologise for it. The trouble is that I think this is a trahison des clercs. The hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) knows what he is saying and I think he knows the reality of the situation.
Let us get down to the reality of what is happening to policing in London. What is happening to young black youth on the streets of our city? What is happening to the confidence people have in the police? We can offer all the warm words in the world to the police. We congratulate them on all the incredible, amazing work they have done on counter-terrorism, but warm words are cold comfort when a police officer is facing having to parade in the back of a car and have their evening meal in a motorway service station. There are no facilities for the police to parade up in the morning. There is something profoundly and seriously wrong.
I am not one of the “Dixon of Dock Green” sentimentalists who go on about “bobbies on the beat”; I always think that is a rather silly expression. Feet on the beat do matter, but the physical presence of a police station is crucial. It is not just about that blue light glowing through the mists of some 1950s black and white film. When I was on the buses, I can still remember the times when I used to drive to a police station because someone was in danger on my bus. The police station was a place of safety, and we have surrendered that place of safety.
I do not want to be overly parochial, but my constituents would not forgive me were I not to be. We have heard that Harrow will suffer, and my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) has frequently made that point. The idea that the Mayor of London has not pursued the Treasury or the Home Office in seeking additional funding is nonsensical. The Mayor of London is hardly off the phone for a minute in trying to get additional funding, because he knows the realities. The idea that he could somehow cut all the anti-pollution measures, the traffic measures, the spatial development measures, the housing measures and the other things that the Mayor does and divert resources to policing to solve the problem is—I am sure there is a word for it, Mr Gray, but the word that springs to my lips would not be admissible.
One problem in my borough is that we simply do not know what is happening. We know that safer neighbourhood boards have gone. We know that all the work that David Blunkett and Hazel Blears did, which raised people’s confidence, has been jettisoned. We know that there may be something called “dedicated ward officers”, but we do not know who they are, what they are, where they are or how many of them there will be. We do not know whether there will be police community support officers, constables or specials. In Ealing, we still do not know what is happening about our police stations. Acton police station is fairly close to Hammersmith on the extreme eastern border of the borough, which appears to be being upgraded. Southall police station appears to be downgraded and Ealing police station is falling into a hole in the ground.
While all that is going on, we have lost Norwood Green and Hanwell and we are losing Greenford. We are losing our safer neighbourhood bases in Northolt Mandeville and the Grand Union Village. What are we left with? A few police officers in the Marks and Spencer all-night shop on the Perivale slip off the A40, driving around and being called in on a peripatetic basis. How are the public going to have confidence? Where there is an absence in confidence, there is a growth in crime. If people think that the police will not investigate so-called low-level crime and there is no response or building to indicate a police presence, the villains will be emboldened to act even worse.
I agreed with the hon. Member for Harrow East when he talked about the rise in crimes such as acid attacks. We never knew about acid attacks before. We do not even know what next year’s new crime will be. All I know is that whatever the change in the pattern of crime is, a reduction in police numbers, an abandonment of the streets and a surrender of our cities to the criminals will only encourage that behaviour.
The Minister is a decent man. I respect him and I do not want to curse him. I appreciate that I may destroy his career by saying this, but he and I are divided mostly by the Western Avenue. We are neighbours. He and I know what the growth of crime is in our area. He is as well aware as I am of the consequences of constant swingeing cuts. We can argue about the cause, but I do not think there is any argument: the cause is demonstrably at the door of the Home Office.
We are talking about the consequences of the cuts, the fiscal squeeze and that brute, unthinking, inchoate austerity programme. We are talking about chaos on our streets. I am not exaggerating the situation. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) will doubtlessly be summing up for the Opposition, and she can give spine-chilling statistics for the level of criminality in her part of the world.
How are we addressing that? By reducing the number of police officers, by disposing of the Metropolitan police estate and by closing down police stations. That is madness. It is absolute insanity. In my borough, Paul Martin is the borough commander. He is doing his level best to do more with less, but we cannot keep going back to police officers and saying, “We admire you. We respect you. You are wonderful people. Here is a medal. Go out there and do what you are doing on half the budget.” We cannot carry on doing that. Paul Martin and other police officers in London deserve a little more than a condescending pat on the shoulder.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I was about to finish, but I will certainly give way to a Liberal Democrat.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Has he spoken to his officers and heard about the low morale in the Met police and how they feel completely overstretched as they see crime going up and officer numbers cut? Has he heard that from the officers themselves?
I almost wish that the right hon. Gentleman had not said that, because I do not like talking about the realities of modern policing. Policing is a family—I am not talking about direct siblings and uncles and aunts, but it is a police family. I have never known morale to be so low. Like every one of us in this room, I go to police commendation ceremonies two or three times a year, and in that hall of heroes I hear amazing stories of courage, dedication and commitment from police officers. They do staggering, amazing work, and yet what I hear now is not just the quiet, unassuming pride that I always admired so much, but, “I can’t wait till I’m out of here.” It is not just “Roll on my 22,” as we say in the armed forces, but a longing to get away, because people feel that policing is no longer recognised by those who hold the purse strings as a vital and incredibly significant part of our cities.
Today we have the opportunity to put down a marker and say to the Home Office and Treasury that London and Londoners have suffered enough. Give us the money, give us the police officers and give us the peace on our streets.
Order. Our self-denying ordinance is not working terribly well. None the less, I call Mr Stephen Hammond.
Thank you, Mr Gray; I will try to follow your stricture to be quick. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) on securing this important debate. It is a pleasure, as ever, to follow the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound)—I always feel like the documentary after the comedy show.
I will spare the Chamber pages of my usual introductory waffle and cut to the point. For years we had lectures about crime and the previous Mayor, so let us start with some facts. Let us not talk about the acid attacks, but about some of the crime in London and what we have actually seen. Overall crime since 2010 has fallen by 8%. Knife crime fell year on year under the previous Mayor, and yet in the first year of the current Mayor it has risen by 24%. Gun crime fell and remained broadly stable under the previous Mayor, and yet in the first year of the current Mayor it has risen by a staggering 34%.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will—but briefly, because I know others want to speak.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that crime is rising across the country and not just in London?
I certainly accept that we have seen rises in crime in London that are extraordinary. I absolutely agree with the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green that we should press the Government to do more. In some ways this debate is a few months too early because there will be a new funding formula in January. If we look at the base constituents of the funding formula and how they are likely to be allocated, we as London MPs should have hope that the constituents that make up the new formula will give us a significant chance of a very good settlement in London. I for one will certainly press the Government on that.
I accept that in the aftermath of the Labour Government in 2010 there were cuts to be made. Funding was rightly held constant and was at the level that people expected; spending was about 20% lower across every area of spending, and the police and the Home Office had to take their cut. I also accept that the national and international capital city funding has seen a significant increase and the Government are consulting on more. However, I ask the Government to think seriously about two things: first, multi-year settlements. It is clear that there would be more efficiency gains if settlements were not on a year-on-year basis. Also, I hope the Minister will be able to talk about the special police grant. It is clear that London suffers exceptional events and the criteria for that should change.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) is exactly right. Let us be clear about where most, if not all, of the real issues are happening in London at the moment. Why is the person who makes the decisions not up front in leading some of the demands for a greater settlement? Why is he not leading the demand for a multi-year settlement? Why is he behind in his digital savings? Consistently, the numbers have not been achieved. Under the previous Mayor, the Met had set out digital savings through to 2021, but the current Mayor has allowed them to be rescinded.
The Mayor has taken other decisions. The hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq), who is no longer in her place, tried to talk about another area of policy. The Mayor has responsibility and makes decisions across a whole range of London policy, and there is one consistent theme. Promises he made in 2016 are being broken in 2017, whether it is on transport, housing or policing. That is having a direct effect. I absolutely agree with the hon. Member for Ealing North that police stations are a personification of law on our streets. The reality, of course, is that it is the current Mayor, unlike the previous Mayor, who is making the decision to close some of them.
I want to end exactly where my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East started his remarks: what is happening to constituents. I am not surprised that the hon. Member for Ealing North had a depressing meeting with the deputy Mayor. When she came to me she did not even have her facts right. It is no wonder it was a depressing meeting. There is no logical reason for closing Wimbledon police station. It is at the heart of my constituency and well located in the town centre. There is a large night-time economy. Wimbledon is a large transport hub. The recent terrorist attack on the District Line clearly demonstrates the need for flexibility, and Wimbledon was able to help out. More importantly, the emergency response vehicles for the whole of Merton are based in Wimbledon. If we look at the hotspots across the borough, not just in my constituency, they are as easily reached within the same timescales as regards any other police station.
I am not suggesting that any other police station should be closed. I am here to defend my constituents’ safety, but the current Mayor has made the decision to consult on closing police stations. It is entirely his decision and it is time that he took responsibility not only for the decisions he makes in local areas—Wimbledon, Harrow or Ealing—but for the budget. Opposition Members try to blame the Government. I have made the point that the Government need to look at other things, but most of the blame lies with the decisions the Mayor is making and with the reserves he is sitting on and not allocating. It is time the Mayor stood up for Londoners.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) on securing this important debate. I want to start by recognising the excellent work that the police do on behalf of local residents in my constituency, which is policed by the Lambeth and Southwark commands, and by mentioning particular examples of excellent practice.
The Lambeth borough commander has worked with a local mum, Lorraine Jones, who lost her son to knife crime, to establish a boxing gym in a railway arch in Loughborough Junction, where police officers volunteer their time each week to train local young people on a programme called the Lambeth Boxing Awards. A local special constable, Steve Whitmore, has established a fantastic project called Books in the Nick, which provides books to people being held in police custody, who are sometimes distressed and vulnerable. Books help to calm people down and offer a gesture of empathy at a time that can seem very bleak.
Officers tell me that they are responding to an ever-increasing number of calls concerning people with a mental illness. They are often the first point of contact for people in a crisis—people who should really be able to access health services to meet their needs and keep them safe. Alongside that work, officers are engaged in some of the most dangerous frontline work in the capital. Lambeth officers were first on scene at the Westminster terror attack, and Southwark and Lambeth officers responded to both the London Bridge attack and the Grenfell Tower fire.
However, the job of our excellent and dedicated officers is getting harder under the policies of this Government. We have heard that the Met has already had to absorb £600 million of cost savings, with a further £400 million to come by 2021. That pressure, direct from the Home Office, is taking its toll on our police in a number of ways. First, neighbourhood policing has declined. The neighbourhood policing model, which established—under the previous Labour Mayor of London—a dedicated team of officers for each ward in the capital, was absolutely critical to building strong relationships between the police and the community. It increased the visibility of the police and built public confidence. It was also absolutely critical in addressing some of the most serious crimes: gang-related violence, knife crime, forced marriage and terror, as well as distressing crimes such as burglary and fraud.
Neighbourhood policing allows a relationship of trust to build up over time, as the police get to know the community they are policing, and the community get to know their local officers. I have watched since 2010, when I was elected to Southwark Council, the neighbourhood policing teams in my ward, and then across the wider constituency, being decimated. Dedicated ward sergeants have been removed and are constantly changing, and the number of dedicated officers has been reduced to just one, who is frequently abstracted to other duties.
Secondly, the number of police front counters that are open to the public has also declined. In the face of further savings that it is required to make as a consequence of the Government’s Budget decisions, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime is currently consulting on further police station closures. Given the spending restraints imposed on the Met by central Government, I completely understand its decision to focus on maintaining police officer numbers rather than buildings. Nevertheless, I am concerned about the impact that further closures will have.
My constituency comprises five wards in Lambeth and three in Southwark. As a result of the latest round of cost savings, it is proposed that every police station counter in Lambeth except Brixton and every police station counter in Southwark except Walworth will close. The closure of further police front-counter services in Lambeth and Southwark will have damaging consequences for the relationship between the police and our communities, the accessibility of the police, and the ability of the police to work efficiently and effectively.
Brixton police station will become the only police station in Lambeth. I have visited Brixton police station on many occasions since I was elected in 2015; it is currently full to capacity. There is no additional space to accommodate further officers in a comfortable and efficient working environment. The custody suite is one of the busiest in London, and the waiting facilities are already small and often overcrowded.
I am concerned about the impact that will have on the motivation and morale of police officers, and the relationship they have with our communities. I am also concerned about the practicalities. With limited and already overcrowded space, how are the police to accommodate victims of crime and those wishing to report crime, alongside people discharging bail conditions? How are the police to improve their practice concerning the reporting of sexual offences, modern day slavery or abuse that has occurred in the past, if every inch of the police station is full to capacity?
My constituency has been disproportionately affected by previous rounds of police station closures under the previous Mayor of London, which have resulted in the loss of East Dulwich police station within the constituency, and Forest Hill, Penge and Camberwell police stations, which are outside the constituency but also served my constituents. Gipsy Hill police station has reduced from a fully functioning front-counter police station to an operational base that is not open to the public. We have also seen the police network of safer neighbourhood team offices being closed and mothballed. That has had a further direct impact on neighbourhood policing in my constituency, with the limited number of officers in neighbourhood policing teams now beginning and ending their shifts at police stations that are, in some cases, as much as an hour’s travel time away from the ward that they serve—decisions made under the previous Mayor of London.
Residents on the Southwark side of my constituency now have to travel to Peckham or Walworth to access a front-counter police service. Although Brixton police station is in my constituency, it is increasingly so busy that it is difficult for residents to access services at the front desk. The contact point services, which were initiated by the previous Mayor, have entirely failed to provide meaningful access to the police for members of the public. In some parts of my constituency, residents already feel that the police are completely inaccessible. The successive closures of police stations, combined with the decimation of neighbourhood policing under the previous Mayor and the very serious problems with the 101 service, mean that in the face of rising robbery, burglary and aggressive antisocial behaviour, many of my constituents increasingly feel that the police are unable to provide the response they need. Further police station closures can only exacerbate the situation.
The Government are forcing through further savings at a time when the pressures on the Met—arising from an increased terror threat, the rise in violent crime, including knife and gun crime, and the growth of online crime and disclosures of historical child abuse as a consequence of the national inquiry—have never been greater. I have no doubt that, in persisting with those cuts, the Government are putting the safety of communities in London at risk.
Even before the terror attacks and major incidents of the past year, a further £400 million of cost savings for the Metropolitan police looked very challenging, but to persist with those cuts in the current context is simply to be reckless with the safety and security of Londoners. Our police need to be properly equipped not only to respond to emergencies, but to build the basis of a relationship with our diverse communities that allows them to police by consent and opens up access to intelligence and information sharing to combat crime. It is that relationship that risks being ripped apart by the approach that the Government are taking to police budget cuts in London. I am calling on the Minister today to reverse the cuts to the Metropolitan police.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) on raising this topic today. It is a vital issue that is in the interests of all London MPs, and the situation is of growing concern, particularly for Members of Parliament in the outer-London areas.
In my constituency of Romford, local people are genuinely concerned about the lack of police resources for our local London borough of Havering, and also, as was mentioned earlier, about the new tri-borough system, which means that Havering, Redbridge, and Barking and Dagenham are pooling resources. We know what that means: lower-crime areas, such as Havering, will have fewer resources, while high-crime areas, such as Barking and Dagenham and—I hesitate to say it in front of the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting)—Redbridge, too, will receive resources from areas such as Havering. There is real concern about the current strategy.
Let us be optimistic: since 1990, we have seen quite a big drop in crime overall, under all Mayors and all Governments. Crime has fallen dramatically since the 1980s and early 1990s. In recent months, however, we have seen a spike in certain types of crime, in particular acid attacks, knife crime—there have been incidents in my area—and, as has been rightly mentioned already, crime relating to mopeds.
It is a pity that neighbourhood policing, which I agree with, has been reduced. I would like to see both the Mayor and the Government reconsider that decision. Neighbourhood policing at grassroots level is so important, because if crime is dealt with at the lowest level, that helps to stop it gathering pace at a higher level. I must say to the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes), however, that ward policing is nonsense. Wards are not communities or neighbourhoods; they are simply electoral blocks of certain numbers of voters. If we want genuine neighbourhood and community policing, it should be based on proper communities. That does not mean walled boundaries; it means that the police should deal with particular communities. The structure of neighbourhood policing in London needs to be properly rethought, so that we are dealing with genuine communities rather than just electoral blocks of voting areas. I do not think that has ever made any sense at all.
Moped crime has been prevalent in my constituency of Romford. During the general election, it was raised many times by constituents, and I was a victim of moped crime myself. My vehicle was parked in Collier Row in north Romford. Admittedly, it had election signage on it, but that is no excuse for the vicious assault that took place on my vehicle, which was smashed up by a local hooligan. I am not suggesting that it was political—
I have an alibi.
I would never accuse the hon. Gentleman of such activities. It was a hooligan, who was fortunately chased and caught by a member of my team. The police then arrested him, and he is now being prosecuted.
I was a victim of crime, and one of my staff has also recently been a victim of crime. People entered her home at four in the morning, with bats, in a residential area of Hornchurch. They threatened her family and stole her car and possessions. Frankly, the police handled it pretty badly. They did not get there quickly enough or deal with the trauma that that family went through. I could give lots of other examples.
We are seriously not getting moped crime right at all. It would appear that guidance is provided by the College of Policing, which is independent from the Government. The pursuit of motorcycles is not ruled out in all circumstances, but there are many factors to take into account, crucially by the individual officer taking the decision on the ground. The guidelines state that the vulnerability of the person on the moped is a serious consideration. I have to say that I am not concerned about the vulnerability of the criminal on the moped; I am concerned about my constituents who are being terrorised by the person on the moped. Frankly, if the guidelines advise the police to worry about the criminal, rather than prioritise the innocent people, that has to change. I ask the Minister to look at that. The police should use their common sense, chase those people, apprehend them and tackle this crime head on. I think Operation Venice has been successful—there seems to have been a reduction in moped crime—but I would like it to be given greater prominence.
We are all London MPs, and a lot of political points have been made today, which I am not going to engage in. I am concerned about crime in London. There has been a spike, and we are seeing a lot of dissatisfaction and the closure of police stations. I totally oppose the closure of Hornchurch police station; I think that is ridiculous. I agree with the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green that there needs to be a physical, central point in every town where there is a police station so people can report crimes and talk to the police face to face. We do not necessarily need small community neighbourhood shops, which are usually closed and do not really have any relevance—I can see that they should be reduced—but towns such as Romford and Hornchurch need proper police stations so that people can see a visible police presence in their communities.
It is a pleasure to follow a fellow outer-London Member of Parliament, albeit from the wrong side of London.
I return to the central point that my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) made in her excellent opening speech, which is the need for the Government to find additional resources for policing in London. During the general election, I enjoyed regular debates with the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman). I remember beating him in every one. Despite the various Trumpian twists he added to his rhetoric today, I fear that he is on the wrong side of this argument and that his constituents and mine will recognise that.
In the public meeting, which the hon. Gentleman and the Minister could have turned up to, held by the chief superintendent in Harrow to give the people of Harrow the chance to reflect on the Mayor’s proposed response to the disastrous funding situation that London’s police face, we heard about the need for more resources for policing in London. In addition to the programme of police station closures, which everyone in the Chamber is familiar with, if there are no additional resources, 4,000 or possibly 5,000 police officers may be lost from London. That will have potentially devastating consequences for outer-London boroughs such as Harrow.
Since May 2010, when the present Prime Minister became Home Secretary in the new Government, Harrow has lost some 21.5% of its police officers and almost 80% of its police and community support officers. Of the original 513 police officers, 173 are no longer in post—a 34% reduction in policing in Harrow. It is therefore no surprise to my constituents that they are seeing a substantial increase in knife crime—up 36% in the past year alone. Knife crime with injury is up almost 60% in the past 12 months alone in Harrow. I hope hon. Members representing inner-London seats will forgive me for saying that those are the sort of statistics that my constituents might have associated with an inner-London borough in past times.
The hon. Member for Harrow East is right to say that there is significant fear of crime in Harrow. My constituents are concerned about the consequences of a lack of additional funding for the Metropolitan police and the possibility that all police stations in Harrow will close. I gently say to the Minister that in the 13 years that I represented Pinner and Hatch End, which is now in his constituency, Pinner police station was always under threat of closure, but as a Member of Parliament I fought to keep it open, and succeeded. He has the means, and potentially the resources, to keep it open. His constituents in Pinner and Hatch End—my former constituents—and I will be interested to hear how he intends to keep Pinner police station open.
My prime concern is what will happen to Harrow police station as a whole. As the hon. Member for Harrow East rightly said, the custody command across the Metropolitan police was centralised as a result of previous efforts to save resources. Harrow’s custody suite is under threat of closure. CID officers will inevitably shift to Colindale or Wembley if the three-way borough merger has to take place because of police funding cuts. The key thing that Labour Members want to hear from the Minister is that he has developed some cojones and is going to demand extra police resources for London from the Chancellor. Without more resources, I fear that there will be more substantial cuts to police numbers in Harrow and, as a result, a further increase in crime.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. As a London MP, I, like many Members from both sides of the House, have campaigned to protect police funding across London. It is right that MPs and Assembly Members continue to do so, and it is right that the Mayor is a leading voice in that campaign. However, the Mayor needs to ensure that his discretionary choices in his budget match up to his rhetoric and his ask of central Government. As we have heard, he has choices that he can make in other budgets and he has significant usable reserves. He removed £38 million from the budget this year, which is roughly equivalent to the amount that would be needed to bring police numbers up to his target of 32,000. The previous Mayor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), identified a funding gap a good few years ago and campaigned about it. He also planned for it—the Met has been planning since 2015. I am sure that if the roles were reversed, Labour would be attacking the Mayor rather than looking at central Government.
We have heard about the up-tick in knife crime and gun crime against a similar financial background to the one seen under the previous Mayor. We have also heard about the proliferation of new types of crime—acid attacks and moped crime. I will not go into more detail about that, because others have done so already.
I am concerned about the proposed station closures, too, but partly for operational reasons. Worcester Park has a shop front, as my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) said. I am concerned that the travel times for safer neighbourhood teams, which have to come from central Sutton to get to their areas, are included in their shift times—they have a centralised meeting—which takes time out of their time on the beat. That is worrying.
We heard a bit about three-borough mergers. I am particularly concerned about that, because a proposal to merge Sutton with Croydon and Bromley is being looked at, but a linear settlement like that would have a huge effect on response times. We know how difficult it is to get across London, as opposed to in and out.
I commend the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) for her work on police safety. In a previous debate that she secured, I talked about the use of spit guards and about the equipment that police need. I do not want the funding issues to prevent the police from having the equipment they need to do their job properly. The Mayor of London is no longer a lawyer representing people making claims against the police. He represents Londoners, including victims of crime, potential victims of crime and the police officers on the frontline. It is important that we support them. I conclude by thanking Sutton police, who provide a fantastic service and keep Sutton one of the safest boroughs in London.
I call Sir Ed Davey—very briefly.
When we have had an enforced sabbatical from this place and then come back, we sometimes see issues from a fresh perspective. Last time I was here, crime was going down despite reductions in police budgets. The situation has changed dramatically in the past few years. Crime figure tables are all going red; the figures are all going the wrong way, and they are for nasty, violent crimes.
Gun, knife and acid crime are up. Homicides and youth homicides are up—an 84% increase in youth homicide in the past year. That is not an “up-tick” in crime, as the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) just described it. It is serious and we have to treat it as such.
There has been a lot of point scoring today, which is rather depressing. Who is to blame? We are all to blame. We have all got to take this seriously. We cannot say, “Oh, it’s only a small increase in crime.” If we carry on this way, if police cuts continue year on year as they are scheduled to do, with another £400 million taken out of police funds, that will be a disaster for Londoners.
Given that I have a very short time in which to speak, I say to colleagues and to the Front Benchers, who will have a nice long time to speak: please come together for the sake of our capital. Let us deal with this serious epidemic, which will get worse if we do not take action. We can talk about the problems in our constituencies, which are all serious—office closures, the restructuring that will hit response times, the problem with mopeds and so on—but we have to come together and act very quickly.
We have to reverse the police cuts. We have to reverse the cuts to community police. We have to restore something that meant that, only a few years ago, we were really on top of the issues. Now, it looks like we are struggling. The criminals are getting away with it. We have to act fast.
It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray.
I come to the debate with a slight impediment in that I do not represent any of the London boroughs—
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I will get under way first, but I will allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene in a few moments, if that is okay.
I felt myself becoming more of an expert as I listened to the debate. Everyone has spoken with passion about the police force and the importance of policing in their area. That is to their credit. In particular, I thank the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) for securing the debate. It is an important one—that is clear from our dialogue—and as the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) said, it is important that parties come together to work on pragmatic solutions.
I pay tribute to the police throughout the United Kingdom. Every day they keep us safe in the face of real danger, the scourge of terrorism in particular, which has affected us in this House as well as people elsewhere in the UK. The police do a remarkable job, wherever they are in the UK, and we should always take that into account.
I wholeheartedly agree with what the hon. Lady is saying, but I add with no disrespect to her that this is a debate about police funding in London. Not all London MPs have had the chance to speak because of the lack of time. Is it not an absurdity to have a Scottish MP taking up time that could have been used by London MPs?
Order. That remark is completely out of order. The fact of the matter is that the Scottish National party is the third party in this House. It and the Labour party have the right to wind up the debate, no matter what it may be about.
Thank you for the clarification, Mr Gray. We are the third party, and policing is extremely important in Scotland. There are many commonalities in the issues that we face. I feel that it is extremely important and would be adult of the House to share best practice, rather than to denigrate what other Members are doing to improve their services.
Today we have had a lot of to-ing and fro-ing about who is or is not to blame. From my perspective, it is clear that we have to share the responsibility. Funding is obviously an issue, as it is right across the United Kingdom, and responsibility must be taken for that. Within that responsibility, further decisions need to be taken about the funding available. That is why we must ensure that evidence-based policing practice is effective and that we do not end up with the postcode lottery of services that has been described today.
We have heard a lot about important issues, the 101 service in particular. For goodness’ sake, that is crucial—it is our line to the police. Are there any data that the Minister will provide about the 101 service? Are calls being taken? Where do the issues lie? What can be done to address that? There is also the upsurge in moped and knife crime—in violent crime in particular. That must be addressed, because we are talking about our communities feeling safe, about our response and about ensuring that people feel that they can go about their daily business in a democracy where crime is taken very seriously and responded to on the same serious note.
We heard from many hon. Members who spoke passionately about their constituencies. The hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) spoke about constituents’ fears of crime. The hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound)—an honourable friend, if I may say so—spoke eloquently about the importance of facilities for policing and the presence of police stations being vital. We will not forget his speech in a hurry. The hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) spoke about the importance of multi-year settlements, with which I think we would all agree, because a longer-term strategy on policing is required. The hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) spoke poignantly about her constituency, the impact of knife crime and innovative ways forward through joint policing and community initiatives. We also heard from the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) about response times across London being important, alongside the equipment to do the job.
We have heard many contributions today, and what I take from them is that we all need to work together to ensure that policing in London and outwith London—we heard from some MPs from outer-London areas, and I might consider myself from an outer-London area—
A long way out of London!
I am indeed a long way out of London. Nevertheless, policing is fundamental to my constituents, as it is to those of the hon. Gentleman.
In terms of Scottish government, the main issue that I wish to raise is the importance—
Order. The hon. Lady must restrict her remarks to police funding in London; policing in Scotland is nothing whatever to do with this debate.
Okay. In terms of policing across the United Kingdom—
Order. The hon. Lady must restrict herself to policing in London—not in the UK or in Scotland, but in London.
There are shared issues, Mr Gray, but I will say in conclusion that there are issues of police custody, which is an issue for London as well as elsewhere—certainly my constituents and others have spoken about this. As other hon. Members have mentioned, the police find it difficult when people with mental health issues come into custody; they might be unwell mentally and require hospital services. It is important that police in London and elsewhere have a strategy so that they can work with other services such as the NHS to ensure that those in need and on the frontline who are unwell can access services.
Finally, there is consensus right across the Chamber that local policing is vital—local policing in London and outwith London—as has been spoken about by Members from outer-London boroughs and elsewhere. We are talking about the impact on feeling safe. It is not just about the number of police, but about ensuring that we have police stations. Being able to see the police and police stations locally and throughout our communities is vital. That is a view that all parties share and I want to hear the Minister’s.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) on securing this important debate.
Crime, the fear of crime and the fear of the criminal subculture cast a shadow over too many Londoners and too many families in London. Government Members tell us that crime levels are flat or even falling, and perhaps the Minister will try telling us that too. But the statistics show that the crimes that people are most frightened of in London are on the rise: robbery, all sexual offences including rape, gun crime and knife crime. On knife crime, I am sure that colleagues regularly visit their borough commander, as I do. My borough commander recently showed me a display cabinet of the knives that the police have had to confiscate—horrible knives that are designed not to peel an apple but to eviscerate people.
Indeed. Hate crimes are also on the rise. Hate crime is of particular interest to me for many reasons but particularly because I have one of the largest Hasidic Jewish communities in the country.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that all aspects of hate crime are recorded? As it stands, disability hate crime is not thoroughly recorded and we can no longer assess the impact of hate crime towards disabled people.
I entirely agree.
Hasidic Jews feel particularly vulnerable because they are highly visible when they go about their daily lives. I would appreciate the opportunity to meet the Minister to talk about the specific issues that they face, which they do not think are dealt with by the current Government-funded activities.
We have also seen a steep rise in cyber-crime—a type of crime that comes into people’s homes. It is not a crime that people can guard against by being careful where they go and who they meet; it can come into the homes of victims, whether they are an elderly person or a child being groomed online.
There has been a spike in such crimes, but we have also seen a rise—not necessarily reflected in the crime statistics—in the police having to intervene and be involved in mental health issues; local government cuts mean that the police are increasingly the social service of first resort. I have met police constables concerned about the increasing need for them to intervene in mental health issues where they do not feel that they necessarily have the powers or expertise.
Contrary to what Ministers may say, the crimes that people are most frightened of are rising in London. I also referenced a fear of crime and of the criminal subculture: too many mothers in London are terrified that their young sons will be caught up in that. There are many issues around that, including education, but we need a properly resourced and funded police force, and neighbourhood policing that can effectively disrupt some of that gang activity.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that we cannot police our way out of all those problems, including youth crime and hate crime, and that other public services have a vital role to play. However, does she agree that, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies showed, all the additional policing that was built up before 2010 has now been removed? We have gone too far in reducing our police service in London.
We have indeed gone too far in reducing policing levels. The idea that the police can do more with less is a pretty vapid idea at the best of times, but the spike in issues of such concern to Londoners shows that we have certainly gone too far in bringing down police levels.
Boroughs such as mine are putting very large sums of money into the police. The Mayor is doing his best—he raised the precept and was criticised for it. In contrast, the Government have made the Mayor fund the police pay rise out of existing budgets. Is that not just adding insult to injury?
Far be it from me to be unnecessarily partisan, but the Government have made a great song and dance about raising the pay cap for the police but they have not funded that. In London alone, it will cost the Metropolitan police £13.7 million to meet that pay rise. The Government should not take credit for lifting the pay cap for the police if they are not prepared to fund it.
My hon. Friends have spoken about the figures, but they are worth repeating. The central Government police grant for the Met was £1.15 billion in 2010-11, but £864 million in 2016-17—a £250 million cut. The Minister may argue that police funding has increased, based on additional funding outside the central Government grant, but overall, taking all allocations, funding for the Met has fallen in a straight line from £2.004 billion in 2014-15 to £1.708 billion in 2017-18.
If the Minister does not believe me—I would be shocked, but perhaps he does not—he should listen to the police. The Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan police, Craig Mackey, has said that,
“the whole of the Met, not just counter-terrorism policing, needs more funds.”
Ministers can come to the House and pretend that there is not an issue with funding or with police numbers, but the people on the ground know better. Not only have we seen a spike in the crimes that Londoners are most fearful of, but the sanction detection rate—the number of cautions and charges—has fallen by 10,000. There is more crime but less police action.
I support what hon. Members have said about the issues with funding. It will not do for people to try to pretend that this is somehow the Mayor’s fault, and it will not impress Londoners. In the end, these funding issues are for the Government, and Londoners take them extremely seriously. The issues cast a shadow over people’s lives, whether they are the victims of crime or they have to see family members caught up in crime.
The Government have no greater responsibility than keeping people safe; keeping people safe is our most important responsibility as lawmakers. This Government, with their de facto cuts in funding to the Metropolitan police, have let down Londoners on crime. Londoners want less talk about fighting crime and about law and order; they want this Government to put their money where their mouth is. When the Budget comes next month, they want to hear news of sustainable funding for the Met that meets the increased demands on it. Londoners want less playing around with figures and more actual cash. Their lives, liberties and happiness depend on it.
It is a huge pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I join others in congratulating the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) on securing this timely and important debate.
I speak as a London MP; I have the privilege of representing constituents in Harrow and Hillingdon. My constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), was quite right to point out that few things matter more to our constituents than their sense of safety. I would add that few things matter more to the future of this incredible city than maintaining its reputation as a safe place to live and work, but this debate is important because there is change that we have to address, as the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) rightly said.
Commissioner Cressida Dick, who, in her own words, is no shroud waver, quite rightly reminded us in a speech last week that we still live and work in one of the safest cities in the world. She pointed out that London’s homicide rate is still half that of New York, despite everything that has been done in that city to bear down on homicides. The Economist safe cities index recently made it clear that London remains one of the safest cities in Europe. My hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) pointed out that the long-term trend of people’s experience of crime, which we measure through the crime survey for England and Wales, continues to fall, and recorded crime in London is, on 2017, down 3%. But—and it is a big but—in recent years it has become clear that the threat to public safety has changed. Demand on the police has changed, and it has grown.
We have not talked much about terrorism. We have lived with the risk of terrorism in London for all of my life, but it has evolved and arguably escalated. Crime is changing, most obviously in terms of what is now digital and cyber-enabled. Arguably, the front line of the battle against crime in my constituency is not necessarily on the streets of Ruislip, but in the drawing rooms and bedrooms where computers are being used. That is part of the modern challenge of policing that we have to adapt to. As many have pointed out, we have to contemplate the fact that there is a significant increase in recorded crime in London.
Will the Minister give way?
I will not give way, because the hon. Lady did not have the courtesy to turn up for the beginning of the debate.
The increase in recorded crime is not all bad news, in the sense that, as the Office for National Statistics makes quite clear, it reflects that the police are better at recording crime and people are feeling more confident to come forward in areas that had been murky and complex before. However, undeniably, there is an increase in demand in some worrying areas, which are increasingly complex for the police to police. The right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) was eloquent, as I would expect, about the culture: the worrying, shocking, callous attitude to violence that underpins some of the violent crime that shocks us across the city, and not just in inner London but in outer boroughs, as my hon. Friend the Member for Romford was eloquent in pointing out.
When the threat changes we have to adapt, and when I say “we”, I mean we: not just parties, central Government, local government and all the statutory agencies, but also the private sector and civil society. This is a shared challenge that we have to meet together to understand what is going on—to be frank, in some areas we do not have a good enough understanding—and to ensure we have the right strategy, the right level of resilience and the right resources in the right areas.
In terms of resources to the police, let us state an old, stubborn truth: we live in very constrained times. That is the political reality of the situation. Within that, the Home Secretary and I will have made it clear that we will continue to ensure that the police have the resources they need to do the job, but we will continue to challenge them to modernise and be more efficient and effective, not least in embracing the power of technology to improve the interface that our constituents have with them, but also to help them be more effective in their work. We do that not just because we have responsibilities to the taxpayer, but because we want the Met to be the best police force in the world. That requires a culture of continuous improvement, which is the hallmark of every successful organisation I have observed.
When we look at the Met’s performance—we would not want to let evidence get in the way of a good bit of shroud-waving from the Opposition—the evidence is this. If we compare its performance in 2008 to 2017, we see that in 2017 there were 100,000 fewer recorded crimes and the same number of police officers. The number of police officers in London is by far and away the highest per head of population in the country, at 359 per 100,000, compared with 252 in Merseyside and an average across the country of 200. There are fewer crimes and the same number of police officers, in a police system that costs the taxpayer almost £700 million less than it did in 2008.
The right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington said it was a vapid idea that the police could do more with less; the Metropolitan police has proved otherwise. In that respect, I pay tribute to Commissioner Dick. As she has said:
“I won’t be waving a shroud, I will be just be giving my professional advice. I think we can make some further savings. I am confident that the Met at the end of my commissionership might be smaller but could be as effective, if not more effective, through amongst other things the use of technology and different ways of working.”
That is the leadership we need to see, not least from the largest force in England and Wales.
I do not want to misrepresent Commissioner Dick, who is clear that she wants more resource, as does every police force in the country, but when it comes to funding, let us be clear and present the facts. The Metropolitan police’s budget for 2017-18 is £2.8 billion, up from £2.7 billion in 2015-16. According to the last figures I have, the Met sits on reserves of £240 million, which is 10% of cash funding. The Mayor, who has been the subject of a healthy ding-dong here, was sitting on total un-ring-fenced reserves of £2.3 billion in 2016. To be fair to the Mayor, by stripping out what he has borrowed, he is still sitting on unrestricted resource reserves of about £300 million. There are choices in this process.
The hon. Gentleman is the only Member I will give way to, because he has been here since the start and he has not had a chance to speak.
I thank the Minister for giving way. He will know that reserves are not a way to fund ongoing revenue costs. Will he reply specifically on the issue of the £346 million it costs to fund the Met’s work to police our global capital? The Government currently short-change London by £172 million. Will he at least try to address that point?
I do not recognise the hon. Gentleman’s point on reserves, because I think the police system is sitting on about £1.6 billion of public money in reserves and we deserve greater transparency and accountability about how that money is intended to be spent. I also do not recognise his other numbers.
What I do recognise is that demand on the police is changing, and we are very sensitive to the stretch and strain that the police are feeling. I am coming to the closing process of speaking to or visiting every single police force in England and Wales. When I visit forces, I make sure I speak to frontline officers with the boss out of the room, and the message could not be clearer: “We are as stretched as we ever have been.” That is recognised, and we are absolutely sensitive to that. However, the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) made was the right one. All the shroud-waving about future savings and loss of police numbers ignores the fact that the Government have not taken a final decision on the funding settlement for 2018-19. That is the point of the review I am leading, which is looking at demand, resilience, scope to make further efficiencies and reserve strategy, so that we take decisions based on evidence rather than assertion. The proposal we make for the 2018-19 funding settlement will come to the House in the new year, in due course.
Does the Minister, as an outer-London MP, agree that wherever resources are coming from—whether central Government or the Mayor of London—outer-London boroughs always get the raw end of the deal? We do not get the resources we need. Something has to be done to change the system so that boroughs such as Hillingdon, Sutton and Havering get a fairer share of the cake.
I am obviously sensitive to that, because that is a voice I hear in Harrow and Hillingdon, and I will continue to represent that view. Our job is to ensure that the Met has got the resources it needs. We live in an environment where the Met and the Mayor are accountable for where those resources are allocated, and it is our job to hold them to account and ensure scrutiny.
I want to reinforce that we will continue to ensure that the Met is properly resourced, but we will continue to push it to be more effective and efficient—something on which there was total silence from those on the Labour Benches, because they are not interested in efficiency on behalf of the taxpayer.
With respect to the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound), I will give way to the Front-Bench spokesperson.
On the question of efficiency and the use of technology, in my view no technology can substitute for actual local policemen engaging in actual neighbourhood policing. That is why it is so important to keep police numbers in London up.
I totally understand the right hon. Lady’s point. I am sure she will be aware that, in the Met business plan 2017-18, it is ring-fencing 1,700 officers for neighbourhood policing. I made the point that protection of police budgets has meant that London has by far and away the highest number of police officers per head of population of any part of the country, and quite rightly. On the point about productivity, what the police complain about is lack of time. She will know that there is an opportunity, not least through mobile working, to transform the productivity of warranted officers.
I want to re-emphasise that of course the issue of police resources matters a great deal, but in facing the challenges we do, this cannot be just about the police. Therefore, when I am looking at our modern crime prevention strategy and what we are doing to tackle knife crime, moped crime, acid attacks, cybercrime, terrorism, domestic violence and modern slavery—I pay tribute to the Evening Standard for raising awareness of that terrible crime in London—there is a common thread about the Government taking clear action but seeking to work closely with other stakeholders, whether they be retailers, technology companies or charities much closer to the people we are trying to help.
I close by paying tribute, as some others have, to the bravery and professionalism of the police. It was not that long ago that PC Keith Palmer made the ultimate sacrifice on the cobbles just the other side of that wall. When we look at Parsons Green, London Bridge and Grenfell, we are genuinely humbled by their professionalism and bravery. It is not just those high-profile incidences. As the hon. Member for Ealing North said, anyone who has visited the citation awards in our constituencies knows that every day, in every borough, police officers and other emergency services are taking risks on our behalf. It is quite right that we thank them appropriately and make sure that they have the support they need.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).