To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the sustainability of the current level of funding available for police forces in England and Wales.
My Lords, the Government have protected police spending since 2015. We know that crime is changing, and Ministers are sensitive to current pressures on policing. The Policing Minister is therefore undertaking a programme of engagement with the police to understand the impact of changing demands.
That is a very complacent response. Does the noble Baroness understand the concerns expressed by Chief Superintendent Gavin Thomas, president of the Police Superintendents’ Association, when he says that a “perfect storm” is developing in policing, with staff cuts, new threats and a rise in crime, and with half of senior officers showing signs of mental ill-health as a result? Does she recognise the concerns expressed by her Conservative colleagues who are police and crime commissioners? For example, the PCC in Avon and Somerset says that that force is pushed to its limits, and in Bedfordshire the position is considered to be unsustainable. When crime figures were falling, the Prime Minister’s view was that police numbers could fall too. Does the Minister now accept that the logic of that view is that, now that the latest figures show a 13% increase in crime, the Chancellor should make substantial resources available for policing in next month’s Budget?
My Lords, first, there has been an overall fall in total crime. PCC funding, which the noble Lord mentioned, is now over £11 billion—up £150 million from 2015-16. Total police funding, excluding counterterrorism funding, is up to £8.5 billion from £8.4 billion. Therefore, as I said in my first Answer, resourcing has remained flat. Of course, if the police maximise the precept, most police forces will have a slight increase in funding.
My Lords, does the Minister think that it is a sensible policy to agree and announce an increase in police pay per officer but to have no increase in the overall budget? That does not seem to me to provide a sustainable funding programme.
My Lords, for the past couple of years, I have listened to calls for increases in police pay, particularly in light of the attacks in Westminster and across the country and the pressures on police staff. The increase in police pay is counterbalanced by the huge amount of reserves that the police hold—some £1.7 billion at the moment. The police do have a decision to make about where they deploy their resources and how they use reserves.
My Lords, the HMIC report published this week found that police forces are having difficulty finding the resources to investigate human trafficking and modern slavery. That goes against everything that was promised in this House during the passage of the Modern Slavery Act. Will the Government commit to providing the additional funding, specifically to allow police forces thoroughly to investigate these appalling crimes, which are often highly complex and very resource intensive?
The noble Baroness is absolutely right that these sorts of crimes are incredibly complex. I pay tribute to the police for dealing with them, because the Modern Slavery Act 2015 is now having a real impact. We are seeing the first convictions for the new offences prosecuted under that Act, and at least 56 slavery and trafficking prevention and risk orders to restrict offender activity are now in place.
My Lords, in view of the fact that funding is very important so far as the police are concerned, many people are becoming increasingly concerned about the way in which the resources are spent. Apart from detection of crime and the work at the sharp end of that matter, police are often involved in community projects of one kind or another where many people feel they should not be involved, or at least not to the extent that they now appear to be. Can we please have a further emphasis on the need to concentrate those important resources on the detection of crime?
My Lords, the police will deploy their resources in the area that they think is most important in their communities. The police have always been operationally independent of government and it is vital that that continues. They are best placed to make those decisions. We understand the pressures that the police and PCCs are under. That is why my right honourable friend in the other place, the Minister for Policing, is engaging with local forces to make sure that they have the resources and the capability that they need.
Will the Minister confirm not only the operational independence of the police but the fact that community relationships with the police are an essential component of crime detection?
I totally agree with the noble Lord—clearly, he has vast experience in this area. That trust between police and local communities is absolutely vital.
My Lords, the Minister will recall that in the police evidence to the Victoria Climbié inquiry, reference was made to the fact that, once pressure is on the police, there is a tendency to reduce the resources in the police child protection teams. Can the Minister assure the House that child protection and the well-being of children, and in particular good partnership with children’s services and local government, will remain a priority for the Government?
Well, it is certainly a priority for the noble Lord, and it is too for the Government. That work in partnership is incredibly important. In funding for this area, because we know that it remains a great concern, we have provided more than £20 million over three years to help combat the online grooming of children for sexual exploitation, and we have awarded £1.9 million to the College of Policing to transform the police’s approach to vulnerability.