In this week’s Opposition Day debate on police funding, I criticised the UK Government for their indefensible refusal to invest in our police forces.
Here is my contribution to the debate in full:
“I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate to highlight the urgent financial pressures facing our police forces. As the motion says, “central government funding to local police forces will fall in real terms for the eighth consecutive year in 2018-19”; there will be a “shortfall in funding for counter-terrorism policing”; and police numbers are at their lowest for decades, damaging community safety.
“I too pay tribute to my local police force, Gwent police. I know what an incredibly hard job they do on the frontline, and that they are doing all they can to adapt and rise to the new challenges under incredible financial strain. I was incredibly pleased to see a recent report by the inspector of constabulary and fire and rescue services that showed that Gwent has the highest estimated spending on neighbourhood policing of all 43 forces.
“As other Members have said, the Government have to be clear with the public on the police budget. That point has been echoed by the Gwent PCC, Jeff Cuthbert. The Prime Minister told the House that she was “not just protecting police budgets, but increasing them with an extra £450 million.” I hear today that the figure is £460 million. However, she left out the fact that, due to cuts, the additional money comes from raising taxes on local residents. That is what police and crime commissioners have been forced to do. In reality, the decision to continue the cash freeze on the funding for police forces amounts to a real-terms cut of at least £100 million.
“Locally, Gwent has seen its budget cut by 40% in real terms since 2010. That has meant the loss of about 350 frontline officers and 200 members of staff. The force is recruiting again. Indeed, I was pleased to join my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones) at a passing out parade just a few weeks ago. However, that has been possible only thanks to the force’s effective financial management, efficiency savings and annual increases in the local precept to maintain a flat-line budget. That budget will enable Gwent to maintain and protect its number of offices, but not to increase it substantially.
“Policing is obviously not devolved, but the Welsh Government have stepped up to the mark and funded 101 PCSOs for Gwent. Without that, we would have about 30. That is welcome obviously and yet another reason to be glad to have a Welsh Labour Government in Cardiff. However, we should not hide from the wider funding problem, which is clearly in the Government’s hands.
“This is a debate about money and resources, but what matters to my constituents is the human cost. The statistics show clearly that crime is increasing at the same time as central Government funding is shrinking. As our PCC said, the inevitable conclusion is that policing is under-resourced to deal with an escalating problem. We must bear in mind that cuts to other services have an impact on the police, who are often the backstop service. There are fewer resources to deal not only with proactive crime prevention, but with new types of complex crime such as cyber-crime and the demands of counter-terrorism. That makes the Government’s refusal to invest in our police forces indefensible. I hope that the Government reflect on this debate and urgently review their strategy on police funding.”