I spoke during this week’s Opposition Day debate on policing to highlight concerns on future funding and resources for Gwent and Welsh police forces.
My speech is copied in full below:
Despite what the Minister said in his opening remarks, the Government’s announcement on police funding provides only limited clarity for forces for the next financial year and leaves serious questions to answer about the long-term strategy for funding our forces. We need a long-term strategy for funding our forces, after years of hard cuts and the impact that they have had on our communities—communities that need to see more police on the beat, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) said so eloquently. I pay tribute to her for not only her speech but the work that she does as chair of the excellent Youth Violence Commission.
While any new police officers are welcome—I say that having attended a number of passing out parades, often with my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones), to welcome new recruits in the last year to Gwent police—the Government’s Operation Uplift programme does not make amends for the 21,000 officers cut under Tory austerity since 2010. In Gwent, which saw its budget slashed by an eye-watering 40% in real terms over the last decade, the new recruitment programme will only take officer levels back to where they were in 2010, if that. That is not to mention the loss of civilian staff, whose work is often unseen.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) said, it was the Welsh Government who stepped in to fund 500 police community support officers in Wales when police numbers were cut. We need some answers from the Government about what funding will be made available to recruit, train, equip and locate these additional officers. As well as the loss of officers over the past decade, most forces have had to reduce their support departments, facilities and other functions that are vital to the successful training and deployment of police officers.
We still have no clarity on how these officers will be paid for after the initial three years of Government funding comes to an end. Is that because police forces will have to meet these costs from their own budgets and raise more money from local council tax payers, who have already been turned to frequently over recent years to plug the gap left by the central grant? It is time the Government addressed the issue of long-term funding. The question of pension costs is also outstanding and needs to be answered by the Government.
The Government announced funding to increase the uptake of Tasers, but the latest funding announcement only covers Taser equipment. Funding for training and other associated costs will need to be met from police forces’ own budgets. For forces such as Gwent, which has been forced to make £50 million of savings since 2008, that represents another significant financial commitment.
Welsh police forces are still being left in the dark over the apprenticeship levy. Gwent police and the other Welsh police forces have paid in excess of £2 million towards the apprenticeship levy each year since it was introduced in 2017. After pressure from our local police and crime commissioner, Jeff Cuthbert, and his counter- parts, the Home Secretary advised that it would provide Welsh forces directly with their share of the levy from 2019. However, Welsh forces have yet to see any of that money. Can Ministers look into that and tell us what is going on?
I would like to pay huge tribute to Gwent police officers and staff, including Chief Constable Pam Kelly, for all they do, and to our police and crime commissioner, Jeff Cuthbert, who is very active and responsive in our community. I am very aware of the impact that the Government’s cut of over 20,000 police officers has had on the wellbeing, stress levels and workload of all existing police staff—that should not be underestimated—and on our communities.
Despite that, Gwent Police deserves huge credit for its ongoing work in tackling serious violence and organised crime. This includes projects funded by the office of the police and crime commissioner and the Home Office that have delivered training to more than 400 partner organisations on county lines, gangs and violence, and delivered sessions to 5,500 pupils across Newport schools. Thanks also to organisations such as Positive Futures, Barnardo’s and the St Giles Trust for what they are doing in partnership to offer diversionary activities to young people. I have seen that work for myself in my constituency, and it is hugely valuable. We could do with some of the work by the violence prevention unit in south Wales going Wales-wide to help with young people in Newport.
We want greater investment in all areas—from educational and diversionary activities to prevent people from committing crimes in the first place to investment in police control rooms and custody suites, the Crown Prosecution Service, the courts and victims’ services. To give a local example, Gwent Police’s early action together team has transformed the way the force responds to children and vulnerable people. It has trained over 1,000 officers to deal with complex vulnerability issues and offers families help and support at the very earliest opportunity, yet the police transformation fund, which has paid for this work, is to be cut.
Our PCC has shown the benefit of this work in supporting vulnerable people away from potentially turning to a life of crime and antisocial behaviour. Our PCC has agreed to fund this work, but again, the police are in effect picking up the tab for locally based diversionary activities to keep young people out of the criminal justice system. I completely agree with Gwent Police that this focused early intervention should be funded at a national level and form part of the Government’s long-term spending plan.
Finally, 2020 marks two years since the passage of the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Halifax (Holly Lynch) and for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) for their determined efforts to push through this much-needed legislation on to the statute book. However, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax that we need the Government to be serious in enforcing the protecting the protectors law, as the number of assaults on officers is still far too high. Attacks on those who protect and care for us—that includes prison officers, NHS staff and firefighters—remain completely unacceptable and abhorrent, and we need to ensure that the legislation we have in place acts as the most effective deterrent possible.