I spoke in yesterday’s debate on the policing grant for England and Wales. Here’s my speech in full:
We have seen the Government again trumpet that this is the best police settlement for a decade, which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) quite rightly pointed out, is extremely rich, given that this is the decade when the Conservative party has been in power and has brought us some of the most drastic police cuts that we have seen.
In Gwent, which is similar to other forces across Wales, council tax payers are paying almost half the budget of Gwent police through the policing precept. No local force or police and crime commissioner wants to ask local taxpayers to pay more, but there has been little choice during the 10 years of Tory austerity. I have said this before, but it needs emphasising: Gwent police have seen their budget cut by a staggering 40% over the last decade. As my right hon. Friend rightly said, even with the extra cash, the damage of the last decade will not be reversed by the settlement. In Gwent, Operation Uplift will take officer levels only back to where they were in 2010, if that.
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 absolutely vital to the successful training and deployment of police officers. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) said, the loss of expertise, long service, skills and talent is keenly felt.
Today Gwent police, like other forces across the country, are still faced with uncertainty over their funding, particularly the long-term funding of new police officers under Operation Uplift. The 2020-21 settlement apparently includes the consequential costs of the programme—things such as cars, body armour, information and communications technology and uniforms—but provides no clarity about how this vital equipment will be funded in future years. This is a crucial omission, especially given that the bulk of the new officers will not be recruited until years two and three of the scheme.
We need clarity about the training for new officers and how it will be funded after the first year, and answers on the apprenticeship levy for Welsh forces. Gwent police and 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 the police and crime commissioners in Wales, including our local PCC, Jeff Cuthbert, the Home Office advised it would provide Welsh forces directly with their share of the levy from 2019, but Welsh forces have yet to see any of that money. I ask again: please will Ministers look into this and tell us what is going on?
I would also like the Government to provide more detail on the funding for police community support officers, who play such a vital and often unsung role. Across England and Wales, the number of PCSOs fell by almost 7,000 between 2010 and 2018. In Wales, their numbers would have been even harder hit, had not the Welsh Labour Government, who have no responsibility for policing, stepped in to fund 500 PCSOs. This is most welcome but it is yet another case of others having to step in to plug the gap left by the Home Office.
The Government still need to address the pensions issue, which others have raised. John Apter, the national chair of the Police Federation, has highlighted that the police funding formula needs to be revisited for future years to ensure a fairer allocation of officers across all forces. The underlying issue is that behind the headline announcements, the Government still have not produced a long-term plan for funding our police. Yes, we need more officers on the beat, but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham pointed out, we also need investment in police control rooms and custody suites, the Crown Prosecution Service, the courts, victims services and, crucially, the diversionary activities and targeted intervention to prevent people from committing crime in the first place. We also need to acknowledge the increasingly complex nature of policing, given the scale and complexity of new criminality, a lot of work on which goes unseen.
In the recent Opposition day debate on police, I cited the example of Gwent’s early action together team, which has transformed the way the force responds to children and vulnerable people. It has trained more than 1,300 officers to deal with complex vulnerability issues and offer families help and support at the earliest opportunity. It is the sort of scheme I am sure the Home Office would want to get behind, yet the police transformation fund, which has paid for that work, is to be cut. I urge Ministers to reconsider this decision for the sake of the vulnerable people whom this fund is potentially helping to turn away from crime and antisocial behaviour. This focused early potential should be funded at a national level.
Any increase in funding for our police forces is welcome—of course I welcome any increase in police resources—but this settlement does not go far enough and is defined by short-termism. The Government now need to concentrate their efforts on devising a long-term strategy for police funding. Like other hon. Members, I pay tribute to Gwent’s officers and admin staff, as well as Chief Constable Pam Kelly and PCC Jeff Cuthbert, both of whom were in Newport East on Friday, for the amazing, often unseen work they do, day in, day out and under great pressure, in order to keep us safe. I spoke at much greater length in a debate a few weeks ago about their work on serious and organised crime in Newport East. Let us never forget, though, the impact of the Government’s cuts over the last decade on the stress levels and workload of existing police staff. That should never be underestimated.