I spoke in today’s debate on the Police Grant Report to highlight the need for greater government investment and support for our police. Here’s my speech in full:
I, like other hon. Members, begin by paying tribute to the often unsung, much unseen and extraordinary work of our police throughout the pandemic. It goes without saying that the bravery and dedication of officers in my local force, and other forces throughout the country—my local force, and the local force of my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), the shadow Home Secretary, is Gwent police—is in evidence 24/7, 365 days a year, even in normal times.
However, the new challenges of the pandemic have only put additional strain on the frontline. The option of staying at home to keep safe was never a possibility for frontline officers, who have continued to put themselves in harm’s way to protect and serve the public. All forces have had to deal with staff shortages as a result of the pandemic, and police officers, who so often have to enter homes and non-socially distanced spaces, as well as dealing with disgraceful assaults, including spitting, are still waiting to receive a vaccine. The hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) made an important point about the impact of assaults.
Despite all this, that deeply ingrained, selfless commitment to keeping us all safe has never wavered. On behalf of my constituents, I want to convey heartfelt thanks to all our police officers and staff. We value you and we support you.
It is important to re-emphasise the context of the Government cuts that loom large over today’s debate on police spending. Between 2010 and 2020, 21,000 police officers were cut, as were 16,000 police staff and over 6,000 PCSOs. Gwent police saw its budget reduced by over 40% over the course of the decade, leading to a loss of 350 frontline officers and 200 members of staff.
Today, the police workforce has nearly 24,000 fewer personnel than in 2010, and it is important to point out that the loss of PCSOs in Wales was only offset by the Welsh Labour Government, who of course have no jurisdiction over policing, stepping in to fund 500 PCSOs when the UK Government cuts came into effect, and we thank them for that.
Although the introduction of the police officer uplift programme was a belated recognition from Ministers of the impact of their cuts, the scheme goes nowhere near far enough to address the damage caused by a decade of ideological austerity that undermined our police forces. The police grant for 2021-22 promises an increase of £636 million on last year’s settlement. However, analysis reveals that there is a £2.2 billion real-terms gap in the central Government funding formula grant and a £1.6 billion real-terms gap in overall funding compared with 2010-11.
The 2021-22 provisional settlement does not remedy the past disinvestment in policing, nor does it fully address existing and future pressures, such as pay awards for existing police officers and staff or increases in things such as national ICT costs from the Home Office. Even after taking account of rises in central Government revenue grant funding over the 2020 to 2022 financial years to deliver the uplift programme, the overall cash reduction in central Government revenue grant funding across England and Wales stands at around 12%. When the effect of inflation and pay awards is built in, the real reduction is actually around 25% over the past 12 years.
During that time, policing demand has become considerably more complex and labour-intensive, with the challenges of cyber-crime and new outlets for serious and organised crime. Officers, having so often become the service of first resort in protecting the most vulnerable in society, feel that, too.
Despite these enormous pressures, Gwent maintained one of the highest spends on neighbourhood policing of any police force in the country. The force began recruiting again as soon as it could, and it has continued to add new officers to the ranks. That may not have been possible if our local police and crime commissioner, Jeff Cuthbert, had not stepped in and made the difficult decision to increase the policing precept for local residents. On current financial forecasts, by 2024-25 council tax payers in Gwent will fund over half of the net budget of Gwent police, thereby becoming the majority stakeholders. Is this the Government’s strategic funding direction for policing? Local PCCs should not have to plug the gap of Home Office failings.
Furthermore, the precept increases alone have not been able to keep pace with the unavoidable expenditure increases each year. As a result, in the past 11 years, Gwent police have been forced to deliver savings. Even with the £4.2 million extra funding from Government for the police officer uplift programme, Gwent police will still need to deliver further budget savings as they look to address a funding deficit that could rise to £3.5 million by 2026. All forces will face a similar or even more daunting outlook. The fact that police forces are still grappling with this painful balancing act shows that central Government are still not meeting the challenge of properly resourcing our police.
Another example of this failure is the woefully inadequate Home Office capital grant. Gwent’s capital grant from the Home Office will be £120,000. When we consider that spending on the fleet replacement programme alone amounts to £1.4 million and the total capital programme, including estate and information and communications technology upgrades, amounts to £18.7 million, the grant looks all the more paltry. This of course means increased pressure on both revenue budgets and reserve funds.
Then there is the issue of pensions. Following the re-evaluation of public sector pension schemes in 2016, Gwent police’s specific pension grant from the Home Office remains flat at 2019-20 levels. This results in a £1.7 million shortfall for the next financial year, as the pension liability has increased in the intervening years while Government spending has not.
As many have said, the work of the police is often unsung, but this should not mean that our police are undervalued too. We really need to see a long-term strategy on funding that addresses the current and evolving challenges that our police face. Otherwise there is a real risk that this year’s police grant will just be another short-term sticking plaster over the wound of a decade of swingeing cuts. I do not doubt that Ministers value and support the work of our police, as we all do across this House, but warm words can only go so far. Our police have had a raw deal for too long and deserve better than they are getting from the Government.