Police Grant Debate
On Wednesday 7th February, Stephen spoke in Parliament about the impact of central Government funding cuts on Merseyside Police.
You can watch Stephen's contribution above or read the speech below:
It is a pleasure to follow the powerful and passionate speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting).
I pay tribute to the dedication and professionalism of police officers and staff in my constituency and throughout Merseyside. I also thank our chief constable, Andy Cooke, and our excellent police and crime commissioner, Jane Kennedy, for their leadership during what has been a very challenging period. Since 2011, Merseyside police has been asked to make sizeable cuts to its budget. The force had already slashed £82 million from its annual budget, and it expects to have to make a further £18 million in cuts by 2021. Last year our chief constable warned that Merseyside police was reaching breaking point as budgets were “stretched to the limits”. He also issued a stark warning that further cuts in our police budget could result in some offences not being responded to at all. Merseyside has lost 1,700 police officers and staff since 2010. At the same time, the fire and rescue service in Merseyside has had its budget cut in half by the Government, and Liverpool City Council has faced some of the most savage funding cuts of any local authority.
Merseyside Police Federation tells me that the decreasing number of officers has led to an increase in single crewing, meaning that officers are forced to attend call-outs on their own. It tells me that three quarters of officers are “often or always” single crewed. This has an obvious and significant impact when dealing with certain categories of crime, as it affects the police’s ability to break up gangs or to arrest people in large groups.
The combination of budget cuts and rising crime has serious implications for my constituency. In just six months last year, there had already been more gun-related violence in Liverpool than during the whole of the previous year. Last weekend in my constituency, armed gangs broke into three separate properties and threatened residents with a shotgun, a machete and a hammer. The number of shootings has increased, with nine gun-related murders across Merseyside since 2014. Merseyside police has long been recognised around the country as one of the best police forces for tackling gun crime, but it says that it is stretched to the limit. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition rightly quoted our chief constable’s comments about this issue at today’s Prime Minister’s questions.
I want to speak briefly about an issue on which the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), has truly led: the scourge of scrambler bikes. It affects my constituency and others across Merseyside, and I have been working with our police and crime commissioner and the local force to try to tackle the problem. I welcome what the Minister said about the Home Office review, and I was pleased before Christmas to support the ten-minute rule Bill introduced by the hon. Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham), which seeks to give greater legal protections to emergency service workers, including police officers, who pursue people on scrambler bikes. I am pleased to report that yesterday Merseyside police crushed 300 confiscated or stolen scrambler bikes. However, the force and Jane Kennedy tell me that they need both the resources and the powers to do more to tackle this appalling scourge.
I want to finish by addressing what I think is a fundamental issue of social justice, and I apologise that in some ways I am repeating points that colleagues have made. Merseyside police relies on central Government to provide 81% of its funding. It raises just 19% of its funding through council tax. That is a major part of the reason why police forces in poorer areas such as Merseyside have been hit the hardest by funding cuts. We have some of the most deprived communities in the country, which not only brings particular policing challenges, but means that it is harder to raise extra money through the local precept.
Like other colleagues, I shall make the contrast with Surrey, because it is so stark. Surrey’s cuts to its central Government grant have been similar to those of Merseyside, but last year Surrey police was the only force in the country that raised more money locally than it received from Government. As it has a more affluent council tax base, Surrey loses less funding, even though it probably faces far fewer complex crimes than we on Merseyside. There is an inherent unfairness about this, as that fundamental issue affects areas with high levels of deprivation.
That brings me to the question of the precept for Merseyside police and the Minister’s announcement in December that Jane Kennedy, our police and crime commissioner, will be able to raise additional funding through the council tax. There will be no additional money from central Government, but money from Merseyside council tax payers. Jane has been consulting on this, and I expect to hear an announcement from her soon. I should make it clear that I support her proposed increase in the council tax.
Does my hon. Friend agree that his police and crime commissioner, like the PCC in Durham, has no choice in this?
My hon. Friend anticipates my point. My PCC has no choice, and of course similar challenges are facing the local authority, so my constituents, if the increase goes ahead, will pay not just 2% for the police, but 4% for the local authority, so there will be a 6% increase in council tax. That is no criticism of either the police and crime commissioner or the local authority, because it is the only way in which they can get the money that they need for policing, social care and other crucial local services.
To return to a point that my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) has raised, putting £12 on the council tax of band D properties raises more in some parts of the country than in others. The ability to raise more locally is regressive, as it compounds the existing inequality that I have described. Merseyside police has already had to make huge cuts, and that has undoubtedly affected its operational capability, as the chief constable has told us. I implore the Minister to work with Jane Kennedy and our chief constable to address this fundamental issue of social justice, because my constituents worry about crime and antisocial behaviour, especially when we are sadly seeing the return of significant levels of gun violence across Merseyside. The police desperately need additional resources, so I finish by echoing my hon. Friend the shadow Minister in urging the Minister to think again.