Lord Harris: Government complacency and budget cuts have created a crisis in policing
With crime rates rising, the logic should be that next month’s budget ought to see increasing funds available to Police and Crime Commissioners, rather than further cuts, says Lord Harris of Haringey.
A few days ago a Detective Sergeant called Sheila Fogarty’s LBC radio show and confessed that she had just resigned from the Police Service because she no longer has the resources to do the job properly and serve the public in the way she believes is necessary. In particular, the caller described having to decide which of two children at risk could be protected on a particular day and which of those cases could wait.
Last week also saw the official publication of crime figures in the twelve months up to June, showing a 13% increase compared with the year before in all police-recorded offences across England and Wales. Murder (even after excluding the deaths from terrorist attacks and the Hillsborough deaths which for technical reasons would otherwise be included) showed a 13% increase, following rises of 5% and 7% in the two previous years. And violence against the person offences rose by 19% in the last year.
The Office of National Statistics commented:
"Today's figures suggest that the police are dealing with a growing volume of crime. While improvements made by police forces in recording crime are still a factor in the increase, we judge that there have been genuine increases in crime – particularly in some of the low incidence but more harmful categories."
This is the context for my Oral Question in the House of Lords this morning asking the Government what assessment they have made of the sustainability of the current level of funding available for police forces in England and Wales.
There are now 21,500 fewer police officers than when there was last a Labour Government. The Prime Minister, when she was Home Secretary, always trumpeted that the statistics that suggested that crime was falling meant that policing needed less funding and the public could manage with fewer police officers.
That trend is now reversing, so the logic is that next month’s budget ought to see an increase in the money available to Police and Crime Commissioners, rather than the additional cuts projected. Certainly, that is what PCCs feel is necessary. Peter McCall, the Conservative PCC for Cumbria has warned that any further cuts would make his Force “unsustainable” and Sue Mountstevens, the PCC for Avon and Somerset (another Conservative) says her Force has “been pushed to its limit” and “we’re being asked to save another £20 million and that cannot be done in the light of where we are right now.”
Meanwhile the public continue to expect more from their police and the Home Office load more responsibilities on to the service. At the same time, the capacity of other public services to provide complementary services that would help reduce the pressure on the police is being eroded.
The Government is increasingly complacent about the crisis that is now developing in policing (and indeed other public services) as a result of year after year of budgetary reductions and real terms cuts in pay to staff. It would be good to hear a Home Office Minister acknowledging the scale of the problems being faced – and even better if in next month’s budget, the Chancellor provided some substantial extra resources for policing.
Lord Harris of Haringey is a Labour peer in the House of Commons