Why our brave police deserve more funding – Holly Lynch and Sarah Jones
Their response to some ugly scenes of public disorder has demonstrated once again their bravery, facing difficult and dangerous situations head-on.
Whilst new officers have been promised, the police have had to step up once again, despite the cuts over 10 years that, at one point, saw over 21,000 fewer police officers across the country.
Indeed, The Yorkshire Post reported that West Yorkshire Police (WYP) face a potential budget deficit of £30m next year on top of a real-terms reduction in direct funding of around £126m since 2010/11.
These cuts imposed by the Conservative government have seen 716 police officers, 159 PSCOs and many police staff roles cut from the force over 10 years up to 2019/20.
Despite some encouraging recent reductions, West Yorkshire is also grappling with some of the highest crime rates in the country.
Chief Constables, like West Yorkshire’s John Robins, are having to plan for the worst next year because of the uncertainty of funding where 70 per cent of the West Yorkshire’s budget is direct Government grant.
Despite a Government promise to recruit extra police officers, the pressures on other parts of police budgets are so great, on top of the additional costs of Covid, that there is a real risk police staff jobs will have to be cut.
When we relayed the clear concerns of Chief Constables to Kit Malthouse, the Policing Minister, in the House of Commons on this, his response was a smug and patronising reply, insisting that we must have misunderstood unless we were telepathic. His arrogance was breath-taking.
There are three glaring problems that our forces are having to grapple with. The first is the extra money the police have had to spend during Covid. The Government has given no guarantees that they will get the money back.
A leaked letter from Home Office Minister, Kit Malthouse, revealed that £84m was diverted from the police recruitment budget to pay for Covid costs.
But even after exchanges in Parliament from the Labour front bench, and a letter from the Shadow Home Secretary and Police and Crime Commissioners, the Home Office has still not outlined whether the money will be returned.
Second, while the majority of funding comes from central government, a third of policing budgets come via Police and Crime Commissioners – through Police Council Tax precepts.
Local government leaders have also been warning that, like the police, they have already struggled with a decade of severe cuts and face further funding shortfalls as a result of Covid.
Thirdly, the police are starting from a baseline of less funding than they had 2010. Although the Government will claim they kept annual budgets at the same rate over the last few years, they haven’t kept in line with inflation or passed on additional staffing costs, meaning a real-terms cut when compared to 2010.
Central Government funding to police forces has fallen by £3.3bn since 2010/11. Even when increased funding through Council Tax is factored in, police forces are still short by £1.9bn. Whilst there are always ways of improving efficiencies, the extra burdens on our police service make their position untenable.
Cuts on this scale are bound to have consequences. Police are recording more crime both because of genuine rises and improvements in recording practices, but charge rates after arrest have fallen through the floor over the last five years.
In 2015, the police recorded 4.2 million offences of which one in six led to a charge; this year there were 5.8 million offences recorded, but in only one in 14 cases was a suspect charged.
Over the same period, violence has more than doubled, from 778,000 offences to 1.7 million, but the charge rate has fallen from 22 per cent to just 6.9 per cent.
And while the latest statistics show police recorded over 30,000 more robberies than in 2015, the number of people charged has fallen from 9,480 to 5,993.
The first job of Government is to keep us safe. But the Tories spent years slashing budgets, while telling everyone there was no connection between rising crime and falling officer numbers, and accusing the police of ‘crying wolf’. All while the job of the police has been getting more complex.
As the Government plans for the upcoming Spending Review, Ministers must make sure that police forces have the resources they need so they can plan for the future on a sustainable footing.
That is the least our brave officers, who put themselves in harm’s way every day to keep us safe, deserve.
Holly Lynch is Labour MP for Halifax and Sarah Jones is the Shadow Policing Minister.
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