I thank the Policing Minister for that intervention; I think the public will judge what he says and what I say in the next general election, and I suspect they will agree with me.
We come to this year’s debate with a perfect storm facing the country and facing policing. Record numbers are leaving the police force, demoralised and worn out. Charge rates are plummeting, arrest rates have halved, there is a gaping hole in neighbourhood policing and the police are in a crisis of resources, results and public confidence. What is the Government’s response to this, in this policing budget? It is to put up local taxes, put up council tax, push the problem on to local forces, shrug their shoulders and tell us everything is fine, when the whole country will tell them it is not.
Inflation is soaring at 10.5%, but rather than deal with this economic crisis properly, Ministers have chosen to heap the burden on to hard-pressed local taxpayers through the precept. Government funding for policing—the PCC grant, counter-terrorism and reallocations—is £62 million less than it was last year. Core Government money for PCCs has gone up £174 million, although that includes the ring-fenced uplift for new officers. In real terms, taking inflation into account, it is a real-terms cut of around £134 million.
The Government have therefore lifted the cap on the local police precepts, so that local PCCs can increase council tax by up to £15. That is how we reach the Minister’s figure of a £523 million increase: he assumes that all PCCs in all areas will use their full flexibility to increase the council tax burden on local people. Nearly two thirds of the Government’s increase in funding now comes from the council tax precept. There has never been a more important time to invest in policing, yet grant funding this year is down in real terms. The Government’s offer to local forces is that, if they want money, they have to raise it locally.
Of course, as has been pointed out, the money is not spread fairly. It is the most deprived communities, with fewest band E properties, that will get the least. In North Yorkshire, the Prime Minister’s patch, police can raise £2 million more than in Durham. In Merseyside, even if they maximise the precept, they still have to find over £16 million in savings. There is a lower council tax base in Merseyside, so £15 precept increases will only raise £6.7 million, but inflation has cost Merseyside £4.2 million, so that will swallow up most of the council tax increases.