On Wednesday, along with my Labour colleagues, I voted against the Government’s grant settlement for the Police, writes Ipswich MP, Sandy Martin.
The Government is reducing the Home Office grant to local police forces by £100 million in real terms. The only way forces like Suffolk Police can keep their heads above water is by putting up Council Tax - faced with that stark choice Suffolk residents have agreed that they would rather pay the extra tax than see the number of their police reduce yet again.
But it’s not a fair way of funding the police. Council Tax is not related directly to income. So a couple living in a mansion and earning a fortune will only have to pay three times as much as a couple living in a one-room flat on the minimum wage. And it‘s not obvious to people what they are paying their Council Tax for. Ipswich residents need to be aware that nearly 90% of the Council Tax rise this year will be to pay for the County Council and for the Police, even though it is the Borough Council which will have to collect it.
The Conservatives – including the Prime Minister on Wednesday – continue to claim that they are not making cuts to our Police, but the figures speak for themselves, and I intervened in the debate to make sure those figures were heard. Between March 2010 and September 2017 Suffolk Police lost 150 officers, a reduction of 12 %. And over the same period, we lost 86 Police Community Support Officers, a reduction of 50%. And the idea that our Police have become more efficient, by transferring work to support staff, is also disproved by the reduction in support staff – down over 200 in the 7 years. If you take the reduced number of Special Constables into account too, our Police Service have nearly 25% fewer staff than when the Conservatives took control of the country.
When I challenged the Police Minister about Suffolk’s Police in September, she thought I said “Southwark” rather than “Suffolk” and tried to blame the situation on the Mayor of London. But actually the Conservatives have nobody else to blame in Suffolk – it is either the Conservative Police & Crime Commissioner or the Conservative Government (or both) which are at fault.
People don’t want to watch the buck being passed. They want to see a properly-resourced Police Service. They want to know that there are enough officers to protect them from crime. Unfortunately, unless the government finds more money for Suffolk Police that will not be the case. Just in the last year, overall crime in Suffolk is up 16% and violent offences are up 29%. Yes, our County is still fairly safe, but it is nowhere near as safe as it could be. Violent crime per person in Ipswich is not unlike the figure in Sheffield – I believe we can do much better than that.
Now the Police & Crime Commissioner is calling on Suffolk residents to work with the Police in solving crime. In my experience, Suffolk people are very willing to do just that. We have effective Neighbourhood Watch schemes, we have a large number of Special Constables – although even those have been seriously reduced – and we have a high level of cooperation from ordinary citizens. I am not clear what any new scheme would achieve. I am not even convinced that Suffolk Police have enough officers to make use of any additional evidence the general public give them. Already I have had several cases where members of the public – including shopkeepers – have done their best to identify criminals, but have not felt that the police were working with them. Not every piece of “evidence” is actually usable, of course, but the Police must do their best to use information from the public, otherwise it will not be forthcoming.
We need more police officers. And we need more probation officers, and prison officers, and prison psychiatrists, and hostels, and drug & alcohol rehabilitation services, and mental health services too, so that fewer people end up committing crimes and the pressure on the Police is lessened.
Keeping our country safe should be the first priority of a government. We need a fully-staffed Police Service with properly-paid officers and the support from the rest of society that they need in order to deal with crime.
The people of Suffolk have clearly said that that is what they want – it is time for the Government to listen.