Opposition Day: Police Funding, Crime and Community Safety

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John Stevenson (Carlisle) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that when it comes to policing, it is not just a question of money but a question of structure? Will he acknowledge that the SNP Government made a mistake in reducing their police to a single force?

Richard Arkless: I remind the hon. Gentleman that the proposal was in the SNP manifesto, the Conservative manifesto, and the Labour manifesto at the last Scottish parliamentary election. It seems a bit rich to claim after the event that making the move was the wrong thing to do, given that all the parties were advocating such a move.

I am a Member of this House and my party is the third party in it. In that context, it is worth while briefly highlighting the approach that Scotland has taken to budget police cuts. I express my pride that the Scottish Government have done what is necessary to protect a commitment for 1,000 additional officers since 2007. That commitment has been delivered in full. We have delivered savings and maintained an impressive reduction in crime figures. We did it all in the face of the harsh austerity agenda against us. Most importantly, we kept officers on the streets, protecting communities effectively. Sure there have been challenges but all organisational upheaval of that extent will have those teething problems.

Since 2007 in Scotland, we have increased the number of officers by 6.3%, while in England and Wales in the same period the number has dropped by 10.8%. It is dangerous to risk security in that way, yet the Government insist on pursuing the line that they are making the UK safer. How you spend what you have and your spending priorities are often as important as the underlying spend. It is about time that the rest of the UK caught up with the standards set by the Scottish Government in achieving the lowest crime rate in four decades. We have driven savings and upheld the priority of combating new and more sophisticated forms of crime, including cybercrime, financial crime and terrorism. Having said that, I believe it is fundamentally unfair that the Scottish Police Authority has yet to be awarded the VAT status that every other police force in the UK enjoys. That alone would be enough to ease the burden on the force to the tune of £23 million.

Jake Berry: I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would confirm that the Scottish Government were advised, before they made the changes to the Scottish policing structure, that they would lose their special status on VAT. If so, why did they still proceed to make the change?

Richard Arkless: I can confirm that that was the case, but we made our protestations abundantly clear at that time, and we also made it clear that we would campaign on the issue. There is an old saying: if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, the chances are it is a duck. That looks unfair, it feels unfair and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it is unfair. Surely that cannot be right.

Mr Speaker: I discern that the hon. Gentleman has finished his speech. We are very obliged to him.

John Stevenson (Carlisle) (Con): The police seem to be a popular subject in this House, as we have discussed them on several occasions, and I must say Labour’s arguments have not really moved on. Today’s debate gives me an opportunity to reiterate some comments and observations that I have made in previous such debates. It is important that we now look forward and not back. There are two key issues, one of which is financial and the other more general. The first is the police funding formula and the future consultation, and the second is leadership and innovation within police forces—new ideas and new thinking between them and within them.

On the police funding formula, the previous proposals were clearly not particularly popular in Cumbria. In fact, they would have had a devastating effect on the Cumbrian police force. I was very pleased when they were changed, because the support for retaining the Cumbrian police force is extremely strong within Cumbria. Therefore, the funding formula matters. If Cumbria is to retain an independent police force, the funding formula must be set out in a way that makes it financially viable. Under the proposed funding formula, that was clearly not the case, which is why I welcome the new consultation.

I accept that there are other possibilities. I referred earlier to the implementation of the Scottish formula, which saw the number of forces going down from eight to one. I think it is recognised that that was flawed and a mistake. In England, there are 43 forces. I know that there is a view that some of those could be merged or amalgamated, but that is not appropriate for Cumbria.

Cumbria is a large county in which local knowledge really does matter. It has a small population of half a million people. The terrain is challenging and the infrastructure poor, and the distance to major urban centres is considerable. As I have always said, the key issues are rurality and sparsity, and I very much hope that they will be central to the consultation on the funding formula going forward.

On leadership and innovation, I genuinely believe that the election of police and crime and commissioners has been an innovative and successful policy. It has been great for Cumbria. Richard Rhodes has been an excellent PCC. As we move forward, new PCCs will be elected and others will be re-elected. Things will improve, as PCCs innovate and bring the police force into the 21st century. I completely support the Government in that policy. I look forward to the new consultation, and we must make sure that a Cumbrian police force continues to exist.

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