MPs warn of 'dire consequences for public safety and criminal justice' if government does not increase police funding

Home Affairs Committee says policing at risk of 'becoming irrelevant' as crime rises and the proportion of solved cases falls

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 25 October 2018 09:27
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Cressida Dick: 'Naive' to think cuts to police haven't had impact on rising crime

There will be “dire consequences for public safety and criminal justice” if the government does not increase funding for struggling British police forces, MPs have warned.

The Home Affairs Committee said policing is at risk of “becoming irrelevant” to most people as crime rises and the proportion of solved cases falls.

It found that while the number of offences recorded has risen by a third in three years – with violent crimes soaring – charges and summons have plummeted by 26 per cent.

Yvette Cooper, the Labour chair of the Home Affairs Committee, said the 18-month Policing for the Future inquiry showed the service “urgently needs more money”.

“Police officers across the country are performing a remarkable public service in increasingly difficult circumstances, but forces are badly overstretched,” she added.

Crime is up, charges and arrests are down, and the police service is struggling to respond effectively to emerging and growing challenges, such as online fraud and online child abuse.”

Ms Cooper called on the government to prioritise policing in a spending review, where Sajid Javid has already pledged to push for more funds.

Days after the Police Federation launched legal action against the home secretary over a “derisory” 2 per cent pay rise for officers, the Home Affairs Committee concluded that the current model for police funding was not fit for purpose and must be completely restructured.

“Failure to provide a funding uplift for policing would have dire consequences,” the report said. “Without extra funding, something will have to give, and the police will not be able to fulfil their duties in delivering public safety, criminal justice, community cohesion and public confidence.”

Ms Cooper also accused the Home Office of showing “an irresponsible failure of leadership in the face of changing patterns of crime”, adding: “Ministers and Home Office officials must not continue to stand back, as the police cannot do this alone.”

While more than 20,000 police officers have been lost since the coalition government came into power in 2010, neighbourhood policing has been hit particularly hard, seeing some forces reduced by two thirds of officers.

Labour MP Stephen Doughty said the situation was “unacceptable” and would have an impact across areas of policing including counterterrorism and serious organised crime.

“Neighbourhood policing lies at the heart of British policing,” he added. “Once those crucial local relationships are lost, it is very difficult to rebuild them.”

The Home Affairs Committee called on the government to report on actions to maintain neighbourhood policing in all forces within one month of the comprehensive spending review, and to prevent officers from being diverted to other roles.

It also found that only a tiny proportion of online fraud cases are ever investigated and the police response to this growing area needs a “fundamental overhaul”.

MPs found that police are being used “as the sole emergency service for mental health crises” in many areas because other public services are being hit by austerity.

The response to online child sexual abuse is “nowhere near the scale needed”, MPs said, adding that forces are “woefully under-resourced” for the complex investigations.

The committee found that there is just one arrest for every 10 recorded incidents, and the number of charges fell last year.

(ONS

Tim Loughton, a Conservative member of the committee, said the number of paedophiles charged over online images and videos was “shocking” as tens of thousands of offences are recorded.

“Whatever the cause, it is unacceptable that children are being put at risk by the collective failure to get a grip on this problem,” he added.

“Our report calls for a comprehensive strategy to address CSA online, led by the Home Office, including action to improve police capabilities in this area.”

The 119-page report found that the investment and adoption of new technology across all areas of policing was an “utter mess” as forces haphazardly pay for unrelated programmes and databases that do not always speak to each other.

“There are enormous opportunities for policing, including greater use of artificial intelligence and the exploitation of data, but the service is often failing to take advantage of them,” MPs said.

“The biggest failing on technology is not funding, but a complete lack of coordination and leadership on upgrading technology o ver many years.”

MPs called for the Home Office to launch a “transparent, root-and-branch review of policing” and publish its proposals by the end of February, saying the 43 forces in England and Wales must pool their resources and capabilities more.

The committee said the Home Office must drive reform of wider cooperation between police and other public services, government departments and the NHS, and create a “national policing council” with representatives of all main bodies.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council welcomed the conclusions and said it too wanted to see greater leadership from the Home Office.

Chief Constable Sara Thornton, chair of the council, said: “There is a need for the Home Office to lead in developing the broad framework, showing leadership when change is stalling, and ensuring that funding is sufficient overall and targeted where there is greatest need.”

The Police Federation, which was once accused of “crying wolf” over the impact of police cuts by Theresa May, said the report revealed the “frightening picture of current-day policing”.

Vice-chair Ché Donald said: “We have long been saying that there needs to be an honest debate on what type of police service the public want and need, and what can be provided with the money on offer.

“If government don’t listen now, they can’t say they haven’t been warned. They need to recognise the true cost of policing – or else the police will not be able to fulfil their duties and keep the public safe.”

The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners said it expressed concern directly to the chancellor this week about the “huge impact of changes” to employer pension contributions for policing, which it estimates will cost £165m nationally.

The Home Office said it had delivered a £460m increase in overall police funding in 2018/19, although the figure includes money raised through increases to the council tax precept.

It said that overall public investment in policing was growing by over £1bn from £11.9bn in 2015/16 to £13bn in 2018/19, including counter-terrorism policing, local policing and funding or national programmes.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The home secretary has already been clear that he will prioritise funding for the police.

“Our decision to empower accountable Police and Crime Commissioners to make decisions using their local expertise does not mean that we do not understand the demands on police forces.

“We have been on the front foot in engaging with police. The policing minister has spoken to leaders in every force in England and Wales to better understand the demand and changing nature of crime faced by forces.”

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