By David Hanson MP / Latest News / 0 Comments

Police Cuts Hit North Wales Hard – Hanson

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Leigh, and I thank the previous Chair, Mr Crausby, for his chairmanship in the early part of the debate. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones). She has raised an important issue and generated a significant debate.

Contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane), for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami), and for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) have highlighted the concerns felt by their communities, and I also pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) for his concern about western north Wales. We have also heard interesting contributions from the hon. Members for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) and for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies), and from the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake). He was helpfully reminded of his election pledge to support 3,000 extra officers during this Parliament, although he has since voted for cuts that over the past 18 months have led to a reduction in police numbers of some 8,000 officers.

I pay tribute to the chair and members of North Wales police authority, and to Chief Constable Mark Polin and his team. They have done a professional job over many years to ensure that north Wales is still one of the safest places in the UK in which to live. There has been great police support, good detection rates and sound community-based policing, and the engagement at levels of inspector, constable, sergeant and police community support officer has been helpful to Members of Parliament and to my constituents.

North Wales is a challenging area to police. It contains large rural areas, two languages and strong urban areas where crime is driven by urban challenges. There is also the cross-border challenge involving crime that potentially enters north Wales from parts of north-west England. There are the ports of Holyhead and Mostyn, which is in my constituency, and a range of other issues that create a complex and challenging model with which North Wales police authority must deal. I speak today

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as shadow Police Minister, but also, proudly, as the Member of Parliament for Delyn, which falls within the area of North Wales police authority.

The partnership of North Wales police authority with local councils and Members of the Welsh Assembly—who, as has been mentioned, were re-elected in May last year on a pledge to support 500 police community support officers—is important, and the authority’s co-operation with neighbouring forces has led to a reduction in crime over the past 10 years. At the start of the last Labour Government’s term in office, there were around 65,000 crimes each year in north Wales. By the last year of the Labour Government, that had fallen to 44,919 crimes—a reduction of over 30% that meant 21,000 fewer victims per year. As has been mentioned, victims feel 100% of the crime committed against them, and to have 21,000 fewer crimes is a compliment to the efforts of North Wales police authority and the Labour Government.

That reduction in crime was due to a range of issues such as new ways of working, innovation, the previous Government’s approach to community safety and attempts to make authorities work with the police, better co-operation and prevention, closer working partnerships, improvements in CCTV, an increase in DNA testing, automatic police number plate recognition to look at cars crossing the border, improvements in vehicle safety, station improvements, a whole range of criminal justice measures, and increased confidence in policing and co-operation with the communities as a whole. I contend, however—this is the central argument of the debate—that one of the biggest issues in helping to support policing and reduce crime over that period concerned the number of officers who were on the beat and visibly engaged with their communities.

In 1996, the last year of the previous Conservative Government, 1,378 officers walked the beat and worked in North Wales police authority. By the last year of the last Labour Government, 1,578 officers were in place—there were 200 additional officers in north Wales. Additionally, as has been mentioned by my hon. Friends and the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, 159 PCSOs were put in place in north Wales during the last five years of the Labour Government, to help to support levels of policing and visibility on the ground. That was coupled with a rise in the number of special constables, which again helped to increase police visibility. There was a major increase in police numbers at the same time as a major reduction in crime, and 21,000 victims of crime were saved.

Guto Bebb: On a point of accuracy, is it not the case that the number of special constables in north Wales fell significantly between 1997 and 2010?

Mr Hanson: I would contend that. When I was the Minister responsible for policing, I encouraged and set a target for an increase in the number of special constables over the course of this Parliament. The hon. Gentleman cannot escape the fact that, during the last Labour Government, there were 200 more police officers and 159 PCSOs in north Wales. After the first year of this Government we have seen a worrying fall in police numbers for the first time, and we are likely to see a further fall over the next few years.

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Chris Ruane: The only way to get rid of a police officer is to force them out after 30 years under regulation A19. When those police officers retire, however, they are on a pension that is two-thirds of their pay. Will my right hon. Friend say how that is a saving?

Mr Edward Leigh (in the Chair): Order. Before he replies, I will ask Mr Hanson to conclude his remarks by 12.20 pm in order to give the Minister a chance to reply.

Mr Hanson: I can assure you of that, Mr Leigh. Thirty police officers in north Wales have been forced to leave under regulation A19 because of reductions in policing in the Budget. That is worrying, but I am most concerned that between March 2010 and September 2011 we have lost 85 police officers in north Wales. I am also worried because Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary—these are not my figures—suggests that we will lose 207 officers during the course of this Parliament. The grant settlement for 2011-12 is £49.6 million but, if approved next week, that will drop to £46.2 million by 2012-13. Projections for North Wales police authority mean that by 2015 the grant will be £43.7 million a year—a cut of almost £6 million.

I challenge anybody to explain how we can cut £6 million from policing budgets in north Wales and make that up solely from back-office savings and other efficiencies. When in government I supported efficiency measures in procurement, overtime, improving back-office support, adopting single uniforms, IT systems and a range of other issues. However, the level of cuts that we now face, and which we will vote on next week in the House, is dramatic. The cuts will impact on police morale and, more importantly, on the ability of the police to fight crime in north Wales.

Police spending per capita over the past year in north Wales has reduced from £148 to £137. The changes now being implemented have led to consultations on police station closures—including at Mostyn, Flint, Holywell, and Mold in my constituency—due to officer numbers. Now, for the first time, crime is rising. The figures presided over by the Minister last week showed an 11% overall rise in levels of personal crime. In 2011, north Wales saw worrying increases in crime: a 60% rise in cases of robbery, a 12% rise in instances of burglary, and an 11% rise in sexual offences.

As well as cuts to the budget, there is the uncertainty caused by the elections of police commissioners on 15 November this year. We will participate in that experiment as it is the law of the land, and we will fight that election, but I still worry about the future of policing.

I believe, however, that there is another way. The Labour party agrees with HMRC’s projection that a 12% cut is realistic when looking at overtime, procurement, modernisation, collaboration and back-office procedures and, as the Minister knows, we would have done that were we in government. The figures he produces for north Wales, however, show a cut in funding of £5.9 million over the next two years. That will lead to further pressures on the chief constable, further difficulties in fighting crime and, in my view, a poorer service for my constituents and people in north Wales.

The Minister needs to think again. He has an opportunity. This very day, he has announced an extra £90 million

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for the police force in London—coincidentally, just before a London election this year. If he can do it for London, he can review the position of north Wales for next week, and I will urge my hon. Friends next week to scrutinise seriously the Minister’s proposals.