Crime will fall as economy improves, says Portsmouth South MP Flick Drummond

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Portsmouth South MP Flick Drummond says crime rates will continue to fall as the economy improves.

She spoke out in the Commons as Labour warned that the Government’s spending plans are “about to cause serious damage” to the country’s police service and if ministers do not change course they will “put public safety at risk.”

The Portsmouth South Tory said: “Across the country we have seen a fall in crime since 2010 and I am sure, as society grows stronger under the strong economic plan we have got, it will continue.

“This has coincided with a period of budgetary pressure on police forces across the country and some forces have responded better than others, as we have heard this afternoon.”

But shadow home secretary Andy Burnham told the Commons the Conservatives were taking a “reckless gamble with public safety” through plans for police spending over the parliament.

Mr Burnham said senior police officers were speaking out because they could see the budget cuts proposed combined with the new funding formula “could seriously destablise” community and neighbourhood policing.

He said he did not see the evidence to “shrink” the police force back to 1970s level as he suggested there was evidence that violent crime, knife crime and sexual assault was on the increase.

Speaking at the start of an Opposition day debate on policing, he said Labour had called the debate “to challenge the Government on what we feel is a reckless gamble with public safety, to give voice to the deep disquiet felt by thousands of police officers across all 43 forces in England and Wales about the future of policing, to initiate a proper debate about the future of policing and the needs of our communities in advance of the Spending Review and to alert the public to the enormity of what is at stake by launching a national campaign to protect our police”.

He said: “Because just as with tax credits I can’t remember the public being told about these plans to decimate neighbourhood policing before they went to vote.”

Mr Burnham said there was a “big worry” that if the Government proceeded with the spending plans set out at the Budget, the country “could see thousands of police officers taken off the streets”.

Mr Burnham added: “I believe this Government is about to cause serious damage to our police service and I also believe that if they don’t change course they are about to put public safety at risk.”

Police and Crime Commissioners he said of all political colours were “coming together” to say that the “rushed” changes to the police funding formula could cause “serous destabilisation” of the police services.

Referring to the Chancellor’s impending Spending Review later this month, he said: “As it stands like other unprotected departments, the Home Office is in line for cuts over the next five years of between 25 and 40%.

“If we assume that the Government are working to keep it to the lower end of that spectrum, that is still a massive hit on resources, that will mean 22,000 fewer police officers than what we have today. That is a massive number and the Government needs to provide justification for cuts on that scale.”

On savings, he said: “I am not saying there’s no room for cuts, at the core of my argument today is yes, make those efficiencies but there comes a point that if you go beyond that you are beginning to unpick the fabric of our police service and you are putting local communities at risk and I am not prepared to see that.”

Mr Burnham also paid tribute to Pc Dave Phillips, stating: “We think of David’s family today and we hope they take some comfort from the huge public response, an outpouring of feeling that we have seen.”

Home Secretary Theresa May said Labour had not learnt from its mistakes because it opposed cuts to police budgets under the coalition but crime since then has fallen by a quarter.

Mrs May claimed that officers are “more likely” to be on frontline and neighbourhood policing duties than at any time in modern history and that English and Welsh communities are safer than they have ever been.

She said: “I cannot commend the motion that you have put before the House today.

“Not only is it simply wrong on almost every point of fact but it shows that Her Majesty’s Opposition has comprehensively failed to learn the lessons of the last five years.

“Crime, according to the Independent Crime Survey for England and Wales, one of the most authoritative indicators of crime in any country in the world, is down by more than a quarter.

“Public confidence in the police has remained strong and far from the frontline being damaged, police officers are now more likely to be deployed in frontline roles like patrol or neighbourhood officers than at any time in modern policing history.

“This is the uncomfortable truth for you and the Labour Party - that communities in England and Wales are safer now than they have ever been.

“Their homes are less likely to be burgled, their cars are less likely to be stolen, their friends and families are less likely to be confronted with violence on Britain’s streets.”

Mrs May said Labour’s acknowledgement that forces can take funding cuts of up to 10% showed the party accepted that cuts made previously had not damaged policing.

She said: “The tactics and the language have not changed but I thought that your mind had because as a number of my colleagues have pointed out and very ably pointed out by (Tory MP Nick Herbert), is that you told the Labour Party conference ‘of course savings can be found’.

“Savings are in the motion today, you say that further savings can be found, therefore you assume that the savings that have been made so far have not damaged policing.”

But Tory Bob Blackman (Harrow East) warned that rural communities could be hit harder by the cuts.

He said: “Could I take the issue of the new funding formula for police?

“There’s concern among many that it favours the urban over the rural.

“Would you meet with me and other colleagues representing rural constituencies from across the House to discuss the formula and ensure that we get something that is fair to all?”

Mrs May insisted no decisions have been made and offered to meet Mr Blackman to discuss the issue.

Mrs May said: “Policing has risen admirably to the challenge of lower budgets and the changing landscape in the last five years and I have no doubt it will continue to do so in the next five years.”

She concluded: “Police reform has worked. That is the lesson the Labour Party has not yet learned but in this Parliament and under this Government, police reform will continue.”

Replying to the debate for the SNP front bench, Richard Arkless said: “In Scotland we have made a decision to protect front line policing.

“I’m proud to report that since 2007, since the Scottish National Party came into power, we have created an extra 1,000 police posts in Scotland.

“If you compare that (to the rest of the UK), almost 12,000 police officers across the UK in England and Wales will be cut and worryingly that could rise to a further 20,000 over the next five years.”

Holly Lynch, Labour MP for Halifax, told the House that there are now 957 fewer police officers in West Yorkshire.

“The thin blue line is thinner than ever,” she said, “and in conversations I have had with local police the worry is that policing will become much more reactive.”

But Alex Chalk, Conservative MP for Cheltenham, outlined his belief that police forces will be able to make more savings.

He said: “The truth is there are further savings that can be made whether it’s through collaboration, emergency services collaboration where appropriate, procurement, reallocation to the frontline, there are measures that can be taken which mean that we face financial reality but we can keep our people safe too.

“I believe we should back our police officers: They have done it in the past and they will do it again.”

Julie Cooper, Labour MP for Burnley, said any cuts must be shared out equally.

“I believe we should never gamble with public safety,” she said.

“I urge the Government to listen to the professionals, to listen to Lancashire’s chief constable and to revisit the funding formula to ensure that cuts are fairly shared and public safety is not compromised.”

Tory Byron Davies (Gower) said he spent 32 “very happy years” in the Metropolitan Police as a detective serving on the counter terrorist command and the National Crime Squad.

He argued the Labour motion had some “fundamental flaws”, adding the point about policing numbers was “simply far too simplistic”.

He said: “Whilst many aspects of the police work are excellent we need to adapt and this Government is doing just that. Technology has advanced at an incredible pace and this has left previous models of policing in need of reform to meet today’s challenges.”

He added: “This is about efficiency and management effectively deploying the resources at their disposal.”

Labour’s Peter Dowd (Bootle) said: “The British police force are one of, if not the most, professional and efficient in the world.

“The police should be given the tools to do the job, the Home Secretary suggested earlier, but that is exactly the opposite of what is actually happening.”

Labour’s opposition day motion was defeated by 343 to 214, majority 129.