The Deputy Presiding Officer: We now move to the short debate, and I call on Keith Davies to speak on his chosen subject.
Keith Davies: I will speak in English this afternoon.
I am glad of this opportunity today to discuss the future of policing in Wales. I have agreed for Joyce Watson, Rebecca Evans, Simon Thomas, Byron Davies and Peter Black to have a minute each in which to contribute.
Let us look at the background to what we are facing. On a like-for-like basis, the Government grant for the police increased by over 60%, or over £3.7 billion, between 1997 and 2010. This was a 20% increase in real terms.
Let us zoom in and look at how funding affected us in Wales. During the same time period, the total funding for the Welsh police authorities increased by 38%, or over £112 million. The statistics are staggering and deserve to be emphasised. They are a dramatic illustration of how funding increased under a UK Labour Government.
Sadly, they illustrate, too, the devastating cuts in funding, and consequently in services, during the time in which the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition has been in power at Westminster. We have had cuts of 20%, or around £2 billion, which have led to the worst budget settlement for the police in decades. They are too deep and too fast.
Figures from the Police Federation of England and Wales and police authorities suggest that this could lead to the loss of 1,600 officers in Wales by 2014, a startling contrast to Nick Clegg’s pre-election pledge to put a further 3,000 officers on the streets.
Let us turn to the core of the issue: the effect on front-line services. The UK Government coined it a ‘move away from the bureaucratic culture’. It said that it was ‘possible for the police to make significant reductions in their budgets without affecting frontline policing’.
Well, forces have told Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary that the cuts that they face are greater than the number of non-front-line officers in their force, while the HMIC has said that a 12% cut, as proposed by Labour, could be achieved without affecting the front line.
The worst cuts are to come in the first two years, which will make long-term efficiency savings difficult. Pressure will also be put on forces to cut office numbers, risking public safety and the fight against crime. Under Labour Governments at Westminster and in Wales, crime fell by 43% compared with the first half of 2011, when it rose.
This is a wholly different situation to that outlined by David Cameron before the general election, when he said that any Cabinet member ‘who comes to me and says, ‘Here are my plans’ and they involve frontline reductions, they’ll be sent straight back to their department to go away and think again’.
As we know, the Home Office commissioned a review by Tom Windsor, and among its recommendations is an annual fitness test for officers. The test, which is used for recruits in the Police Service of Northern Ireland, would carry disciplinary procedures for those who fail three times. The police federation has said that any tests must be proportionate on the basis of characteristics such as age and gender, and must not have a negative equality impact. Elements of the test, the police federation claims, will be unfair on young female recruits, for example, as some fitness conditions are disproportionate. They would be expected to wrestle a 13-stone man to the floor by grabbing his lapels. According to the police federation, ‘there are significant differences between policing in England and Wales and in Northern Ireland. Officers in the Police Service of Northern Ireland are routinely armed, and its recruits’ fitness test consists of an obstacle course that replicates several aspects of policing in Northern Ireland. Ninety-six per cent of the failures are women.’
‘We know that fitness tests have an adverse impact on women, older people and disabled people. To meet the requirements of the equality legislation, fitness tests for employment must meet the real needs of the employer. The Police Federation of England and Wales supports the view of the police advisory board that fitness tests should properly reflect the requirements of the role required to be performed, as set by the chief constable. The most successful candidates in Windsor’s recruitment process will be young, white men.’
With the current focus on equality, that surely should not happen.
Other issues arise in the area of equalities. The change to the retirement structure, with the retirement age raised further to 60, potentially triggers inequality consequences among female officers. These officers, who might have taken extended leave to look after young children, will be just in excess of having 10 years of pensionable service left before they are eligible to retire with a full pension. The effect will be to prolong their service, an effect that will probably not be matched for their male counterparts.
Fortunately, the response of the Labour Welsh Government here in Wales has not been a wringing of hands, weeping or grinding of teeth. Community safety and policing is a priority for the Labour Welsh Government. What does that mean in everyday language? It means support and it means reducing crime. How do you do it when money is in short supply? It is not an ideal situation, but the people whom we represent expect us to do our best.
Despite the 20% cut from Westminster, the Welsh Government is increasing the community safety budget to an indicative £44.2 million in 2014-15. In practice, we need more effective collaboration through sharing services, with better procurement and workforce modernisation. We want effective services on an all-Wales basis, using what we have learned about sharing best practice and working together for the good of all.
How do we translate that into practical action that men, women and children can see in their own lives? First, the Welsh Government is committed to £5 million of funding for 500 police community support officers in addition to, not instead of, warranted officers. Recently, Dyfed-Powys Police is recruiting 74 new police community support officers, which will be funded by us, and 23 new police community support officers have joined since November. These officers will assist in developing existing relationships between the police and other Welsh Government priorities such as Communities First.
This point coincides with my earlier reference to collaboration. In pure illustration of the Labour Welsh Government making community safety a priority, it has launched numerous funds and schemes that provide a collaborative approach to tackling the problems that we have in our communities. These include the Safer Communities fund, combating domestic violence, operation Tarian, tackling drug abuse and the substance misuse action fund. These are Labour Government initiatives that are purpose designed to deal not only with the effects, but also the causes of crime, and to promote community safety.
On that point, I am pleased to be able to refer to a fantastic example from my own constituency. Glanymôr and Tyisha residents have created a safer communities action group, demonstrating the strategic co-operation between Communities First areas and local police. It has run campaigns such as “Don’t Let It Be You” and “Respect”, which involve all members of the community working together, from the youth to the elderly. Has it worked? Well, as a result of this joint working, the Tyisha ward initially saw a 15% fall in recorded crime. In successive years, there was a 10% fall. That joint working has proved not to be a one-off initiative, but a way of working, a way of living, and a way of getting things done.
Over the past week, there has been a lot of talk about infrastructure. This does not just means roads, railways and buildings, it also means how we organise ourselves and how we work together to reach a common goal. All the initiatives that I have described would not have been possible without the infrastructure having been put in place by a devolved all-Wales Government.
Of course, funding is important, but that funding is effective when the social arrangements have been put in place. This Welsh Labour Government has done both. The UK coalition Government at Westminster sadly does not recognise that connection and has done neither. As I have said, in Wales, we have a Government that does both. Let us be clear why that is the case: the infrastructure is in place. This is not a matter of buildings or constructs of steel, glass and wood; it is because this Welsh Government has made the approach of sharing of best practice, collaborative working, and the sharing of services its defining characteristics. That is how we do things in Wales, which is every bit as important as the miles of road and track that we lay down.
I hope that I have managed to convey in this time the difference in attitudes between this Welsh Labour Government and the UK coalition. Worrying challenges lie ahead for the future of policing in Wales as a direct impact of the proposed cuts from Westminster and the reduction in front-line services, despite assurances otherwise. I thank the Minister in anticipation of his response and hope that he will raise the important issues that I have outlined in any future talks with the UK Government.
Diolch yn fawr.
The Minister for Local Government and Communities (Carl Sargeant):
First, I place on record my thanks to Keith Davies for this debate and the opportunity to respond to it. The difficulties facing police forces are uppermost in our minds following the action taken by over 30,000 serving officers who marched on London recently. Those officers have tirelessly served our country and are being subjected to cuts on a scale that they have never seen before. We empathise with them on a personal level as their terms, conditions and pensions are being eroded and their contribution to society is being devalued. We also see the significant impact that funding reductions are having on the excellent level of service provided by the Welsh forces to Welsh constituents.
As a result of the comprehensive spending review, the police service is reducing costs by around 20% over the next four years. The reduction for the Welsh forces is expected to be around £65 million. The equivalent of a loss of—as indicated by many today—around 1,300 police officers or 2,600 police staff posts.
South Wales Police will face the greatest cuts; its force will reduce from 3,244 police officers in 2008 to 2,764 expected by 2014. That is a loss of around 579 officers. That is an enormous loss for one of the busiest forces in England and Wales, particularly given that it covers a capital city, which hosts major sporting events, and given its mix of urban, rural and deprived populations. Therefore, how there can be change to front-line services beggars belief.
The police service must manage a larger reduction in funding in comparison with other public sector bodies in Wales, with support from the Welsh Government. The Welsh Government is working with the police, which is operating a non-devolved function in a devolved nation—which always has its challenges—in supporting Tarian, schools liaison officers, safety camera partnerships and so on. Significantly, the police community support officer funding is very much welcomed by the forces. These programmes reflect that, while policing is not devolved, the relationship with Welsh Government is extremely positive. This, unfortunately, cannot be said for the relationship currently with the Home Secretary, who was warned by serving police officers just two weeks ago that she is on the precipice of destroying the police service, which is admired throughout the world.
In these difficult times, the chief constables of Wales are fully committed to working with us and partners to maintain improvements in crime reduction, community safety and quality of life that we have brought about together. They recognise the steps that we are taking to support them in doing this—steps that are in direct contrast with the implementations of the Tory-Lib Dem Government in Westminster. Do the police or the public believe Theresa May when she tells them that she wants to tackle anti-social behaviour, because her actions are completely contradictory? Indeed, in her speech last year after the riots, she said:
‘It’s clear to me that as long as we tolerate the kind of anti-social behaviour that takes place every day up and down the country, we will continue to see high levels of crime, a lack of respect for private property and a contempt for community life.’
Her response to that was to cut 1,300 police officers in Wales—the very people who are tackling this anti-social behaviour. Last week, she launched an initiative to tackle anti-social behaviour one day, while signing redundancy notices of thousands of officers the next day is political skulduggery. It is not clever or great; it is just plain stupid. It is not just me who thinks this; that was also alluded to by Rebecca Evans and Joyce Watson. Ian Arundale, the chief constable of Dyfed Powys Police, said:
‘I think it’s a cop-out to expect that the police can and will resolve those issues and that will be putting an unrealistic burden upon the police and will raise public expectations which can’t be delivered.’
Key to continuing to prioritise the safety of communities in our programme for government is the commitment for an additional 500 community support officers, who already have a visible presence on our streets, reassuring residents and dealing with anti-social behaviour. Jan Woodward is one of Wales’s new CSOs, who has been appointed to patrol the streets of Abertillery and to work with local primary schools on crime prevention. I have met CSOs from right across Wales.
The issue that was raised by Members on the engagement and consultation in relation to the closure of police buildings is clearly an operational matter for police forces across Wales. However, I remind Members—who are aware of the situation—that buildings do not fight crime, in the same way that fire stations do not fight fires. However, it is about consultation and people understanding the issues. There is a need to restructure and redevelop operational arrangements in relation to where police are based in Wales. Keith raises the issue of collaboration and I know of instances where police forces are working beyond the public service envelope in working with local government by basing police officers in council offices and so on. There are recent examples of that in Newport.
Community safety is a strong thread running through the whole of Government. We mentioned the CSOs earlier, and we are also developing legislation to improve the safety and wellbeing of people who have been affected by domestic abuse, with the aim of ending violence against women. Our Bill is a groundbreaking, rights-based approach to keeping women safe, and it will for the first time place a duty on the relevant public sector agencies to respond to and meet the needs of those affected. We could not do that on our own; we need the partnership of those agencies, in working with the police, the third sector and public organisations to deliver on that.
Our steering group for this work, which has helped me to develop the contents for the Bill, is drawn from a range of interested parties, most important of which is a service user, a former victim of domestic abuse, Bex Jones, who is keeping the focus on ensuring that the Bill does everything that it can to address the needs of victims.
I am grateful to the Member for bringing up these issues today and for highlighting the challenges that Wales’s police forces face in their work in collaboration with Government and the broader public sector and the voluntary sector in the years to come. I value the contribution made by the officers and staff of the forces in Wales, not only because of the difficult challenges they face in their day-to-day work, but because they have pending redundancies at the back of their minds while they risk their lives daily.
As I have said, I am grateful to the Member for highlighting these issues and for the contributions made by many Members today.
Byron made a very interesting point about the structure of the police forces. Certainly, this is not a new conversation; it has been mooted in the past. I would be very interested in learning more about the Member’s views if he would care to write to me on the detail and with his thoughts on active patrols in terms of the policing organisation. We often settle on the comfy elements of doing what we have done for many years, but my door is always open with regard to looking at how we can improve services, and the issue of what the structures will look like in future is an interesting point raised by the Member. I would therefore be happy to accept any representations from the Member, should he wish to write to me.
My thanks again for this last debate of this session. I thank the Member for his contributions today and I wish you all well.