I’ve written before about the impact that cuts to police funding are having in Bristol, and I make no apologies for doing so again. The police simply can’t do their job unless they’re properly resourced.
According to a new report by the National Audit Office, the body responsible for ensuring public money is spent wisely, police budgets have been cut by a fifth. The NAO also concludes that the way the Government distributes funding to police forces is ineffective, and detached from the changing nature of policing.
Here in Bristol we already know that local police have been affected by the Government’s cuts. Avon and Somerset Constabulary, which serves residents in Bristol and beyond, has 1,000 fewer officers than it did in 2008.
The local Police and Crime Commissioner, Sue Mountstevens, and Chief Constable, Andy Marsh, warned in their “Tipping Point” report that there will be ‘extremely serious consequences’ for policing if these cuts are not reversed, which would inevitably put the safety and security of communities at risk.
I hear concerns from my constituents that the police presence in their neighbourhood is not as visible as it used to be, with local police stations closing and minor crimes not being subject to proper investigation. Whilst the recently announced recruitment of 300 more officers, paid for through the council tax precept, is welcome, it doesn’t begin to compensate for the legacy of cuts that have been sustained under the Government, and it should not have been left to council tax payers to foot the bill.
Over the summer I spent a day with local police officers as part of a national campaign which invites MPs and other public figures to get a taste of policing work. It was good to get an insight into how the police respond to emergency incidents, follow up on investigations, and build good relationships in the community to prevent crime. I’ve also had a number of other meetings, discussing issues such as anti-social behaviour, the rise in online crime (which requires very different policing skills), modern slavery and growing fears about the number of young people being coerced into “county lines” drug dealing.
One of the biggest challenges for police services across the country is the changing nature of the incidents they have to attend. Cuts to social and welfare services, particularly mental health services, have meant that far more people who need support are not getting it through the appropriate channels.
As more and more incidents warrant an emergency response, which would previously have been picked up earlier by social services, the police are increasingly acting as a service of the last resort, looking after people at times of crisis, carrying out welfare checks, and searching for missing people.
A shocking 80% of policing time is devoted to these kinds of social welfare issues, where no criminal offence has been committed. If we are to get more police resources devoted to tackling crime, then the Government must also give social, welfare, and addiction services the investment they desperately need.
I have been lobbying the Government to increase police funding for some time now, both by raising the issue with relevant ministers and by asking constituents to join me in calling on the Government to reverse cuts to Avon and Somerset Constabulary’s budget, with a petition that has already received nearly 1000 signatures.
Rest assured I will continue this campaign for greater investment until the Government listens and responds appropriately.
I have continued to push my petition for greater police funding, which has nearly 1000 signatures in total, link here – https://www.change.org/p/