On Tuesday 5 July Teresa held a 90 minute debate in Parliament to highlight the way police officers are being affected by Government cuts. Teresa sought the debate after a young police officer came to speak to her at one of her surgeries about his concerns. Below is Teresa’s main speech:
Teresa Pearce (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab): It is a privilege to hold this debate under your chairmanship, Sir Alan. I requested it because, in one of my surgeries recently, I met a young police officer who told me in great detail about his concerns for his career and those of his colleagues and for the general morale of the police in the light of recent Government policies. We talk a lot about the effect on the public of the Government’s 20% cut in police funding. Although that is important and I will mention it, it is equally important that we focus on its effect on the police force and police officers.
Police officers up and down the country feel angry about budget cuts and attacks on terms and conditions and pension provision, following the Winsor and Hutton reviews. Police officers cannot strike, and many feel that they have no voice and no way to fight the changes. I hope that this debate will make them feel that they have had an opportunity to state their case to Ministers through their elected representatives. I also understand that the Police Federation is to lobby Parliament next week, and I look forward to attending.
The Government intend to cut the overall policing budget by 20% in real terms by 2014-15. It is estimated that that will result in the loss of 12,000 officer jobs and 16,000 other police staff jobs. Research drawing on information from police forces and police authorities suggests that in the Metropolitan police area, which covers my constituency, 1,291 police officers and 1,046 police staff will lose their jobs over the next three years.
Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): Tomorrow, I will show around the House four police officers nominated this week for the national police bravery awards. Does my hon. Friend agree that in a week when we are rightly focusing on the special job that the police do, it is equally important that the Government listen to police concerns about the impact of cuts on morale in the service?
Teresa Pearce: I certainly agree. It is a job unlike almost any other, except the armed services or ambulance drivers. It is a special job with special needs, and we must listen to what the police are telling us.
Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate, as I congratulate you, Sir Alan, on your recent elevation as a knight of the realm. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) mentioned listening. Did my hon. Friends have the opportunity to hear the speech of Sir Hugh Orde to the Association of Chief Police Officers conference yesterday? He said that what was happening to the police force was the most profound reform in 180 years and that what was required, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East suggests, was a period of listening during which people could be consulted, as with NHS reforms, to give the Government the opportunity to see what will happen as a result of their reforms. Does she agree that a period of listening is desirable at this stage?
Teresa Pearce: I agree. I am pleased that there are so many Members here today. Through us, police officers’ voices will be heard, but a period of consultation is needed, owing to the unusual nature of their job and the daily importance of teamwork and morale.
In my constituency, 1,291 police officers and 1,046 police staff will lose their jobs over the next three years. Senior police chiefs also plan to cut 150 sergeants from local policing teams next year. The figure could rise to 300 in the next two or three years. It is worth bearing in mind that the cuts will affect London police forces and that it is estimated that more than 9,000 police officers will be required each day at the peak of the London Olympics, in an operation that Scotland Yard describes as the biggest ever policing challenge facing Britain. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Richard Bryan said that the games would put unprecedented demands on the Metropolitan police, yet the Met faces 20% cuts.
The Home Office says that the savings can be found solely in back-office functions and efficiency savings, with no impact on front-line policing.
Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate and thank her for allowing my intervention. Does she know that Lancashire police are dealing with cuts of more than £40 million and are consulting on proposals to cut front-desk services in Ormskirk and sell police stations and houses across West Lancashire? That will leave my constituents with a 25-mile round trip to the nearest police station. It comes on the back of a reduction in the number of officers on our streets, and the future of police community support officers is still under threat. Does she agree that the Conservative-led Government have broken their promise that front-line services would not be affected by cuts, that the impact across the country and in my constituency will lead to an erosion in people’s feeling of safety on their streets and in their homes and that crime—and, more importantly, the fear of crime—will increase?
Teresa Pearce: I agree. That brings me to the question of what front-line policing is. The police representatives to whom I have spoken say that the Government’s view of what front-line policing entails is misguided. It involves not only uniformed officers on the beat, but staff in front-line departments such as neighbourhood policing, counter-terrorism, domestic abuse and child abuse units. Those are not back-office functions, yet they will undoubtedly be affected by severe budget cuts. It is feared that that will increase crime and public fear of crime and create a less resilient public service. Which back-office jobs would Members here consider unnecessary to our work: researchers, case workers, the Table Office, the Vote Office or the Library? Those might be seen as back-office functions, but they are integral to our work, and it would be impossible to do our job without them.
David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Lady on obtaining this debate. Hugh Orde was mentioned. He has vast experience of policing, especially in Northern Ireland as Chief Constable. Does she agree that police officers in Northern Ireland—like those here on the mainland, I am sure—say that one of the biggest hindrances to police officers in doing their job is the red tape, bureaucracy and form-filling involved in an arrest? That makes it difficult for them to do their job.
Teresa Pearce: That is another case of our need to listen to what police forces tell us. Rather than making a 20% cut and telling them that they must make cuts in turn, we must listen to what they tell us needs to change. No one is saying that police forces should not change and develop, but they are the experts, and we must listen to them.
Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary says that the maximum saving that the police service could achieve without an impact on quality of service is 12%. There is a big gap between that and a 20% cut. It is difficult to see how front-line policing could not be affected. The situation is made more difficult by the fact that the Home Office has no formally agreed definition of front-line policing. The chairman of the Police Federation, Paul McKeever, said that it is reckless for Ministers to base policies on a term with no legal definition.
Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has tried to define front-line policing. Its recent study said that 67% of police officers and civilian staff are involved either in visible contact with the public or in specialist roles that involve intervening to keep people safe and enforce the law, meaning that they should be considered as front-line. I understand that the Home Office has consulted Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to establish a definition. Will the Minister update Members on what progress has been made? It is important to have a definition so that the effects of policies on the police can be measured properly.
Morale is low in the police force. Officers are worried not only about their ability to protect the public in the face of drastic funding cuts but about threats to their own financial situation and future.
Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate, which is important to people throughout the country who, like her, are concerned about front-line policing. Does she agree that that concern is shared by members of the coalition Government as well? All-party meetings are taking place to discuss concerns about front-line service. One big issue with the cuts to front-line services is the introduction of single crewing, which means that police officers are attending crimes alone. That is causing real concern about the standard and quality of front-line policing, as are the linked issues of pensions and future conditions of service, and I hope that the Minister will address that.
Teresa Pearce: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The issue affects morale. The police have told me that one of the good things about working in the police force is the teamwork. How they work together helps them to build relationships with one another and develop mutual trust and understanding. Working alone makes the job virtually impossible and very dangerous.
A recent survey by the Police Federation found that the budget cuts have led 98% of officers to claim that morale has fallen in the ranks. Moreover, 86% believe that the fight against crime will be damaged. Police numbers are already dropping and have fallen by 5,000 since January. The same period has seen a 16% rise in civilian volunteers or special constables, and there is concern that volunteers will be used to replace the work that should be undertaken by police officers, all in the name of deficit reduction.
At about the same time as the 20% overall budget cut was announced, Lord Hutton’s review into public sector pensions and the Winsor report into police pay and conditions delivered their recommendations. If implemented, the Winsor report recommendations will see the vast majority of police officers take a real-time pay cut on top of increased work loads. Some officers could be up to £4,000 worse off, which does not include the additional hit of inflation. Police officers face the prospect of their basic salaries being frozen for two years from September 2011 and of inflation running at 5%. Over two years, the average salary of a police officer could fall by more than 10% in real terms.
Winsor’s recommendations will also reduce pensionable pay. If officers have not reached the top of their pay scale, they will be at the same pay point for the next two years—an average loss over two years of £2,345. Officers are at the top of their pay scale can receive the competency related threshold payment, but Winsor recommends that it be scrapped, so they will lose £1,212 a year. On top of that, the competency related threshold payment makes up officers’ pensionable pay. If it is removed, their annual pensions on retirement will be £800 a year lower.
On top of those proposals, officers who fall into certain groups may see their pay cut by even more. If they regularly work ordinary overtime, given the change to plain time, they will lose an average of £430 a year. If the force requires officers to work overtime on rest days, with less than five days’ notice, they will lose an average of £300 a year. If the receive a special priority payment, they will lose between £500 and £3,000, although some officers could lose more. Those are average figures—some officers will receive more, but others will get less and some nothing at all. With cuts of that size, some police officers might be compelled to leave the service because of financial difficulties.
Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. I have never worked in the police force, but I have been married to it for 26 years. I hear of the first-hand experiences of police officers in my constituency, and they tell me that the combination of the cuts in funding, the attacks on their pensions and the way in which the Government are seeking to drive a wedge between what they see as front-line services and others is having an impact on morale. That, in due course, will have an impact on outcomes, which will affect us all.
Teresa Pearce: I thank my hon. Friend for sharing with us her personal circumstances. Officers have written to me with testimonies saying that the financial hit means that they will be looking to leave the job at the earliest opportunity. That is backed up by the fact that nine out of 10 of the police officers who responded to the Police Federation survey said that they fear their colleagues will quit because they will be unable to make ends meet. In a job in which teamwork and trust are essential, that could be disastrous. I find it difficult to understand how there could not be a knock-on effect on police recruitment and retention.
Being a police officer is not an easy job. The hours are long, unsociable and often not conducive to family life. For instance, rest days can often be cancelled at the last minute. Police officers can also suffer violent assaults, mental stress and injuries that have a lasting effect on their lives and those of their families. I have heard from officers who feel that they do a 24-hour-a-day job in their community. It is not unusual for a police officer to have family, friends and neighbours calling at all hours asking for advice and help. It is not a job where they can clock off at 5 o’clock. Policing is not like other jobs. They do not leave it behind when they finish their shift; it is a 24/7 job. On or off duty, day in, day out, uniform on, uniform off, they are always police officers.
Police officers make those sacrifices to their own personal lives because they want to serve their community, but also in the understanding that they will be financially compensated for taking on a dangerous and demanding job. When asked to sum up their current mood, one police officer told me:
“The rug has been pulled out from underneath me. I joined the service because I felt I had the skills and capabilities to use for the good and in the protection of vulnerable sections of society and victims of crime. However, I did this in the understanding that I would be fairly compensated for taking the risks that the job entails, and for the negative impact that it would invariably have on my own quality of life through stress and shift work.
I feel I am being penalised for making the sacrifices inherent in doing this job, and that the Government are gunning for the Police Service as the easiest Public Sector target. Without the right to strike I feel we can do nothing. This is not about fairness, it is about saving the largest amount of money in the shortest amount of time and hang the consequences for those involved, Police and public.”
I have heard from another officer whose current role has an on-call requirement that is voluntary. He has been urged not to continue to fulfil that requirement if special priority payments are scrapped for on-call work, because his family life will be restricted without any financial compensation. However, police officers do not do their job just for their salary. If money was their primary motivation, they would all be in different jobs. We cannot expect them, however, to take on the huge sacrifices required by the job without fair financial reward for doing so. To pay them properly is a sign of the due respect that we should show them.
If we value what the police do, we should show that by making sure that they are able to have a family life and a decent home. Most young officers in my area have no chance of buying a place to live. A young man who came to my surgery explained that he is 25 years old, studied for three years and brings a wealth of experience to his role, but after paying his tax, national insurance, student loan and rent and his bills for the phone, petrol and food, there is little left. He spends his time off work sitting in his rented flat, because he has no money with which to socialise with friends or to take part in any of the leisure activities that one would expect as a professional. He already earns below the national average wage and a two-year freeze will make it worse. He is seriously thinking of leaving the force. I doubt whether he is alone in that view.
The cuts to police pay may also have an impact on pension provision. Many officers say that if the cuts are made, their only option will be to quit the police pension scheme. It is not hard to see why they are considering doing so—less pay, greater pension contribution rates and higher inflation will push people to take such drastic action. The impact on society in later years will be significant. The proposed increase in employee contribution rates needs to be highlighted, because police officers already contribute at the highest rate of any public sector workers. Police contribution rates to pension schemes are between 9.5% and 11%.
Many police officers in my constituency have also contacted me about the switch in the indexing of their pensions from retail prices to consumer prices. I have opposed that switch in speeches on the Floor of the House and voted against the annual up-rating order. I also signed early-day motion 1625, which calls for the annulment of the statutory instrument that made the switch. I am not convinced by the Government’s argument that CPI, which does not take into account housing costs, is the better measure of inflation for pensioners because most pensioners own their own homes. Even if pensioners no longer have mortgages, they still have to pay costs associated with housing, such as council tax and heating. Such costs can be a heavy burden. Although I oppose the switch to CPI on behalf of all public sector workers, people in fields such as law enforcement, the emergency services and the military stand to lose the most because of the switch. They often need to access their pensions earlier in life, because of the physically demanding nature of their job or serious injury suffered at work.
Everyone deserves a decent pension, especially police officers, given the risks and sacrifices inherent in the job. In a parliamentary answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle) on 14 February, the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice said that no assessment had been made of the number of members of the police pension scheme who may opt out of it as a result of the change in indexation. Does the Department intend to conduct such an assessment in the future?
The expectation of a reasonable retirement income has also been an important recruitment and retention tool for the police. That was highlighted by the submission of the staff side of the Police Negotiating Board to the Independent Public Service Pensions Commission. It said:
“In order to recruit and retain officers of appropriate calibre who are willing to accept these hazards, members of a police pension scheme should be allowed to work towards, and benefit from, a reasonable retirement benefit. They must also be secure in the knowledge that should their career be cut short by illness or injury, they will be appropriately supported.”
Without such an incentive, we may find it hard to recruit and retain officers in the future.
Many police officers in my constituency have written to me about the need for a royal commission on policing, because the Winsor and Hutton reviews demonstrate a fragmentary and disconnected approach to reform of the police service. Early-day motion 1604, tabled by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming), calls for such a commission to establish precisely what is required by the British police to ensure that they continue to deliver a public service that is fit for purpose. I support such a commission but agree with the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe): it must deal with the urgent problems of excessive Government cuts and the impact on police forces. I should be grateful to the Minister if he answered the concerns that I have raised and said whether he supports such a commission.
The full debate, including the Minister’s response, can be viewed here.