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MP slams Government's latest cut to police budgets

Sefton Central MP Bill Esterson has slammed the Government’s latest planned cut to the Merseyside Police budget and says rising crime in Merseyside has become "inevitable".

The MP and Shadow Business Minister has joined other Merseyside MPs in condemning the decision by the Government to ask Merseyside Police to pay £5m into the police pension scheme in 2019-20 and £7m a year later – cash that will have to be found from the Merseyside police budget.

Merseyside Police and Crime Commissioner Jane Kennedy has warned that the decision could mean Merseyside loses another 300 police officers, on top of the 1,600 police staff that have been lost since 2010.

Mr Esterson said: “Merseyside Police has lost 31 per cent of its funding from central government and now this bombshell that the force has to find £12m over the next two years to plug a gap in the pension scheme. This will inevitably result in further cuts in police officer numbers, and has been called ‘crippling’ by the Chief Constable Andy Cooke.

“The government should reverse this decision immediately or rising crime will be inevitable.”

The MP has put his name to an early day motion from Knowsley MP George Howarth and also signed by fellow Merseyside MPs Maria Eagle, Angela Eagle and Alison McGovern. The Motion says that as a consequence of the Treasury’s revaluation of the National Police Pension Scheme, local police forces will be £165m worse off and “in the case of Merseyside Police this will amount to an additional bill of £5m in 2019-20 and £7m in the following year, the equivalent of 300 police officer posts”.

The Motion continues: “This is an additional burden to carry on top of existing cuts of £15m imposed by central government by 2022-23” and “the central government grant to Merseyside Police has fallen by 31% since 2010 and that, even accounting for additional resources through the local Council Tax precept, Merseyside’s Police budget has been reduced by 23%”.

Merseyside PCC Jane Kennedy says the cuts would ‘swing a wrecking ball’ through the police budget and would leave the police force so depleted that it would be like “playing a game of football against a full-strength opposition with seven players”.

The Motion continues: “The already alarming increase of knife and gun crime in the force area and crime in general will inevitably go up as a result of these cuts” and calls on the Government to “increase the police grant to cover the full cost of the revaluation of the National Police Pension Scheme”.

A recent Treasury revaluation of the National Police Pension Scheme has identified a deficit of £417m annually. The Treasury has agreed to provide a one-off payment of £252m nationally, while proposing that the outstanding £165m bill is imposed on local police forces.

The £12m that Merseyside Police is being asked to find for the pension fund comes on top of the existing £15m of cuts being imposed by central government by 2022/23.

Jane Kennedy said: “The Government are asking for a staggering amount of money, with no warning and the simple truth is we don’t have it. The imposition of a new unfunded pension liability will swing a wrecking ball through the already difficult budget plans for 2019 and the following years. The situation is now as bleak as it was in 2015 when Rt Hon George Osborne promised to ‘protect the police because the police protect us’. That promise has been broken.”

A National Audit Office report published in September confirmed that Merseyside Police is the third worst hit force across England and Wales, having had the grant it receives from central government reduced by 31% since 2010.

Even when topped up by additional money from local taxpayers through the local Council Tax precept, the Force has seen its overall budget reduced by 23%. Those cuts have seen the overall workforce cut by nearly a quarter - from a total of 7,350 people in 2010, down to just 5,697 this year. Jane said: “If this pension bill is pushed through, Merseyside Police as an organisation will number just over 5,000 people by 2022 – that is a reduction of nearly a third in just 12 years. Imagine trying to play a football game against full strength opposition with just seven players – it would be laughable if the situation wasn’t so desperate.

“The Chief Constable has said the impact for Merseyside would be ‘crippling’. This is no exaggeration. The Force will be unrecognisable from the one which patrolled our streets just a decade ago. Proactive crime prevention will be a thing of the past and officers will be forced to respond reactively to the most serious crimes only.

“This Government has cut and cut again at our police service. There is no more left to give. Crime is up, but officer numbers are down to their lowest levels in years. They are playing fast and loose with public safety and there is no doubt that if this bill is imposed our police service will be at breaking point.”

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