It is a pleasure to take part in this debate and to listen to both the Minister, for whom I have a huge amount of respect, and the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), who is rightly holding the Government to account. I take all her points on board.
We all know that there are clearly issues with police funding, but, if I may be so bold, not once did the shadow Minister suggest how the Labour party would deal with the huge hole in our public expenditure that, as I said in my earlier intervention, was to a large extent—along with the banking crisis—created by the Labour party before the coalition Government came into power. We inherited this terrible financial conundrum. We are trying to provide money for our public services, and when our economy improves, we will generate the income to pay for all the public services that so desperately need our money.
I thank Dorset police force and all its officers for doing an outstanding, courageous and dedicated job, and I am eternally grateful, as we all are in South Dorset—indeed, in the whole of Dorset, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) is here, too. I particularly praise our chief constable, Debbie Simpson, who is retiring after 35 years. She has been exemplary in her career, which proves how much can be achieved by a female officer. She has got to the very top, and all credit to her. I thank her for all the hard work she has done, and I look forward to many other female officers achieving the same rank.
I thank the Minister, for whom I have huge respect, for the extra £4.2 million. I also thank him for seeing me privately to go through my concerns. I am very grateful to him and to his Department.
I will quickly touch on three issues, and I will not take up much of the House’s time. First, I am grateful for the £12 precept flexibility, but there is still an outstanding deficit of £1.5 million. Dorset is considering a merger with Devon and Cornwall, which will aid the deficit. Work is under way on perhaps having one police force, and savings are being made. Unfortunately, that will optimise what we have, rather than growing the workforce, which in my humble opinion, and in the humble opinion of many others in Dorset, is what we should do.
Members on both sides of the House have mentioned reserves, and in 2017 Dorset’s reserves were 11% of our overall budget, compared with the national average of 15%. Dorset police force has managed to reduce its reserves by 26% since 2011, compared with all forces, which on average have increased their reserves by 19%.
Secondly, we need wholesale investment in policing. I totally accept that new crimes, such as modern slavery, human trafficking, sexual exploitation and cyber-crime, are now taking far more precedence and far more of our police officers’ time. What I regret is not the effort being made to combat those crimes but the fact that it is taking officers off the beat. I am a former soldier, and holding the land—or dominating it, in the case of Northern Ireland—and patrolling very troubled spots is where we gained information and intelligence. The deterrence was formed on the streets.
While we investigate all these other crimes—I give all credit to police officers—we must not lose sight of the fact that, in my humble opinion, we need more officers on the ground. Crimes are still being committed. A jewellery shop in Corfe Castle has now been hit three or four times. I believe the gangsters responsible come down from the midlands. They crash in, crash out and take their ill-gotten gains back to where they came from. Those crimes would not be committed if there were a police presence on the ground. I urge the Minister and the Government to think carefully about that point.
Finally, as the Minister has mentioned—I mentioned it to him in private, and I now do so in public—the grant is set in December and the police and crime commissioners then have until February to set their budgets. That is unlike local authorities, which have a four-year budget period that gives them much more time to plan ahead. I ask the Government to look at that.
What can be done to help Dorset police? I urge the Government to go back to the funding formula, which treats us unfairly for all kinds of reasons that I do not have time to go into now. This is an emotive subject for many, but I believe the overseas aid budget will balloon to some £20 billion in 2020. Do not get me wrong, because I have absolutely no objection to money going to overseas aid, but I object when at home—and charity starts at home—we are unable to provide enough money for all our public resources, not just the police service. I urge the Government and any right-minded person to consider the 0.7% overseas aid target. Yes, we should give money where it is needed and where we can afford it, but not before we look after all the needs of our own country.