Kit Malthouse – 2020 Speech on Policing in Devon and Cornwall

Below is the text of the speech made by Kit Malthouse, the Minister for Crime and Policing, in the House of Commons on 6 July 2020.

Can there be any greater pleasure than to gather together late at night to talk lyrically about such a wonderful ​part of the country, second only in its beauty to the North Wessex downs, which I happen to represent? It is a remarkable part of our heritage and a part of the country that is very well policed and guarded by my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) and his colleagues, but also by the police officers who serve in that part of the country.

I want to join my hon. Friend by starting with a tribute to Shaun Sawyer and his team in Devon and Cornwall. I know Shaun of old. He was the head of counter-terrorism at the Metropolitan police when I was chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority and deputy Mayor for policing in London. He and his team have done a remarkable job over the past few years, but most particularly over the past few months, when, as my hon. Friend said, they have coped with extraordinary circumstances with aplomb. They have stayed resilient, with low absences and a commitment to keeping their fellow citizens safe in the face of all sorts of hazards—seen and, as we are learning from this pandemic, unseen. It has been a fantastic job all round.

Among the officers my hon. Friend thanked, I would also like to single out Deputy Chief Constable Paul Netherton, who has been leading the local resilience forum and has done fantastic work in pulling together all the organisations that have been engaged in dealing with the pandemic. We should also thank, as my hon. Friend rightly did, the police and crime commissioner, Alison Hernandez, who has been a voluble voice in the weekly calls I have held with PCCs from across the country, putting the case for her police force with vigour but also with reason and proportion. She serves both counties extremely well and has shown exactly the kind of leadership that one would expect from a police and crime commissioner.

That has been reflected in all sorts of areas. Obviously we have seen crime reduce very significantly, but personal protective equipment, which one might have expected to be an issue in such a large, rural part of the country, has actually been managed with aplomb. The force has been rated consistently green on the red, amber, green rating scale for PPE, which is very reassuring for everybody.

My hon. Friend, as usual, puts a powerful case for his force and his county colleagues. He shows a passion and commitment that one would expect from a true Cornishman. I have seen that in previous roles. When I was Housing Minister, I made a wonderful visit to his constituency and those of his colleagues. He dragged me down there, as no doubt he will again, to see the police in action. He rightly pointed out that alongside the new headquarters in east Devon, significant investment is going into Devon and Cornwall policing from central Government, alongside the flexibilities that the police and crime commissioner has used to raise the precept.

The budget for D and C is moving up to £338.4 million, which is £23.2 million large on last year. That is the biggest funding increase in a decade. As part of that, there will be an uplift in police officers of 141 across the force area, as he rightly pointed out, of whom I am pleased to say 61 have already been recruited to the end of March. Recruitment is going particularly well despite the pandemic, not least because Devon and Cornwall is one of the 22 forces in the country that have adopted the virtual assessment centre that the College of Policing put together in double-quick time so that applicants to ​be police officers were able to go through the process online, rather than face to face. That recruitment will obviously continue.

I hear what my hon. Friend says about future allocations. No decisions have been made yet on the future allocation of police officers, but we are hoping the decision will come before the summer recess, because one thing that has become clear from forces across the country, including Devon and Cornwall, is that a number want to run ahead of the target. A number have already reached their annual allocation with nine or so months to go, and some wish to recruit beyond their allocation, but they need certainty on what they will get in years 2 and 3 so that they can commit to those bright, shiny, new police officers with confidence. We hope and believe that will help them to do that.

All that means that the relaxation of the lockdown, which ordinarily would bring significant challenges that are not to be underestimated, has been dealt with extremely well in Devon and Cornwall. The tourism industry is vital to that part of the world. I think I read in the paper that the estimates are that the two counties have lost something like £665 million in income over the two or three admittedly off-season months. That is still a huge amount of money for businesses to bear in losses, and it shows the urgency and the need to restore something of normality to that industry, on which my hon. Friend’s constituents and others rely so heavily.

As my hon. Friend pointed out, the unique geography and beauty of that region attracts people in numbers from across the world, and we want them to come. I know that the police in that area are standing up strongly to ensure they can enable those people to come safely and sensibly, rather than, sadly, what has happened in other parts of the country, where people have been greeted with hostility. They have been greeted with proportion, sense and good management in Devon and Cornwall, which is exactly what we want to see.

My hon. Friend laid down a number of challenges to me, first to appreciate the nature of rural crime in his part of the world. Given that I represent a constituency that is about 220 square miles in size—not far off his —and is largely rural, he will be pleased to know I am well aware of the problems that rural crime can create. He will have noticed that in our highly successful manifesto for the election last year, we had a commitment to allocate some of the extra resources to tackling rural crime. While the allocation of police officers in a particular force is obviously a matter of operational independence for the chief constable to decide, nevertheless at the Home Office we can influence some of the priorities across the country. We hope to turn to rural crime relatively soon.

The funding formula has been a persistent issue for all Members of Parliament, who I think universally claim that it is unfair to their force. That cannot mathematically be correct. Obviously, in any funding formula change there will be losers and winners, yet we seem to have a House of Commons where everybody believes they can be a winner. If there is a review of the funding formula—I cannot give a commitment on that—I would anticipate that there would be a large and vigorous consultation process, in which my hon. Friends here tonight would doubtless participate.

The current funding formula is old and has been around a long time. We have had one or two abortive attempts at reform, and no doubt we will turn to it in ​time, but before we do so there are important tasks to do—more important to the people we represent—such as fighting the uptick in crime that we have seen across the country in the past few years. Dealing with the county lines problem, which plagues all the constituencies in Devon and Cornwall, is high on our list of tasks to complete first. I am pleased that in the past few weeks, during lockdown, given the drop in volume crime—robbery, burglary and so on—police forces have to been able to concentrate on targeting the villains out there who perpetrate this trade. We have seen some extraordinary results, not least with Operation Venetic, which Members will have seen details of in the newspapers. It broke into a huge international communications network used by the criminal fraternity at a very senior level, and this resulted in 700-odd arrests last week. The data that has been collected from that system in the past few weeks and months means that there will be arrests into the future as we piece together the picture of serious and organised crime, which is delivering drugs into my hon. Friend’s constituency and mine, and damaging our neighbourhoods and, in particular, our young people.

We will see much more such work, including dealing with murder—we have set that as a National Policing Board priority. We will drive down murder and reach back into the crime types that often result in a murder, such as domestic violence, drugs, serious youth violence and gangs. We will be asking police forces to think about whether they can not just detect someone who commits a murder, but prevent them from committing it in the first place, by finding that route towards the crime.​

We will see much more of that, too. On acquisitive crime, which I know is a problem in parts of Devon and Cornwall, we have launched our £25 million safer streets fund, which is targeted at particular geographical areas that show they have a problem with acquisitive crime, be it robbery or burglary, but where physical alterations can be made, such as through alley gating, CCTV or better street lighting, which we know can deter crime. The police are then able to concentrate on prolific offenders in both those areas.

There is a huge amount for us to do before we get there. Happily for my hon. Friend, his police force adopts new innovations with alacrity and works hard to try to innovate for itself. Nowhere is that clearer than in its leadership on modern slavery, which has, unfortunately, plagued both counties in the past few years but on which they have taken a lead across the country and shown the way for many other forces as to how the issue should be tackled.

On that note, I congratulate my hon. Friend for gathering us all today to talk about these two beautiful counties and my second favourite subject, which we know is close to the hearts of our constituents: the power and efficacy of their local police force. Although we see from time to time in the newspapers heavy criticism of our police force, we all know that if anything untoward happens to us, they will be our first call.