The Prime Minister's Queen's Speech did nothing to help my constituents. In Garston and Halewood extra funding is desperately needed to keep people safe from gun crime, and improve education for children.
Merseyside police have faced a cut in resources of almost £87 million since 2010 and there are plans to cut a further £18 million over the next three years. They have lost a quarter of their staff, more than 1,000 officers and civilian personnel, and are due to lose 540 more. The challenges they face are great as neighbourhood policing is largely gone. The Matrix unit which tackled organised crime so successfully on Merseyside is gone and locally we have seen a surge in gun crime, with more than 100 shootings in the past 18 months, including five murders.
Chief Constable Andy Cooke blames the impact of these cuts for the reactive policing his force is having to adopt instead of the highly successful proactive policing for which they are so well known. Andy Cooke recently said “Have I got sufficient resources to deal with gun crime? No I haven’t...If I had more staff, would I put them to deal with gun crime? Yes I would.”
There are now more guns circulating on Merseyside and the injury rate is serious with firearms incidents up from 33% to 50%. The community safety initiatives that Liverpool Council and Knowsley Council provided to divert young people from crime have dwindled away thanks to budget cuts of 58% in Liverpool and 56% in Knowsley.
On February 9th MP for Knowsley George Howarth, MP for Bottle Peter Dowd and myself met with the Under-Secretary of State for Policing to make a bid for extra police resources. The chief constable has recently revealed that the bid has been turned down, yet I have not had the courtesy of a letter from Ministers following up on the meeting or a letter explaining why the bid has been rejected, which is disgraceful. It is clear that the Tories do not understand the scale of the problem the police are facing and they are not taking the necessary steps to deal with the problem.
I am sure you all know that there is now no academic A-level provision in the borough of Knowsley. Since the closure of the sixth form at Halewood academy, young people in Halewood have to leave the borough to access opportunities that should be available locally for every child. The Queen’s Speech could have addressed this problem, but it did not. It does not even guarantee that no school will have its budget cut, as the Tory manifesto purported to do.
I have been asking local headteachers what the new funding formula will mean for their school. Some have already cut teachers and support staff. One local school has lost 26% of its teaching staff. Others see redundancies next year as inevitable. Schools are cutting back on the curriculum; one has removed drama and cut back on modern foreign languages and music. All are now having to use school budgets to pay for shared support services, such as special educational needs outreach, educational psychology and family support services, which were once provided by Liverpool City Council. Others are forced to ask parents for money to make their budgets work. This is a catastrophe and will further disadvantage those pupils who already face barriers.
The Queen’s Speech we heard two weeks ago was nothing more than the last desperate effort of a weak Government who seek only to cling on to office. My Labour Colleagues and I will make sure that they do not.