Judith Cummins: Cuts to West Yorkshire's 999 services must stop now
It is time we paid attention to those who know what it takes to keep us safe.
Ministers must take decisive action to make sure there is the necessary funding available for our highly valued but desperately overstretched emergency services. The public servants who staff our police, fire and ambulance services dedicate themselves every day to one task: keeping us and our communities safe.
And every community in West Yorkshire – be it in my home city of Bradford, or in Leeds or anywhere else in our county – share one common desire. They need to feel safe and secure in their home, in their community and in going about their daily life.
Today, many of my constituents in Bradford South feel less safe and less secure. Long before the tragic events of recent months, and both before and during the election campaign, I spoke to people time and time again who believed that the deep cuts inflicted by the Government on our emergency services had gone too far.
People are worried that our police service, fire service and ambulance service do not have the resources they need to keep us safe.
Those who know these services best say that are in crisis. This is a stark warning and a stark situation.
I’ve spoken before in the House of Commons about the unbearable pressures faced by West Yorkshire Police and the need to ensure the police have the funding they need. Since 2010, West Yorkshire Police’s budget has been cut by almost a third – that’s an eye-watering £147m.
These funding reductions have hit the frontline. West Yorkshire now has 2,000 fewer officers and support staff – more than 1,000 of them frontline police officers. It is chronically understaffed at a time when they are facing more and more complex and officer-intensive investigations.
The Yorkshire Post revealed only a few weeks ago that thousands of investigations were being shelved due to funding cuts. This is wholly unacceptable. What kind of situation are we in when we have a police force that is unable to investigate crime?
No wonder people are feeling less and less safe.
The Queen’s Speech makes no mention of the police service, nor did the Chancellor’s Budget in the spring – a fact I challenged in the debates that followed. Further frontline cuts to policing I fear are unavoidable.
But these challenges are not confined to our local police service. They extend to West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue also. Since 2011, the fire service’s budget has been cut by over £26m. The equivalent of 324 full-time firefighters have gone; and there are now six fewer fire stations.
And with no mention in the Queen’s Speech of our fire and rescue services, I fear they too face further cuts to their frontline service. Even a relatively minor cut of one per cent to West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue’s grant from the Government would potentially lead to the loss of a further 55 firefighters. This can’t be allowed to happen.
Those tasked with keeping us safe are unequivocal about this.
Nick Smart of West Yorkshire Police Federation, the body which speaks for the rank and file officers, said: “It’s a crisis across the country, officers are going without meal breaks, working extended hours, that’s the reality. We do not have the money or the cops to do the job.”
And the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, Dee Collins, echoed his warning and is worried the present level of service is not sustainable. She said: “I am extremely concerned by the loss of 1,063 police officers, particularly given that neighbourhood policing is our vital bond with our many and varied communities.”
Ministers must pay attention.
They may be unconvinced or unmoved by warnings from other politicians. But I hope they will at least heed the words of those who know exactly what it takes to keep us safe; those who are doing precisely that every single day.
Judith Cummins is the Labour MP for Bradford South.