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I remind the House that Mr. Speaker has placed a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches in this debate, and in the following debate on local government finance.
I beg to move,
That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) 2004–05, a copy of which was laid before this House on 30th January, be approved.
The Government are determined that resources for the police service should keep pace with the growing expectations made of it. I can assure the House that funding the police service properly remains a high priority for this Government. We will continue to provide the resources, powers and tools that are needed to deal effectively and efficiently with the whole range of policing problems, from tackling low-level disorder and antisocial behaviour to serious and organised crime.
Since we embarked on police reform two years ago, a great deal has been achieved. We have record investment in policing—policing provision has increased by £2.3 billion, or 30 per cent., since 2000–01. There is a growing team of crime fighters, with the number of police officers and police staff at historically high levels. At
When the Minister quotes those figures, will she confirm that they include people who have accepted job offers to become police officers? They have not yet been to training school or worn a uniform, but are counted, for statistical purposes, as part of the force strength.
At every stage of their development in the service, those people are considered to be members of the policing community and part of our crime-fighting team. The same practice would be adopted in any other organisation. The hon. Gentleman would do well to recall that police numbers fell, rather than rose, when the previous Conservative Government were in power. The record of this Government is therefore absolutely excellent.
By March 2003, there were more than 63,000 police staff, 10,000 more than when the Government came to power in 1997. That increase has freed up police officers to concentrate on police duties. In addition, there were more than 3,000 community support officers out on patrol at the end of December last year. I am delighted that recent contributions from Opposition Members suggest that they now appreciate that CSOs make a tremendous contribution to making our communities safer.
While I echo the Minister's upbeat assessment, would she acknowledge that one of the success stories of recent years has been the improvement in the morale, effectiveness and numbers of the Metropolitan police since the present Home Secretary took over? However, why are the Government undercutting the position of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis by removing £56 million from the total for London expected as a result of last year's grant assessment?
I had the pleasure of reading the hon. Gentleman's contribution in the recent debate that he arranged on funding for the Metropolitan police. I was delighted by his very positive statements about the improvement in policing in London. We have not taken £56 million away from the Met. There has been a flat-rate settlement this year, which has implications for all forces across the country, not just for the Met. Some forces are gainers and some are losers, but I shall deal in detail with the implications later in my remarks.
I can tell the Minister that the extra police officers and the community support officers are very much appreciated in my constituency of Cambridge. However, Cambridgeshire has also lost out as a result of this year's flat-rate increase. Will she say when Cambridgeshire can expect to receive its full formula spending share and to get the transitional grant that is due?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I know that she has been campaigning with great effect against antisocial behaviour in her community. The decision to make a 3.25 per cent. across the board increase this year is exceptional, and I hope to return to the formula, which reflects the needs of different communities, as soon as we can.
Will there be a review before we revert to the old formula? The Minister will be interested to know that North Wales police recently told me that the formula is in urgent need of review, particularly to give greater recognition to rurality. I also understand that the formula is based on the 1991 census. Can she assure the House that there will be a review before a return to the formula?
The new formula was implemented only last year and was subject to a wide-ranging consultation, and the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Association of Police Authorities and all other stakeholders supported it. The hon. Gentleman will know that the rural policing grant reflects the needs of sparsely populated areas, and if he wants to make representations, I am sure that they can be considered. However, the formula is fair because of the recent wide consultation.
Hon. Members are anticipating many of the points that I shall cover in detail in my speech. On Airwave, we tried to put a specific grant into the general grant in order to give police authorities greater flexibility in making their own decisions, which is exactly what they wanted us to do. We recognise that there were problems where authorities had already made contractual commitments as a result of the Airwave programme. To remedy that, we have put £10 million of new revenue that would not have been within the settlement into the pot, and we have also contributed £20 million of capital targeted specifically at those forces that lost out the most because they had the greatest contractual commitments. I place on record my appreciation of the constructive efforts made by ACPO and the APA in enabling us to reach a fair settlement on Airwave.
While the Minister is discussing Airwave, will she go further than paying tribute to police authorities and repeat her apology to them about Airwave, which she gave in a letter to the chairman of the APA:
"I repeat the apology made at the meeting for the unhelpful though unintended consequences of reallocating this grant from specific to general."?
Why does she not just admit that the Government got it wrong rather than trying to make excuses?
I have not made excuses and my comments have been transparent. I met members of the APA and was prepared to say that that step, which we took for the best of reasons, had had unintended consequences. I apologised for the difficulties that it had caused the APA, and, as the hon. Gentleman said, I was happy to confirm that in writing. I would not want a genuine step to maximise flexibility for police authorities to have inadvertent consequences, which we have done our best to remedy.
May I take the Minister back to Cambridgeshire for a moment? We know that money must be set aside from the grant and devoted to pension payments. What proportion of the grant to Cambridgeshire must be set aside to pay for pensions and how does it compare with the average across the police authorities?
I do not have that particular statistic at the moment. If I receive it before the end of the debate, I shall endeavour to give it to the right hon. Gentleman; if not, I shall write to him. He raises the important issue of pensions, on which we launched a consultation on
I would also like to see the disaggregated figures. Does the Minister agree that we should make a virtue of those members of the uniformed police force who want to stay on with the police in a civilian capacity, rather than seeing it as a fiddle? We should be clever enough to reach an arrangement whereby such people forgo their pension for a time, which would keep their expertise in the police force and make sure that the figures stack up. That suggestion would benefit the police, Parliament and the community—will she examine it?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We invest an enormous amount in the training, skills and expertise of members of the police service, which we should be able to retain. He will know that we recently came up with a programme of retention at 30 years-plus to do exactly that. We should examine any measures relating to the pension scheme that would also encourage the retention of skills and expertise.
As well as record police numbers, it is as well to remind the House that the police service, in partnership with others, is bringing crime down. Since 1997, burglary is down by 39 per cent. and vehicle crime is down by 31 per cent. The chance of becoming a victim of crime in this country is as low as it was in 1981, which is a tremendous achievement, despite massive changes such as the growth in ownership of mobile phones. Indeed, the focus on police performance is much stronger than it used to be. We have been trying to make the use of modern technology more widespread: the 2 millionth profile has recently been loaded on to the DNA database and there are more than 2.17 million profiles for suspected offenders.
Despite those achievements, huge challenges lie in front of us, and it is vital that all our agencies and communities work together. I shall briefly refer to the "together" campaign against antisocial behaviour, which is having a significant impact. The "together" campaign, the "together" academy and the "together" action line give local communities the tools and powers to address low-level loutish behaviour, which causes so much misery to our communities. We have also made tackling antisocial behaviour a priority in the national policing plan, so it is a strategic priority for the police.
We want to make a stronger connection between communities and their police because we know that policing cannot simply be done to people. We want policing to occur with the active co-operation of communities so that local people give the police the intelligence and information that they need. Labour's approach has been "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime", which is more than just a slogan—it is a workable response to the spiralling crime that the Tories created before 1997. Labour Members know that people on estates, in inner cities, in rural areas and in market towns want to see efficient and effective policing; deterrence that works; swift detection and arrest; and fast and fair sentencing.
Crucially—this is the main philosophical difference between our parties—we must also understand the causes of crime, which is why police funding and partnership working are important. The issue is about not only a lack of individual responsibility but trying to address the underlying conditions that cause criminal behaviour—poverty, poor educational achievement, high unemployment and, crucially, drugs.
Everything that my hon. Friend the Minister has just said relates to the situation in Suffolk. I wholeheartedly support the Government's strong message that local authorities will be capped if they come up with council tax increases greater than low single figure percentages, and I also agree that precepting authorities such as the police cannot be exempt from that. However, there is some evidence that the public are prepared to pay a bit more for their police than they are for their councils. When the Minister examines the proposed increases, will she be slightly more lenient with proposed increases from police authorities where they have put a good case together and where they present some evidence that people in their authority area support an increase?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. He knows that I have been working extremely closely with my hon. Friends in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to ensure that we examine council tax and police precepts as holistically as possible. However, it is important that authorities have the support of their local communities when they propose increases. He is right that many local communities want to see good, effective, efficient, visible and accessible policing. I must also say to my hon. Friend that the council tax rises of the past few years are unsustainable, and we have sent out a clear message that we want authorities to be conscious of the effect on their communities of excessive council tax rises.
The Minister mentions factors that can affect local police forces, but will she bear in mind that some forces—such as Surrey—that have a good record and are popular with the community they serve have faced unusual burdens? In my constituency, the murder of a lorry driver on the M3 by means of a brick dropped from a bridge coincided with Operation Orb in relation to the tragic murder of Milly Dowler, and with the inquiry into the Deepcut deaths. Will the Minister bear in mind that good forces such as Surrey have found it difficult to retain staff, because they have been tempted to transfer to the Met, and that forces have been under great financial strain even without the extra burdens of particular inquiries? Surrey police need help from this Government but they do not feel they are getting it.
Because of the 3.25 per cent. flat rate this year, Surrey police will receive £15.7 million more than they would have done had the formula been applied. They are one of the massive gainers this year. They also have record numbers of police officers—518 more than when the Government came to power—and 64 community support officers on patrol. However, the hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made a special grant of £280,000 in April last year as a contribution to some of the large investigations that Surrey police were required to undertake. The hon. Gentleman will know that other applications for special grants and assistance are being considered. I am aware of the good work that Surrey police are doing, especially on the reassurance agenda, which is being led by the chief constable and is proving extremely interesting.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When giving statistics to the House, such as the figure of 500 extra police in a particular police force area, should not a Minister making such a claim explain that it is because a Metropolitan police borough—my constituency—was moved out of the Met and into Surrey, and the officers went with it? That is not an increase.
I am sure he has, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The settlement builds on a strong foundation of significant investment in the police service in recent years. It builds on annual increases in policing provision of 10.1 per cent. in 2000–01, 7.3 per cent. in 2001–02 and 6.2 per cent. this year. We are providing grant to support overall police spending of almost £10.1 billion. That is an increase of £400 million or 4.2 per cent. for this year.
The police grant report deals with Home Office general police grant for revenue expenditure. That amounts to £4,380 million in 2004–05. The amounts payable to individual police authorities are listed in the police grant report that I have presented to the House. Additionally, police authorities will receive £2,892 million revenue support grant as local authorities, and special damping grant support for Wales of £14 million, making £7,286 million in total. That is an overall increase of 3.25 per cent. on last year. Main force allocations were set out in the statement on
My hon. Friend mentioned special grants. Together with Gloucestershire constabulary, I lobbied for a private finance initiative credit of £1 million, so that we could have a new police station worth £26 million in Quedgeley in my constituency. Has that additional £1 million been confirmed by the Government?
Yes, it is just under £1 million, but I confirm that the PFI credit has been provided to enable the scheme to go ahead. I am sure that my hon. Friend and his community will appreciate the excellent facilities that will be provided for policing in his area.
In addition to the revenue support in general grant, I will provide £657 million for a range of specific initiatives and £355 million to support police authority capital programmes. I will spend some £706 million centrally in direct support of the police, and I shall say more about specific grant funding later.
As a consequence of the flat-rate settlement in Dyfed-Powys police authority, it will need to increase its precept on the council tax by 15 per cent. to maintain officer numbers. That means that in the past six years the burden falling on the council tax payers will have increased from 15 per cent. to 35 per cent. of the funding needed to maintain the police force. Is it the Government's policy to transfer the burden of police funding away from the Government to the council tax payer?
The hon. Gentleman is correct to say that the proportion borne by precept payers has increased in recent years, but the amount of investment from the centre has increased even more. There has been an increase of 30 per cent. in funding from the centre, and therefore there is no attempt to push the burden on to council tax and precept payers. Equally, where there is a demand for good, effective, visible and accountable policing in communities, it is a local responsibility as well as a national one to ensure that funds are in place to enable that to happen.
Across Government, we will also invest £1.3 billion in the national drug strategy next year, which will make a real and significant contribution to breaking the link between drugs and crime.
Does the Minister recognise that her colleague Robin Wales, who chairs the Association of London Government, speaking on behalf of all London councils, has called her settlement disappointing for the Metropolitan Police Authority? The impact of the new formula, together with the transfer of funding mentioned by my hon. Friend Dr. Cable, is the equivalent of a 9 per cent. council tax increase. Do the Government accept that their new formula for London will be the direct cause of 9 per cent. extra on the police budget for London council tax payers in April this year?
No, I do not accept that in the terms in which the hon. Gentleman chooses to put it. I will come to the settlement for the Metropolitan police, but they will get a significant increase in general grant as well as in many of the specific grants, including the formula for capital city functions. Extra funding will also be provided for the costs of the counter-terrorism work in which the Metropolitan police are particularly involved. I certainly do not accept the hon. Gentleman's formulation.
There have been hard choices to make this year. We were always clear that this would be a difficult year in the spending review settlement, and I am very aware that recent changes to the funding formula—to better reflect forces' needs and to distribute police grant more fairly—were implemented for the first time only this year. Funding formulae always involve difficult decisions, but we must try to ensure that the funding system operates as fairly as possible for everyone.
We have decided, exceptionally, to provide a standard general grant increase of 3.25 per cent. for each police authority in England and Wales in 2004–05. That is in recognition of the financial pressures on police authorities and our concern to avoid excessive burdens on council tax payers when police authorities set their final budgets for next year. Some authorities would benefit considerably were we to distribute general grant solely according to the needs-based formula. However, we have had to take full account of pressures across the board to ensure that all authorities could keep police precepts at sustainable levels next year and that policing services continue to improve. The general grant increase is well above inflation and will meet, in particular, the pay increases announced for next year. I want to assure hon. Members that we will try to get back to some better reflection of the funding formula in future years.
I shall give some examples of the effect of the flat-rate settlement. Essex will gain more than £15 million, Kent more than £14 million, Surrey £15 million, Sussex £10 million and Thames Valley nearly £5 million. It is clear that there are some significant gainers from the operation of the system this year, and some significant losers, too.
The Minister has just said that she expects council tax increases this year to be sustainable. Elsewhere, she has said that she expects them to be low. Her ministerial colleague with responsibility for local government has suggested that any council tax increase for local authorities that is greater than a low single figure percentage increase would be unacceptable. Is that the sort of increase that she expects for police authorities, and if the increase is higher, does she intend to cap them?
Clearly, the exercise of capping powers will be a matter for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister but, as I said previously, I have been keeping in close contact with my right hon. Friend on those matters. I understand that the local government settlement is 5.5 per cent., which is a significant real-terms increase that builds on previous significant real-terms increases, so it is perfectly proper to ask authorities to try to keep their increases to low single figures in view of the amount that has gone into local government services. The hon. Gentleman will know, as I do, that the extra money found in December—£340 million—was specifically targeted on social services and the liveability agenda, so that is extra help for local government, too.
The Home Secretary is writing to the 10 police authorities that we think are likely to be at the high end of police precept—[Interruption.] I can certainly supply Simon Hughes with a list of those authorities. The Home Secretary and I will be in direct contact with a wider range of authorities to discuss those issues. The issues are serious; it is not simply a matter of setting arbitrary figures, but of trying to support the authorities in making appropriate settlements.
For next year, we have done everything possible to maximise the increase in general grant. Time and time again, authorities say that they want more flexibility to spend the money as they see fit, so we have added £140 million from wider Home Office resources to general grant provision. We have also taken £100 million from existing and planned specific grants—not just the Airwave money—and central spending to try to increase the scope for police authorities to determine their own spending.
As in the last two years, we have made arrangements to ensure that Welsh police authorities receive support comparable to that for police authorities in England. We are providing special grant totalling just under £14 million to Welsh authorities next year. That is provided from outside the general grant settlement, as there are not enough forces in Wales to apply the floors and ceilings, and that will bring their allocations up to the 3.25 per cent. increase, in line with their English counterparts.
I have already dealt with matters relating to Airwave, and I hope that the extra money that we are providing will assist forces in that regard.
As part of the consultation exercise on the funding settlement, I have received 63 representations covering 32 police authority areas. I have received letters from chief constables, police authorities and hon. Members. I have met as many hon. Members and delegations as I possibly could during the consultation period. People expressed concerns about 10 big issues. Naturally, the biggest was the overall level of the settlement, because everybody would like more money, but the second biggest was the suspension of the funding formula—a point that has already been raised by hon. Members today. There were also concerns about the rural policing fund, the Airwave grant, the fact that there were no extra funds from the Chancellor's pre-Budget report, the effect on police precepts, the floors and ceilings, the area cost adjustment and the assumed national council tax rate—which I have endeavoured to understand—and its possible effect on the police precept.
I have taken into account all the representations made to me, whether in writing or at meetings, but I want to deal with a couple of those concerns. The first is the suspension of the funding formula. The funding formula is a fair guide to relative needs and we minimised use of it this year only with the greatest reluctance. The formula is based not only on crime rates, but on employment, density, population, including residential population, and tourism, and it provides an accurate measure so that we can direct our resources to the places with the greatest need. This year, obviously, we have taken exceptional decisions.
We have tried to protect police authorities from excessive year-on-year fluctuations by the introduction of floors and ceilings in 2002–03, but this year, with a standard-rate increase, the floors and ceilings are, in effect, at the same level. Through that arrangement, nine forces have contributed about £106 million to increase grant for forces that would have been below the floor of 3.25 per cent. I recognise that many of those making contributions to the funding floor feel that they are not getting their full share of the funding pot, but I have had to consider the need for financial stability across the board.
The situation for West Yorkshire is an example of what my hon. Friend has just been talking about. Does she acknowledge that the authority has not shared in the record increase in police officers, that the number of police per head of population in West Yorkshire is less than in any other metropolitan area, that as a result of floors and ceilings over the last two years we have lost grant of about £16 million and that the authority faces exceptional expenditure of more than £13 million as a result of the Bradford riots? Will my hon. Friend take that into account both when considering the precept and disbursing the extra money to which she referred earlier?
Only this week, I was in West Yorkshire visiting Leeds to look at some of the excellent work that is going on in local communities, especially in tackling antisocial behaviour, and to meet some of the community support officers. I think that West Yorkshire has 201 CSOs on patrol—one of the highest numbers. My hon. Friend is right to say that the force contributed £6.8 million to the pot for floors and ceilings this year and that will clearly have an effect. Nevertheless, there is an increase of £9.5 million in grant allocation for the force this year, which, building on significant previous increases, ought to be of assistance.
We shall continue to work with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister on issues relating to the police precept. Pensions have been mentioned several times, and I think that I have dealt with those issues.
I want to deal with the Metropolitan police, as hon. Members are greatly concerned about that force, which has a significant impact in policing our country. Grant for the Metropolitan Police Authority will increase from £1,764 million to £1,822 million. I have increased the formula provision for the MPA national and capital city functions from £202 million to £207 million. The Met will benefit from a range of special grants and payments: £73 million from the crime fighting fund; £9 million—again—to tackle street crime; about £10 million for basic command unit funds; about £7 million from the DNA expansion programme; and a range of other funding, including £29 million for the London allowance and £3.1 million towards free travel for officers in the capital.
The capital grant will be £355 million in the coming year, an increase of £22 million, or 6.6 per cent. Most of that provision, £185 million, will go directly to police authorities to support their capital programmes; we circulated the allocations this week. The Met will receive £48 million for capital plus a further £40 million as part of our agreement to support the costs of creating the command, control and communications system—the C3I system—which will further enhance the force's effectiveness.
I am delighted to tell the House that this year we shall be phasing out the £20 million premises improvement fund, as we have managed to make significant progress on improving police stations and facilities for officers. However, I shall be asking forces to concentrate a similar sum on capital improvements in the coming year to give priority to investment in technology to support front-line policing. In north Wales, I have seen excellent examples; forces are beginning to use palm pilots and mobile data that save them from having to keep going back to the police station. They can download photographs or key in statements directly. We are asking them to look into such technology and I am delighted to say that forces will not have to bid for those funds, so we will not have to go through bureaucratic bidding processes.
There are several specific programmes where funding is provided. One of the best and most successful is the crime fighting fund, a grant designed to increase the number of police officers. I hope that Members on both sides of the House will acknowledge that we have a record number of police officers. That has been achieved with the assistance of the crime fighting fund, which has enabled us to drive up police numbers.
The Minister is presumably aware that her comments about increased police numbers do not apply to Merseyside, but may I take her back to her discussion of representations from police authorities? My only experience of that was in the days when Mr. Howard was at the Home Office, there was a Conservative chairman of the Merseyside police authority and we received nothing. Will the Minister make clear how many of the representations made this year resulted in any change whatever to funding for local authorities?
Order. Before the Minister responds, may I make this point to the House? It is difficult for the Chair to prevent Members from seeking to intervene and obviously the Minister then has to respond. The more and the longer the interventions, and the more the responses, the less the time that will be left for other Members who are waiting patiently to make their contributions to the debate.
The hon. Gentleman will know that the population of Merseyside is falling, but it has one of the highest ratios of police officers to population in the country. He will also know, from the statement made in the House, that we have confirmed the provisional settlement in relation to the proposals.
I am conscious of the time, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and of the fact that hon. Members want to speak, but I should like to highlight one or two other issues in concluding my remarks. Additional funds will be given to the police service this year to enable it to respond to the continuing challenges of international terrorism. Special grant will continue for special priority payments.
We will continue to fund and support the hugely successful community support officers. We now have 3,000 patrolling throughout the country, and 18 forces have been able to receive funding for their CSOs, not just from the police but from local authorities and, increasingly, from housing trusts and registered social landlords. I saw some in Telford just this week, and they are extremely successful.
The rural policing fund will continue at £30 million. The street crime initiative will continue to be funded at £24 million, and we have had tremendous success in driving down street crime—a 17 per cent. reduction in the top 10 areas. We will provide another £50 million for high crime areas under the BCU fund.
We will provide some new money this year for work force modernisation, which is absolutely central to the reform programme, to get a better skills mix throughout the police service; we have got £8 million this year and we will have £5 million next year. We have three big programmes in Northumbria and Surrey, and I hope to have a big programme in the Met as well, to redesign and re-engineer the way in which the police service works on the ground. We have seven medium-sized programmes in areas that range from Nottingham and Dyfed-Powys to civilian staff in Humberside and investigating officers in Lincolnshire—an engine for change and reform in our service.
On the centrally provided services, we continue to fund the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad, with increases of £12.2 million and £6.8 million respectively. The Police Information Technology Organisation has £264 million, and Centrex training receives £89 million. All that is fundamental to our reform programme.
We are also taking action on the big challenge for us—to try to reduce bureaucracy. We will roll out the fixed penalty scheme right across the country. That scheme is hugely welcomed by officers, as they can issue fixed penalties without going through the custody process, so they are back out on the streets doing the job that they want to do and the job that we pay them for.
All 43 forces now have facilities to undertake video identification parades, and Airwave is being rolled out across the county. The case and custody IT programme, which I saw in Warwick, will be a tremendous improvement on the current system. We are continuing to press police authorities to meet their efficiency gains. Many of them have done extremely well in recent years, and I hope that they will be able to do the same again.
We always said that this year's settlement would be difficult. I believe that we have managed to strike the right balance in the distribution of police grant. There are some significant gainers; there are also those forces that have had to contribute significantly to the pot, but we have done a great deal with police reform in the past two years. We will continue to invest strongly in a reformed police service and to work closely with forces and communities to deliver, as the public rightly expect, ever higher standards of policing and performance to help to build safer communities for the people whom we serve. I commend the report to the House.
The Minister refers in her closing remarks to spending the past two years reforming the police service. Do I have to remind her that the Government have been in office nearly seven years and that, in the first four years of that period, they actually slashed the police service by 3,000 officers?
May I join the Minister, however, in paying tribute, as she did at the beginning of her speech, to our police forces? In the context of the Soham inquiry I am fortunate, or perhaps unfortunate, to represent South-East Cambridgeshire, so I have seen the police force at its most magnificent in the way that it and so many forces coped with that awful tragedy. I stand second to no one in paying tribute to the commitment, courage and sometimes astonishing bravery of our police in maintaining law and order—especially, as the Minister said, in these times of the increased threat from terrorism.
The Conservative party wholly welcomes the increase in police numbers. It is pity that we had to go down 3,000 before we went up 12,000.
It is interesting that the Prime Minister apparently has no reverse gear, yet we have reversed from a 3,000 reduction to a 12,000 increase. We have made it clear that we believe that another 40,000 police are needed. We will provide resources for those officers, so that we can have the policing that we believe is necessary for the country. It is interesting that the Government clearly do not share that objective.
One of the omissions—there were a few—from the Minister's speech is that she talked about the crime fighting fund, but she did not remind the House that she is abandoning the crime fighting fund for any further officers this year. She looks askance, but that is in her statement. There will be no more crime fighting fund money, other than that for the existing increase in officers. Clearly, the Government do not intend to make the significant increase in the number of officers that we believe is necessary.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He talks about police numbers being slashed, but was that not partly the result of the Government perhaps unwisely keeping to Conservative Government spending figures for the first two years?
A Government in office have to take responsibility for their own decisions. The Government were not required to stick to any figure. I have no idea whether they stuck to previous figures. I cannot believe that that is the case. It is also very interesting to consider—dare I say it?—the totality of the Government's activities in the first Parliament. Where it suited them to blame the previous Government's spending plans, they blamed them; where it suited them to take credit for what was done, they took the credit. They cannot have it both ways.
After paying tribute to the police forces, I want to pay tribute to the Minister. Frankly, for a Minister who shows the marks of the Chancellor's hobnail boots all over her in terms of the settlement, she presented an incredibly rosy picture of police funding—if it can be said that giving a little more than half what police authorities need represents a rosy picture. I remind her that the No. 10 strategy unit has said that crime figures in this country are among the worst in the developed world.
Let us look back at the past three years, since the welcome 12,000 increase in police numbers. In those same three years, the council tax precept for police authorities has gone up by no less than 87 per cent. We have to ask why that is so. Police authority expenditure has gone up by £1.8 billion—a 22 per cent. increase—but that is almost entirely driven by central costs: centrally determined pay, pensions, national insurance hikes and the increased number of civilians. The Minister boasted about that increase, but most of those civilians are needed to fulfil bureaucratic functions required by the Government: filling in forms, meeting targets, and carrying out 34 Government initiatives, which they have imposed on police authorities regardless of local needs and priorities.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me time, by giving way. He says that part of the problem has been increased bureaucracy. Is he aware that, over the past 10 years, we have seen something like a doubling—certainly in my area—in the number of civilian support staff? He may view that as added bureaucracy, but a lot of those people are retired police officers who are now civilian note takers, for example. Is he pledging to reduce the number of civilian support staff to boost the number of police officers; or would he increase the burden of taxation?
The hon. Gentleman entirely misses the point. My point is not that we do not want to see an increase in the use of civilians for jobs that do not require police officers, but that the huge increase in expenditure by police authorities has been caused by central Government decision making. Police authorities do not have the discretion that they used to have to control their expenditure.
Of the £1.8 billion increase in expenditure, total central Government contributions have increased by just £881 million. The Minister obfuscated over the past half an hour or so, with all sorts of lists of different funds—£10 million here, £50 million or £60 million there. The reality—the totality—is an increase in Government spending of £881 million in the past three years. So to meet those centrally determined costs, police authorities have had no option but to increase their precepts, because the Government have added expense burdens yet have not provided the resources to match them.
Whereas in the base year of 2000–01—the year in which police numbers started to rise—the council tax raised just 13 per cent. of police authority expenditure, it is raising more than 20 per cent. in the current year. That represents a dramatic shift in funding responsibility. If we look behind the national figures to determine what they actually mean for police numbers, we find out that although the Government boast about the extra 12,000 officers, the rise in council tax paid for by council tax payers throughout the country would have paid for more than 19,000 extra officers if it had not had to be used to make up for the Government's shortfall in funding. In London, that would have meant another 500 officers. South Yorkshire has seen a tax increase of 63 per cent. That would have paid for 269 extra officers in the Home Secretary's force, but it has received just 47. The tax in my area of Cambridgeshire has gone up by 90 per cent. That would have paid for 267 extra officers, but we have got just 174. In Hampshire, which is the area of Mr. Denham—the previous Minister with responsibility for the police, who was in office for most of the three years about which I am talking—the tax has gone up by 80 per cent. That would have paid for 561 extra officers, but the area received only 274.
The list goes on. Only eight out of 43 police authorities have experienced an increase in officers greater than that which would have been paid for by the tax increase. My accusation against the Government is not that we have got extra police officers over the past few years, but that, contrary to ministerial hype, not only have they been paid for by the council tax payer, but the council tax payer has been short-changed by some 7,000 officers.
Does my hon. Friend agree that if one considers the widely varying policing needs of the Metropolitan police area, especially because of demands on inner London owing to terrorist threats, outer London boroughs such as Havering are getting the smallest slice of the Metropolitan cake? Whatever the additional resources poured into the Metropolitan area, the outer London boroughs are still starved of resources.
My hon. Friend stands second to no one in supporting her force, and she is perfectly correct to question the allocation of resources in a force. My only caution in response is that forces should have such discretion, and my contention is that so much of it has been taken from them by the Government.
Let me turn to next year's funding. The settlement smacks of panic. What happened to education last year is happening to the police this year. Why else have the Government had to suspend the funding formula that they brought in only a year ago? They have suspended it regardless of need, growth or specific circumstances in localities. The Minister boasted of half a dozen police authorities that will gain from the settlement, but she did not list the losers. If she had stuck to the formula, at least it would have been clear to everyone why they got what they got. Instead, there is a blanket 3.25 per cent. for all authorities, although as was said earlier, it is about 3.15 per cent. after one allows for the Airwave debacle.
In many cases, specific grants were already committed. That was not only true of Airwave, for which £37.5 million was originally taken out of budgets—it is nothing short of a shambles that the Home Office took out that money. The Minister tried to lead the House into believing that because she has put some of the money back, there has somehow been an overall increase in spending on Airwave. There is still a £7.5 million shortfall, and authorities are contractually committed to pay much of that money, including, I dare say, that of the Surrey police force, which she suggested had received an especially good settlement.
Last autumn, the Association of Police Authorities told the Home Secretary that a 6 per cent. increase was needed to meet budget obligations. It told him why: all the increased pay required by central pay negotiations; pension demands; the new statutory duties in the Police Reform Act 2002; the running costs of the new information technology systems; anti-terrorist work; DNA support; and even—God help us—centrally determined uniform requirements, which will add 1 per cent. to my force's council tax precept. Instead of receiving 6 per cent., it is receiving 3.25 per cent. In fact, to underline the panic clearly faced by the Government, figures show that the Home Office police grant went up by only 2.1 per cent. Rather like Corporal Jones, I imagine that the Minister was flying round the Home Office shouting, "Don't panic—where can we find some more money?"
The Minister told the House that she had found a little more money. She found £140 million from somewhere else in the Home Office, which only goes to show where waste must already exist. She found £100 million from specific and capital grants, so the Government are using capital grant money to support revenue spending. The result is that the Association of Police Authorities expects an average 15 per cent. rise to the precept this year. Just 11 out of the 43 police authorities expect single-figure rises, and only three expect a rise below 9 per cent.
That brings me on to capping. The Deputy Prime Minister said that he expects council tax rises to be in low single figures. The Minister for Local Government, Regional Governance and Fire told many authorities that he will step in if they levy an increase of more than 5 per cent. The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety told the police authorities about capping:
"We hope that it will not be necessary for any police authority and look to continued improvement in policing services without excessive burdens being placed on local taxpayers"— some hope.
What does the Minister propose? How are police authorities to reduce expenditure by £250 million, which is the gap between what she has provided and what they need? Most police authorities cannot reduce their numbers of police officers because of the crime fighting fund criteria—any reductions would be taken off the crime fighting fund figures first—so they will have no option but to reduce civilian staff. Reducing civilian staff inevitably means taking police officers off the streets and putting them back behind desks. What is the Minister doing to cut all the centrally imposed costs?
If the Minister is determined, as she appears to be, to impose only a 3.25 per cent. increase, police authorities must be told now. We are into February, so it is no use saying that she will hold discussions with police authorities over the coming weeks and months. They are setting their budgets now, and they must tell the preceptor authorities how much they need in the next few weeks. When will she tell them her expectations on capping? When will she tell them what she expects their budgets to be and what she expects them to cut so that they may meet those budgets? She cannot shuffle off responsibility on to the Deputy Prime Minister. She needs to tell the authorities now exactly what she expects of them. If she tells them that they must not increase their precept by more than 6 or 7 per cent.—whatever figure she decides—yes, they will have to make cuts, but at least they will know what they are doing. They currently face setting an average increase of 15 per cent.
Far from providing the improvement in policing that the Minister wants from the settlement, it will almost certainly lead to a worsening. The beleaguered council tax payer will continue to pay more and to be short-changed by the Government.
The settlement is important for people who live in Nottinghamshire, as is the debate. On
We in Nottinghamshire are in a position to make some judgments about that. Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary reported last March that not only were we not getting value for money, but that the police in Nottinghamshire were not efficient or effective. HMIC reported again at the end of last year and concluded that there had been a small improvement. That had come at a very late stage, but at least it was an improving police force. I commend the officers on the beat in Nottinghamshire for their hard work. The HMIC report went on to say that, compared with other authorities, the performance of the Nottinghamshire police was relatively poor.
There are strong feelings among residents of Nottinghamshire that they are not getting a fair deal from their police. That view is supported by all the Nottinghamshire Members of Parliament. I am delighted that my hon. Friend Vernon Coaker is present, sitting on the Front Bench. He has campaigned hard for local authorities to work on antisocial behaviour, and for better co-operation between the police and the local authority, because he knows that in places such as Netherfield, the yobbish behaviour affects people. He knows, too, that people living in Arnold were mortified by the tragic death of Marian Bates. I am delighted, as is my hon. Friend, that an arrest has been made and that it looks as though the efforts of the Nottinghamshire police are making progress. We want a successful conclusion.
We should acknowledge that alongside progress, there have been management failings. It was the chief constable who introduced a new telephone system two years ago, which was ineffective. It was the chief constable and the police who decided to realign boundaries alongside district council boundaries, again for good reasons, but that change caused problems and led to a fall in morale in the Nottinghamshire police. Again, it was a management decision that rapid response squads should be taken away from a local base and placed centrally. There was a strong feeling in the community that people were being denied their police. Of course, when police come from another town, they are not familiar with local problems, and sometimes have difficulty finding the scene of the crime.
Such management failings build on a long tradition of complacency. We have a new—or rather, a not so new—chief constable, Stephen Green, who has been in place for three years and has brought in radical change. If there is criticism of the chief constable, it is that he has introduced too much change. There have been difficulties in trying to handle change on that scale. Change and investment go together. Reform needs investment, but investment should be a precondition for reform. I am not confident that we have the balance right in Nottinghamshire. I want to see improved performance from the Nottinghamshire police, but we need to examine carefully what is happening in the force. They are, they argue strongly, under-resourced.
There are more crimes per officer in Nottinghamshire than anywhere else. In terms of crimes per 1,000 of population, Nottinghamshire tops the league. There are twice the number of 999 calls to the Nottinghamshire police. That shows the demands made on the force, but it has not all been bad news. Nottinghamshire police have record numbers of police officers—an extra 264 over the past few years, backed by 43 community support officers, who do valuable work in local communities. My fellow MPs from the area and I want to see more uniformed community support officers working in conjunction with the local authorities for change.
We need to ask why crime is traditionally so high in Nottinghamshire. Will my hon. Friend the Minister, in co-operation with HMIC and the police standards unit, investigate why for 20 years the crime rate in Nottinghamshire appears to have been higher than anywhere else in the country? There is a history of heavy drinking and violent behaviour, but it is not clear why Nottinghamshire, with a big urban centre, mining communities and a rural area, should appear to be so atypical. We need to examine that closely. We must also consider current crime trends in Nottinghamshire. Ten years ago there would be eight or nine murders a year. In the past two years the Nottinghamshire police have had to investigate 17 category A murders, and that takes a tremendous amount of resources.
Those crimes generally occur in Nottingham. The effect is that police are brought from outside the city, leaving a policing vacuum in suburban and rural areas. The police are on the case; they take the matter seriously. They are to set up a homicide unit, creating a pool of officers at the centre, backed by better technology. However, further work is required. The police in Nottinghamshire are considering the possibility of establishing a serious offending unit—a group based in the centre, so that officers are not sucked away from their area, and so that when assassinations take place, driven largely by drug-related crime, there is a separate unit that can respond to the situation. Much work is being done, funded by the police authority's budget, to establish such a unit.
It is important that we examine the level of serious crime in Nottinghamshire. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Minister, who has discussed the matter with us privately, is to go to Nottinghamshire on Monday. She will meet a range of people there and speak to the chief constable and to the chairman of the police authority, John Clarke. I hope the discussion will be on the twin themes of investment and reform. I hope that she and all of us will build on the work of pulling together the various bodies in Nottinghamshire. HMIC and the standards unit have been working closely together. When she visits Nottinghamshire, I should like my hon. Friend to deliver a new vision, a new sense of purpose, an awareness of the problem, a set of actions and a timetable to achieve change. People in Nottinghamshire deserve nothing less.
Throughout the country, people are sick and tired of the council tax, and of large increases in their council tax. They are sick and tired of increases in their council tax without any appreciable improvement in the service they receive. Although I have a great deal of respect and time for the Minister, it is no good blathering on about the improvements in police numbers if the Government are not prepared to put in the resources to pay for them. It is no good blathering on about keeping council tax increases down to a reasonable—sustainable, as she puts it—level, if the Government are not prepared to ensure the proper balance between central Government expenditure and local government expenditure.
The inconvenient truth hidden in the police grant report that we are debating, which was outlined by Mr. Paice, is that there are police forces and police authorities all over the country that will not put in bids this year for council tax increases of 5, 6 or 7 per cent. They will be well into double figures, as even a cursory glance at the list of expected increases reveals, although I accept that that may change over the next few days as budget meetings take place. Avon and Somerset expects an increase of 12 per cent.; Bedfordshire, 15.9 per cent.; Cambridgeshire, 14.1 per cent.; Cheshire, up to 18 per cent.; Devon and Cornwall, 12.5 per cent.; and Durham, 20 per cent. I shall not read the complete list, but it is clear that the vast majority of police authorities expect substantial increases in council tax this year, which build on increases that have been made year after year. Someone has to say, "Enough is enough." No one begrudges paying for policing: people want more police on their streets and welcome what the Government have done to increase the number of officers across the country. In that respect, their only criticism of the Government is that it took them two to three years to distance themselves from the tired Conservative policy of not providing any increases in police numbers. Mr. Truswell said that perhaps that was not wise. In fact, it was blindly stupid of the Government in their first term not to recognise the need to fight crime effectively.
There is a problem, and I hope that the Minister will give us the list of 10 police authorities to which she intends to write, and tell us what she intends to say to them. Will she tell them that they are to cut police numbers, or that they are to cut civilian numbers and return those duties to uniformed officers? Will she tell them that they are to reduce the effectiveness of their operations? Of course not. She will say that they must magically produce the money that the Government have not provided. The question of whether the Government intend to cap police authorities, which face a funding gap of £250 million, remains unanswered.
If my hon. Friend cannot help me, perhaps the Minister can when she replies. Which Ministry would be responsible for any possible cap of Welsh police authorities?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question, but I do not know the answer. I hope that the Minister can help, as there is the slightly odd interposition of the Welsh Assembly. However, my hon. Friend's police authority, Dyfed-Powys, faces a 15 per cent. increase. I know its chief constable well, and appointed him to the ranks of the Association of Chief Police Officers a few years ago. He is a dedicated police officer, and his force is extremely lean, effective and efficient. If it says that it needs 15 per cent., we can be sure that that is not because it has inflated ideas about what it should provide.
My hon. Friend will be aware that in London we are looking forward to the prospect of the Government having to cap the Mayor—that would be an interesting phenomenon. However, has he seen any statement of Government policy that owns up to the fact that they want to cut the share of taxpayers' money going to police authorities? In effect, the Government would indirectly impose a stealth tax through police authorities, whatever their political persuasion.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting and cogent point. The Government came as close as they have yet done to an admission that that was the case when the Minister replied to one of his interventions. The Government are pursuing a policy of increasing policing at the expense of the council tax payer rather than at the expense of central Government.
If the council tax system is not working on that scale, what are the answers? One solution is the reform or abolition of the council tax. I do not want to get into that argument, because it will be pursued in the following debate on local government finance, and I know that my hon. Friend Mr. Davey wishes to address it. We could tackle the overall presentation of figures, as there are distortions in the system. The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire highlighted some of them, including the pension system. I always give this example, but I shall do so again. When I was involved with the predecessor of the Association of Police Authorities, I went to David Maclean, who was then police Minister, to discuss pensions. He promised me that the matter would be solved by Christmas. That was back in 1996, but we are still waiting for a solution.
Airwave has already been discussed, and I do not want to add anything, other than to observe that the money that the Government have put back into the system has reappeared mostly as capital rather than revenue, which will cause problems for police authorities. It is time to take a serious look at police authorities' responsibilities. There should be a national audit of the availability of officers in different parts of the country and the adequacy of police cover, which could, for example, deal with the problems mentioned by Paddy Tipping. I hesitate to suggest another inquiry, as there are rather a lot of inquiries at the moment. Indeed, it is time that the Government published a directory of inquiries, so that we could work out which is which. However, we need an audit of the adequacy of police cover.
We also need to look carefully at the national responsibilities that many of our forces, especially the Metropolitan police, are taking on. We rightly regard the threat of terrorism, organised crime, the drugs trade and activities by paedophiles as matters that transcend police authority boundaries and that need to be dealt with effectively, but we do not have the apparatus to do so. We should acknowledge that and look at how we could remove those responsibilities from the sphere of the local chief constable and police authority so that they can concentrate on what is most important to the local community—tackling crime in the area, keeping the peace, reducing antisocial behaviour and doing the things that we all know our constituents want.
We need to look at the relationship between the police and the areas that they serve. The police, the chief constable and individual areas should agree a minimum policing guarantee. That guarantee need not operate on a force basis and certainly not on a joint force basis. My own constabulary, Avon and Somerset, covers a huge area, but there is major crime in Bristol, which acts as a magnet for resources, constantly reducing the policing available in rural parts of Somerset. Angela Watkinson mentioned the position in Havering. I do not know what the situation is in the London boroughs, but each one should have the opportunity to state the minimum level of policing needed in its area. There should be a relationship between that level and the amount of council tax that people pay.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that police authorities should have the freedom to use their budgets to decide, for example, whether to spend money on police constables or community support officers? The money allocated for CSOs should not be ring-fenced.
Such local freedom should apply. If we undertook some of the basic reforms that I have suggested, which may be far beyond the scope of the police grant report, it would enable local police commanders to make such decisions in consultation with local communities. We would thereby afford our police a genuine opportunity to work with and for the local community, so that they are no longer compelled by Home Office edicts to take on other responsibilities. I do not want to give the wrong impression, as I do not believe that national responsibilities are unimportant. I simply believe that they should not be dealt with at the expense of local policing and local crime fighting.
So many things could be done better to equip police forces. The Minister rightly mentioned IT provision. It is crazy that the average AA or RAC patrol officer has immensely better IT equipment in his or her van than a police officer who may be called to attend a serious crime, yet that is the case all over the country. However much money we plough into policing, we will not do a good job for the public until we reduce paperwork and bureaucracy; understand the importance of the patrol function instead of treating it as a marginal activity that is always reduced when times are hard; realise the effect of abstractions on national responsibilities in relation to crime and local policing; and mobilise the local community by using retained officers, as do fire brigades in rural areas, to free up full-time officers and to provide extra cover and visibility.
Funding our police adequately is not only important but essential to the maintenance of good order. We sometimes expect an awful lot of our police, and they generally deliver, but they cannot do so without adequate personnel or resources to do the job. If the Government and we as a House want that to happen effectively in our local areas, we have to will the means as well as the ends. It is simply a deception on the public if we talk big about being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime without ultimately providing the resources that make that a reality, while hoping that people will not notice. At the moment, however, they are noticing. They feel that they are not getting the value for money that they are entitled to expect from our policing service, and that they are paying more and more, to the point at which the policing precept is beginning to overtake the district council precept on the council tax bill. I fear that their questions are going unanswered. I fear that the Government are not providing the central resources and that many people will get a horrible shock when they open their council tax bills this year. Those people will be writing letters to their Members of Parliament, to their chief constables and to their local press to ask why they are paying another 10 per cent. or 15 per cent. for policing despite the fact that they cannot remember the last time they saw a police constable in their town, village or street.
The House should reject the report and ask the Government to think again. It fails to support local policing, fails to protect the local taxpayer and, in the long term, fails to protect the public.
It is always a pleasure to speak on the Floor of the House when you are in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. When I last did so, I spoke for 47 minutes, but today I will keep within Mr. Speaker's limit.
It is always a pleasure to follow Mr. Heath, who spoke with great eloquence and pertinence. I shall not respond to his speech—I leave that to the Minister—but he made some important points about our local communities and their receptiveness to police officers, which he balanced against current levels of council tax.
I welcome the statement by my hon. Friend the Minister. Essentially, her increase in grant of 3.25 per cent. on last year means that Cleveland police will receive a total of £86.8 million in general grant for the year, with more specific grants that will become available, giving our police authority an extra £2.5 million. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome mentioned the presence on the streets of police officers. The money that is on the table will go towards putting 200 extra bobbies on the beat in Cleveland—100 police officers and 100 police community support officers, who, as the Minister said, are important in our communities. That will amount to one additional fresh police face in all 71 wards in Cleveland, covering Stockton, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, and Redcar and Cleveland.
The additional money that we are voting on today links in with the Government's determined drive to tackle antisocial behaviour head on and to heighten the police presence on our streets. That will help Cleveland police to establish a force with the specific task of tackling antisocial behaviour. The Minister referred to efficient and effective policing and deterrence that works. Such a presence on the streets is comforting and reassuring, and emphasises the fact that central Government do care and are prepared to put their money where their mouth is. I am sure that that feeling will be reflected in Middlesbrough and in Cleveland overall. Any new bobbies on the beat in Middlesbrough will link with the 70 street wardens, who now respond to more than 1,000 calls a month, and the 14 extra police officers introduced through the town's neighbourhood renewal programme.
Our elected mayor, Ray Mallon, has demonstrated how seriously he treats crime in the town. Each morning, almost before the rest of us wake, he is informed of the overnight crime statistics in the Boro—a fact that impressed me and the noble Lord Falconer. He can immediately see what the crime figures are, whether they are going up or down, and which areas are affected. In a sense, he has his finger on the crime pulse of our town. I would urge chief executives and leaders of local authorities up and down the land to adopt that system, so that, working with their constabularies, they too get the overnight statistics and keep their fingers on the crime pulse; and so that their citizens also benefit in the long run from the measures that the Government, with community wardens and the police, are taking against antisocial behaviour. The road to ridding our society of such behaviour might be long and rocky, but it is worth journeying for the benefit of our people. The motion is a positive step in that direction.
Our street wardens now respond to 1,000 calls a month, freeing up police resources to deal with crime. We have spent £500,000 on improving the Middlesbrough CCTV network, which covers the town centre and surrounding areas. Cameras have helped in increasing the number of arrests since the new centre was set up. Cleveland police and Middlesbrough council have secured more antisocial behaviour orders against offenders and more than 200 have signed acceptable behaviour contracts.
According to national crime recording standards figures, overall crime in Middlesbrough is down by 3.7 per cent. and house burglaries have decreased by 22.9 per cent. In Cleveland, we have a unique opportunity because we have a new chief constable, a new senior management team and a new chief executive. It is important that they use the extra resources that the Government have awarded through the motion to respond to the overwhelming public demand, to which the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome referred, for an increase in high visibility community policing, with greater officer presence on the streets.
Cleveland police authority has assured the Minister that all additional funding in its budget, which is set on
Following the speech of my hon. Friend Paddy Tipping, we learned that the Minister goes to West Yorkshire on Monday. She will visit Cleveland by the end of the month and witness our great and determined efforts to tackle antisocial behaviour and use the money on which we shall vote today with the utmost seriousness and diligence in the interests of the community by increasing the number of officers. Our people in Middlesbrough, like others throughout the land, will therefore see an increased police presence, feel reassured and continue to witness falling crime figures. I am therefore happy to support the motion and the increase in the money that the Minister will give Cleveland.
So far, we have heard from the north, the south-west, London and the east. Now it is the turn of the west midlands—specifically, the West Mercia constabulary.
I pay unqualified tribute to the West Mercia constabulary. Whenever I have raised an operational problem, it has responded magnificently. When it has made mistakes, it has admitted them and tackled them well. I have nothing but praise for Bob Forster, the chairman of the police authority, Paul West, the new chief constable and all the officers who work under him, especially in my constituency.
We experience specific challenges. West Mercia is a low crime area, and it is wrong to fear crime in my constituency to the same extent as in London. However, the police have to deal with genuine problems, especially antisocial behaviour, which is a huge menace in large parts of my constituency, and illegal travellers. Rural forces have to contend with such issues, which pose genuine challenges to the constabulary's resources.
I want to make two key points. First, police numbers have increased in West Mercia and, on balance, I am pleased about that. I say "on balance" because the council tax payer has borne the entire cost of paying for the extra officers. Not one penny of Government money has gone towards increasing the number of officers in my constituency. Two years ago there was an increase of 300 officers, and that was financed by the 33 per cent. increase in the council tax precept in one year.
I am delighted that there are more officers, but I will not see the Government take the credit. The council tax payers of the West Mercia constabulary area should do that. The Government cannot brag about an increase in police numbers because they have not funded it. My constituents—the council tax payers—have paid for those additional officers.
My second point is almost parenthetical. It is a marker for the future rather than the present. I want to ensure the maintenance of the independence of the West Mercia constabulary. I am fearful of the Government's plans for regionalisation of the fire service and I worry that the same could happen to police services. I do not want the West Mercia constabulary to be merged into a larger West Midlands police force. The urban area that the West Midlands authority currently serves has a different set of problems, and I am delighted that the West Mercia constabulary remains separate, able to serve the larger rural areas of Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, and to have people, such as me, speaking up for its concerns. I hope that the Government will not toy with regionalising the police service.
My text is the "Draft 3 Year Strategy, Joint Policing Plan and Budget Consultation 2004/5", which West Mercia constabulary recently produced. It was sent to all Members of Parliament and other interested bodies in the constabulary area. It points out:
"Policing is funded in part from central government grant and in part from the council taxpayer. This year the government's provisional grant has increased by 2.8 per cent. against a minimum 6.6 per cent. increase in the Police Authority budget required to cover current obligations."
Does the Minister query that 6.6 per cent. figure? I have not seen all the details, and I freely confess that the police authority could do some things more efficiently. However, the West Mercia authority has been spectacularly successful in achieving efficiency savings year after year. Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary has confirmed that West Mercia exceeded its 2 per cent. efficiency target in each of the past four years. That means £12.8 million of savings, and I say, "Well done, West Mercia" for that.
I am broadly convinced that the increased obligations on several public sector organisations—district and county councils, as well as the police—are much higher than the Government admit. They want to take the credit for doing many things, but they will not pick up the bill for achieving them. The Government also impose increasingly strenuous reporting obligations on public services locally. That, too, imposes huge costs on organisations such as West Mercia police authority.
I am worried because the police authority document states:
"In order to maintain and develop the existing level of service and respond to external pressures, new legislation and unavoidable requirements, local council taxpayers will have to pay an increased share of the police budget. The calculated increase to permit this is an extra £18.40 per annum or 36p per week for a Band D property, which equates to a 15.4 per cent. rise."
I understand why the police authority, which is desperate for the money, resorts to a slightly disingenuous technique of referring to 36p per week. The figure of 15.4 per cent. is much more important. In 2001–02, there was a 6 per cent. increase; in 2002–03, there was a 33 per cent. increase, and in 2003–04, the increase was 14.6 per cent. So far in the Parliament, the council tax precept for West Mercia police authority has increased by 62 per cent. The proposed increase would take the cumulative figure to 86 per cent., which the hard-pressed council tax payers of my constituency have to fund.
The increase that the police authority proposes is smaller than what the chief constable wanted. He asked for an overall budget increase of 7.9 per cent., which would mean an increase of 19.4 per cent. in the police precept. The police authority has therefore already trimmed the chief constable's requirements, which would have meant an extra £23.27 a year for the average band D council tax payer. I am deeply worried about that. Clearly, the police authority is already cutting back on what it believes the chief constable needs to fulfil his policing requirements in my constituency.
The increase will lead to a further modest increase in police officers and the development of sufficient supervisory ranks to improve the performance of existing officers. However, a part of the relevant paragraph in the police authority document worries me. It states:
"This level of police officers would bring the force close to an average level for Shire forces"— we are well below average for shire forces, never mind national forces—
"and complies with the Government's wish to see a strengthening of police officers nationally."
Let me revert to my earlier point. If the Government want to see higher police officer numbers nationally, they should pay for that from general taxation, not load the burden on to the fixed income households—the pensioners—in my constituency. They just cannot afford any further such council tax increases.
There is also the thorny question of the area cost adjustment applied to police authority funding. I remind the Minister that West Mercia is surrounded by authorities that receive the area cost adjustment. The West Midlands, Gloucestershire and Warwickshire police all receive the area cost adjustment but are fishing in exactly the same labour pool as the West Mercia constabulary. Indeed, many officers of West Midlands police live in my constituency, and when I canvass them at election time and between elections, they tell me about life in Birmingham. The West Midlands police authority is rewarded with extra money for the additional costs involved in the recruitment of police officers who have chosen to live in my constituency. By logic, the West Mercia authority should receive the same additional funding.
I have two specific points to put to the Minister. First, my police authority was very pleased to receive a letter at the end of last year informing it that there would be an extra £340 million for English local authorities. It wrote back to ask how much of that it was going to get; the answer, of course, was absolutely nothing. It was very sweet of Ministers to ensure that a letter went to that police authority to tell it about extra money that other authorities would get. Why did it get a letter telling it about that additional money, when not a penny of it was coming to policing?
Secondly, will the Minister confirm that, as Robert Forster has said in a letter to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the claim that there has been a 3.25 per cent. increase in overall police funding is just not true? The increase is actually 2.8 per cent., as I believe she previously admitted, because the figure includes
"the transfer of ring-fenced initiatives into mainstream grant funding".
That is another classic example of smoke and mirrors from the Government.
I have a real concern for my police authority, which I hold in high regard, and the policemen and women of my area, whom I also hold in high regard. There is a perception abroad in the country that there is a war on motorists rather than a war on burglars. I say that that is a perception, and it may or may not be fair, but that is how people feel. Yet the council tax payers see the police demanding more and more money from them, year on year, through huge increases in council tax. I am worried that the Government's strategy for funding the police, and their strategy towards motorists, might well conspire to remove much popular support for the police, not just in my constituency but up and down the country.
The message is simple: if the Government will the ends, they must will the means. They are not doing that in this report.
I shall be brief, because there is a danger that this debate can seem like an annual bleat to the Minister, in which a succession of MPs stand up and say how appalling things are in their area, and the Minister then winds up by saying that everything in the garden is lovely and they have never had it so good.
I am a veteran at making complaints on behalf of my police authority, Merseyside. Those complaints date back to when Mr. Howard was in the Home Office. At that time, I went to see him with the then Conservative leader of my police authority—that was the only time that my police authority had a Conservative leader. We were shown into a room and treated very politely and courteously, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman listened to us from behind a desk the size of which I had never seen before, but at the end of the day we got absolutely nothing from him. Despite that, and despite a subsequent succession of discouraging experiences with Ministers, I remain optimistic that this Minister will respond to reason.
The fact of the matter is that my residents still complain. They complain about standard things that residents in other parts of the country also complain about, including thin police cover, slow response and the constant rotation of staff and personnel. That is a particular problem in community policing. It is all very well for someone to bed themselves in their community, but if they are moved soon afterwards, as often happens in my neck of the woods, it creates an ongoing problem with no solution.
I know, objectively, that the statistics are not favourably pitched for me to make my particular plea to the Minister because the per capita funding for Merseyside is pretty high—if not very high—compared with other authorities. The norm may not be good, but Merseyside is not comparatively worse off than other areas. However, Merseyside has its own problems. A significant amount of the Merseyside police authority budget goes on pensions. I was discouraged to learn the other day that, whereas in Manchester early retirements from the police authority are at 4 per cent., in Merseyside they are at 12 per cent. I ponder the reasons for that statistic, but that does not help more money to be distributed to police officers and less to pensions. We must also recognise, as does Merseyside police authority, that a problem of sickness in the force also consumes a certain amount of resources.
The reality is that the people of Merseyside feel that policing is not all that it could be. Although crime is down, so is police presence. The people face a very high increase in the precept this year, and that is not just because of Merseyside's settlement. An awful lot of property across Merseyside is in band A, which makes a difference to the impact of the precept.
I shall detain the Minister with an explanation of Merseyside's problems. It is not my explanation, but that offered by the retiring chief constable, Norman Bettison, to whom I pay tribute. He has done an exceptionally good job on Merseyside in his limited time there. He has made the entirely fair point that Liverpool is a port of access, which means a port of access for two major problems in this country at the moment: drugs and terrorism. The Government acknowledge that intellectually, and if they made inquiries in the police community I am sure that they would find the point entirely valid. But acknowledging something intellectually and doing so financially are not quite the same thing. As the chief constable would undoubtedly point out were he here, the situation on Merseyside—in comparison with the rest of the country—means that its police have to spend much time, resources and manpower on only a few, but none the less important, investigations into terrorism and the drugs trade. The areas that ultimately suffer from that include Southport, which is, in a sense, on the fringe.
I simply ask the Minister for a little hope. I should like her to consider seriously the distribution of community wardens, whom the Home Office often allocates to the pathfinder areas.
Before the hon. Gentleman moves on to his next point, which I anticipate will be important, may I make the point that my constituents, too, feel that the exceptional burdens on Merseyside police authority because of organised crime and the other difficulties that he has referred to should be better recognised in the formula? There should not be a financial penalty for living in an area that has a higher than normal amount of organised crime.
The hon. Gentleman knows from experience, including as an MP, what he is talking about. His point is well founded.
Returning to community support officers, I have listened to hon. Members speak about how excellent and useful those wardens are. Certainly, when I come to London I find myself falling over them on my way into the Houses of Parliament. However, they are not on the streets of my constituency, where they could do such an important job in keeping down low-level crime, as Sir Stuart Bell described. Will the Minister note that point? I am really asking her to give the force and the people of Merseyside—specifically the people of Southport—a little optimism that funding will recognise our genuine problems and needs. Even if what she offers is geared to Merseyside's having to sort out some of its housekeeping difficulties, that can only be progress, and a move in the right direction.
I am happy to participate in this debate. Until a few years ago, there was a regular debate on London policing but now that policing has, quite properly, been handed over to democratically elected local government, the only opportunity to raise such matters is in the context of the funding settlement. I am grateful, as are all of us who live and work in London, for the Metropolitan Police and all that they do for us. I pay tribute to them. That does not mean that one cannot sometimes be constructively critical over the way in which they go about their work, and we all reserve that right.
I shall put clearly the position from which I come to the debate. I and my colleagues who are members of the London Assembly support the proposal put forward by the Metropolitan Police Authority for its budget. That proposal is higher than that which the Government are willing to fund, which is why there is a protest from London—across many party divides, and as cited in the letter from Sir Robin Wales, the chair of the Association of London Government and a Labour councillor—that the Government are not serving London well in the funding settlement on which we are to vote in a few minutes. That is why my London colleagues and I will vote against it. If we were to succeed in that vote, the Government would have to come back with something better. They would have to come back with more money from the taxpayer for policing, not just for London but for the other police authorities in England and Wales.
London has about a quarter of England and Wales's police officers, and about a quarter of the budget. It is by a long way the largest authority. We have the highest rate of crime per person in England and Wales. That is not surprising; it is common to capital cities. As in many other places, crime is one of the top three concerns of the residents and, sadly, the figures are still far too high. We have more than 1 million recorded crimes in London every year. Everyone hopes that we can go the way of New York. I was there recently, and I saw a headline in the local paper which read, "Crime at its lowest for 35 years", which is a wonderful tribute.
The Government have again come to a debate avoiding giving answers to some of the difficult questions, but we are pushing for answers. We pushed when the Conservatives were in government, and they promised that we would get answers. We did not, and we are now pushing for them from the Labour Government. Is the formula linked to the crime level? What is the link between paying for policing and the level of crime in an area? If crime goes down, should we expect to receive less? If London has a quarter of the crimes committed nationally, for example, should it expect to get a quarter of the Government budget for policing? Or should the funding relate to efficiency? Should a police authority be rewarded for bringing crime levels down? The Government never answered that question in describing the formula. Most importantly, what should be the Government's contribution—that is, the taxpayer's contribution—and what should be the council tax payer's contribution? We shall unarguably see a further significant imposition on council tax payers across the country, as a direct result of what the Government are proposing.
I realise that the hon. Gentleman is speaking for the capital city, and that is extremely important, but why should people with the highest per capita income in the country expect to get a greater fraction of taxpayers' money for their council purposes than people in the west midlands, for instance, who have a far lower per capita income and higher council tax to pay?
The hon. Gentleman raises a perfectly proper point. I am not arguing that case. He will know that there is a huge disparity in his region, as in mine, in that many people will be paying a large amount of council tax—because of the value of their property—although their income is small and they have no savings. They have one asset, namely their home, which they cannot realise. That is why my hon. Friends and I are clear, as we have been for so long, that the council tax is inappropriate and unfair. I believe that that case is being made increasingly effectively, and that we shall soon see an end to the council tax. I am not making an anti-west midlands case, or a case against any other police authority.
I shall cite the relevant figures, not from a document that I have written but from that of Sir Robin Wales, who has said:
"the disappointing treatment of the Metropolitan Police Authority means that the increase in grant to London overall" is 5.4 per cent. He makes the point—also made earlier by my hon. Friend Dr. Cable—that that effectively means that we shall lose £56 million, which will go into the general kitty for distribution elsewhere. That will mean the equivalent of a 9 per cent. precept. If that were not the case, there would not have to be that imposition on the London council tax payer.
Everyone wants more police and more community support officers. Like Angela Watkinson, who represents part of the London borough of Havering, I also support the idea that there should be a freedom to choose how we spend the money, and that we should not have ring-fenced funds for community support officers.
The national and capital responsibilities budget has gone up, as the Minister rightly said, but it has gone up from £202 million to £207 million, which, by my calculation, is 2.5 per cent. I cannot believe that the additional work on those issues in London over the last year has only been 2.5 per cent.'s worth—that is even lower than the rate of inflation.
There is a huge issue in relation to abstractions. I have some figures here for last year: Lambeth lost 3,400 police officers in abstractions to other, national duties; Southwark lost 3,100 officers; Merton lost 902; and Kingston lost 1,037. Those abstractions were for national anti-terrorism and other duties. If we consider all the reasons for abstractions, we see that my borough lost 597 officer days in the last year, and even boroughs at the bottom of the league table, in areas such as Bexley, for example, lost 227.
Please, please, please, Government, get on with sorting out the pensions liability. The council tax payer is increasingly having to pay the pensions of yesteryear, rather than for the policing of today. Please also allow all parts of London to have the increase in policing that we want. I do not have the figures for Havering in front of me, but I know that in Southwark in March 1997, when this Government came to power, we had 1,157 police and civilians. In March 2000, we had 1,110, and now we have 1,014. We have fewer people in the police service in our borough now than in either 2000 or 1997. This is not a party matter: Ms Harman and Tessa Jowell joined us in our campaign.
People in London want a fair settlement. They want the Government to pay their way, and they want a minimum policing guarantee for each community. I hope that, on this issue, whatever Ministers do in relation to the outgoing Mayor or to other matters, they will accept that the figure for policing in London should be agreed across the parties and should not be capped. If they want to cap the Mayor in other ways, they are entitled to do so, but policing in London needs to be protected. The Government should foot more of the bill, not the London council tax payer.
We have had a short debate but hon. Members have raised a number of important issues. I am pleased about that, because effective policing and community safety is one of the most pressing matters in the vast majority of our communities.
I was a little disappointed that Mr. Paice resurrected a policy that I thought had been put to bed, namely the Conservatives' proposal to increase the force by another 40,000 police officers. They have been remarkably quiet about that since the previous shadow Home Secretary left his post, and the new shadow Home Secretary has certainly not majored on that policy. The hon. Gentleman will recall, as I do, that in our debate on community policing a couple of months ago, how interesting it was to watch that figure of 40,000 being reduced to 20,000, and then to some 15,000, in the course of the debate.
That is absolutely the case. When the previous shadow Home Secretary said that the figure of 40,000 was based on two Tory terms of office, and that he could not predict whether there would be two such terms, we felt that he perhaps could not even predict one. I am surprised to see that figure being resurrected. Perhaps it should join the realms of crime fiction rather than crime fact.
I want to place clearly on the record, for the avoidance of doubt, that our pledge for a further 40,000 police officers remains. It is calculated on the basis of an extra 5,000 a year, which the Minister knows full well is the most that can fairly be recruited, trained and added in addition to replacement officers. Is she or is she not telling us that there is a need for more police officers? Does she want more or not?
I think that the arithmetic is 5,000 a year over the first term of a Tory Government, making 20,000. So the promise can only be for 20,000, even if there is a Tory Government, and 5,000 of them would be recruited by us anyway, so we are down to 15,000. The whole House knows that all of that is predicated on the marvellous savings from the asylum system, based on the island that has not yet been identified. I was surprised to see the policy being resurrected in that way.
The hon. Gentleman also spoke about the failure to apply the formula this year. Again, I am surprised if he is saying that he objects to the 3.25 per cent. flat rate across-the-board increase, because if we had applied the formula, many of the forces that I referred to earlier—Kent, Sussex and Surrey—would have lost out by millions of pounds. The vast majority of forces are gainers under the settlement this year. Only a small number, albeit including the Met, Greater Manchester and West Midlands, have made significant contributions to that pot. He did not make clear whether he wanted the other forces to lose out.
The hon. Gentleman also made a point that he has made on a number of occasions and that I take real issue with. It is that everything should simply be at the local level and that there is no place for the matters that are funded through the central pots. Is he saying that there should be no central assistance through the police standards unit, helping to drive up performance in our forces? Is he saying that there should be no central assistance in developing evidence-based codes of practice around the way that we do our policing; no central assistance around training and Centrex; no central assistance around new technology, bringing in automatic number plate recognition and video identification, and expansion of the DNA database, which is leading to our forces being much more effective?
There is a balance to be struck between the centre and the locality, but, as every other organisation in the country accepts, there is a case for having some functions, such as IT, training and human resources, funded properly and rationalised. I hope that people who take a sensible approach to the future effectiveness of our police service will recognise that.
I apologise to my hon. Friend for not having been here at the opening of the debate. I had another meeting elsewhere. Will she give some thought—I do not expect an immediate response—to the point that Dr. Pugh and I both made, that in looking at where the balance should be struck, the centre should take into account the presence of organised crime in areas such as Merseyside when the funding formula is reviewed or looked at again?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. He will know that, because of where I live, I am very conscious of the pressures of serious and organised crime along the M62 corridor from Greater Manchester to Liverpool. Merseyside has developed some extremely effective ways of dealing with it, but clearly that is at a cost to the force. In the consultation document that we launched last year on the long-term future of the police service, we wanted to make sure that we got right not only community policing, but also the structure to deal with serious and organised crime, which unfortunately is an increasing threat to our communities. I undertake to look further at that matter.
I should like to put to the Minister a matter that I have raised in correspondence with the Home Secretary: the cost of policing the Iraq war at RAF Fairford, which was more than £3 million on a budget of £36 million for Gloucestershire police, one of the smallest forces in the country. The Government have kindly undertaken to pay most of that, but the Gloucestershire police force still faces having to pay some of it. It causes a great deal of bad feeling in Gloucestershire, which had to put up with the disruption caused by the war. It was happy to do that, but as it was a national war effort it seems to me that the national Government should pay that cost. I should be grateful if the hon. Lady would look into the matter and write to me.
I am aware of the extra costs of policing RAF Fairford and the demonstrations there. The police did an extremely good and professional job in that very demanding situation. An application for special grants to meet the additional costs is being considered at the centre. However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that for most forces there is a requirement to find a minimum amount towards the cost of special occasions that arise, and we would want to treat Gloucester similarly to other forces. I certainly undertake to look at the significant additional costs that the force incurred.
My hon. Friend Paddy Tipping made some excellent, serious and considered points about the challenges facing the Nottinghamshire police service. As he said, I am due to visit on Monday. I shall look at police performance and particularly at the extremely good partnership work with the local authority to tackle antisocial behaviour. I shall meet some of the victims of antisocial behaviour that has taken place in that community.
I am delighted that police performance in the area has improved in recent times, but there were significant problems in the force in the past, as evidenced by the report of Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary. There is a great deal of support from the centre. The police standards unit has been engaged with the force for a considerable time. There is consultancy support to look at performance, new ways of working and new ways of tackling crime. The extra resource provided by the police standards unit comes to about £1 million. It has been pointed out to me by colleagues from Nottingham that although Nottingham is funded as a shire, it has metropolitan police problems. The formula takes into account the pressures, the challenges and the demographics for all authorities, however, and authorities are not funded as metropolitan or shire authorities.
Mr. Heath said that forces were underfunded. I do not accept that. In the past two years, police authorities have raised their precepts by a greater amount than they needed to meet the requirements—