I beg to move,
The focus of today's debate will be the police funding settlement for 2008-09. However, I am pleased to tell the House that, in the context of a tight financial settlement, we have secured a good and affordable funding settlement for the police service for each of the next three years, building on considerable investment over a sustained period. The gradual move to three-year police funding settlements has been widely welcomed by the police and by police authorities and will enable them to plan more effectively and to think in the longer term.
No, I will not. I want to put things into context and I shall then spend a not inconsiderable time giving way, because there are clear local interests. However, I would like to introduce the context first, if I may.
Government grant and central spending on services for the police will have increased by more than 60 per cent.—nearly £4 billion—between 1997-98 and 2010-11. That is a record of which we can be proud. Our investment over the past decade, as well as the significant investment from local taxpayers and the delivery by police forces and authorities of substantial increases in efficiency, has helped to expand local policing, reduce crime and make our communities safer.
Figures published on
The House will know that we see Sir Ronnie Flanagan's review of policing as an opportunity for wider debate about how best we can consolidate and build on progress and achievements to date, support the police as they meet new challenges and make the most of their collective talents and resources. As part of that process of wider consultation and review, as well as responding to Sir Ronnie's findings and recommendations, we intend to publish a Green Paper in spring 2008. The purpose is to consult on wider proposals for strengthening the framework that enables and supports the police service and its partners to deliver effectively for the public in the years ahead.
Let me take the Minister back to his comments about proposals being widely welcomed. I attended a meeting the Friday before last at Leicestershire constabulary headquarters. I believe that the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee visited in the afternoon because there were two meetings. The police authority and the chief constable told us categorically that, far from welcoming the proposals, they were deeply worried about the cuts that they would have to make in, for example, child abuse investigations. There is already a near freeze on police recruitment. The crime situation in Leicester city is not a happy one and the police are worried that they will have to cut services protecting the public because of the grant. Will the Minister comment on that?
I will. The broader context of the settlement has been welcomed. Some people believed that it would not be as generous as it has been. Chief Constable Matt Baggott and others in Leicestershire are doing a very good job. Casting even the remotest aspersions on them about what they may have to cut is unhelpful.
Forces such as Avon and Somerset are worried about the persistence of the damping mechanism, which means that we never catch up with the needs-based assessment. When will it be possible to fund police forces such as Avon and Somerset at the level that is required?
Let me say, as gently as I can, that the hon. Gentleman's comments are rather churlish, given that the average increase this year was 2.7 per cent., the floor was set at 2.5 per cent. for those that would lose out from the formula, and Avon and Somerset received 3.5 per cent., putting it in the top category of authorities. However, I take the broader point, however churlishly put, that, having established a formula of need, the sooner we reach the new formula, the better. Having been static, with a narrow range between the ceiling and the floor, we were able this year at least to announce a settlement that had no ceiling. Some progress has therefore been made towards the formula and I hope that, in the coming years, it will continue, if not accelerate somewhat.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will not accuse me of churlishness. As the recipient of a 2.5 per cent. increase, my county has been presented with enormous difficulty. We want to invest in policing. Is he determined to stick to the settlement? It will produce enormous stresses and strains in the policing system in Cheshire.
I would never accuse my hon. Friend of being the least bit churlish. I hope that those matters will be explored further when, this Wednesday or Thursday, I meet the chair and chief constable of Cheshire to discuss their specific problems in much more detail. I hope that they will elaborate on their plans. However, the settlement is broadly welcome.
I balked at allowing hon. Members to intervene straight away because I knew from the last couple of debates on the subject that they naturally wish to consider their own areas. I fully understand that. I got a little way ahead.
I said at the start that, given the localised nature of the debate, I wished to be as generous as possible to Back Benchers, and I will be. [Interruption.] I was last year, as Mr. Ruffley reminds me. However, it is also my role to get a bit of the context on the record. I will be generous.
The response of the chief constable of Leicestershire was that he welcomed the settlement, but he rightly emphasised that he needed more to fulfil Leicestershire's ambitious plans.
I want to ask my right hon. Friend about Kent and the letter that he may have received from Mike Fuller, the chief constable. Has that letter had any impact on decisions that the Home Office may need to make about funding formulae? I refer to migration, which Mike Fuller mentioned.
The straightforward answer to my right hon. Friend is no, in the context of the three-year horizon projected by the settlement. Kent and other forces have raised similar matters—Julie Spence, the chief constable of Cambridgeshire, raised the same issue as Mike Fuller in Kent—that, to be fair, do not necessarily go to the notion of migration and criminality being linked. However, there are genuine concerns about increasing levels of population and about how the Government formula allocations can be quite tardy in picking them up. There are discussions across Government about the matter, not least those with my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department for Communities and Local Government about growth areas, the sustainable communities plan and all those directions, although they have not directly impacted upon the issue that my right hon. Friend raised.
Precisely on that point, the problem in Cambridgeshire seems to be the delay. Did I understand the Minister to say that there was no prospect of the demographic gap being filled in the next three years? If so, the situation in Cambridgeshire will become intolerable.
No, that would be—if I can bore people—a rather churlish interpretation of what I said. What we are talking about most directly is the immediate settlement for the forthcoming year, 2008-09. We have said in the broadest terms, to help rather than hinder police authorities, that there is also an indicative three-year settlement, and so have announced what they are likely to get over the subsequent two years. If work on demographic change, particularly sharp demographic change, such as that which I mentioned in response to my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz, or other such items intervened in that process and if we got broad agreement after consultation on changing things in that direction, clearly that change could be forthcoming over the next couple of years. I am therefore not saying, "This is three years—all shut. Go away, we're not having a police grant debate over the next two years, because it's all settled."
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way because I, too, want to discuss Cambridgeshire. He has rightly referred to Chief Constable Julie Spence's remarks about the high levels of immigration into the county. That has nothing to do with suggesting that immigrants are all criminals, as the Minister accepts, but refers to the fact that the cost of dealing with a crime involving immigrants is much higher, in terms of police time and cash to pay interpreters. It was recently announced that some 600 arrests of Lithuanians were made in the county last year, almost all of which involved much more time and cost than would have applied had they been native English speakers. When those representing the Cambridgeshire police authority come to speak to the Minister, as I know they will in two days' time, will he be able to reassure them that the demographics and the problems of immigration will be addressed before the three-year programme is firmly entrenched? Planning for three years is better than planning for one year, but not if it enshrines a permanent inadequacy in funding levels.
I take the hon. Gentleman's point, although I cannot give him a complete assurance in that regard, because he is asking me, two days after I announced the numbers for this year and, potentially, for the subsequent two years, again to inject a note of caution or potential change. However, such discussions are taking place across Government, which I hope will feed into the process over the next three years. The hon. Gentleman makes some fair points about population change, but he will know too that we try to use absolutely the latest population data and trend data.
However, there is a view that says that whether we are talking about inward or outward migration—migration within country or from outside country—large shifts in population over short periods have significant ramifications for policing. In part, we keep up with that. The notion that we do not keep up in total, either in terms of police resource allocation or more generally, is a fair point that we should consider. I do not have the immediate answer to that over the three-year horizon, but I take the point and shall say that in terms to Julia and her colleagues when I see them on Wednesday.
The Minister was trying to avoid me. However, I am grateful to him for giving way, and I know that he will want to give an accurate and generous response, rather than a churlish one, given our Harrow days together. Is he aware of the great concern in Shropshire about the Government's failure to realise that our rural counties face many challenges? Of course there are urban areas in the county too, but many villages are affected by rising crime, so I wonder whether the Government have been urban-centric in their funding settlement.
No, I do not think that I accept that. I should point out to the House that the hon. Gentleman referred to our Harrow days because we happened to serve on Harrow council together. It had nothing to do with my schooling. I am sure that no one was in any doubt about that, but I just wanted to make it clear.
The hon. Gentleman will know that policing in Shropshire is first and foremost a matter for the West Mercia police force. I know that West Mercia takes its rural policing responsibilities as seriously as it does its policing of urban areas. As fairly recent events have shown, rural areas and smaller towns in areas such as Shropshire are not immune from serious and violent crime. I shall certainly pass his comments on to the chief constable and the police authority. He will also know, however, that there has been an increase of about 56 per cent. in the budget for the area during the past 10 years.
As I tried to say at the beginning of my speech, I am not saying that everything in the garden is rosy, or that, even after 10 years of investment, everyone has more than sufficient money to use as they choose. I am not saying that at all. As Policing Minister, I would always like to be able to afford to give more money from the centre. I am also keenly aware, however, that there has been a significant increase during the past 10 years, not just in the money from the centre but in the money collected locally. I think that people appreciate that and understand it in terms of policing in their areas.
There are existing pressures on the police and, yes, there is a tightening of the resource base, secured both locally and nationally. On top of all that, everything changes. That is all part of the fascination and fun, if you like, of the world of policing. Policing is now palpably different from how it was five years ago, let alone 10 or 20 years ago, and it has to rush to keep up with the changes in the wider society. We need to prepare the police for that, from a sound and level resource base. Members have raised certain key issues with me, however, and I certainly do not deny them.
It would be churlish of me not to recognise the changes that the Government have made to the rural policing grant as a result of the lobbying of the Minister's Department. Police forces such as Dyfed-Powys are well advanced in areas such as the civilianisation of the custody service, and they have already made savings in that way. They are therefore finding it more and more difficult to make further savings. Will the Minister give some recognition to those forces that have made a great deal of progress and that are now finding it difficult to make further savings?
I accept the hon. Gentleman's point. Equally, I recognise that the sum of all the changes that many forces have made in their own areas is far greater than what each individual force has done. I shall rephrase that, because it has confused me. While Dyfed-Powys has made significant advances in some areas, it has not done some of the things that other forces have done to accrue savings or efficiencies. We need to see more of the kind of progress that we are making through the Quest programme and the work force modernisation programme, which have in part been very successful in terms of the all-Wales solution to protective services. When those efficiencies and savings are accrued, part of my job is to ensure that they are not all gobbled back up by the centre. I think that all 43 forces would agree that that is the case, above and beyond what is laid out in the settlement in regard to cashable efficiencies and others. I take the hon. Gentleman's point, however.
We made quite a serious mistake throughout the debate on mergers—which we were halfway through when I took over this role—when we assumed that we were at ground zero and that there had not been any real degree of collaboration or significant cross-force work in the past. There had been, and that should have been recognised. We have now made significant gains in regard to protective services, to the advantage of all the forces and the communities that they serve, since the mergers debate, and since what people are now calling my Valentine's letter—it was sent on about
That is a good example of how forces need to make progress in so many different areas as they deal with new challenges, such as the developments in population, while ensuring the efficiency of their core business and also that more areas than in the past go down the civilianised route or share more roles with other public service elements rather than be carried out exclusively by warranted officers. Those are fair points.
Until a few moments ago, the Minister was joined on the Front Bench by the Minister for Local Government, who has responsibility for flood recovery. The Minister will know that, last year, Tim Brain, the chief constable of Gloucestershire, was the very successful gold commander during the severe flooding incident. Even if the police authority puts up our local council tax by the highest amount it can without being capped—4.9 per cent.—it is faced with the prospect of losing 200 officers or 200 staff in the constabulary. That is a real tragedy for my constituents and others elsewhere in Gloucestershire. How does the Minister justify the excellent service of last year being rewarded by such savage cuts in manpower?
In the first instance, that is a matter, as I say, for Tim Brain, but I fully and wholeheartedly endorse what the hon. Gentleman said. I have written to Chief Constable Brain and spoken to him directly about the excellent job he did as gold commander in dealing with the flooding. We were in different places but shared some close to sleepless nights as things developed in one way or another— [Interruption.] I said in different places. He did a fine and superb job in what he would be the first to note, as he looks down his list of responsibilities, is not really a policing responsibility at all. Funding is partly dealt with through what I think is called the Bellwin scheme—the hon. Gentleman rightly pointed to the Minister with responsibility for flooding, who was in his place a few moments ago. As I have said to Gloucestershire and other authorities, if they need to talk to us more directly about funding in that or any other regard, I welcome the prospect of seeing them, as I do all authorities at this time of year. I believe I have seen four or five this week, that I saw four or five last week and that I will have the great pleasure of seeing others next week. I hope that these meetings are not an opportunity for the usual shroud waving or shaking a bucket, but about seriously looking into taking full account of the peculiar circumstances of particular police forces. In that context, I would be pleased to see Gloucestershire or other authorities.
Now I have to hum a little tune while I work through my speech, work out what I have already said and what still needs to be said. It is right that there has been an average increase of 2.7 per cent. and a floor of 2.5 per cent. That is part of Gloucester's difficulties with formula allocation, which was raised earlier, as it is stuck in that position. As I said last year and will again, in the mid-term rather than the immediate horizon for this settlement and the next two years, there should be scope for debating police funding.
Whatever the outcome—I said the same last year—the wide spread of the local precept cannot be right. From memory, I think it goes from something like £88 a year in Northumbria, which makes a contribution of barely 20 per cent. to the overall police budget—I do not challenge that; it is just the way history has made it—up to more than £255 for the Metropolitan police and others in the south-east. In the case of Surrey, nearly 50 per cent. of the local police budget comes from the local contribution. These are or should be—with substantive local and distinct concerns—broadly universal services. Core policing business, for want of a better phrase, should be roughly the same, whether we are talking about Cambridgeshire, Gloucestershire, Kent or Northumbria. I say that without providing any straightforward answer to the problem of the balance between local and national funding, as I do not have a plan for instant reform of the precept and council tax system in my back pocket. I do say that, collectively, and hopefully on a cross-party basis, we can turn our minds to examining the longer-term financing of policing, which is usually regarded as a universal service.
What the Minister has just said sounds perfectly reasonable and most people would support it, but he said the same a year ago. What has happened since then? Has there been any progress?
There has been some progress in the subterranean channels, but none in any public sense. The core of this three-year settlement—certainly the settlement for the forthcoming year—is rooted in the system that currently prevails. I should be happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman's Front-Bench colleagues, and to anyone else who is interested in an exercise that may reach a degree of fruition.
I welcome what the Minister is saying, and hope that we can all engage in the task that he is describing. Numerous things need to be put right fairly quickly, and we have an opportunity to ensure that that happens.
To be absolutely fair, and at the risk of sounding pedantic, I should tell the hon. Gentleman that my predecessor probably did not say what I said, because he was in his post for 10 days. His predecessor almost certainly did say it, and I suspect that it was said by predecessors going way back into the mists of time. However, the point remains germane. It is right and proper for the distribution of resources to local government to be aligned with the distribution of resources to the police for historic reasons, but it should not be beyond the wit of the House to come up with alternatives on a cross-party basis. Michael Lyons examined the whole issue of council tax for some time and tippy-toed in the direction of the police tax base, but did no more than that. It was not really part of his brief. None the less, I think that, even a year on, this is a debate that we should have.
The Minister used Surrey as an extreme example of local funding replacing national funding. I will attempt to make that point in more detail later if I am lucky enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but will the Minister acknowledge that there is a very special problem in Surrey because of the peculiarities of the funding formula?
The hon. Gentleman may be putting words into my mouth. I did not say that local funding was replacing central funding. What I said was that Surrey benefited from the highest local contribution. The central contribution has not diminished at Surrey's expense; it is just that, during the past 10 years, the local contribution has climbed higher than the central contribution.
I am not being pedantic when I say that that is simply not the case. The increase in total Government grants of some £39.5 million—50 per cent., or 14 per cent. in real terms—between 1997-98 and 2008-09 is a fact.
That is not a point of order for the Chair. Statistics can vary in all sorts of ways. It is a matter for the debate in which we are engaged.
May I finish what I was saying before the point of order? The increase of £23.6 million— 25 per cent., or 0.4 per cent. in real terms—between 2001 and 2008-09 shows clearly that Surrey has benefited collectively during the past 10 years. I accept that the process may have slowed down, but it does not constitute a significant cut in real terms. However, that takes us away from the point, which I agree with, that the contribution from the local base is significantly higher than for any other force in the country. The proportion in the last round, that for 2007-08, was 46.1 per cent. compared with the Northumbria contribution of 11 per cent.—rather than 18 per cent. which I think I said earlier, in which case I did inadvertently mislead the House in that regard. Notwithstanding what the points of Mr. Blunt might be—I have not heard them yet, but I suspect that they will be perfectly valid—I was simply trying to get across my point about there being such disparities in terms of what should be, at core, a universal service. There should be some local variation—some scope for local flexibility—but a range of between 11 and 46 per cent. cannot in any logical sense be right.
Such disparities are rooted in a host of reasons such as history, the options various forces made when there was no capping regime, and what the original base budgets were. It will take time to get to a stage where that can be resolved, because it will invariably require either giving more money to one force and taking it off another or allowing some to go in one direction locally and others not. However, I repeat that the time for debate is upon us—if not a year late.
May I draw the Minister's attention to a particular problem that has arisen in Wiltshire? When I saw the proposed settlement I knew it was going to be tough, but on
I have already looked at that and I am assured by both MODP and some of the local forces involved—although not Wiltshire in this instance—that policing remains covered sufficiently by the civilian force, but I am more than happy to look into that again. The last time I did so in any detail, that was on behalf of the less than churlish hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell), who has experienced not dissimilar circumstances in that MODP numbers had fallen a bit in the garrison town he represents, and he wanted to know about the impact on the Essex police force. I do not encourage Robert Key to do this, but he might like to speak to the hon. Member for Colchester and also get a few other Members who represent garrison towns together, and if they then wanted to explore such matters further with me, I should be more than happy to consider doing so.
I think— [Interruption.] Even more clarity on Surrey's funding has floated up to me from below. Apparently, the figures on its funding are distorted by what happened in 2001-02, when Surrey's general grant fell by 4.1 per cent. because of changes between the Metropolitan police service and Surrey boundaries. I do not, however, think that that goes to the broad point of the hon. Member for Reigate that things have slowed for Surrey in comparison with others over the latter end of that 10-year period—which I agree with, and I am sure he will elaborate on those points when he makes his contribution.
Some of the main points made by Members go to the heart of one of the original questions, which was about the formula. I am happy that we have been able to move, even in this year's tight circumstances, at least a little way towards the formula, but that implies winners and losers, and that is our difficulty.
Considerable concern has been expressed in the local media about Avon and Somerset losing out because the formula has not been applied for the last few years. Will the Minister confirm that, as a result of moving towards the formula, Avon and Somerset will get an above-average increase in the coming financial year?
Absolutely, and I am very happy to do so. We spoke earlier about Avon and Somerset, and with 3.5 per cent. it is doing considerably better than the floor of 2.5 per cent. or the average of 2.7 per cent. Notwithstanding that, I take on board the point of my hon. Friend and other Members—not least those who represent constituencies in the Bristol area—that still more might be done to move towards that formula more readily than we have done thus far. That would help me, not least in the sense of notional gainers and losers. We must consider what would have happened if we had not moved towards the formula, where in reality forces are not gainers or losers per se, unless they are judged against the absolute instant implementation of the formula. Given the way these things work, that was never going to happen all at once.
I am mindful that having taken a range of interventions, my speech has taken a good deal of time. I know that this debate is very important for hon. Members, who want to get their local points across, so I shall bring my remarks to a conclusion when I find an appropriate place in this telephone book of a speech to do so. However, may I just make two points in conclusion?
Given that we have sought deliberately again to maximise the increase in general grant next year and we have ensured that all police authorities have received a guaranteed minimum increase in grant of 2.5 per cent, and given the delivery of efficiency gains, prudent budgeting and our making full use of available funding flexibilities—I was going to tell the House about those, but they will have to wait for another time—we believe there is no reason for excessive increases in the police precept on council tax. As I have suggested, much good work is being done across the police service. In pursuing the new efficiency and productivity strategies, we must foster that good practice, disseminate it across the whole service and drive forward dynamically. I am always impressed by the drive for improvement and progress in all 43 authorities and forces, and I know that they operate in a dynamic environment that simply does not stand still and allow them to catch up or draw breath.
As I have also said, we have had extensive deliberations with a range of key authorities and police. In fact, anyone who has wanted to come to see me has done so or is planning to do so over the coming weeks. We have listened carefully to stakeholders in determining the detail of this funding settlement, and I think we have got the balance right in distributing the available resources. The settlement will support the police service in meeting the challenges that lie ahead, it will help the police to deliver effectively for the public and it will protect our communities, so I commend the police grant report to the House.
In opening for the Conservatives, may I congratulate the Minister on taking quite a lot of interventions on the settlements for specific police areas for the second year running? I should also flag up his comment at the end of his speech that he would be happy to receive representations from individual Members who have issues about how the formula might be working.
This debate is vital to the public. All of us would accept that the fear of crime in this country is too high; the Home Secretary bravely acknowledged that when she questioned how safe it was to walk alone at night. Violent crime has doubled in the past 10 years: gun crime has increased—last year, a gun crime was committed every hour in England and Wales; gun-related violence has increased fourfold in the past 10 years; and knife crime has doubled in the past two years. That is not to say that crime has increased in every category over the past decade, but violent crime and the other crimes that I have listed have, and that causes the public concern. They want to know what police funding is in place to meet that challenge.
This year's settlement is part of a three-year spending settlement, coinciding with the comprehensive spending review 2007, which extends the spending horizon until 2011. Apart from additional funding specifically for counter-terrorism, the police settlement reflects the overall spending provision for the Home Office. On that basis, we face no increase in real terms. The 2.7 per cent. grant increase for 2008-09 is to be read with similar increases for the following two years.
It would be futile to deny that the Minister and I would agree on the importance of efficiency and productivity improvements in the police service. Compared with 2007-08, police authorities will be expected to deliver 9.3 per cent. cashable increases in efficiency and productivity by the end of 2010-11. That needs to be flagged up when considering the headline nominal figures for cash increases that are before us today.
The settlement for the Home Office is very tight, and the Government have been forced to be so strict mainly because of a macro-economic problem—the borrowing problem—that the country faces. In March 2006, the Treasury said that it would need to borrow some £30 billion in 2007-08. In March 2007, that estimate was inflated to £35 billion, and last October it increased again to £38 billion. The Institute for Fiscal Studies tells us that the Government will borrow £42 billion this year.
The Government have run out of money. They have spent too much in the good years and were not prudent. The police authorities are now feeling the pinch as a result. The average increase of 2.7 per cent., in the words of the Association of Police Authorities, represents the "tightest police settlement" for many years. To give an example from the north-west, the chairman of the Lancashire police authority, Malcolm Doherty, has said:
"The demands on policing are increasing, and even with efficiency savings and other grants, we are still left with a challenging financial position."
For other parts of the country, "challenging" is not the word. In December, Surrey police force took the decision to drop one of its divisions, going down from four to three, because of its budget shortfall and budget constraints. Chief Constable Bob Quick, with whom I have had the pleasure of speaking at length, wrote in the Police Review:
"We are being forced into making these difficult decisions because of our crippling funding situation, which has steadily weakened over the last six years in spite of saving £49 million over the past nine years through efficiency measures."
"This is unlikely to be the only tough decision we will have to make—we are exploring other measures in order to continue to make budget savings in both the short and long-term."
That is an example of a successful police force, according to the performance and assessment framework measures. It came top of the league table last autumn. In addition, it has an excellent record of delivering great efficiency savings, which will have delighted the Minister of State. It is a forward-thinking police force, but even the chief constable who has done all the work in delivering high standards and reducing costs says that he is down to the bone. That poses some questions as to how the national formula is operating in the real world.
My hon. Friend has properly given the example of Surrey. Is he aware that the chief constable has written to the Minister? His letter begins:
"I am writing in unprecedented terms to express my professional concerns about the risks to public safety of people in Surrey over the next three to five years, if our funding position is not resolved urgently."
I am delighted that the chief constable is writing to the Minister and I think that I know enough about the Minister to know that he will listen and take representations seriously. I urge him to focus on the Surrey example because there are other police forces—I shall not name them—which may not deliver as well as they could. If the criticism that there was not enough money were coming from them, one might be somewhat sceptical of their requests for more money, but I cite Surrey because it has done so well with efficiency savings and performance. I shall not labour that point any further, as my hon. Friend and I have both flagged up the Surrey example.
We accept that the distribution of the grant and the implementation of the funding formula are, as the Minister rightly observed, work in progress. The way that settlements will operate this year, with the floor and ceilings, means that 18 forces will receive the minimum increase of 2.5 per cent.—average 2.7 per cent.—but only one will receive the maximum of 4 per cent. That is only one of the 43 forces.
The joint Association of Police Authorities and Association of Chief Police Officers expenditure forecasting group, in a submission to the 2007 CSR, said that there would be a substantial funding gap at that level of grant increase—this year's amount—and for the two subsequent years. On the group's most optimistic assumptions, the funding gap by the end of the CSR period—2010-11—would be in the region of £660 million. Using slightly less optimistic assumptions, the group calculates that the gap would be £996 million—just shy of £1 billion. It is worth noting that both sets of calculations by that authoritative group assume that police authorities will increase the police precept on council tax up to the maximum of 5 per cent. a year, although of course some of them might not want to go that far.
The phrase "funding gap" is wonderfully bland. Perhaps my hon. Friend would care to remind the House that police authorities are under a statutory duty to produce a balanced budget. They cannot operate on deficits; they must so adjust the provision of resources as to bring about a balanced budget.
As usual, my right hon. and learned Friend makes an elegant and trenchant point and I hope that the Minister will be able to answer the conundrum he poses—perhaps by straying into the area of how capping will operate. I know that one or two authorities want to bust the 5 per cent. limit. To meet my right hon. and learned Friend's point, what will happen about the need to observe the statutory duty? I am sure that the Minister will want to answer that point.
As we all agree, greater efficiency is vital if better policing is to be delivered, but I want to explore the question of the doubling of the annual cashable efficiency savings from 1.5 per cent. to about 3 per cent. That is how we arrive at the figure of just over 9 per cent. cashable savings over the CSR period. Since the current efficiency targets were introduced in 1999 the police service has made a lot of progress in meeting them. It has taken up the challenge. Over the period 1999 to 2005, for instance, when the annual efficiency target was about 2 per cent., police authorities achieved average efficiency savings of about 2.7 per cent a year, but the point about jacking up the cashable savings to 9 per cent. over three years is that much of the easy, low-hanging fruit has already been plucked; the opportunities for cashing heroic efficiency savings of 3 per cent. or more each year diminish over time. It is also the case, as has been pointed out to me many times by people who come to see me, that the efficiency savings in earlier years were often re-allocated to improve front-line services, but that is likely to be less easy with future efficiency savings, which will have to fund the base, because policing demands are growing at a fair old rate. Everyone agrees that they are growing by more than 2.7 per cent. a year.
If those tight targets are to be met on the efficiency side, will the Minister share with us what he thinks some of the consequences may be? The first will be of immediate interest to every member of the public listening to the debate—I am sure they are watching in droves: does the Minister accept that there are likely to be fewer officers on our streets as a result of this year's settlement? The chairman of Cheshire police authority has warned that officers will be pulled off the streets to perform administrative duties unless more funding is found. He set out that case in December 2007, in Jane's Police Review.
More recently—last week, in fact—the latest police strength figures came out from the Government, and they show a decline in the number of officers from 140,038 in September 2006 to 139,710 in September 2007. I ask the Minister a simple question: does he believe that that trend will continue, as a result of the settlement? The question relating to police on the streets is, to many people, a simplistic one, but it is the one that most of our constituents ask.
Last year and this year, the Minister acknowledged how the national formula was working in a slow and evolutionary way. However, last year more than this year, he acknowledged that its operation was palpably unfair to certain parts of the country. I should like to give an example relating to the east midlands police authorities—Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire—whose representatives came to visit me to raise some of their specific concerns about what they consider to be a growing funding gap. Following the settlement, their funding gap amounts to about £47 million, and like the ACPO and APA estimates that I referred to earlier, they assume a precept increase of the full 5 per cent. If the precept were to increase by less than that—for example, by 4 per cent.—they calculate that that would increase the funding gap to more than £60 million, up from £47 million, over the CSR years.
It has been pointed out to me—I am sure that this argument could be adduced for other parts of the country—that the east midlands region is one of the two fastest growing regions nationally, with its population growing by 0.8 per cent. per annum and changing population demographics, including, but not limited to, the increase in migrant workers from EU states, which is greatly adding to the complexity of policing there.
In respect of my own neck of the woods in the eastern region, the chief constable of Cambridgeshire made some important points along those lines—as, indeed, has the chief constable of Kent, Mike Fuller. They have made representations about the grant allocation to the effect that perhaps not the most up-to-date population data are being used and that, as a result, they are not receiving the appropriate funding. It would take the Minister too long to deal with every police authority, but I wonder what his view is of the east midlands case.
The settlement must also address some issues that cause concern, particularly when we hear them from those on the front line—we are not talking about think-tanks or one-off examples from constituents. I should like to know how the Minister thinks that this year's settlement will address the point made by the Police Federation, which last November issued a study on the number of detectives in this country and calculated that there were about 2,000 vacant detective posts. That is particularly important at a time when, as I said in my earlier remarks, violent crime has doubled in the past 10 years, knife crime has doubled in the past two years, gun crime has doubled in the past four years and there are unhappy data on robberies and murders. There are fewer detectives to deal with those crimes.
I wonder whether the Minister can give us an assessment of the recruitment and retention problems that force some officers to rely on trainees and unqualified officers in criminal intelligence departments. There are reports that inexperienced officers are investigating for the first time serious offences, such as stranger rapes, with little or no supervision and that the remaining detectives have to carry huge case loads and continue investigations, while still being expected to respond to the next major incident. Of course, target-driven detection is still occurring, with targets being met by reclassifying offences or encouraging the public to drop complaints—something that officers simply do not want to do, but that is what the Police Federation tells us.
In previous debates on this subject, the issue of police community support officers has been raised. The Minister and I agree that PCSOs are important to the proper implementation of neighbourhood policing, a policy that we support, but the number of PCSOs promised in 2005—24,000—has been reduced to 16,000 nationally. In 2005-06, £91 million was provided to help with the recruitment of PCSOs. It would be useful to know what he thinks the effect of the settlement will be on PCSO funding, and what he anticipates it will do to the number of PCSOs in the next year. We stress that PCSOs play an important role in making neighbourhood policing work, and it would be useful to know the resource implications for them.
In relation to the police precept, we know that in 1997, some 85 per cent. of police forces' gross revenue was financed through central Government. In 2006-07, the latest year for which we have figures, the proportion was expected to fall to 60 per cent. The amount of police spending financed through the council tax precept has doubled in real terms between 2001 and 2006-07; in short, council tax now accounts through the precept for one fifth of police force expenditure, compared with one eighth in 2001. Ministers have claimed over the years to be almost personally responsible for the growth since 1996 in the number of additional officers, but as we face higher precepts next year, now is probably the time for the Government to give credit to council tax payers across this country, who have certainly done their part to fund extra recruitment.
I have a question about the police precept for the Minister; it bears on a policy on which I think he and I agree. In order to deliver efficiencies, which will be needed if the current settlement is to be implemented in a sensible fashion, some forces want to embark on voluntary merger, including two forces in East Anglia that I know have been in touch with him as well as with me. They say that they simply cannot go ahead with the voluntary merger that will deliver efficiencies without precept equalisation or reconsideration of the precept regime. Can he tell us anything about precept equalisation that might give encouragement for the next three years to those forces that want to merge voluntarily? That is at the heart of the efficiencies that he and I both seek.
This debate could not pass without some reference to police pay, not least because the police authorities, which are obviously the main customers concerned in today's announcement, were somewhat foxed by the Home Secretary's decision, in a departure from the arbitration ruling, not to give the 2.5 per cent. but to stage the award so that it will be 1.9 per cent. this year. It has an impact on how police authorities plan in-year for delivery of police services. The APA has pointed out on many occasions its extreme disappointment that the Home Secretary did not implement the 2.5 per cent. award. It says:
"Most police authorities had already got this money in their budgets, and the Home Secretary has prevented us from paying it. The decision does not help the financial position going forward since, as indicated above, the full 2.5 per cent. will be in base budgets for next year. The APA believe that the Home Secretary's decision is ill-advised...creating unnecessary industrial strife and jeopardises future work on modernising the police work force."
It would be useful if the Minister could remind us of the argument for not paying the 2.5 per cent. when the police authorities had already budgeted for it.
Will my hon. Friend join me in sympathising with many of the residents of Surrey, which he mentioned? We have policemen who are unpaid and unhappy and council tax payers who have to bail out the police because they are not getting fair funding from the Government, yet nearly half the crime in Surrey is committed by people who do not even live there.
May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that Surrey faces challenges, just as anywhere else does, and the Minister drew attention to that, both in last year's debate and since then? I reiterate that Surrey is an example of a force that works hard to find efficiency savings, and my hon. Friend Anne Milton will agree that we must get away from the notion of stereotypical leafy suburbs in the home counties that have fewer problems with drugs, violence and sexual offences than other parts of the country.
I thank my hon. Friend for his generosity in giving way a second time. As he suggested, the notion that Surrey is a leafy suburb where nobody commits any crime is ignorant in the extreme. In fact, a huge amount of crime goes on behind closed doors—I do not have the figures to hand—including domestic violence and drugs crime in particular. The trafficking and movement of drugs is a major issue for Surrey police.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, underscoring the fact that it is not right that parts of the country that are considered leafy suburbs should be cheerfully told, "You must make do, and receive less money per capita." That is not an acceptable argument. It is not acceptable to me, and it is certainly not acceptable to my hon. Friend and her colleagues in Surrey.
I should like to draw my remarks to a close by referring to something that we shall be discussing much more in the House from next Thursday—the need to reduce police bureaucracy, which is at the heart of any tight police settlement. I hope that the Minister would agree that when we talk about efficiency, we must consider how we can help the police—and I mean the whole police family, not just serving police officers—to do their jobs without so much interference. It is not just a question of spending a shed-load of money on IT. If it was simply a question of getting the police back on the beat by spending more money on IT, successive Governments might have done so, but there is no big bang approach on IT. It is worth making a salutary observation: the police service, in the six months in which I have been Opposition spokesman and done red-tape exercises in different police stations on different crimes up and down the country, say that politicians have been talking the rhetoric of cutting red tape for decades. I do not think that is just the past 10 years, although certainly in that period claims have been made about reducing police bureaucracy. If the Government had been successful in the past 10 years, John Reid, the previous Home Secretary, would not have commissioned Sir Ronnie Flanagan, over a year ago, to conduct an independent review of the way in which the police operate. We look forward to publication of that review later this week.
At the heart of the review is the paperwork problem and the risk aversion that accompanies it, covering risk in paper. Before we get carried away with delivering more efficiencies, we must remember that the talk has not been delivered on in the past 10 years. In 2002, Mr. Blunkett, the then Home Secretary, promised a "bonfire of the paperwork", alleging that 90,000 hours a year could be saved. The Home Office Policing Bureaucracy Taskforce published a report with 52 major change proposals, which I have read several times. Much of it is quite sensible, but the problem is that there has been no follow-up audit to work out how many recommendations have been implemented and to what effect.
My hon. Friend is entirely right to challenge the overregulation of bureaucracy in the police service, but will he keep in mind the fact that power, once given to officers, is often abused? I have practised at the criminal Bar for 40 years, and I can remember police interviews in which police officers frequently verballed defendants. The requirement that all police interviews should be tape recorded is an enormously important safeguard, and we need to remember that there is a possibility of abuse.
I take my right hon. and learned Friend's point, which I have debated with the Minister. We would be at one on something as major as the tape recording of suspects' interviews; I hasten to add that that was introduced by a Conservative Administration in the 1980s. I do not think that any Member on either side suggests that safeguards of such importance and magnitude should be tinkered with. The only way in which the Minister would tinker would have my support. A few days ago, he announced a pilot in Lancashire to see whether the clumsiness involved in bagging up cassettes, labelling the bags and all the associated paraphernalia could be avoided and whether the service could be better delivered by digitised recordings. As the Minister knows, I support that pilot.
I want to return to the fact that good intentions—and we have had 10 years of them—are not enough; I hasten to add that before 1997 there were good intentions about cutting paperwork. The 2002 promise from the then Home Secretary has not been delivered on. In 2004, a White Paper was produced.
I did not want to lose the hon. Gentleman's point. He is perfectly right that the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 has stood the test of time very well; that is emerging from the review that we are in the middle of. Apart from changes in respect of the pilot that he mentioned, we will be very cautious about making changes to the 1984 Act, not least because of the points that he made. I am sorry to have cut across him; I just wanted to put on the record the fact that PACE has stood the test of time.
I am grateful to the Minister.
The 2004 White Paper promised to free up the equivalent of 12,000 extra police officers for front-line policing by 2008 and claimed at the time that 7,700 forms had already been made obsolete across 43 forces. By last year, that claim had grown: it was said that nearly 9,000 forms had been cut. The problem is that Ministers will not list the forms; we have asked them to put such a list in the Library. My sense of the situation must logically be right—if Ministers know that 9,000 forms have been cut, they must know their names; if they know those, they can publish and release them. I urge the Minister to do that.
What I have asked for is not only demanded by politicians; the Police Federation pointed out that the Home Office has provided it no information about what the forms were or how frequently officers used them. We are not talking about any old form—we want the most frequently used forms to be cut, not only the forms that might be used once every two years. The Police Federation has not received any information on those allegedly abolished forms or on how long each form took to fill in and thus it does not know the average time saved as a result of the alleged cutting of the forms. We have asked for the information on a cross-party basis. If we know what the Government think they have cut from the police force case load, that will assist our work on red tape.
The Minister is keen to talk about a cross-party dialogue—not all the time, but quite a lot of it—and we are happy to enter into that, depending on the subject. What I have just mentioned should not really be a party political issue. The police are crying out for a reduction—but not in all paperwork. Sir Ronnie Flanagan famously said that police paperwork is a bit like cholesterol; there is good and bad cholesterol. In respect of the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg, I should say that an example of good cholesterol would be the PACE codes and legislation requiring proper tape recordings of what witnesses say. However, there is a lot of bad cholesterol—useless paperwork—as well.
In conclusion, the time that all police officers spend on incident-related paperwork increased from 10.3 per cent. in 2004-05 to 11.4 per cent. in 2006-07. As a result, the percentage of time spent on patrol fell from 14.2 per cent. in 2003-04 to 13.6 per cent. in 2006-07. Those are the most recent trends, and they show that the police are spending more time on paperwork and less time on patrol. For too much of the time, our police officers are form-fillers rather than the crime-fighters that they wish to be.
We know that we have to cut our cloth as a result of this tight settlement, but these efficiencies must be driven forward at the level of the bureaucracy and in other arenas. Activity-based costings are very important, but I will not detain the House with the arcane parts of that aspect. If the Minister is so committed to cutting paperwork, why did he tell me last week in a written answer that the Home Office post of national bureaucracy adviser, which was set up to slash police red tape, has been vacant since April 2006? No one has been doing that job for 18 months. I know that the Minister and his Home Office officials try hard to improve the efficiency of the service, but we have to go back to basics. Unless we can get improvements not only in the amount of paperwork that the police are subject to but in the efficiency of the processes, this police settlement will not be delivered, and we will not have the policing that this country so desperately deserves.
Some time ago, it was suggested that Cheshire and Liverpool should amalgamate their police forces. Oddly enough, that decision did not meet with the unalloyed admiration of the citizens of Cheshire. Indeed, their representations were so effective that the plan was abandoned. That area was then the responsibility of the then Home Office Minister who is now Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
This three-year settlement may turn out to make that not only a pyrrhic victory, but one of gigantic proportions, for the citizens of my constituency. It will penalise Cheshire in no uncertain terms, and I want to make it clear why that is a matter of concern to me. The general public do not understand the relationship between the finances of central Government and local government. They are more inclined to believe people who say, "We want to dilute our powers from central Government and give them back to the people who are nearest to their constituents. We want local government to take many of the decisions that will affect the policing of the streets and the general level of protection that people have in their town centres and homes." Therefore, they do not always understand why decisions taken at central Government level seem in some manner not to chime with the decision to send those powers, and the finance needed to maintain those police forces, back to the areas in which they are so desperately needed.
Cheshire will suffer enormously under this settlement. I have in the past made it an important aspect of my debates with local government elected officials to ask them why Cheshire has not, for a very long time, had a much higher police precept. It is essential not to cut at local authority level the money available, but to demand further amounts and make it clear to the population why those sums of money are necessary.
Most people who live in certain areas of Crewe or in the centre of Nantwich, and who are there on a Friday or Saturday night, do not have difficulty in understanding the connection between money and police officers on the beat. Most people who find themselves, as the neighbours around my office building did after a recent weekend, surrounded by a sea of broken glass and having been submitted over a long period to real social disorder, have no problem understanding why we need police officers; indeed, they want to see many more. The burden of their complaint is frequently that no matter how much money is presented to them annually in the figures in their rates returns, those officers are not there on the beat. They are told clearly how much the police force costs them, but nevertheless, when they look for the neighbourhood policing about which they have heard so much, they find that it is somehow not there. Yet we are told that for the Cheshire police authority, the response to the Government's provisional funding allocations for 2008-09 to 2010-11 will mean that the grant settlement of 2.5 per cent. will only just cover inflation, and unless there are other settlements, it will result in the loss of 80 police officers from the front line. That is a massive, and quite unacceptable, cut.
The police authority has not suddenly come across this state of affairs; it has made representations over a long period, saying that it would be facing a large funding gap of nearly £6 million even if it were just going to stand still—in other words, to overcome reliance on reducing reserves to support level 2 operational demands in the current year, to maintain its commitment to, and public support for, neighbourhood policing, and to support further efficiency. The authority is also aware that it is facing a double whammy. Not only does it not have a suitable settlement to enable it to improve and increase the amount of policing that my constituents can call upon, but it will be threatened with a cap if, for any reason, it succeeds in raising more money than Her Majesty's Government find acceptable.
However, in the name of transparency, of which more anon, the Government have chosen to produce a grant formula that, frankly, is no clearer, and is in some ways more obfuscatory, than the ones we used to have. The method does not simplify the system, which was the reason behind its introduction, and it contains elements of notional levels of spend and tax-base calculations. For example, let us consider the formula issues raised with regard to Cheshire police authority. Why is the net relative needs/resource amount per head of population £3.53 in Cheshire and £10.26 in Avon and Somerset? We suffer equally badly when it comes to resource equalisation: 73.9 per cent. of the needs amount is deducted, on the assumption that Cheshire has a richer council tax base.
Let us be clear about this. The Home Office is demonstrating a Janus-like ability to say to Cheshire on the one hand, "You're really just an adjunct of Liverpool and Manchester, so you must be reorganised so as to enable you to organise your affairs through a greater relationship with the city regions," while on the other hand it is saying, "But you have a much higher tax base." It is essential to look at the number of band D properties; we will then discover that council tax income is the third lowest in the country. Is it assumed that our council tax is higher, or is it simply assumed that Cheshire can be exempted from all the arrangements made in relation to other areas? In the past, Cheshire was given an area cost adjustment, along with London and the south-east counties, which recognised higher labour and living costs, but the average is now very low, and no longer of any benefit.
A completely essential, but somehow ignored, element of policing in Cheshire is the development of attacks by organised crime. The cities that we are told are the drivers of affairs in our area are very good at disgorging their criminal elements on to the motorway and into our county, not least because the more efficient the policing is in the centres of cities, the more the instinct will be to develop organised crime elsewhere, where policing is perceived not to be of the same standard. We therefore require a much more expensive and intensive policing system.
Cheshire has always taken a proactive stance against serious crime. We recently brought to justice in our area a criminal with repeated attempted murder and firearms offences after four other forces had failed to do so. That effort alone involved 90 witnesses and cost £200,000. However, no part of Her Majesty's Government is prepared to accept the cost to Cheshire of those direct attacks from the Liverpool and Manchester areas.
Now we have a potential further constraint through capping. It is essential to understand that the missing £9.7 million needed to plug the funding gap will be obvious when we look to the provision of front-line services. The majority of ratepayers in Cheshire are more than prepared to pay a proper rate for policing services. They understand that their enjoyment of their homes and the calm in which they can use the services of their towns and cities depend on the provision of policemen on the beat. That is not an abstract theory, but a demonstration of practical understanding of the pressures on those areas. So far, however, we have been unprepared or unwilling to accept the absolute cost of the formulae to constituencies such as mine and counties such as Cheshire.
Many of the formulae were developed in the name of transparency. The Department is good at saying how much it cares and how much it wishes to respond to the interest of individual taxpayers and ratepayers. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has made some engaging speeches about the need to respond. She says, for example, that wherever there is a petition containing more than 250 names, she will take note of the content of the petition. I do not know how she reconciles that with the fact that the 10 Downing street website now has a petition with more than 400 signatures that objects to the division of Cheshire into two bits—but I suppose we all have to have our little inconsistencies from time to time.
When the Minister replies, will he give me one simple bit of information? The division introducing unwanted new local authorities has been imposed by the Department on the basis that it will not only improve the facilities but will be much cheaper and more efficient, and will roll us forward to a fantastically bright future. Cheshire county council made a freedom of information request to ask why there was a direct and clear difference between the figures originally given to the county council by the Department and those that were published subsequently: why was no FOI request accepted?
If the report asked for by Paul Rowsell, to get an independent assessment by the Institute of Public Finance of the costs of reorganisation, was so strongly supportive of the Department's attitude, why are we not allowed to read it? If someone had said what a good job I had done, I would have thought that it might be a good idea to make that public. Indeed, I might seek to give it to everybody who inquired—but somehow or other, we are told, that is not the case.
The draft Cheshire (Structural Changes) Order was laid before Parliament on
Before the Department takes even more money away from Cheshire ratepayers and before it is prepared to accept that we will lose 80 officers on the front line, whatever its decisions are, it should think seriously about how it intends to justify those policies. It may find that rather more difficult than it seems to anticipate.
I am delighted, as always, to follow Mrs. Dunwoody, who spoke a great deal of sense, drawing on the experience of Cheshire. She anticipated some of my remarks. I note that in a recent MORI opinion poll conducted in that county, 87 per cent. of people said that they were willing to pay more for the police. However, there are substantial difficulties in doing that, given the nature of the settlement and the capping of the council tax. If we consider the difficulties that the police in Cheshire have faced in several high-profile recent cases, such as that of the terrible murder of Garry Newlove, we can sympathise with the hon. Lady's remarks.
I agree with the attack that Mr. Ruffley made on the Government. Clearly, there is serious concern among the public about crime. There is excessive violent crime, which has doubled since the Government came to power. The deterrent effect is, crucially, composed of not merely the severity of the penalty but the likelihood of detection. That is why the police service is so crucial in the fight against crime, and why the dangers of demoralising it seem considerable in the wake of the decision to phase the police pay settlement.
Several observers have pointed out that we are considering the tightest police grant settlement for a decade, at 2.7 per cent. As the Association of Police Authorities and the Association of Chief Police Officers pointed out in their joint budget exercise, even if full use is made of the leeway allowed on council tax, there is a danger of a shortfall of £1 billion by 2011.
The stress points are already clear. They appear, first, in the Government's announcement. The flatness of the settlements to so many police authorities tells us that the sum that the Government can use to make genuine progress in closing the gap for individual police authorities with their needs-based formula is limited. Several hon. Members have outlined the problems that are likely to arise from that. Nearly half the police authorities will effectively get the floor increase, which is evidence that there is not enough money in the settlement to make genuine progress towards closing the gap in authorities such as Avon and Somerset, and Cheshire.
Does my hon. Friend agree that because the budgets are so tight, if something external to the police, such as, for example, the closure of the local magistrates court—in my area, that would be Sutton magistrates court—occurred, the knock-on effect of the additional police time taken to go elsewhere would mean that the police could not cope with such external events, over which they have no control?
My hon. Friend makes a good point about one of the pressures on the budgets.
Another example of stress appears in the figures. External provision for the police amounted to 85 per cent. of gross revenue expenditure in 1996-97, but is now projected to be down to 61 per cent. That represents an extraordinary drop and an extraordinary increase in the amount of funding expected from the council tax payer, particularly when one bears in mind what an incredibly rotten tax the council tax is, how regressive it is and how unfortunate a burden it imposes on those who are least able to pay, and whose households are under considerable financial stress.
There is also clear evidence of stress in the Home Office's handling of its own budget over the past year, such as the sudden announcement in the middle of the year that the previously agreed level of funding for police community support officers would be cut. All those factors combine with the pressures from pay and general inflation to bear down on a budget that will clearly be inadequate for the demands put on it in the year ahead.
We know that about 80 per cent. of police costs are staff related. If we are looking, as the Government are, for a more than 9 per cent. efficiency gain, all of which is meant to be turned into cash over the three years of the comprehensive spending review, it seems likely that we will be looking at job losses. It would be honest of the Minister to give us any projections that the Home Office has made of the likely sacrifice, in terms of both the police and their support staff, if the efficiency gains are insisted upon, given the extraordinary proportion of staff costs.
What is the way out? Clearly efficiency is one way.
I entirely agree that efficiency is one of the ways forward, but the hon. Gentleman should also keep in mind the fact that any staff wastage or loss will almost certainly be associated with redundancy payments. That, too, bears down on the police budget.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes a good point. In the police service, although less so in the service staff, the capacity to lose people through natural wastage, as the unfortunate euphemism goes, is extremely limited. We might well be looking at redundancy payments, therefore, which would further increase the pressures on already stretched budgets.
IT has a cost, too. The introduction of IT is devoutly to be wished—I am sure that nobody in the House wants the police to be involved in any unnecessary avoidable paperwork. The capacity of IT to reduce that paperwork is important, but that comes at a cost, particularly given the Government's track record on IT projects and overruns. Another important element, which we are beginning to see in the Metropolitan police area, is the provision of figures at a low local level—at ward level, rather than at basic command unit level. That will allow us to burrow into truly effective local command units and spread best practice, and that has to be good, too.
The hon. Gentleman talks about IT project failures, which have been legion over 20 years or more, but we are not really talking about the type of project with the capacity to improve data collection in the police service and thereby reduce forms; rather, we are talking about the introduction of hand-held computer devices and things of that kind. That is not the type of project that has typically caused such angst, overruns or excessive costs. Does he recognise and accept that?
I certainly hope that the hon. Gentleman is right to think that there will perhaps be fewer overruns on such a project. However, I do not share his confidence, having tabled a number of written questions to different Departments a few years ago, when there were overruns with IT projects almost regardless of the type, and particularly with networked IT projects. Although the proposal is for hand-held devices, they still have to be connected to a network, the software has to be compatible and a large number of external consultants have to be paid. For some reason, there seems to be a serious problem with the ability of the Government—not just this Government; the hon. Gentleman was right to point out that this has been a long-standing problem—to handle IT projects and bring them in on time and to budget.
Does my hon. Friend agree that when budgets are tight, even if the IT projects are successful there is a risk that the training budget associated with training people to use the IT systems will be cut, so that officers often cannot make effective use of them? That point was put to me by a police officer on the march a few days ago.
My hon. Friend makes a good point; I am happy to agree with him.
It is also crucial that the Government begin to think about the big picture with regard to improving police efficiency. One way of doing that would be to reduce the demands imposed on the police by an entirely legislation-happy Home Office. Since 1997 it has introduced 3,400 new criminal offences for which the police are expected to bring prosecutions. That is extraordinary, because the vast bulk of the crimes that our people are concerned about are those that have been an offence in this country for as long as anyone in this House has been alive, and probably a good deal longer. Simplifying the legislation and reducing the demands on the police are thoroughly desirable objectives, about which we have not yet heard enough from the Government.
The House will not be surprised to hear that we believe that savings could be made on the Government's identity cards project. Those savings should instead be put into visible front-line policing to reassure our communities. We now know from the safer neighbourhood teams in London that that is a successful way of reducing crime.
We believe that the settlement is eye-wateringly tight, and that it will lead many police authorities and police forces into making wholly unacceptable decisions on job cuts, such as those described by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich. I understand that the Cheshire constabulary has already reduced its head count in the past year. For precisely those reasons, we shall protest against the settlement in the only way we can—by voting against it. We shall do so not because we think that it is not providing enough money, but because we think that the police deserve more.
I should like to begin by offering the House an apology, because what I am going to say will be of particular interest to the people of Lincolnshire and of perhaps rather less interest to other right hon. and hon. Members. In that respect, I shall be following Mrs. Dunwoody. An excuse—if we need one—is that this is one of the few occasions on which we can articulate on the Floor of the House the problems that face our own police forces. So I apologise to the House, but I am going to speak primarily about the difficulties being faced in Lincolnshire.
I acknowledge that the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing has been good enough to see me on at least one occasion to discuss the problems of Lincolnshire. I also know that he is seeing the chairman of the Lincolnshire police authority on
I should like briefly to summarise the issues that the Lincolnshire force is facing. First, it has the lowest funding of any force in England and Wales. The next lowest funded force gets £11 million more. Secondly, as I said in an intervention on my hon. Friend Mr. Ruffley, the police authorities are under a statutory duty to produce a balanced budget. They do not have the legal right to operate at a deficit. That is important, because, unlike most authorities, they have to adjust their spending to reflect their revenue stream. They cannot resort to borrowing; they have to bring about economies.
In the absence of additional funding for the Lincolnshire force, there will be a deficit of £7 million in 2008, of £12 million in 2009 and of £14 million in 2010. Such figures would not be huge in the context of the metropolitan forces, but they are very considerable in the context of the Lincolnshire force. Chris Huhne fairly pointed out that about 80 per cent. of the costs incurred by police authorities were staffing costs. In the case of Lincolnshire, the figure is nearer to 85 per cent., and if we want to bring about a reduction in costs, we inevitably have to look at staffing levels.
There are only two groups of people in a police force: the police officers and the civilian staff. Police officers are Crown servants, and cannot be made redundant. The force can be reduced through wastage or by voluntary resignation, but not by sacking. Consequently, if staffing levels are to be reduced, the non-police-officer content has to be considered. That has at least two consequences. First, there will be heavy redundancy costs which will have to be incorporated into the spending plan in any budget. Secondly, any cuts in the civilian staff will result in many of those posts being filled by police officers who could otherwise be out on duty. I am not for a moment saying that we cannot bring about efficiencies through a reduction in staff. That might be possible, and the use of information technology is a way forward. We must bear in mind, however, that there are immediate and serious funding problems associated with such decisions and that, in any event, many of the holes would have to be plugged by serving officers.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman should make no apology for talking about Lincolnshire. That is what these debates are for. Will he address another significant funding issue? He has concentrated on the question of revenue expenditure, but there is an equal—if not even more worrying—squeeze on capital expenditure, which will prevent forces from taking the very steps towards improved efficiency that could mitigate the effects of a tight revenue budget.
The hon. Gentleman is right. Such measures would, for example, constrain the ability of any police force to introduce new IT provision, because that comes largely out of capital expenditure. Alternatively, a force might find that it had to cut back on its building programme. The hon. Gentleman is quite right to raise that serious issue.
I should like to put a bit of flesh on the generalities that I have outlined. If we wished to achieve the savings in Lincolnshire that will be required in 2010-11, we would have to find a saving of more than 200 officers. In fact—if I can read my writing—the figure would be 275, which is one quarter of the total force. Alternatively, if we were to concentrate exclusively on civilian employees, their number would have to be reduced in that year by 364. Those are substantial numbers.
I want to turn now to the grant itself. I am sorry that the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing is no longer in his place, although I appreciate that it is not possible to be here at all times. On the face of it, the grant of 3.1 per cent. to the Lincolnshire force is not out of line with the grants that have been made to other forces. It suffers from two problems, however. First, it ignores the fact that the Lincolnshire force is the lowest funded force in England and Wales by at least £11 million, as I have already mentioned. Secondly, it ignores another critical point, which is that, in 2007-08, there was a special one-off £3.4 million grant. If that is taken into account as it should be, we see not an increase of 3.1 per cent. but a decrease of 1.9 per cent., or £1.37 million—and those are all significant figures.
Let me next address the question of what can be done about the problem, given the realities of life. There are only three sources of finance available to the police service. One is central Government funding through the grant; the second is special one-off grants; and the third is the precept. I shall speak briefly on each of those sources.
On the formula that produces the annual grant, ever since I have been a Member of Parliament, from 1979, rural forces have faced particular problems because of their sparsity—and in forces such as Lincolnshire, there is a particular and perverse difficulty. We are very sparsely populated as a county, but there are no large spaces of emptiness. In North Yorkshire or Cumbria, for example, there are large areas of emptiness, where there is nobody around—and very nice it is too, I might add—but in Lincolnshire that is not the case. It is a very large county, but all of it is populated. There are small settlements, separated by a few miles, which may well be true of other constituencies. That makes for a special problem when it comes to policing, but that particular problem associated with sparsity is not taken into account at all in the formula. I would like to see the formula looked into again in that light. I have been calling for that for nearly 30 years, but it has not been a successful call, so I am not unduly optimistic now. On behalf of forces such as Lincolnshire, I say that it is imperative that the formula be looked at again. One has to ask whether that is going to happen in the next two weeks, and the answer is obviously no.
The next aspect is ad hoc funding of a yearly kind. I acknowledge that the Government produced a one-off payment of £3.4 million last year and I would obviously like to see another substantial payment come through this year. However, there is an important difficulty in that, if structural problems are funded by way of annual one-off payments, that fails to deal with the underlying structural difficulty itself. There is, perversely, the additional problem of disenabling police authorities from long-term thinking, as they will not know what their revenue stream will be. It is difficult to take strategic decisions about the force or any police operations without knowing the amount of long-term structural funding. Although I would welcome an additional one-off grant, either the same or larger than last year's, I do not regard it as a solution to the long-term structural problems that I have identified.
That brings me to the precept, which is a real problem. There is no doubt that the Lincolnshire police authority is going to come forward with a very substantial increase in the precept. However, precepts are subject to capping and, even worse in one sense, this will be deeply resented by the council tax payer. Council tax payers will say with considerable force that this is a stealth tax, whereby they are being obliged to shoulder the cost of providing a proper police service in Lincolnshire and elsewhere, which should properly be borne by the Government.
My strong suspicion—I am sorry to say this to the Minister—is that that is deliberate policy. I believe that in many rural areas, it is deliberate policy to drive up the local tax by way of stealth taxes of that kind in respect of those matters that should be properly borne by central Government. It is not coincidence, but deliberate policy. Where do we go from here? As I said, I believe that the Lincolnshire police authority will come forward with a very substantial request for an increase in precept. I do not believe that it has any alternative. It is an unfortunate state of affairs, brought about by a deliberate policy of Government, but I am a realist and I think that the police service in Lincolnshire needs to be reinforced, which will require a substantial increase in the precept. I shall defend that, but I greatly regret the fact that it has to be met.
I say to the Under-Secretary of State that it would be perverse of her and her colleagues to impose a cap on the request that may well be made by the police authority, which will have been brought about by what I believe to be the Government's failure to provide proper funding for Lincolnshire. If that request is made by the police authority, it should be allowed.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman represents a seat in the same region as me. There are two factors to which he has not yet alluded in respect of the financial problems facing the Lincolnshire and Leicestershire forces. First, there is a lag between population growth occurring on the ground and its being reflected in the formula. That is true of Lincolnshire more than Leicestershire, but the whole of the east midlands is the most rapidly growing region, which needs to be addressed. Secondly, there is the impact of floors and ceilings, which have prevented Leicestershire from receiving an extra £6 million over the last two years and an extra £9 million over the next three. That speeds up the rate at which the needs of authorities need to be reflected and paid for in the central grant. That affects Lincolnshire as much as it affects Leicestershire, does it not?
The hon. Gentleman is right. The two points that he identified are certainly common to his county and mine. I suspect that they are also true of the other counties in the east midlands. However, he speaks with authority for his own county and I can confirm that it is true of Lincolnshire.
I wish to make two further points before finishing. First, I personally believe that we need to see a huge increase in the number of police officers on the beat, especially in the more stressed urban areas. That point arises from my practice at the criminal Bar. The House will know, as I frequently declare my interest, that I frequently appear in criminal courts. By the nature of things, I tend to represent people who have committed crimes in urban areas. There is tremendous and serious lawlessness in many of our cities. However we describe it and whatever its immediate causes—these are not matters for today's debate—I believe that a very large increase in police numbers is necessary and should be done on a pilot basis—increasing by 20, 30 or 40 per cent. the number of police officers available. That will prove hugely expensive to fund.
That brings me on to a point that I have made many times in the House—the value of the special constabulary. I was a special constable for two or three years and greatly enjoyed it, although it was many years ago now. I believe that it provides a wholly untapped resource. Long ago, we accepted that the Territorial Army and the fire service should be entitled to pay their part-time people. I have long believed that we should be able to pay special constables a proper retaining sum. If we did that in counties such as Lincolnshire, many people willing to patrol the streets of their villages and localities would come forward. I urge Government and Opposition Front Benchers to think about the advantages of that happening.
My last point relates to bureaucracy and I put it mainly to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds. He was wholly right to say that much of the police service's time is wasted in bureaucracy. I know that because I have seen it in my own practice at the criminal Bar. May I remind the House of the need to ensure that power is not abused? I happened to be a Whip way back in 1983-84 when the Police and Criminal Evidence Act introduced various codes and the requirement that interviews should be tape recorded. I can remember what police interviews were like before tape recording, when verballing was commonplace.
I also remember two of the difficulties associated with stop and search. I recall Sir John Wheeler as he now is, then Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, campaigning to stop the use of stop and search because of the abuses taking place on the streets of London, which was particularly damaging to police relationships with the ethnic minorities. We need to be very careful when we set about dismantling some of the constraints that we have imposed on the police. There is a basic and beastly truth about life—if we give power to officials, it will almost certainly be abused. That is a basic rule of politics.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree—this may serve as a salutary warning to his party's Front Benchers about some of the remarks that they have made in recent weeks—that trust between the minority communities and the police is crucial to effective policing? Without that trust, it will be impossible to secure the evidence needed to convict, or to secure successful prosecutions. On that basis alone, is it not entirely counter-productive to start ditching important safeguards of the kind that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has described?
I agree with the first part of what the hon. Gentleman has said. It is indeed important to try to increase trust between the ethnic minorities and the police service. At present, it does not exist in many areas. I suspect, however, that the hon. Gentleman has been rather unfair to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds. He and our colleagues are not suggesting the dismantlement of the main protections: I never thought that my hon. Friend said that. What I am saying is that we must be cautious, because many of those protections are there for very good reasons.
Power will be abused. We should give power away only if we must, and if we must, we should ring it with as many safeguards as we properly can.
I wish to direct the House's attention away from the rolling acres of Lincolnshire to the leafy suburbs of London, whose problems were mentioned briefly by my hon. Friend Mr. Ruffley in response to an intervention from my hon. Friend Anne Milton.
There is a general perception on the Government Benches that there is little crime, or less crime, in the leafy outer suburbs of London, but that is not true. Indeed, the problem is that the more affluent parts of those suburbs are magnets for crime. My local police in Orpington, in the London borough of Bromley, recently carried out a successful operation involving a particularly villainous group of criminals who were feasting on an especially affluent part of my constituency. They did a brilliant job in apprehending all those villains, but only one of them came from Bromley. Most came from other parts of London, or from other parts of the country. The affluent suburbs which are supposed to be quiet and crime-free are often magnets for major crime.
As that incident showed, we have an excellent borough commander in Bromley, in the shape of Chief Constable Charles Griggs. He was born in Bromley and lives in my constituency of Orpington, so he knows the ground extremely well, and we are very confident about his performance and that of his team. He tells me, "I must live within the resources that I am given by the Government, or the Mayor of London. There is little I can do about that, and I make the best of it." The fact is, however, that the resources at his disposal are far less than they should be. Although Bromley is the largest borough in London, it has only a little over 500 police officers. The further we go into the inner-London boroughs in concentric circles, the more the number increases. There are probably more than 600 in Lewisham, and I believe that Hackney has 800 or 900. I do not know the figure offhand, although the Minister may know it. In any event, she will understand my point.
As has been pointed out by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg, there are major problems in city areas, both in affluent outer London and in less affluent inner London, which could be lessened by significant increases in the number of police on the streets. That is, of course, a product of the lack of resources that is evident in places such as Bromley. The problem is not just a lack of resources year on year—I am glad that the Government have adopted a three-year financing period—but sudden changes in the amount available within the year, which occur with little notice and little reason.
I recently told Chief Constable Charles Griggs, "The promises about the number of police community support officers in my constituency are not being honoured. There are fewer than you said there would be. Moreover, the police shops that were to be opened in the wards are not being opened. People are disappointed. Expectations were raised and are not being fulfilled. Why?" He said, "I have just been told by the Metropolitan police that I cannot spend any more money in the current financial year, so I will have to postpone all that until the next financial year—if I can." Not only are the resources less than they should be, as many Members have acknowledged today, but there are sudden arbitrary changes in the amount that a police force can spend in a year. That is disconcerting and difficult for forces to handle, and it has an effect on the quality of policing.
This debate will be followed by a debate on the local government settlement. I do not intend to stray on to that ground, but the fact is that boroughs such as Bromley suffer as a result of having not just fewer resources for policing but fewer resources for local government, which compounds the problem. Bromley has fewer resources for health care and schools than less affluent London boroughs. This is not a single but a quadruple problem, which exists throughout the spectrum of public services.
Let us consider police resources in the wider context of the whole country. Public spending in London is only 31 per cent. of regional income, while in the north-east the proportion is 63 per cent. and in the north-west it is 54 per cent. Not only does Bromley suffer within London; London suffers in comparison with the rest of the country. That is perpetuated in the police settlement. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham complained about a 3.1 increase in his area. My area has received an increase of 2.5 per cent., less than has been received by any metropolitan police area in the country except one. West Yorkshire, Manchester, Merseyside and Birmingham have all received larger increases. I cannot conceive why that is: surely London's crime levels are at least equal to those in other metropolitan areas.
We will battle on, and do what we can with the resources that we have—my borough commander has admirably said that he will do what he can—but the fact is that those resources are inadequate. I hope that when my party comes to power, in 18 months or in two years, we will do something about that manifest unfairness.
I want to focus on this year's police grant settlement in relation to the specific needs of rural policing. I am on record as saying in the House that Norfolk constabulary does an excellent job in difficult circumstances, policing vast rural areas as well as deprived towns with a history of antisocial behaviour. That is not an easy task, but the police perform it despite having to find some £3.5 million in efficiency savings. They have been forced reluctantly to go to the Government cap in hand to increase the amount of council tax that must be imposed on the county's taxpayers.
At the end of last year, the Home Secretary assured the House that the Government were committed to ensuring that the police service was in the best possible shape to meet the heavy expectations placed on it. That commitment is welcome, but does the Minister agree that it is vital to recognise the special needs of policing in rural areas, and the particular demands involved in delivering a high-quality service to communities in which the population is sparse?
I want to concentrate on two issues that the Norfolk police have told me are of key importance if they are to achieve their goals of reducing crime, the fear of crime and antisocial behaviour, increasing detections, and improving confidence. The first is specific grants. The rural policing fund is, unsurprisingly, hugely important in sustaining the force's capabilities, but it and other specific grants such as the crime fighting fund have not increased for several years. That amounts to a grant reduction in real terms.
This policy reinforces the view held among rural forces and in the rural community, particularly in places like Norfolk, that the Government are refocusing resources in urban areas at the expense of rural areas. I am sure that the Minister recognises that that message is hugely damaging to police morale, and that it causes immense frustration—and, indeed, fear—among rural residents. How can such a policy be fair? Does it not demonstrate yet again that this Government misunderstand the countryside and fail those who live outside cities and major towns?
Fear of crime is high in South-West Norfolk. Unlike in urban areas, some residents in my constituency can go for days, or even weeks, without seeing a police officer. People want help in tackling antisocial behaviour, traffic speeding through remote villages, enforcement of weight limits on lanes, petty thefts, and drug use in their communities. The chairman of a village hall management committee told me:
"We have suffered thefts, boy racers, drug users, vandalism, gate-crashing, which abuses the hard work the committee puts into the playing field and hall. The police have been called on numerous occasions, but their policing area is so large they can take up to two days to arrive. We want to see more fully trained police, not just PCSOs."
Agricultural theft is also a massive problem. The excellent organisation Farmwatch has had to resort to sending out a warning to farmers in its newsletter, advising them not to leave farm equipment out between jobs so that they do not fall victim to thieves looking for scrap metal. One constituent wrote to me:
"I have been the victim of six separate thefts, despite spending more than £1,000 on additional security. The response from the Police is that it will happen again. The officer who attended this morning told me that last night there were 2 officers patrolling an area from King's Lynn to Hunstanton to Swaffham (an area over 1,000 sq miles). The chance of any thief being caught is almost zero. I am at my wit's end. Agriculture is a difficult enough way of making a living without people stealing the little we have."
It seems now that even our local churches are not safe from this type of theft, as scrap merchants have begun targeting church roofs for lead.
I also cannot mention rural crime without referring to the frequent raves residents in my constituency must endure. I will return to that matter later in the month when I present a ten-minute Bill to the House, seeking to address the shortcomings of current legislation on raves.
Why have specific grants, such as the rural policing fund, not been kept in line with the rate of inflation? Why have the Government constrained rural police forces by imposing upon them a grant reduction in real terms? These are serious and pressing questions, to which rural forces and my constituents want answers.
My second point is on the provision of protective services to cover emergency incidents, major investigations, work to combat terrorism and extremism, serious crimes such as homicide, public order incidents, witness protection and organised crime. Norfolk, along with other forces, is suffering from a projected gap of £5 million in protective services funding, despite an upsurge in serious and organised crime, a rise in human trafficking and increased drug-related crime. Does the Minister accept that rural police forces, like urban forces, have to deal with these crimes? Will the Minister also acknowledge that modern technology facilitates such crimes? Norfolk has pledged to be an intelligence-led force, but how can it achieve that if the protective services aspect of its remit is insufficiently funded? Does the Minister accept that a funding gap exists in this area, and what will the Government do to address it?
Norfolk is collaborating with a neighbouring force to try to overcome this shortfall in resources, but it will be a few years before the positive effects are seen. What is Norfolk constabulary expected to do in the short term? Norfolk constabulary is committed to protecting the public to the very best of its abilities, but it needs the support of the Government and a fair share of the national funding pot to do so properly.
I urge the Minister to reassure our police forces that the funding shortfalls that are causing considerable worry to constabularies such as Norfolk do not reflect a wider Government complacency towards the needs of rural areas. Finally, and most importantly, I urge the Minister to give Norfolk a better deal.
I rise to debate some of the details of the police grant, with particular reference to Surrey. I am delighted that the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing is back in his place, and I am pleased that he acknowledged in his opening remarks that there is a particular problem to do with Surrey police funding.
First, let me give some context. Surrey is supplying £5.4 billion-worth of taxation revenue to be spent elsewhere than in Surrey; therefore for a typical family of four, on average £20,000 each year is spent outside Surrey. So Surrey is paying more than its fair share towards expenditure elsewhere in the country. I shall examine the grant formula, and then look at the consequences of how it is applied to Surrey and point to some of the potential remedies that the chief constable recently recommended to the Minister.
I wonder whether anyone present—with the possible exception of one or two Home Office civil servants—has any idea how the police grant formula works. It is based on a projected population multiplied by the result of the police basic amount plus police crime top-ups 1 to 7, plus police incidents top-up, plus police fear of crime top-up, plus police traffic top-up, plus police sparsity top-up.
It is also revealing to examine the detail of what makes up the formulae. If a resident of Surrey sees that "single parent households" and "student housing" each appear under three different top-ups and that, to cap it all, under police crime top-up 7 a negative factor is applied for people identified as "wealthy achievers", they might then begin to get the general idea that all the formulae will take money and funding away from the county of Surrey. That has, indeed, been the case. One need only examine what has happened in respect of funding per head of population in Surrey since 1997-98 and the introduction of all the formulae and their consequences: the amount of money that Surrey has received from central Government has bumped along the bottom of the floor set by the Government. Indeed, the formulae were set in such a way that if there had not been a floor, I rather wonder whether Surrey would be getting any money at all from the Home Office.
The formulae are entirely impenetrable to outsiders; it is impossible for them to find out what they mean in fact. What they mean for Surrey is that it has received no extra money in cash terms in Home Office police grant per head of population since 1997. In saying that, I might be guilty of misleading the House because the truth is that in 1997-98 the Home Office grant per head of population for Surrey was £57.80, whereas this year it has risen to the princely sum of £58.33, so it has in fact gone up by 53p per head in cash terms during the 10 years of this Government. Meanwhile, however, in order to deliver policing in Surrey, the council tax per head of population that goes to support the police has increased from £19.51 to £77.15.
The Minister has said that the proportion of Surrey's police funding coming from the council tax payer is approaching half, but national non-domestic rates are also raised in Surrey. Only 40 per cent. of the national non-domestic rates raised in Surrey are then spent in Surrey, and that is scored as national expenditure for the purposes of the Minister's definition of national, as opposed to local, expenditure on the police. If one scored the national non-domestic rates raised in Surrey as local expenditure, about 64 per cent. of funding for the police in Surrey would be coming from Surrey taxpayers in one form or another.
Surrey's position is extreme, and to see that, one has only to look at the different sets of formulae that were introduced in this House in 2005, all of which acted in precisely the same way to ensure that Surrey's expenditure was sustained only by the floor that the Government have put in place. I am afraid that the conclusion that my constituents and I are entitled to reach was summed up by the sedentary intervention by Mr. Martlew. When Surrey's expenditure was mentioned he said, "They can afford it." Some £5.4 billion-worth—or, by other accounts, £5.9 billion-worth—is being exported from the county to be spent elsewhere in the country, and there comes a limit. That limit has been reached.
As an aside, I shall examine the interesting additional rule 1 to be applied by the Home Secretary. I wonder why something similar to what applies in Wales does not appear to apply in England. The rule states:
"The Home Secretary has decided that the grant provision under the principal formula for South Wales Police Authority"— which includes the capital of Wales—
"shall be reduced by £2,383,426".
Instead of being given to the police authorities in England and Wales, that money is simply redistributed among the Dyfed-Powys, Gwent and North Wales police authorities. If additional rule 1 is good enough for Wales and allows some adjustment to be made for over-expenditure in Wales's highly populated area to ensure that the policing challenges of its more rural areas can be addressed, why cannot something similar be done for England? Why cannot something similar be contemplated for Surrey, given the crisis that is overtaking Surrey police authority?
The Minister will be well aware that I use terms such as "crisis" advisedly. Surrey's police force has been in the top end of all the performance indicators over the past 10 years, and it has supplied other areas with some distinguished police officers, Denis O'Connor and Ian Blair to name but two. I have accompanied both of them, and the chairman of the police authority, on delegations of Surrey Members of Parliament to previous Policing Ministers to point out that what was happening in Surrey was going to be unsustainable, yet year in, year out Surrey has sought, through imaginative policing and restructuring solutions, to stem the tide of its enormously difficult financial position. Above all, Surrey council tax payers have ridden to the rescue to ensure some form of sustainable policing in Surrey.
We now face the extremely difficult consequences of this settlement. On
"I am writing in unprecedented terms to express my professional concerns about the risks to public safety of people in Surrey over the next three to five years, if our funding position is not resolved urgently."
Behind these formulae lies a basic absurdity in how the conclusion about how much money should go to Surrey is reached. The absurdity is that even if one accepts that the formulae are arrived at reasonably and are a reasonable assessment, they take no account of Surrey's location.
If Surrey were moved bodily to the middle of Wales, which is a much lower crime area that has no major crime centres around it, Surrey would receive exactly the same amount of money under the formulae. As we have heard, 59 per cent. of serious organised crime in Surrey comes from outside it. I cannot better the chief constable's remarks about this. He says:
"We are about to hit the tipping point where the majority of burglary, vehicle crime and robbery come from travelling offenders visiting Surrey from neighbouring high crime generating areas including London (currently at 46 per cent.)...I am also able to evidence a range of demands which are a direct consequence of bordering London. The Funding Formula takes little account of these factors".
All that should be more than familiar to the Minister, and, as my hon. Friend Mr. Ruffley was good enough to make clear, it comes from a police force that has performed at the top end of everybody's expectations in terms of its administrative efficiency.
The Minister's opening remarks directly acknowledged the fact that Surrey faces a particular problem, and he must take these concerns seriously. If he does not intervene, I would be astonished if the Surrey police authority is able to set a precept that does not smash straight through the capping limits. If the police authority proposes something above 5 per cent. I would expect him to cap it, but I must tell him that he would then have to meet the chief constable, the chairman of the police authority and hon. Members who represent Surrey constituencies to explain how he will address the problem centrally. Without a shadow of doubt, Surrey has a completely solid case, given the consequences of how the funding formulae have rolled out over the past 10 years.
May I thank the Minister most sincerely at the start of my contribution—before he quickly leaves—for two reasons? First, I thank him for meeting representatives from across Northamptonshire's policing body. They were most grateful that he saw them, and I hope that he will have words for me tonight that show that the meeting was worth while.
Secondly, I wish to thank the Minister for his opening remarks on the issue of sustainable community areas. He said that he was cognisant of the fact that the tardiness of the grant for those areas was a real problem. I do not want to talk about the east midlands, because that region has already been well covered by my hon. Friend Mr. Ruffley and my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg. However, I make no excuse for speaking in detail about my own county of Northamptonshire and the impact on my constituency.
The Minister will know the arguments, and I know that if he were in my position his arguments would be just as robust and strong as I intend to make mine tonight. I hope that from that perspective he will understand why I am raising the issue and that he will agree with me and go away and do something about it. He is the sort of man whom I would expect to think in those terms, so I am hopeful.
The reason for making the case for Northamptonshire is simple. Northamptonshire police will receive an increase in formula funding of 2.5 per cent. The Minister knows that figure, but when it is added to the special grant funding—and we have to look at the whole of police funding—Northamptonshire will receive an increase this year of 1.4 per cent. That is less than this Government's tardy recommendation for police pay. How can we add the figures up for Northamptonshire? The Minister knows, I know and my electorate know that they simply do not add up. That is why I make this appeal to the Minister.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the sustainable communities programme, and Northampton and the county around it have some of the fastest population growth rates in the country. That leads to some serious problems. The county faces two double whammies. First, it has a real problem with formula funding, which Ministers recognise, because they tried to introduce a new formula for police funding. While that helped Northamptonshire, it did not help some of the areas to which the Government are friendlier, and it will not do anything to improve our present position as the second lowest funded council in the country. The second aspect of that double whammy, which adds woe upon woe for the people, is that the Office for National Statistics has said—as the Government recognise—that there will be no growth in Northampton between 2001 and 2008, even though we are a sustainable communities growth area. That latter point is the first aspect of the second double whammy, and the second is that the area has one of the largest eastern European immigrant populations in the country. Northampton alone has had 10,600 immigrants from eastern Europe register for national insurance numbers in the past three years. That is the second highest in the country.
I hope that I do not need to tell the Minister that Northamptonshire is a part of the Milton Keynes-south midlands growth area. The Government want us to have a 50 per cent. population increase, with 167,000 new houses to be built across the county by 2031, with most of them being built in the early years of that period. Indeed, planning applications for 45,000 houses are already in play, which will mean an increase in population of at least 100,000. And the police have had a 1.4 per cent. increase.
My hon. Friend makes a robust case for Northamptonshire, but Lincolnshire people look on that county with envy. We are the worst funded authority, as my hon. Friend will know. Does he agree that Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire share a dilemma with Surrey? Because of the gap created by lack of funding, we must raise the precept, but we cannot raise it beyond the cap. Is not that an impossible situation for police authorities, as the Minister must know?
Order. I have to make the point again to the hon. Gentleman who, despite some experience in this House, continues to fall into that little technical trap.
I am grateful for that guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I learnt my bad habits as a local councillor and I apologise.
My hon. Friend underlines the point that both the east midlands and Surrey suffer as a result of formula funding, and that puts them in an impossible position. My hon. Friend will also know that when the Government's growth agenda is added on top of that, the position becomes even more impossible—if that makes any sense at all. I see heads wagging, but it is true. We need to find 1,100 additional hospital beds, 20 new upper schools and 60 new primary schools, to say nothing of leisure and sports facilities, doctors' surgeries, area health clinics, water, sewerage and the police to police the county.
I pay tribute to Peter Maddison, the chief constable, for the work that he has done. The county's policing is improving, and the Minister will know that. We have done our bit, but we do not have the money to do the job that he wants us to do.
I would be delighted if we were to proceed in that way, and that gives me a little hope— [ Interruption. ] It gives me hope, I can tell the Minister, because my party is obviously thinking in the right way.
I have already said that my area has the largest number of immigrants from eastern Europe, but we also have one of the largest Somali immigrant communities—to say nothing of other communities. The consequences, for policing in Northamptonshire, include an interpretation budget that has increased from £53,800 in 2004-05 to £237,000 this year, an increase of 450 per cent. in four years. That has not been taken into account by the Minister—at least, not to date. I am hopeful that he might change his mind.
The number of non-British people arrested last year increased by 4.1 per cent. It might be argued that that is a comment on the well-being of the immigrant community in Northamptonshire, and I am willing to accept that, but the rise was still well above inflation and above the money that the police are paid to deal with it.
The number of hate crimes has risen by 10.1 per cent., which suggests the problems that are beginning to emerge in the area, which we need to note. I am fearful that the 1.4 per cent. in total increased funding will not allow us to deal with that issue in the way that we would wish.
The Local Government Association has been especially supportive of Northamptonshire's case. In a submission to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee inquiry into the economic impact of immigration, the LGA pointed out that a substantial number of migrants have gone to towns such as Northampton that have little experience of receiving international migrants. It is much more costly when those involved are on a steep learning curve, and that is exactly where we are. That is a real concern.
I do not need to tell the Minister that traffic has increased by 20 per cent. in recent years in Northamptonshire—the fastest rate of increase of any town in the country. That underlines the growth of immigration into the county and of the sustainable communities programme that I have already mentioned. When I tell the House that the chief constable talked about reducing the number of operational police officers by up to 400 over the next three years, Members will realise the difficulties we face.
My hon. Friend makes his case with the eloquence of Pericles and the strength of Hercules. Will he acknowledge that inasmuch as the formula is insensitive to local details and unresponsive to change it particularly disadvantages rural counties? They are changing, in some of the ways that he describes, not just in Northamptonshire but in Lincolnshire and elsewhere.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and I completely accept his comments. He gives me the opportunity to point out that on top of the growth in sustainable communities we face the general trend he describes, which adds to our difficulties.
The Minister will know that we have tried to bring our case to the attention of the Government. I have already thanked him for meeting colleagues from Northamptonshire. We also met the Minister for Local Government. In November, I questioned the Home Secretary about underfunding and was delighted when she told me that I had made
"an important point about the funding made available to police services and the nature of the formula in recognising changes in population".
I was also delighted when she went on to say that she would
"in the near future...be making announcements about next year's funding for police authorities and will bear in mind the issues that many forces have raised about the nature of population growth and how that is included in the formula".—[ Hansard, 26 November 2007; Vol. 468, c. 3.]
You can understand, Mr. Deputy Speaker, how my hopes rose, but when the grants were announced what a tragedy for me to find that those were empty words and empty gestures. I am hoping against hope that the Minister can put things right this evening.
As I said, Northamptonshire police received a total grant increase of 1.4 per cent. when formula funding and the special grant are added together. We have to do that, because community policing is part of the special grant provision. We cannot leave out that element and say that it does not matter. Of course it matters, especially in a county such as Northamptonshire.
The truth of the matter is that the people of Northamptonshire increasingly believe that the Government are letting them down. Equally, and of more concern, the police in Northamptonshire believe that the Government are letting them down. I wonder whether the Minister will be honest with me— [ Interruption. ] I am sure he will. There is a way out of the problem; the Minister could work with his colleagues in the sustainable communities programme and tell them that there is a special special reason for doing something about my county, because 167,000 houses are being dumped—I use that word carefully—on the county in a very short time indeed. We are taking more than our fair share.
I hope that when the Minister sums up the debate, he will tell us that he will talk to his Government colleagues who are responsible for the sustainable communities project to try to find ways of easing out extra money to ensure that Northamptonshire policing can benefit, because we face such a massive growth agenda. However, if that is not possible, the very least the Minister can do for me and the people of Northamptonshire is to tell us why funding has been so restricted. Why have we had such a bad settlement this year? If the Minister is honest he will tell us the truth—that when his colleague the Prime Minister was Chancellor of the Exchequer he made hay while the sun shone to such an extent that we now face massive financial problems, and that much as the Minister would like to do what I ask he is unable to do so, because the former Chancellor acted to the detriment of the people I represent.
I congratulate everybody who has made a contribution to the debate. As I said at the start, I certainly do not traduce Members who make a case for their individual area; that is absolutely right and proper and is, in part, the purpose of the debate. It might have been helpful if I could have put a little more context on the record before the avalanche of local special pleading—I do not mean that in a nasty way. However, I shall not waste time by giving context now as I would rather respond to the many cases that have been put.
As Mr. Ruffley rightly suggested, I would not necessarily disagree with many of the points he made. The settlement needs to be seen in a much wider context than just this year or successive years. It needs to be seen in the context of the whole issue of voluntary mergers, to which he alluded, and what we might or might not be able to do in those circumstances. I assure the House that we are not about to revisit enforced mergers—we have gone beyond that.
There is also the issue of police pay, not just this year or in coming years. The House knows that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made it very clear that if we can reach a multi-year deal for the next three years or so, around the police arbitration tribunal index, and there is an assurance not to phase such a deal, it would give us at least the degree of certainty in terms of pay that authorities will rightly require over the next three years.
Although there was a bit of badinage about the point, all those who suggested that although paperwork and bureaucracy are important it is time for more action and not merely words are right, too. Ever since the production of David Bowie's "Life on Mars" album and the period when the series that we have just enjoyed watching was set, we have been talking about trying to reduce the amount of paperwork and bureaucracy. I take Sir Ronnie Flanagan's point: police bureaucracy is rather like cholesterol—there is good and bad, and as Mr. Hogg said, we do not want to throw out the good with the bad. We do not want to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater, in the sense of throwing out good, solid audit paper trails, which protect the defendant, among others, in legal processes, in the cause of getting rid of all paperwork.
The bonkers bit—the charge that I was bonkers, however temporarily, as he was kind enough to say. Actually, I have just had my MOT from the occupational health people in this place—for whom we all have high regard—[Hon. Members: "What did they say?"]—What they said was obvious, but it is none of the House's business. In fact, they pointed out sharply that there is indeed good and bad cholesterol and kindly gave me three books to prove the matter. I was told that a combination of the two made up the overall index to show whether Members had good or bad cholesterol.
I take the point that was made in respect of bureaucracy. It is irrelevant that the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 was introduced under the Conservatives, but I repeat that it is wearing well over time and is doing well what it was intended to do. We are certainly finding that in terms of the PACE review. As I told the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, as and when there is scope to update and modernise the measure we shall do so. That is what the east Lancashire pilot is about. The notion that portable records have to be given to each party is probably old-fashioned, so if through the pilot we can reach the stage of utilising digital storage rather than physical tapes, with appropriate password access for the limited number of parties who require the information, it will be an advance.
Many Members who visit police stations—in a voluntary capacity, of course—will be struck by the extensive cupboard or room that is full of cassettes, because of the current requirement. Where we are going with PACE; what we may or may not choose to do with voluntary mergers; the points about police pay, both looking forward and otherwise; and the comments about paperwork and bureaucracy were all well made, and there was broad consensus across the House in each of those regards.
Although I appreciate that urban and rural policing face different concerns and issues, all forces need to be alive to the importance of both rural and urban policing. Where distinctions exist even across the urban-rural divide between affluent and less affluent communities, there are still real policing concerns in both none the less. I do not subscribe to the notion that the more affluent the area, suddenly the less the requirement or need for policing, not least because, as some hon. Members have pointed out, there can be relatively low crime rates in some rural or urban areas that are far from affluent. The key for each area is that, between the Government, local police authorities and the chief constables, we get the balance and mix of policing right for that area.
No, but I will happily charge some of the key officials in the Home Office to sit down in a locked room with the hon. Gentleman for about an hour to explain to him why his thumbnail sketch of what was right and wrong with the police formula was woefully inadequate even for a man of his capabilities. I am happy for officials to take him through the issues. When I walked away just as Mr. Binley was speaking, I was checking with those in the Box that we had received Chief Constable Bob Quick's letter, which the hon. Gentleman referred to, and I certainly have and will respond. I will try to get in Chief Constable Quick and whoever else wants to from Surrey to talk to them in the same terms that I am talking to representatives from a range of other police authorities. I want to pick up the specifics of those local dimensions.
The right hon. Gentleman has been talking about officials and the formula. It would be helpful if he asked his officials to reflect on the fact that one of the problems in rural areas is the absence of the rapid deployment of reinforcements. That is not taken account of at all in the formula, with the consequence that, if an officer is out on duty and faces a violent situation, there is no back-up, and that is a particularly exposed position in which to be.
I take the point, which is, I suppose, a rough analogy to the sparsity point that relates to the next debate on local government finance. If the formula and allocation models are to be robust, they must be continually reviewed. I take those points seriously, but it is a matter of balance. For every plea made by an hon. Member for more money for a certain force, whether urban or rural, the money must come from elsewhere. It does not follow, not least for the reasons that I have outlined, that if more is given to rural forces, that comes from the pockets of urban forces—things are not so simplistic as that—nor is it the case, save for a very few areas, where each of our 43 police forces are either exclusively or largely rural, or exclusively or largely urban. Clearly, the forces are often mixed.
How does the right hon. Gentleman feel that that applies to the sustainable communities project? The Government have asked my county in particular to be heavily involved in that project, yet they have not found the sort of money for services that growth requires.
The hon. Gentleman is not being entirely fair, but in many regards across the Government, that is precisely what has happened. I said in my opening remarks, and I have said the same to colleagues across the Government, that I do not think that the mechanisms governing such development have been robust enough in terms of establishing the community safety architecture and recognising that the required resources should grow with the communities, rather than afterwards. However, he is not entirely fair, and I was in on the ground floor in terms of the development of the sustainable communities plan. He will know that, across government, the criteria associated with education, health and a range of other services have been specifically bent and shaped around what we are asking the communities in growth areas to do. I accept that that has not happened in the case of policing, but even in that case, local authorities have launched initiatives, working with other partners, to make progress. If that policy is not as robust as it should be in Northamptonshire, we can talk about that issue another time— [ Interruption ]—or we can talk about it now if the hon. Gentleman wants to.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his generosity in giving way. I would only add that the county council has already given £500,000 to the Northamptonshire constabulary for community policing, and it intended to give even more but was unable to do so because of the poor grant that it received.
I am sure that the burghers of Northamptonshire are very grateful for all that the county council has done so far and would ask it to try a bit harder in future. The hon. Gentleman is also wrong to characterise the settlement as being unfair to the east midlands. Of the five forces in the east midlands, Northamptonshire was just below in terms of winning or losing on the grant by a couple of hundred thousand pounds, I think. The other four forces all gained from the shift in the formula, however limited that was over the year. The east midlands special operations unit is doing an excellent job, and its work impacts on Northampton, as well as the core three forces and, indeed, Lincoln. I want its funding to be sustained. We have still not sufficiently addressed the level 2 protective services gap that the mergers debate was all about a couple of years ago. The hon. Gentleman will know, as an east midlands Member, that by their own lights, the five east midlands forces were, on any risk assessment basis, in more difficulty in terms of that services gap than any other force in the country. That is why we sustained the necessary funding.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds and many other hon. Members made points about the freezing of special grants. I take those points on board, but it is a matter of making a sharp political decision. We could have gone in one or two directions; we could have tried to limit more than we did in the end the central core grant and limit even more the flexibility that our forces require by putting in more and more money and inflation-proofing special grants. As a deliberate policy, we chose to put more money through the central grant. The hon. Gentleman and the House will know that, save pretty much for the neighbourhood policing fund that funds PCSOs, the rest of the general grant is not ring-fenced, thus affording the flexibility to allow the forces to do what they feel that they need to do in policing.
It is right and proper, as Members have said, that after successive years of growth—that is the bit that they do not mention—we have frozen special grants. We needed to make that decision. I think that, on balance, most forces have welcomed the fact that the bulk of the moneys have gone through the central police grant. Indeed, Tim Brain, the chief constable of Gloucestershire and the ACPO lead on finance was prayed in aid in commenting on this year's settlement. He says:
"I am pleased that the Home Secretary has recognised many of the arguments that ACPO and APA have presented over the last few months in the settlement announced today."
To be honest, he continues:
"While this is not a generous settlement, there appears to have been a genuine attempt at striking a balance between competing priorities."
That is exactly what we seek to do nationally, and it is exactly what forces will seek to do locally. I do not think that the Northamptonshire police are on the list to come and see me yet, but if they want to do so in the next couple of weeks, I am happy to meet them. I concur wholly about the service of Chief Constable Peter Madison; we wish him well in future.
Policing is changing considerably all the time, as it must in order to reflect the communities that the police serve. I take the point about Surrey—I will be meeting Bob Quick—and points made by others about the range of services. As the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham kindly said, we have had extensive discussions with Lincolnshire police about their peculiar situation—peculiar as in distinct rather than strange. I have a meeting this week or next with them to take the matter forward. He will know that our Quest team, along with others examining the financial and other processes that police forces go through, is working with Lincolnshire police to help them; that goes beyond simply helping them to get over the budget process. As I have said to him—and to the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings, on occasions when he was in the room—we will do all that we can to work with them, but that work needs to take place within a framework.
My hon. Friend Mrs. Dunwoody mentioned a freedom of information request regarding Cheshire and its particular circumstances. If it relates to police authorities rather than local government reorganisation, and if she wants to pursue it with me after this debate, I am happy for her to do so.
As Tim Brain, chief constable of Gloucestershire, says, the issue is and has always been priorities. We could either have frozen the central police grant or, as most hon. Members asked us to do, made at least some progress towards implementing the new formula. Having done the latter, we are moving towards increases of between 2.5 and 4.01 per cent; the latter figure relates to West Midlands police. No matter how tight or difficult the settlement is, it should be appreciated that we have at least moved towards the new formula, rather than adopting very narrow confines as we did in the past couple of years.
I take the points that many Members made about trying to move to the new formula, but as ever with such matters, for every gainer under the new formula, there is a loser. It does not matter terribly to anyone here but London MPs, but the Metropolitan police will lose £33 million when the formula is fully implemented. As a London Member, I hope that that situation will be ameliorated, and that things will not be done in too much of a hurry.
Today we have discussed priorities, context and the circumstances of individual police forces, and a number of things should be said in conclusion. However tight the next three years are under the settlement that we are voting on, they follow seven, eight or nine years of extensive and sustained growth in investment in policing. Happily, that has been contributed to by local government, in varying degrees, as well as by central Government. Some authorities have contributed more than others; there is a marked distinction between Surrey's ability and willingness to do so and Lincolnshire's earlier lack of willingness, although that is only one of a range of problems that Lincolnshire faces.
The Norfolk police are also coming to see me, I think. If not, and if Mr. Fraser wants to organise such a visit, I am happy to meet them. I take the policing of our communities seriously, as do the Government. That is why there has been sustained investment in the past seven, eight or nine years, and why we want that investment to continue through efficiencies and other methods. PCSOs would not have existed without this Government, nor would there be record numbers of police officers on our streets, notwithstanding hon. Members' points about recent police numbers.
As I said last year, if a more substantive, grown-up and reflective debate is needed about how we finance our police, let us have it, and let it be cross-party. If further discussions are needed about what resources we need for our police forces—that could include debate on how to free the police from inappropriate bureaucracy and paperwork, or on a sustained pay award met in full by Government—let them happen too. As a result of this Government's sustained investment in the police over the past 10 years, our police forces are in very good shape, notwithstanding the tight settlement. We are building on that sustained investment. We can now have a cross-party discussion about how to police our communities in future only because this Government have made a sustained investment, for which I know communities across the country are enormously grateful. I commend the motion to the House.