I beg to move,
In December 2007, the Government announced provisional funding totals for the three-year period 2008-09 to 2010-11. Three-year funding settlements have been widely welcomed by police authorities. They enable authorities to develop medium-term financial strategies and control their spending better. Last year's multi-year pay deal for the police will also improve their medium-term planning. I confirmed the figures for 2009-10 on
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I am grateful to the Minister for giving way so early in his speech. May I place on record my thanks to him—or his predecessor as police Minister—and the Minister for Local Government for meeting those police authorities that faced the prospect of a cap, and for hearing the arguments we put forward before making their final decision? That process of negotiation was extremely important in dealing with this issue.
I thank my right hon. Friend, who chairs the Home Affairs Committee, for his remarks. He will know that my predecessors and I have tried hard to negotiate our way through these various matters.
My written ministerial statement of
I will give way after I have made a little more progress.
Government grant for police services will have increased by more than £3.7 billion between 1997-98 and 2010-11, an increase of 60 per cent. That is a substantial additional resource. Together with the significant extra investment that police authorities have raised locally, grant increases have allowed the police to expand to meet the increasingly complex issues they are called to face. There are more police on the streets than ever before and there has been a 28.5 per cent increase in the police work force since 1997. The service now employs more than 235,000 people, which is an increase of 52,200 extra police officers and police community support officers. The number of staff officers is 140,539, which is an increase of 11.7 per cent. or 14,714 officers on the 1997 figure. Front-line police officers are supported by nearly 16,000 PCSOs and nearly 21,800 additional police staff, who are releasing officers for front-line duties.
We are all grateful to the police and to the Minister for his commitment. London—the Metropolitan police—gets an additional amount because of its national and capital city functions. Can he explain why it will have a below inflation increase and a below national average increase in its grant in the coming year, given the importance of the Met police and the importance of this capital city being seen to be leading the way in dealing with crime?
The Metropolitan Police Service, in common with other police forces across the country, has received a significant increase in its funding over the past few years—indeed, it has received increases in its funding for next year. Negotiations on the funding for some of the counter-terrorism dedicated security posts are continuing and we will make announcements about that in due course. If the hon. Gentleman were to examine the investment not only in the Metropolitan police force, but in police forces across the country, he would see that significant additional investments have been made in each and every one of them.
I regard the Minister as being open to feedback and very proactive in his role. There is concern in the Dyfed-Powys police force about the long-term plans for the rural policing grant; it has been suggested that that could be homogenised into other funding. Although my area is blessed with an excellent police force and a relatively low level of crime, that force seeks reassurance that it will not lose out if the plans for that grant are changed. Will he give some guidance on his plans?
We are trying to be fair to Welsh police forces. The hon. Gentleman will know that Welsh police forces outside the South Wales police force benefit from our giving them an additional approximately £15 million to ensure that they are funded in exactly the same way as police forces in England—I know that is welcomed in Wales. He also talked about the rule 2 grants—the separate pots of money, such as the rural policing grants, that we put together in a single pot—and he will know that we have confirmed that we shall roll those forward for next year and that we have given the indicative levels for years 2010 and 2011. He will know that a review of the police formula is taking place and, doubtless, the comments that he made will be fed into the review to ensure that they are taken account of in any revised police formula for the next comprehensive spending review period.
May I just say that, within reason, I will give way to every hon. Member who asks, but I have to take interventions one at a time?
The Minister responded to the demands of the Metropolitan police force, but he will be aware that it has benefited over the past five years from being able to recruit for free more than 1,000 officers who were trained at the council tax payer's expense from forces in the counties surrounding London, including Thames Valley. When we will resolve this issue of the £5,000 wage differential between Metropolitan police officers and officers in the south-east in order to stop this unacceptable poaching?
Along with a number of other hon. Members from across the House, my hon. Friend took part in the debate that specifically addressed Thames Valley police and related to how we try to deal with the south-east allowances. He has been one of the doughtiest campaigners in trying to get this issue resolved. As I told that meeting, I intend to do all that I can to encourage a settlement that prevents this sort of problem from occurring. He will know that it is a matter for the Police Negotiating Board to resolve. The issue is not one of resources, but one of agreement at the Police Negotiating Board so that the differential to which he refers can be examined and changed to try to stop some of the problems occurring.The hon. Gentleman will also know that that is a matter for discussion between the new commissioner and chief constables in neighbouring forces, to see whether they can come to an agreement about how to deal with the issue while they wait for the Police Negotiating Board to achieve a settlement.
West Yorkshire has benefited considerably from the additional police funding made available by this Government, but while tremendous strides have been made in improving the police funding formula inherited from the Conservatives, a gap remains between what West Yorkshire gets and what it would receive if it were fully funded under the formula. Can my hon. Friend give me a commitment that he will look seriously at how we can bridge that gap?
My hon. Friend makes a reasonable point about his local force. From a national perspective, we have to try to ensure that the national funding formula is fair to all forces, and we have tried to distribute the pot of money available in a fair and reasonable way. That is why we have included a floor, so that no authority receives less than 2.5 per cent. If the formula were strictly interpreted, some forces would lose out. I know that because my local force in Nottinghamshire loses some money so that we can maintain the floor. However, that is necessary and proportionate from a national perspective.
As I said to Lembit Öpik, the review of the funding formula needs to cover such issues. We need to see whether we can come up with a fairer mechanism, notwithstanding the fact that all hon. Members, rightly, fight for the best deal for their local force.
The Minister will be aware, from meetings that he has had, of the genuine concern of the people of Lincolnshire about the perceived historic underfunding of the Lincolnshire police authority, which has been accepted, as evidenced by the one-off payments that the Home Office has made and the fact that the Government have allowed a 26 per cent. increase in the police precept in the area in the last year. Will the Minister ensure that the needs of rural counties such as Lincolnshire form a significant part of the funding review, so that they get their fair share of resources in the next comprehensive spending review?
The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point about Lincolnshire. He will know that I visited the area recently and met the chief constable and others. Those are the issues that we will need to look at in the review of the funding formula, and he is right to point out that, as the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire said, we need a formula that is fair to both urban and rural areas. We need to find a way of ensuring that the needs of the vast expanses with very few people in them are properly reflected so that they receive the level of police funding that they can reasonably expect. We will look into that, and I am grateful to him for raising the point.
My hon. Friend will know from his direct personal experience that crime is falling in Nottinghamshire and police resources are at a record level. It is an improving police force, but may I reinforce the point—I know that he is well aware of it—that Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and other east midlands authorities are disadvantaged in relative terms by the funding formula? Can we make progress quickly? The Nottinghamshire police are making progress: they would be helped by changes in the funding formula.
I thank my hon. Friend and neighbour for those comments. I know that he and other colleagues in Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and across the east midlands have campaigned long and hard for a fairer distribution of resources to forces in the area. It is a fact that the floor means that some forces do not receive the amount that they would if the funding formula were fully implemented. I have to say that of course the opposite is true: some forces would lose significant amounts of money were we to remove the floor. We are searching for a way to ensure that police forces in Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and the rest of the east midlands are funded as fairly as possible. I am not sure whether Ministers are supposed to do such things, but as a fellow Nottingham MP I join my hon. Friend in congratulating Nottinghamshire police—and other police forces—on the work that they are doing in reducing crime.
Dorset police authority is a high-performing and efficient force, but it predicts that it will have to lose 43 police officers this year, even with the floor, which is very important to it. The authority is especially concerned about how bars are dealt with in the formula. Dorset has a high concentration of licensed premises, with up to 1,000 places, in just two major towns, with the rest of the county being relatively rural. The formula does not really provide enough funding to police those hotspots adequately, because it is based on an area average that does not work satisfactorily in Dorset's case.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her comments. In this debate, I have tried to avoid saying—apart from in my opening remarks—that police numbers have gone up and crime has gone down, because although that is true in Dorset, as there are more officers, community support officers and staff, and crime has fallen, it is also true of every constituency. Notwithstanding that, there are issues with how the funding formula works. I have tried hard, together with the Home Secretary and colleagues from the Department for Communities and Local Government, to ensure that this financial settlement provides stability in difficult times. The vast majority of responses—we had far fewer this year—asked us to ensure that we implement the funding amounts that we said would be introduced in 2009-10 to provide that stability. After 2010-11, we will enter the new comprehensive spending review period, and that is when we can try to address some of the concerns about the funding formula.
The hon. Lady has raised some of the issues with the formula, and other hon. Members have raised others. My right hon. Friend Keith Vaz raised issues that affect Leicestershire and the east midlands. All those matters require discussion and review, and we have to try to find a way forward. People come at the issue from the point of view of their area—rightly, because they represent that area. But as the Minister, I have to see the issue from a national perspective. We are trying to be fair to police forces in every area, and the fairest way to achieve that is to provide the stability that is achieved in this settlement.
The Minister makes a fair point about the need for balance in the national allocation. He knows that part of the allocation is based on the number of people coming into an area, and part of it on the number of residents. Can he assure us that the Department will take into account the underscoring of the population in areas where the Office for National Statistics figures for resident population are significantly behind the real numbers? London is an obvious case. There are far more migrants coming to London than the figures for the resident population suggest.
Population is one of the factors that are taken into account, and the exact measurement of population is an area of controversy, and something that needs to be taken into account. [Interruption.] I am reminded that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman earlier, so he has had two bites at the cherry.
Migrant numbers do have an impact on costs, and that is why the Government have set up a fund, available from April 2009, to help local services with those costs, such as translators. That money will be made available to Government offices, including the Government office for London.
Growing numbers of specialist police staff are taking on roles as scene of crime officers, fingerprint analysts and intelligence officers. Additional police staff are also increasingly taking on the routine elements of case file preparation, prisoner supervision and station inquiries, freeing police officers from administrative work. Although overall numbers are important, it is crucial to make the best use of officer and staff time so that those people are in the right place at the right time to deliver for the public. Getting the best possible work force mix of officers and staff will also help to ensure that the most responsive possible service is provided.
Operational police officers are spending more of their time on front-line duties. Overall crime is falling or stable. The overall level of crime recorded by the police in July to September 2008 fell by 3 per cent. compared with the same quarter in 2007. Within that overall figure, violence against the person fell by 6 per cent. and firearm offences fell by 29 per cent. The British crime survey figures published on
Levels of violent crime, domestic burglary and vandalism were also stable compared with the previous year, and vehicle-related thefts fell by 10 per cent. In the 12 months to September 2008, there was a statistically significant decrease in the proportion of adults with a high level of worry about violent crime.
May I place on record my thanks to the police service of this country, which has responded well to the many and various demands placed on it? New challenges continue to arrive and we must ensure that the service is in the best possible shape to meet them. That includes not just funding but getting the best possible service from the police.
The policing Green Paper "From the neighbourhood to the national" represented a radical new deal for the service, freeing it up to focus on tackling local issues in each neighbourhood and to respond to the challenges of serious organised crime and terrorism. We announced that we would scrap all top-down targets for forces, with the exception of one—local confidence. We have done that.
The Green Paper declared that we would create a new model of police accountability, with a stronger role for police authorities and Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary. We are doing that. It highlighted the work that we are doing, not least through Operation Quest, to maximise the efficiency and productivity of the service. It said that we would invest in the police leaders of tomorrow, which we are doing through a new senior appointments process and a national police leadership college. All that combined means that the service can be more flexible in meeting the challenges of 21st-century policing.
We remain absolutely committed to neighbourhood policing as the bedrock of local policing in the 21st century. We are building a more responsive, locally accountable and citizen-focused police service through a programme to transform policing at a local level to meet the needs of the communities. The current phase of work is to ensure that neighbourhood policing is embedded into core policing activity and that teams increase their focus on working with local communities to identify and tackle local problems together while continuing to provide high-visibility policing, and reducing antisocial behaviour and the fear of crime.
HMIC has today published "Get Smart—Planning to Protect", which is its report, commissioned by the Government last year, on the planning that forces undertake to deliver protective services. These are particularly significant areas of policing, such as major and organised crime, critical incidents, and domestic and child abuse. HMIC has identified variations across forces in the quality of service planning, and I am committed to seeing improvement made. The National Policing Improvement Agency is working to deliver a comprehensive programme to help develop and support forces in their protective service planning. Police authorities will also be inspected for the first time in 2009 and we will ensure that necessary improvements are made in this area. Legislation is in hand to strengthen collaboration and to ensure that it continues to be a key means of improving protective services.
Total Government revenue spending for police authorities in 2009-10 will be £9,482 million—an overall increase of 2.8 per cent. on 2008-09. Of that general provision, £8,281 million is for police general grants, which will increase by 2.7 per cent. In addition, £1,201 million is for specific grant funding, which I shall come back to later. We have kept ring-fenced funding to a minimum to allow maximum local discretion over how to allocate and spend resources.
The police grant report for 2009-10 deals with Home Office general police grants for revenue expenditure. The amounts payable to individual police authorities are listed in the report that I have presented to the House. Additionally, police authorities in England and Wales receive revenue support grants from local authorities. Overall, general grant allocations to police authorities were set out in my written ministerial statement of
We have provided a settlement that encompasses more than a degree of stability for all police authorities while at the same time acknowledging that there are areas with greater relative needs. There will be increases of up to 3.9 per cent. in the west midlands. There will always be a dispute over how far the needs-based funding formula should be allowed to prevail over the stability provided by the grant floor. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I have tried to strike a sensible balance in the settlement and will continue to do so in the future.
There has been no change to the rule 2 grants, which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire. They are former specific grants, now allocated with the general grants, that total £208 million. Police authorities have complete flexibility on how best to use that resource. Before the comprehensive spending review, we consulted on whether to put the funding back into the formula funding pot, but that could have had a major impact on grant distribution and we decided, on balance, to retain the status quo. That move was widely welcomed by many police authorities, particularly smaller ones that had come to rely on rule 2 funds, such as the rural police fund, as core funding. The position and implications will be reviewed in full before we make any further changes to the special formula grant.
Let me turn to some more specific elements within the funding settlement for 2009-10. We have retained the crime fighting fund in its present form. That fund of £277 million played an important part in supporting growth in police capacity between 2000 and 2004. However, since its introduction the story has moved on, with the employment of more police staff to replace officers in roles where constable powers are not needed and the engagement of police community support officers, who play an important role alongside police officers. The strictures imposed by the CFF's system of financial penalties had, by 2006, limited the flexibility of forces to engage the right people with the right skills in the right jobs. The Government therefore suspended the CFF criteria in December 2006, allowing local chief officers and chairs to develop the optimum work force mix without losing funding. The move ensured that decisions on the mix of police staff and officers lay where they should, with the chief constable. That was welcomed by the Association of Police Authorities and the Association of Chief Police Officers.
There is clear evidence that a good number of forces are using their CFF freedom to release police officers for the front line, replacing police officers in back-office functions with police staff when there is a clear business case that it is right to do so. In some forces, officer numbers are fewer than they were in March 2008, but the essential point is that the replacement of police officers in back-office functions has not had a negative impact on front-line capacity. In a good number of cases, it has increased front-line capacity. The most recent figures show that some forces have increased police officer numbers while others have decreased them.
From 2002 until March 2008, we invested more than £700 million in introducing PCSOs and neighbourhood policing. Home Office funding for neighbourhood policing, including PCSOs, in 2008-09 is £324 million, an increase of 2.7 per cent. For 2009-10, funding has increased by a further 2.7 per cent. for each force to a total of £332 million. A further uplift of 2.7 per cent. is planned for 2010-11.
The basic command unit fund was introduced in 2003-04 for a two-year period that has subsequently been extended. The BCU fund will be £40 million in 2009-10, the same level as in 2008-09.
For several years, the Home Secretary has provided additional funding to ensure that Welsh police authorities receive at least a minimum increase in grant in line with English authorities. For 2009-10, we have again adjusted the Home Office police grant for Welsh police authorities to maintain consistency with England. That additional support will total £15.5 million next year.
We have received 15 representations on the funding settlement from 14 police authority areas. That is considerably fewer than in previous years, and most of the representations have to do with the future. For next year, we have again maximised the increase in general grant and ensured that all police authorities have received a guaranteed minimum increase in grant of 2.5 per cent. The delivery of efficiency and productivity gains, as well as prudent budgeting and making full use of available funding flexibilities, means that there is no reason for excessive increases in the police precepts on council tax. The Government expect an average council tax increase in England of below 5 per cent. Council tax in Wales is a matter for the Welsh Assembly Government. We also expect the relentless focus on value for money, which is now more necessary than ever, to continue.
Capital grant and supported capital expenditure totalling £222 million will be allocated in 2009-10, with each police authority receiving the same allocation as in 2008-09. We have also announced additional sums of money for mobile information devices and we have identified additional resources to tackle gun and knife crime. That is something that we will do, as necessary, as we move forward.
We have continued to listen carefully to all stakeholders in determining the detail of this police funding settlement. It gives police authorities the stability that they all need to plan ahead, and it will support the police service in delivering effectively for the public. I commend the report to the House.
I thank the Minister for his comprehensive speech. I want to begin my remarks on behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition by expressing the sentiment that the police in this country do a very difficult and often very dangerous job on our behalf, and I pay tribute to their service. The police need resources from the Government, and indeed the taxpayer, to discharge their duties in upholding law and order. That is why this debate is so important to us all.
Last year's crime figures showed that violent crime has risen by almost 80 per cent. in the past decade. Crime has not increased in every category in that period, but violent crime certainly has and that causes great concern to the public. In addition, the economic downturn has placed even greater strain on already tight police budgets. Sadly, the analysis from the Home Office that predicted a rise in crime as the economy worsened has been borne out by the latest quarterly crime figures. In the last year, burglaries have risen by 4 per cent., while fraud and forgery are up by about 16 per cent. and the number of street robberies committed at knife-point have increased by 18 per cent.
This year's settlement is the second part of the three-year 2007 comprehensive spending review. Excluding additional grants for counter-terrorism and other specific grants, the police settlement increase will be 2.7 per cent. this year, as the Minister said. A total of 20 police authorities will receive the lowest increase, of 2.5 per cent., and the Minister mentioned that there was a bigger-than-average increase for the West Midlands authority.
There is no doubt that the police grant settlement is extremely tight, as the Minister would be the first to accept. Last year, the Association of Police Authorities said that the three-year settlement was one of the "tightest for many years". In its submission to the 2007 CSR, the joint APA and ACPO expenditure forecasting group said that there would be a funding gap, even with an annual grant increase of 2.7 per cent. The group's most optimistic assumptions suggested a funding gap that by 2010-11 would be in the region of £660 million. Using less optimistic assumptions, the group calculated that the gap could be as high as £996 million.
The economic downturn has had an adverse impact on the financial position of police authorities. The collapse of Icelandic banks has wiped out about £95 million of police authority reserves, according to information that I have received from the APA. Lower interest rates of course mean that there is less investment income for police authorities, and proceeds from asset sales are lower in a depressed market. The Gloucestershire police authority, for example, estimated in January that the current grant settlement and economic conditions mean that it could lose up to around 60 police officers and 28 PCSOs, as well as 50 police staff posts.
The estimates used by the expenditure forecasting group assume that the police precept on council tax would increase up to that maximum of 5 per cent., but the Minister for Local Government announced in a statement on
Of course, Her Majesty's Opposition oppose excessive increases in council tax, especially in these dire economic times. The Minister will be very well aware that some police forces with historically low police precepts believe that they have no alternative but to seek more revenue from local council tax payers. Does the Minister think that in some police force areas there is a public demand—not a councillor demand—for an increase in locally funded police spending above the cap limit? Has he received any representations from members of the public along those lines?
In last year's debate, the Minister's predecessor said that he expected the 2.7 per cent. growth in the police force grant to apply to this year as well, and the Minister has confirmed that today. However, I should like to hear his views on the pre-Budget report statement of
"that the Government will now find an additional £5 billion of efficiencies in 2010-11"—[ Hansard, 24 November 2008; Vol. 483, c. 489.]
On a point of clarification, will the Chancellor's demand for extra efficiency affect the 2.7 per cent. increase? I have seen minutes from Lincolnshire police authority and the Met that express the concern that they might be expected to find extra efficiency savings at short notice. Will the Minister clarify the position in relation to that efficiency target? The 2007 CSR set a target for police authorities to make 9.3 per cent. efficiency savings over three years, so will the Minister say whether police authorities are still expected to meet that target? Alternatively, is there a new target—explicit or otherwise—that he wants them to work to, as a result of the catastrophic downturn in the economy and in the fortunes of the Government finances since the CSR statement for the three-year period that we are currently in was made?
I should also like to hear the Minister's views on some other statements by the Chancellor, who recently announced plans to bring forward £3 billion of capital spending to assist the economic recovery. How much of that accelerated capital expenditure has been channelled into the policing sector, in its widest definition? Many people in the police authorities believe that accelerated local investment could assist improvement in the police estate and also support the local construction industry.
I turn now to some of the minutiae of how the police grant is distributed. The calculation is notoriously complex, and is based on five separate components. The first, the needs-based formula, is easily the most important and is otherwise known in the trade as the principal formula. Its main determinant is the projected resident population, which is then adjusted to take into account several "police crime top-ups" that adjust the main principal formula to take into account socioeconomic and demographic factors that may impact on crime levels. Those factors include how many licensed bars, people in long-term unemployment, daytime residents or residents in terraced accommodation there are in an area, as well as its population sparsity.
Secondly, in coming to a grant settlement, the Home Office will also apply additional rule 1. I will not detain the House on the minute working of that rule, important though it is. It affects the grant provision for South Wales police and redistributes it to other police authorities in Wales.
Thirdly, the Home Secretary will apply additional rule 2. In the past, the Home Secretary distributed specific grants such as the rural policing grant, the forensic grant and the initial police learning and development programme grant. Ministers decided to amalgamate those grants, so that police authorities would have more control over how a number of those funds were used; that was sensible. The distribution of those amalgamated moneys under the additional rule is determined by the principal formula. Fourthly, the Home Office will distribute specific grants. I will not repeat what the Minister said, but there is, of course, a separate pot for counter-terrorism. He also referred to the crime fighting fund and the ring-fencing of funds for neighbourhood policing, all of which we support.
Finally, the police grant floors are applied. The introduction of the principal formula in 1995 was designed to reflect the resource needs of police forces. However, to ensure that the introduction of the formula did not leave forces facing widespread financial instability, floors have been introduced. They guarantee that each police force receives a minimum percentage increase in the police budget, and we heard something about that from the Minister. Notwithstanding his statement, there remains serious concern among police authorities and police forces, in all parts of the country, about how the police grant formula is calculated; the Minister understands that concern because he is a well-informed and listening Minister.
The floors mean that forces cannot receive an increase below 2.5 per cent., even if the principal formula has determined that they do not require such a level of funding. Equally, a police force that should, according to the formula, receive a higher amount will have its grant scaled downwards. As the Flanagan report illustrated, using 2007-08 figures, that meant, at the extreme ends, that the West Midlands force had its grant scaled down by 11 per cent., or £48 million in nominal terms. Bedfordshire received 6 per cent., and Thames Valley police 4 per cent.—less than they would have done if the formula was applied in its raw form. The funds that are taken away from one force are given to another, and that has meant that some forces, such as Northumbria, have received over 12 per cent. more.
Her Majesty's Opposition welcome the removal of the ceiling, which the Minister's predecessor, Mr. McNulty, announced last year when he was Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing. However, I think that all of us—this might even extend to the Minister, judging from his comments—remain less than clear about the future for grant floors. It is worth reminding ourselves of what Sir Ronnie Flanagan's report on the future of policing said of grant floors:
"If we are to get the best performance return for our investment over the lean times ahead"— how prescient Sir Ronnie was; he said that in February 2008, before the credit crunch—
"we must start to deal with these anomalies."
He was referring to the floors. He went on to propose the following:
"I think it prudent that, from that point on, there should be a staged relaxation of the 'floors and ceilings' factors which dampen changes in allocations, possibly combined with special consideration for those few Forces which would face the most significant reductions in funding" as a result of that relaxation.
The Home Affairs Committee supported Sir Ronnie's proposal. It produced an excellent report, "Policing in the 21st Century", and I see that the Chairman of the Committee, Keith Vaz, is present. The report was thoughtful, and it avoided party politicking and cheap points. Neither he nor I indulge in that kind of business when we are talking about the serious matter of policing the United Kingdom. The report said:
"We support Sir Ronnie Flanagan's recommendation for full application of the police funding formula at the next Spending Review."
Can the Minister confirm that the Home Office will implement that proposal, and will he give us his detailed thoughts on it? The Select Committee and Sir Ronnie—an independent adviser to the Home Secretary—think that it is a good idea. Where are we on that?
In November, in a written ministerial statement relating to the settlement that we are considering, the Home Office said:
"Our promised review of the funding formula before the next CSR is already under way with active collaboration from the police community."—[ Hansard, House of Lords, 26 November 2008; Vol. 705, c. 163WS.]
That is reassuring, but the House would be grateful for a bit more specificity on how far that review has gone. Will the Minister show a bit of ankle—to use a colloquialism—and share a bit more detail on how far he has got with that review? Will he say when we might expect an interim announcement on where the Government have got to? Again, this is not a matter of party politics; all of us with a concern about policing need to hear the Minister say more about the future for the formula on the record.
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to say something about population figures, because I think that that is an area of technical inadequacy with which all Members on both sides of the House have problems. On
"simply because that is the best available data."
Population projection figures form an integral part of the policing formula, as we all know, so is it really acceptable that the budget that we are debating is distributed according to a formula that is fed with data from 2004? I know that the Minister cannot wave a magic wand and get a sub-national version of a census for certain areas, or even a national census before the due date, but he might want to share some of the thinking about the inadequacy of the data, to which his former Home Office colleague, by implication, 'fessed up and drew our attention.
The hon. Gentleman raises an issue that he knows affects my constituency significantly. The inter-census estimation of the population of Slough underestimates its population substantially. As a result, we, a multiracial community, are under-policed. Although the Minister has confirmed again that the money is in the budget, the situation is made worse by the fact that the south-east allowance is not being uprated because it is stuck in the Police Negotiating Board. Perhaps the Minister could, in his summing up, reassure places such as Slough that he will take into account all those issues to make sure that those places, which face real policing challenges, have enough money to deal with those challenges.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I have heard her talk in many forums, not least fairly recently on Radio 4, about her constituency and the problems that she outlines. She is a doughty and persistent debater on that point, drawing to the attention of Ministers what needs to be done for her constituency—and there are others in the same position.
The second point that the hon. Lady raises is also tremendously important. I pay tribute to the Minister, because this time last week, in a debate held in Westminster Hall on the Thames Valley police force area, he said something interesting in response to a question from Martin Salter. It was along the lines—we have new information from the Minister—that the PNB could be talked to by the Minister. I paraphrase his words. He undertook to have a word about what the PNB was doing in relation to the south-east allowance. Like the hon. Lady, I wonder whether the Minister could give us an update on any discussions that he or his officials have had since last Wednesday in relation to the PNB and the south-east allowance. That is hugely important for all Members in that region. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for reminding me of that point, so that I can remind the Minister of what he said last Wednesday.
According to ACPO, police forces in Kent, Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire have suffered particularly from underfunding. By "particularly" I mean that they have gone out of their way to send briefing to me on these issues, which other police force areas also face. The problem that they have is the gap between predicted and real population figures. Their concerns were drawn together in a presentation given by Chief Constable Grahame Maxwell to the Home Office migration impacts forum on
The extra costs of immigration have not been fully recognised in the funding settlement. The chief constable of Cambridgeshire famously gave oral evidence to the Home Affairs Committee. It strikes me that that Committee teases out some interesting evidence and findings, which provide those who scrutinise Ministers with a great deal of ammunition. Chief Constable Spence said:
"We have had only a 0.3 per cent. increase in the way the formula operated this year"— in 2007, when she gave evidence. She went on:
"There is nothing within government to be able to respond to the rapid changes that have happened. That was where the problems arose. The funding formulas are not rapid and flexible enough to deal with change."
Even the former Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing, Mr. McNulty said in oral evidence to the Home Affairs Committee at the end of 2007 that
"the Government collectively is very slow in responding to large growths of population over a particular short period of time".
That was refreshing candour from the Minister's predecessor, but we need to hear from the Minister today what has been done. That statement was made at the end of 2007, and there is something on the record about technical changes. We need to know whether it is just down to the Home Office, or to the Home Office together with other Departments, to get this sorted.
The costs to police forces caused by migration, and the translation costs flowing from that, are an extra specific cost of policing. Under a freedom of information request that I issued to forces in United Kingdom, among the 44 forces that responded, there had been a 63 per cent. increase in the cost to those forces of providing interpretation and translation services. In Kent, there had been a 30 per cent. increase, from about £320,000 in 2003-04 to more than £422,000 in 2007-08. In Thames Valley, there has been a whacking 127 per cent. increase in that period. In my constituency in Suffolk, there has been an 86 per cent. increase in translation and interpretation costs in that period—from £113,000 to £210,000.
A report by KPMG in 2007 concluded that Cambridgeshire required an additional 100 police officers to cover the additional work load generated by policing foreign nationals—that was their definition, not ours. The report, "The changing demography of Cambridgeshire", September 2007, is published by Cambridgeshire constabulary. The methodology behind the funding formula will mean that an additional work load is not being taken into account when these grant moneys are calculated.
The Flanagan report said:
"The ability of the Funding Formula to predict aspects of complex protective services, such as serious and organised crime, needs to be considered more closely and I would urge the Funding Formula Working Group to review this further."
That is my real concern, as that is not always flagged up in debates such as this. We have heard about neighbourhood policing, which is hugely important for level 1, but let us not forget level 2 and level 3 resourcing, as Sir Ronnie Flanagan urges.
The Bill that the Minister and I are spending many enjoyable mornings and afternoons this month debating in Committee Room 11 refers to mandation powers relating to collaboration arrangements between forces in England and Wales. Part of the debate tomorrow relates to the level 2 gap in protective services, which is acknowledged by the Government, Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary, the Opposition and everyone else, but it is not clear to me how the funding formula and the statement from the Minister take account of the resource implications that specific forces mention when they are trying to improve their policy and operational response to serious and organised crime across county and national borders.
In his final report, Sir Ronnie stated in paragraph 2.61 that
"the Funding Formula will need to ensure that the capacity to deal effectively with protective services in terms of deterrence, intelligence-gathering and specialist, proactive capability is built into funding arrangements."
Will the Minister comment on that? Will his funding review, not just the statement in the House today, say something on Sir Ronnie's point about protective services?
I know that other hon. Members wish to make a contribution, so I shall draw my remarks to a conclusion. There is the added cost of dealing with alcohol-related crime. My hon. Friend James Brokenshire on the Front Bench has done much valuable work in drawing attention to the huge policing cost of alcohol-related crime, as has the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, in the report to which I referred earlier.
The most recent British crime survey, from July last year, stated that 45 per cent. of all victims of violence described their assailant as being under the influence of alcohol at the time. There is a wealth of evidence from chief constables as well. Chief Constable Stephen Otter of Cornwall and Devon Constabulary, said that since 2004-05 there has been a
"fairly significant increase in the proportion of violent crime where we can be absolutely sure there is an alcohol-related aspect".
Indeed, a Cabinet Office review as far back as 2003 said that, on average, it costs £59 more to process an arrestee who has committed an alcohol-related offence than a comparable arrestee whose offence is not alcohol-related. I am sure that the figure is a lot higher if the figures that we have all seen on the costs of bureaucracy and process are anything to go by.
There is a problem with the 24-hour licensing laws. Is the Minister considering Her Majesty's Opposition's innovative, radical and much-needed call for discretion to be given to local authorities in new legislation so that they can decide how the 24-hour licensing rules are applied in their areas? The policing formula does not take into account the extra cost of officers trained by forces around London who move to work in the Met; that was the subject of our debate last week, and we have heard about the allowance for the south-east.
In conclusion, in its own right the grant settlement is tight, and we understand why. Given the additional pressures from the economic collapse that this country is experiencing, police authorities face and will face severe financial pressures if they just maintain the current levels of service to local people. We have to make sure that the current structure for distributing the police grant is robust and fair. As I hope I have made clear, there are serious concerns about how the funding formula operates. The review of the police funding arrangements in advance of the next comprehensive spending review provides an excellent opportunity to address the deficiencies, to which I and other hon. Members have drawn attention, in the current distribution process. I look forward to the Minister's response to our challenge to him—that is, to explain his current thinking.
It is a great pleasure to follow Mr. Ruffley, who is shadow police Minister. I probably agreed with almost everything that he said. Either I am on the wrong side of the House or he is; I cannot decide who is in the right place. On behalf of members of the Select Committee on Home Affairs who are not here, I thank him for his kind words about the Committee's report, "Policing in the 21st Century".
I have had conversations with the hon. Gentleman about the report; he told me that he had read it with great interest. I know that the Minister has as well, and we look forward to the Government's response and to the Minister's appearance before us to answer questions about it. There is absolutely no point in such kind words being said about the report, and its being generally well received by the Government and the Opposition, if our recommendations are not implemented. We look forward to that process happening.
I repeat what I said in my brief intervention on the Minister. He knows that I am a great fan of his. Since he has taken on his portfolio, he has been very willing to discuss policing issues with all Members of the House, especially members of the Select Committee. The way in which the Government dealt with the whole process is a good model for the future. If I can be partisan for a moment, I should say that when the Minister announced that Leicestershire was going to be capped, there was great worry among Members from all parties from the city and county, who had been concerned about the possibility of the cap. The Minister for Local Government, who was here at the beginning of the debate, had meetings with those Members and the present Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform, the police Minister's predecessor. The Minister for Local Government listened to our points about the special case of Leicestershire, and I am pleased to say that he accepted that case. Far too often, Governments make decisions and say that they want to consult but do not do so; this Government and these Ministers, however, have shown that they are prepared to consult and listen.
Leicestershire is aware that, in a sense, the party is over. There are no unlimited funds available for policing. I shall not repeat the statistics mentioned by the Minister and the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, but there has been a large increase in the police force budget in the past 10 years. There have been more police officers on the beat and more police community support officers—a role that we invented. The increase has been extremely important and positive. The overall allocation this year is £8 billion-plus and a few hundred thousand here and there, which is a huge amount of money. In Leicestershire, we welcome the 2.8 per cent. increase that we are to have, because that will allow us to continue the services that we provide.
I wish to make only three points during my brief contribution. Originally, I thought that this debate would last an hour and a half—hence my glares at both Minister and shadow Minister. I then realised that there were another two hours to go. Madam Deputy Speaker, you will be pleased to hear that I am not going to speak for that whole period, because other Members wish to participate and I am sure that there will be a wind-up from the Minister.
My first point is about alcohol-related crime, which the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds mentioned. I make no apology for repeating this point every time we have a debate on policing. The hon. Gentleman gave the figure: 45 per cent. of victims of violent crime have said that the perpetrator's behaviour was either influenced by or had connections to the drinking of alcohol. If we talk to any police officer of any rank about what happens in town centres, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings, not only in big cities but in small towns, we will hear about the results of alcohol-related crime. Why on earth should we allow a situation to continue in which we know the cause of the crime and what is happening, and all we do is spend more and more taxpayers' money on trying to address an issue that the Government can deal with?
I know that there have been a number of Government initiatives, and I welcome what the Home Secretary has said on many occasions about alcohol-related crime. However, the Government should go that little step further and try to do something more about the supermarkets. Why do I say that? The fact is that there is ample evidence to suggest that supermarkets are underselling. Pubs and clubs sell alcohol at a higher price. At this point, I am normally interrupted by my hon. Friend Mr. Grogan, who is chairman of the all-party beer group. He is not here, however, perhaps because it is lunch time and his group is meeting—I do not know. I am casting aspersions on him, and I did not tell him that I would mention him. Anyway, he jumps up and defends the pubs.
I want to ask what we are going to do about the very low prices for alcohol in supermarkets. That is a big problem. In its report, the Select Committee made specific reference to floor pricing, and we asked the Government to consider the issue. That may have been a recommendation; Patrick Mercer has popped in and may remember precisely what we said. Nevertheless, we felt that floor pricing was the only way to stop people, especially young people, from going into supermarkets and getting tanked up on very cheap alcohol bought under the promotions that every single supermarket in the country is running at this very moment. If anyone leaves the Chamber now and goes to any supermarket anywhere in the vicinity of Westminster, they will see those promotions. Unless we deal with that issue, it will continue to be a major problem for this country.
I am grateful to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee. As he will remember, the supermarket spokesmen who gave evidence to the Committee were defensive on that point. The right hon. Gentleman and I both said that the undercutting and the loss-leading sale of alcohol were extremely injurious—particularly to young folk, including those in Leicester, East and Newark. Will he find out from the Minister exactly what has been done about the issue?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I am sure that the Minister will have taken note and will respond. As yet, we have not received a full response from the Government on this issue; we hope that it will come shortly.
We hope that urgent action can be taken on this problem, as it can be solved. It will have an impact on the Minister's budget. We have great sympathy with him; we know that he does not simply get up in the morning and think of a figure that he is going to allocate to local police authorities all over the country. We know that he has to bargain and negotiate with the Treasury. How better to do that than with an array of statistics and initiatives that show that the Home Office is seeking to bring down the cost of policing?
My second point is about police pay. I am pleased with how the Government have handled this issue over the past few months. I never again want to be part of a demonstration where thousands of police officers, who do not have the right to strike, are forced to demonstrate against a Government who have worked with them in such close partnership over so many years. That was a terrible situation. I am glad that over the past few months the Home Office has begun proper and appropriate negotiations with the police and has given them not only a pay settlement that they deserve but the framework for dealing with these issues in future.
On Saturday, I was present at a march with Simon Hughes, when 100,000 British citizens marched through the centre of London. Police officers were there, although there were not a huge number. There was a moment during that demonstration when things nearly went wrong, when several young people, who are very passionate about the situation in Sri Lanka, decided to sit down on Westminster bridge and not move. The way in which the police handled that very difficult situation was absolutely superb. They persuaded the young people to get off the bridge and allow it to be reopened. That takes quality policing. In order to get quality policing, we have to pay police officers the amount of money that is appropriate to their skills. Please let us continue in that vein in future. Let us negotiate, so that we never reach a situation where they have to start demonstrating on the streets of London.
My final point concerns new technology. I hope that the Minister will tell us a little about the legal action that the Home Office has instituted against the company that provided the so-called police portal, which, of course, does not work. We all want the computerisation of the police to happen. We would love to see a situation whereby the police in Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire and the Metropolitan police were able to access one set of information through one police portal. I think that that was the intention of the National Police Improvement Agency, but it just did not happen. We have probably wasted a huge amount of money on this issue. I hope that the Minister will tell us what is happening, because it is important that we spend our money wisely, especially in the current economic climate.
Our report mentioned several examples of where Government investment in new technology would make a huge difference not only to the overall cost of policing in future but, more importantly, to the efficiency of local police officers. That means investment in hand-held computers. At the moment, there are 20,000 such devices in the country, and the Government have committed £75 million for another 30,000. However, the Committee says that there is no reason why every single police officer in the country should not have a hand-held device. The time savings are huge. When Bedfordshire police authority bought these devices for its police officers, the amount of time that they spent outside the police station increased, and the time that they spent filling in forms and doing paperwork decreased. The amount of time that they spent processing cases increased as well. BlackBerry has told us—I am not suggesting for one moment that we should go out and buy BlackBerry just because it has given us this information—that its research, which it presented to the Committee during our inquiry, suggests that if every police officer had a BlackBerry, it would give them an extra full hour of time outside the police station.
A lot has been said about the report by Sir Ronnie Flanagan, which is excellent; that is why the Committee adopted most of its recommendations. He talks about new technology and saving time by cutting red tape. Of course, Ministers always tell us that there is going to be a bonfire of red tape. Jan Berry has been appointed as the "cutting of red tape" tsar—whatever her title is; bureaucracy tsar, perhaps. The Committee looks forward to examining her in the near future. The fact is that we need real progress on cutting bureaucracy. That is evident if one goes to any police station in the country and talks to any custody sergeant, as I did when the hon. Member for Newark invited me to visit Newark police station. I pay tribute to all the police officers there. Unfortunately, there was a minor mishap when I thought that a fridge was the place where they kept their lunch, but it was in fact the fridge for DNA samples. Even Back-Bench MPs make gaffes, not just Ministers and Mayors of London. We pay tribute to all that police officers have done and say to them, "We want to increase your time outside the police station doing policing work."
I urge the Minister to take the plunge and invest in new technology. When the Government make that decision, please could we have central procurement, so that Lincolnshire police buy the same equipment as the police in Staffordshire, and the police in Staffordshire buy the same equipment as the police in Bristol or London? That would mean that we would not have problems about whether people are speaking to each other properly and appropriately, and passing on information. In many high-profile cases, especially concerning children, people talk about sharing information after the event inquiries have taken place.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am most grateful to both right hon. Gentlemen.
Keith Vaz makes an astute point. Is there not now clearly a case for a central procurement agency not only for police forces, but for security elements inside the policing apparatus? If we can do it for defence, surely we can do it for security and policing.
The hon. Gentleman is this House's expert on these matters, so I am not going to challenge his judgment in any way. He is absolutely right. There is a need to look at those processes to see whether we can create what he alluded to.
In conclusion—to allow David Davis to raise his point of order—I thank the Minister for his allocation so far. We know that things are going to be tough. We may not be thanking him next year, especially in Leicestershire if a cap is put on us, but there are ways in which we can cut costs and invest in the future. Please let us do this and make better what we know we already have—a really world-class police service.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise for interrupting the debate, but it is on a matter of the utmost national importance.
I would like to raise the issue of a judgment made at 1.45 pm today by Lord Justice Thomas in the case of Binyam Mohamed, a British resident currently being held at Guantanamo Bay who has made an accusation of British involvement in torture inflicted on him while being held in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Morocco. The ruling implies that torture has taken place in the Mohamed case and that British agencies may have been complicit—but, most important of all, that the United States Government have threatened our High Court that if it releases this information the US Government will withdraw their intelligence co-operation with the United Kingdom on matters of security. The judge has ruled that there is a strong public interest in this information being put in the public domain even though it is politically embarrassing.
To quote directly from the judgment—I will make this as brief as possible, Madam Deputy Speaker—
"It is plainly right that the details of the admissions in relation to the treatment of Binyam Mohamed as reported by officials of the United States Government should be brought into the public domain...we did not consider that a democracy governed by the rule of law would expect a court in another democracy to suppress a summary of the evidence contained in reports by its own officials...relevant to allegations of torture and cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment, politically embarrassing though it might be. We had no reason...to anticipate there would be made a threat of the gravity of the kind made by the United States Government that it would reconsider its intelligence sharing relationship, when all the considerations in relation to open justice pointed to us providing a limited but important summary of the reports."
Madam Deputy Speaker, may I request that you make representations, preferably to the Foreign Secretary, or to the Home Secretary, to come to this House today to make an urgent statement on the involvement of British agencies in torture overseas, and on the right of the United States Government to block a British court from disclosing information given to it?
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. On this alleged piece of bribery, bullying or whatever it is that has just been discussed, at the same time as a statement is made by a Cabinet Minister, may we also have a thorough understanding of what the American regime would like us to do with non-British detainees in the former Guantanamo Bay prison?
This police grant statement comes in the second year of a three-year settlement, and in that sense it does not contain any surprises. It remains, however, as was pointed out last year, the tightest police grant settlement for a decade, and as the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities pointed out last year, there is a danger of an overall £1 billion shortfall in police funding by 2011. One of the things that they referred to was not just the proportion of money coming from the Government, but the effect of the Government's constant rate-capping and direction on levels of council tax. The Minister and I debated that issue yesterday in a Public Bill Committee. A MORI opinion poll last year found that 87 per cent. of respondents said that they would be willing to pay more if it went towards direct local policing. Whether we would get quite the same response now that the recession is starting to build up is another matter, but, as we argued yesterday in Committee, that choice should be left to the local community and local police authorities under a directly elected system, rather than being decided by diktat by a Minister in London.
All the points made in last year's debate remain accurate today, and I will not rehearse most of them in detail because they remain exactly the same. Last year, we discussed the amount of police time spent on paperwork, the increase in violent crime, the lack of adequate technology and the constant creation of new offences—more than 3,500 since 1997. A number of those points have already been touched on in today's debate. On technology, the issue of hand-held devices that would save police time has already been raised. It surprises me that the staff who work for the council housing department in Chesterfield who do electrical repairs, plumbing and so on are all equipped with such devices, and they are all linked to the central control office through them. The logistics of everything they carry on their vehicles to repair council houses are logged and are readable in the central office in Chesterfield, so that when a call comes in for a repair it is not the nearest vehicle that is sent but the one with the right parts. If the staff of the council housing department can have that sort of technology, which makes them so much more efficient, flexible and cost-effective, it seems incredible that the police in Chesterfield cannot have the same.
The Minister may well say later that pilot schemes are rolling out and developing that technology in various parts of the country, but as with so many experiments with pilot schemes, we have to ask when that process will become universal. It is proven technology, the benefits of which can be seen even in a council housing repair department. Why has it not been rolled out throughout police forces in the UK?
As a side issue, Keith Vaz, who chairs the Select Committee, mentioned central purchasing. Contrary to our debate in Committee yesterday, I do see an argument for a degree of central collaboration or direction in that case. One police officer whom I talked to in Chesterfield told me that many police forces buy a variety of motor vehicles because there is no custom-built standard for the British police, whereas American police forces tend to have a standard police cruiser. He told me that some of the computer devices provided for use in cars cannot be mounted on the dashboard because there is such a mish-mash of purchasing policy. Vehicles are often too small and not suitable for such new technology. The delivery of technology raises some issues that need be considered, but it is such a basic process in this day and age, it is hard to understand why the technology has not been rolled out across all 43 police authorities.
To nail this point about mobile information devices, I say to the hon. Gentleman that all Home Office-funded police forces in England and Wales, and all police forces in Scotland, have now received funding. We expect 30,000 hand-held devices to be in use by front-line officers in April 2010. Although the technology was originally being rolled out in phase 1, phase 2 is now online. Millions of pounds are being spent to do exactly what the hon. Gentleman suggests.
I thank the Minister for that clarification. It would be churlish to say better late than never—but none the less, that is now on the record.
On the constant creation of new offences—3,500 or more in 10 years—we are in the process of discussing the 66th Home Office Bill in this area, with the Public Bill Committee considering it starting last week, and it will create a variety of new offences. One proposal that was debated on Second Reading, and which I mentioned in Committee last week, is the fine of up to £500 that is available for people found drinking alcohol in a public place where drinking is prohibited. The current Bill proposes to increase that figure to £2,500, but as we clarified in Committee and on Second Reading, although the maximum fine is £500 no one has ever been fined more than £250, and very few have been fined more than £100. That is symptomatic of a process where legislation is constantly used to grandstand—to send messages in pursuit of media headlines—but has no practical benefit for the front-line police officer. In fact, it can be quite the reverse if it is simply throwing extra regulation and paperwork at police officers on the beat, who have far better things on which to spend their time.
Legislation on cut-price alcohol sales in supermarkets, however, which the Chair of the Select Committee referred to earlier, would be a much more beneficial and effective process. Regrettably, however, such provisions are missing from the Bill that we are discussing in Committee. I have been on patrol with front-line officers and seen them dealing with the public effects of alcohol, and they would welcome the effects of such legislation far more than a measure that the Minister said was simply intended to send a message—effectively, to get a headline instead of having a direct, practical effect.
All of last year's debate remains relevant, although we do not need to return to two parts of it. The current Minister has not had to announce a cut in the numbers of police community support officers from 24,000 to 16,000, as was announced last year, and he has not had to take the flak for refusing to implement in full a police pay award. That happened last year, although officers remain demoralised and angry about it to this day.
What are the new issues that affect policing? The Association of Police Authorities observed that the next four years will be very difficult. It gave several reasons for that, one of which was the tight funding regime in place between now and 2011, which we knew about from the start of the three-year settlement last year. There may also be cuts after that; we cannot know for certain, but it certainly looks increasingly likely. We are told that many authorities and chief constables face stark choices over the next four years, including inevitable reductions in police officer numbers. We have seen that happen in some authorities already last year and this year.
At the same time, however, with tighter, sometimes decreasing, budgets and a reduction in police officer numbers, there is a constant expansion in local demand and in the expectations of what the police can deliver. Some of that is a result of modern society. Today, almost universally, people have mobile phones, and they are much quicker to ring the police—or their councillor or MP—to make a complaint. They are much more likely, especially at odd hours of the day, to get on the internet and send an e-mail to all and sundry, including the police, councillors and the local MP, demanding action. In the past, they would have had to use a land-line to ring an office hoping to get someone on the other end, and a lot of people did not do that. The 24-hour media that we have these days constantly hype up crime issues, which creates a lot more pressure and expectation from below about what the police can do. Those rising expectations will only increase.
The Government have the best intentions, which we support, but they too are increasing that pressure. For example, a welcome policy is the idea that everybody in a police beat area, usually corresponding to a council ward, should have access to a mobile phone number that should in theory be answered fairly promptly by the beat officer or PCSO who has that equipment. As that service becomes more publicised and available, it will inevitably mean far more calls from members of the public, putting more demands on the police. If the police cannot meet those demands, it will create a vicious circle of frustration, with the public saying, "There's no point. The police aren't doing anything. They never answer." At a time when budgets are tighter, and when budgets and police numbers might fall over the next few years, there will be more and more pressure from the public for more action.
Another matter that we discussed in Committee yesterday was the community call for action, which was provided for in the Police Act 2006 and is about to be implemented. When members of the public know about that, they will beat a path to the door of their local councillor, whether for their parish, town, district, borough, city or unitary area—the public do not draw such distinctions—and say, "I have heard that under the law, you have to take action if I raise an issue with you about vandalism, burglary, nuisance, speeding traffic" or whatever. All those councillors will rush off to the appropriate bodies—crime and disorder reduction partnerships, police authorities and so on—saying that they want action. Many of them already do that. With tightening budgets and falling police officer numbers, what will often be the answer over the next few years? "We haven't got the resources to deal with that." On top of that, we have increasing Government direction of national priorities and roles, which could clash with the requirement for police authorities to have regard to the views of the local community.
It strikes me that given the pressures that my hon. Friend has outlined, and the fact that a lot of people will, sadly, lose their jobs in the coming year, there may be people who are confident, able and willing to be employed by police authorities as civilians, but who would not be willing to become police officers. They could help to do a lot of jobs, provided that the budgets were available.
Indeed, and over recent years a lot of authorities have brought more civilians in to release police officers from desk work and get them out on the beat. The more the budget tightens, however, the less possible that becomes.
As we have heard, another factor to consider is population shifts, which may well worsen, especially those that arise from waves of migrant workers. When the EU enlarged recently the Government predicted how many people would come from Poland and various eastern European states, but their predictions were well under the number who came in reality. The Government said that they expected a lot of those migrant workers to come over here and work for two, three or four years to raise money, then go back to start their own businesses, or to return when the economy changed, as in the case of the recession that is building up.
The speed of those population fluctuations caused major problems for councils, the health service, schools and the police. The then police Minister, Mr. McNulty, said in last year's debate, "Yes, that is a very good point, and we should look at it." The present Minister said the same this afternoon, so when will the action come? What reassurance can the Minister give that there will be fairly prompt action on a matter that has never been dealt with—getting resources quickly to the police, councils, education authorities and others to deal with rapid population fluctuations? Those fluctuations often involve people who have English as a second language, which is another issue entirely. The police in Lincolnshire, for example, have been caused major problems by the soaring cost of their interpretation budget because of the eastern European groups who are working there in agriculture. There are also many such examples in urban areas, and various problems are developing.
That is a really big issue for boroughs such as mine as well as for rural areas, as my hon. Friend said. It would be really helpful if Ministers from the Home Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government said that they would take the new information from the Office for National Statistics and put a new, up-to-date system in place by the time of the next three-year grant allocation at the latest. We have not yet heard that, and it must be a minimum demand and expectation.
That is a very welcome commitment, but it is difficult to see how the Government can react quickly enough to deal with certain population flows. I have spoken to the staff of schools in inner-city areas of Birmingham and London that have had problems. With rapidly fluctuating pupil numbers, it is difficult to get the money flowing fast enough to make a difference rather than provide it two years later. However, I hope that the Government will be able to take action on that.
Another major issue is the levelling off of police authorities' potential to make cash efficiencies. The Home Office document "Efficiency and Productivity Strategy for the Police Service 2008-11" states:
"The financial climate of the next three years will be tougher and achieving significant cashable improvements in efficiency and productivity over 2008-11 will therefore be central to delivering the Police Service's mission of delivering community safety."
However, the APA points out that in the past 10 years more than £2 billion of efficiency savings have been made, most of which have been recycled into meeting new police demands and supporting the delivery of the service. However, it observes that that has become increasingly difficult in the past year or two, and that in the next few years it will become almost impossible for efficiency savings to be addressed directly to dealing with budget shortfalls. It states that
"the longer term prospects worsen considerably" because, added to the factors that I have listed, the recession means that there will be a loss of interest income from investments, reduced proceeds from property sales and increased costs of imported goods. It gives the specific example that uniforms, which are generally imported, and some specialist equipment that is imported have already increased in cost by 30 per cent. in the past few months, due to exchange rate changes. The council tax base is nearly static due to continued capping, and the recession is creating more low-level crimes such as burglary, shoplifting, robbery and shed breaking. All those things cause increased demands on the police.
The most recent quarterly crime statistics, and figures released following a freedom of information request by The Independent, show increasing crime—a widely predicted result of the recession. On
"increases of between 25 and 50 per cent. Lincolnshire police saw the biggest rise, a 97 per cent. increase in robbery between September and November—the most recent three-month period collated by the force—compared with the same three-month period the previous year."
Those figures were more up to date than those that the Home Office released a month later, which raises the point that we have often made about the need for believable independent statistics. If the Government were to pass the responsibility for the figures entirely to the Office for National Statistics, that would remove all the questions about their validity and their early or late issue for political reasons. The statistics that were produced, partly through a freedom of information request, showed a clear increase in crime at the lower level of burglary, shed breaking, robbery and so on, co-ordinating with the start of the recession. That was exactly what history told us was likely.
A rise in crime produces more work for the police and puts more strain on them. It means that they need more manpower and potentially more overtime, yet all that comes at a time of tightening and eventually decreasing budgets and falling police numbers. Police authorities need some specific answers. First, will the specific central Government funding for PCSOs, and for the substantial number of police who are funded by direct special grants rather than the general grant, remain in place after 2011, to which date it is guaranteed?
Secondly, the Government brought forward £3 billion of capital spending to assist in economic recovery, but none of it went towards improvements in the police estate. We are told that the Government are preparing a further tranche of that funding as part of the forthcoming Budget. Do the Government have any further plans to release capital investment in the police estate? That would boost the construction industry, create jobs and, above all, take pressure off local police authority budgets where there are dilapidated police stations that need replacing and other facilities that need improvement.
The issues that we have considered so far apply generally to all 43 police authorities in England and Wales. However, some issues apply more to specific police authorities. For example, 15 police authorities—just under 30 per cent.—were affected by the Icelandic banking crisis. The outcome of the crisis, and, therefore, its full impact, remain unclear and will be for some time. The increasing uncertainty and risk for the affected authorities is a cause of great concern, and the Government have provided support so far. Continuing Government support for repaying the loans involved is required, especially if repayment is delayed or money has to be written off as a result of what happened in Iceland.
Another much bigger and longer-running issue affects some but by no means all police authorities, and several hon. Members referred to it earlier. It is the formula for funding police authorities. To the Government's credit, after saying that they would tackle the matter in 1997 when they came to power, they eventually introduced a fairer funding formula nearly 10 years later. However, they told the worst-hit authorities that it would be years before the underfunding was made up. Telling police authorities that they were underfunded by specific amounts but that they could not have the money caused consternation. As yet, no date has been set for ending the floors and ceilings mechanisms and the underfunding of so many authorities.
The Minister has already referred to the fact that all the police authorities in the east midlands, parts of which we both represent—in Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, the Minister's area of Nottinghamshire and my area of Derbyshire—are affected, as are many others throughout the country. He said this afternoon that the formula is being reviewed again for 2011 onwards. However, let us remember the history.
Before 1997, the shire counties that lost out worst from the funding formula had a long-running campaign—the F40 campaign. In 1997, the Government said that they would review the position. In 2006-07, nine years later, they introduced the new formula but said that they could not provide the money that they admitted authorities needed.
I shall now be slightly parochial. Last year, Derbyshire was the fourth worst-funded police authority in England and Wales. This year, it sank to third lowest, with only Suffolk and Essex in a worse position. Under the new, "fair" formula that was introduced in 2006-07, Derbyshire has lost £16 million so far. The Government say that Derbyshire needs that money to provide adequate policing, but that it cannot have it. This year, Derbyshire will lose another £5 million, and another £5 million in the subsequent year. That is equal to 3 per cent. of the force's entire budget every year and more than 160 police officers on the beat.
Derbyshire has had to plug the gaps in the underfunding by using its reserves, but they are coming to an end. In a year or two, there will be no more reserves to plug the gap in the funding that the Government say that Derbyshire needs, but that they will not provide. It is impossible to understand why the worst funded authorities in the country, some of which, like Derbyshire, have experienced the problem for more than 20 years, must bear the brunt of a tight police grant settlement.
Police officers and constituents in Chesterfield simply cannot understand that we are the third worst-funded police authority in the country yet we must continue to be underfunded because of overall problems with the police grant.
The Minister said that he had received only 15 representations this year—far fewer than last year. Perhaps police authorities have simply given up because they meet the same stonewalling every year. Will the Minister offer any genuine hope to the worst-funded authorities, such as Derbyshire, that all the unequal funding of recent years will end? After all, the councils and fire authorities that suffered from the funding formula have had their historic problem removed and levelled out much more quickly. Why are police authorities singled out to bear the brunt of what the Government admit was an unfair formula, saying that they should have more money, but that they cannot have it?
I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in the debate on the police funding settlement this year. I shall focus my brief remarks on my police force area of Dyfed-Powys. Last week, in Westminster Hall, Mark Williams initiated a short debate on the subject, and I am grateful for some of the assurances that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Mr. Campbell gave in response to it. I am also grateful for the Minister's comments today; I appreciate the steps that are being taken to ensure parity between English and Welsh forces, and the 2.5 per cent. grant floor.
I want to impress on Ministers the deep concern among members of the Dyfed-Powys police authority and officers at various levels in the organisation. In last Wednesday's debate in Westminster Hall, the Under-Secretary said that he had received no representations from the authority this year on the settlement. However, I assure him that Members who represent constituencies in the area have received strong representations. That is shown not only by the fact that I am raising the matter, but by the presence of Mr. Williams and the intervention by Lembit Öpik.
Let me reinforce some of the points that we have been trying to convey to Ministers in recent weeks. The starting point is the enormous area that the Dyfed- Powys police force covers—the largest in England and Wales, taking in the counties of Powys, Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire and my county of Pembrokeshire, and comprising hundreds of disparate small villages and small town communities. Hon. Members who go on holiday to mid and west Wales will be familiar with the long, slow roads in the area. That poses significant challenges to policing. Given the size of the police authority area, it is worth pointing out that Dyfed-Powys has the third smallest police force. That immediately poses a challenge to the chief constable of how to deploy personnel across such a vast area.
Last week, in the Westminster Hall debate, the Under-Secretary described Dyfed-Powys police authority as well resourced. Like many hon. Members, I have a six-monthly night out with my local police. On a Saturday night, the police authority does not feel especially well resourced. All it takes in my police division of Pembrokeshire is one road traffic accident, a fight outside a local nightclub and one domestic violence incident for the force to start to feel stretched.
I want to put on record the important role that volunteers play in the police force. On my most recent Saturday night with my local police, I witnessed the important role that not only special constables, who give up their time, but volunteers in the CCTV control centre, play. We want to encourage such volunteering. There are all sorts of benefits from engaging more civilian volunteers in police operations, but the police should never have to perceive volunteers as an absolute necessity for delivering policing at busy times such as a Saturday night.
Other factors in the Dyfed-Powys area are relevant to the discussion—tourism, for example. In the summer the population swells considerably. The pressure on public services arising from a significant increase in the local population in the summer months is never fully taken into account.
We also have an enormous coastline, which includes two major ferry ports, connecting west Wales with Ireland, at Pembroke Dock and Fishguard. We have the growing energy hub at the port of Milford Haven, with two of the UK's major oil refineries, the UK's largest fuel storage depot and the two major liquefied natural gas terminals, which will come on stream shortly. I shall say more about the LNG terminals shortly.
Dyfed-Powys police do a remarkably good job, given their resources and the challenges they face, in holding down crime rates and reassuring the public. They have achieved some excellent scores in crime detection and bringing rates down across the full range of crimes. However, a member of the police authority told me that some of the statistics, which on the face of it are good news stories, are
"somewhat fragile and patchy in some areas of activity."
The force admits that some of the confidence and public satisfaction scores that it gets are not quite as good as they should be. I share the concerns that have been communicated to me by the police authority, not only about the tight settlement for this year, but about the uncertainties surrounding funding in future years and about what might happen to the rural police grant. Those concerns mean that the authority has serious questions about its ability to improve on its current scores.
Dyfed-Powys police force has made great progress in the past few years on achieving efficiency gains. Between 2005-06 and 2007-08, it achieved efficiency savings of £9.8 million, well above its target of £7.3 million. The theory is that the force should be using those efficiencies to invest in, for example, protective services and other Government priorities. However, the force tells me that it has to use those efficiency savings just to maintain baseline services, and there is very little capacity to make improvements. The force has particular concerns about the expectations in the policing pledge—about its ability, for example, to respond to emergency and non-emergency calls within 20 minutes on all occasions, and about the timescales in which victims of crime need to be informed. Being able to meet those expectations is challenging.
Several hon. Members have already mentioned the rural police grant. I would like to reiterate the points that have been raised. There is concern in Dyfed-Powys police force authority about the future of the rural police grant. I am not, perhaps, expecting the Minister to say any more about that than his colleague has already said in this debate, but I would like to impress upon him the needs of rural areas and the challenges that rurality throws up. If he cannot say what the future holds for the rural police grant, I would be grateful if he could give an indication of what his thinking is on how different aspects of rurality will be taken into account in the discussions and considerations about the future of the rural police grant.
Let me return to my point about the liquefied natural gas terminals. There is significant concern about how well protected those facilities are. Just to remind hon. Members, in the years ahead the two LNG terminals will have the capacity to import 30 per cent.—almost a third—of the UK's entire natural gas requirement. They are clearly a significant piece of national infrastructure. I do not expect the Minister to comment on that in great detail, but concern has been communicated to me about a proposed reduction in the funding for officers engaged in security work at the port of Milford Haven. I do not want to speculate about why that might be so or about where else resources might be deployed. However, if the Minister receives an application from the police force in Dyfed-Powys for additional resources to support the policing of the LNG terminals, I would ask him to look favourably on that request.
It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate, albeit only briefly. I commend the Minister on the fact that he has always been responsive to representations made to him about the police settlement. Indeed, I think that I am the third Member from the Dyfed-Powys police area to contribute to today's debate. We do so on the basis that we are very proud of our police force. The people who live in the Dyfed-Powys area are basically satisfied with the service that they get. They complain from time to time about police visibility, but we live in a sparsely populated area. It is a challenge for the chief constable to deploy his forces around that area to give people confidence.
However, the force does a lot of good. I attended an event last week at which awards were given to police officers, specials, police community support officers and back-room staff for the work that they had done in the Powys area. The citation on each award read "For making Powys a safer place". That must be the aim of the police force.
Mr. Crabb raised a number of points, which I would like to reinforce. In a way, the representations that we are making today are not about the present police settlement, but about its future. Mention has been made of Ronnie Flanagan's report, which, if I understand it correctly, says that the formula must be adhered to more strictly. However, the fact that the funding for many Welsh police forces depends on exceptions being made to the formula, rather than on the formula being delivered right across the piece, is important. Indeed, if the floor—the minimum of 2.5 per cent. of the settlement—were not implemented for all four Welsh police authorities, there would be a loss to those authorities of £15 million.
I also want to mention the rural policing grant. The rule 2 grants make a contribution to the funding of authorities, but most of those grants are spread among all the police authorities, whereas the rural policing grant goes to only a limited number of authorities. That being the case, certain police authorities would suffer disproportionately if the rural policing grant were abolished or if the rule 2 grants were brought within the formula. If that happened, it would be difficult for Dyfed-Powys police to maintain the standard of policing that the people living in the area have come to expect. If we were to aspire to the same level of policing, there would be a huge increase in the precept, and in the council tax that people would have to pay—and we know how unfairly council tax falls on the lowest paid in our communities.
I want to comment on one other issue. At the moment, the area that I represent has only one set of custody cells for an area that extends for about 80 miles south to north and about 40 miles east to west. That means that putting somebody arrested in Llandrindod Wells into a custody cell requires a journey of at least 30 miles, which takes police officers away from their duties, just to take a prisoner from a police station without a custody cell to one with a good custody suite. It is important to make the appropriate capital investment in the infrastructure, so that the police can spend their time dealing with the issues that the public expect them to deal with, rather than having to transport prisoners.
The hon. Gentleman is making an important point about custody suites. We have a new all-singing, all-dancing custody suite in the Pembrokeshire division. However, officers have raised with me concerns similar to the hon. Gentleman's point, about how making arrests in different parts of the area now ties up an awful lot of police time. One of those concerns is that the new custody suite might create a disincentive to bringing into custody people who would previously have been taken into custody closer to where the offences were committed.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Both of us are making the point that investment in capital works—such as new buildings and new custody suites—can improve policing quite considerably, to an extent that would be noticed and appreciated by the general public. I am talking in particular about Llandrindod Wells, where there is a scheme for a new police station with custody cells and a magistrates court, which will be integrated with an ambulance station and a fire station, so that we can have all the emergency services co-operating as one.
Although we in the Dyfed-Powys police area accept the present settlement and understand the circumstances in which it has been made, we are not happy with it. We look forward to a review of the formula to make it work, although we view that process with trepidation. We understand that there is only one representative from Wales on the group that will review the formula. We just hope that Wales's special needs will be reflected in the outcome of those considerations.
This is a welcome opportunity to debate the police grant settlement, which forms about half of the police's funding, the rest coming from the local government finance system—a combination of revenue support, non-domestic rates and council tax. There cannot be many MPs who are entirely happy with the Government's handling of the police pay settlement last year—we all received a sizeable postbag on the matter—because the Government clearly got it wrong, and Ministers probably regret the way in which they handled it at the time. The pay settlement has left a legacy of bitterness. I can still go into my local police station in Reading and see the posters on the wall that say "Tough on crime, tough on the fighters of crime". I know that the Government have since tried to address the pay settlement, but the bitterness will remain for some time. What happened has been neither forgotten nor forgiven.
I am delighted to have this opportunity to pay tribute to my local police force, the Thames Valley police, for its continuing hard work and good performance. This year's unremarkable police settlement reflects the overall spending review provision from the Home Office—that is, no real-terms increase. This translates into a 2.7 per cent. increase in the general police grant for 2009-10. It is true that Thames Valley police is quite fortunate, because it is one of the police authorities to receive a higher police grant allocation, compared with other shire authorities. It will receive £238 million this year, which equates to a 2.7 per cent. increase on last year's settlement. That is not one of the highest settlements, but, fortunately, it is not one of the lowest either. I am grateful to the Home Secretary, who recognises the importance and the position of the Thames Valley force, because of its close proximity to London, and has allocated funds accordingly. Despite that, however, there are certain issues that it will be useful for me to put on record today.
I have mentioned before that the Thames Valley police force suffers from considerable problems of officer retention. A major concern is that the Metropolitan police is able to pay its officers much more than Thames Valley police can pay its equivalent officers. The Met is also able to give its officers free travel within a 70-mile zone right around London. The south-east allowance, which was introduced a few years ago in an effort to curb a further manpower drain, has remained frozen, while the Metropolitan police's London weighting allowance has continued to rise.
The incentive gap has therefore become wider, and it has become much more attractive for Thames Valley officers to move to London to improve their economic position. This is now causing a serious problem for the Thames Valley force. Its chief constable, Sara Thornton, giving evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee when it happened to be meeting in my constituency, said that she would be in favour of increasing the south-east allowance by £1,000 a year to make it easier for officers living in the south-east not to get sucked in by the extra pay and free travel that they would get for working in London.
I believe that the chief constable has since met—and continues to have an important dialogue with—the Home Secretary and the Minister for Policing, with the intention of introducing the flexibility further to increase the south-east allowance. In a debate in Westminster Hall last week, it became clear that Thames Valley police had the money in its budgets to fund that allowance and to make it available. During the debate, I think that the Minister said that an uplift in the allowance in the south-east would cost about £20 million, and that he referred to a figure of about £2 million to achieve the uplift in the Thames Valley police area. I hope that he will correct me if I am wrong.
I have not got the figures for the south-east allowances with me at the moment. However, I did say that the moneys in the budget for those allowances were not a matter of additional resource, which I think was helpful to the general debate. Perhaps Mr. Ruffley will verify that. I also said that this is not a ministerial decision; it is a matter for the Police Negotiating Board to come to an agreement with all the various bodies involved on how to resolve the issue. While I am on my feet, I should also like to say, in response to being asked to "have a word" about these matters, that it was not so much a matter of having a word; it is just that I saw this as a matter for the board and as a priority for it to resolve it. I know that that is what it is trying to do.
I thank the Minister for that intervention. I am absolutely delighted to hear him repeat that this is a matter for the Police Negotiating Board; that was stated last week and it has now been repeated this afternoon. I welcome that statement.
If the Thames Valley force takes its case to the negotiating board and is successful, it will be committed to paying that additional allowance. I hope that that will go some way towards alleviating the problem of experienced officers being sucked into the London Metropolitan police area. I should like to make it clear that I am not advocating any additional grant resources to the Thames Valley, but if the force is to retain its best officers, it will need the Minister's support to try to resolve this situation.
Its costs the Thames Valley police £55,000 to train each trainee constable, but it has lost 242 officers in the past five years. It would be a drain on any force for those numbers to continue, and this issue is an increasingly difficult problem and a big financial drain for the Thames Valley force. Anything that the Minister can do to help will certainly be appreciated by the chief constable.
Thames Valley police has become a training ground for the Metropolitan police, and my constituents—along with the other people served by the force in the wider Thames Valley—will undoubtedly suffer a poorer service if that is allowed to continue. Indeed, the chief constable has said publicly that the force is a very young one, and that it needs experienced officers as part of the overall mix of officers in the area. In addition to the £1,000 uplift for police pay in the Thames Valley force that the chief constable is asking for, there also needs to be an agreement with the Metropolitan police that it will not poach significant numbers of police officers. That would be extremely welcome to the chief constable in the Thames Valley, and I am sure that the Minister will do all that he can to facilitate such an agreement.
I would like to raise a number of other financial issues, particularly in relation to population growth. The chief constable has raised significant concerns about the impact of population growth right across the Thames Valley, and I know from my experience of living in Reading for the past 25 years that the city has grown significantly in that time. Of course, more recently, immigration has added enormously to that population pressure. Several years ago, I was briefed by the police in Reading that much of the serious organised crime in Reading was run by immigrants, many of whom were in the country illegally. I would be interested to get an update on that from Thames Valley police, and to hear whether the Minister has any further information on whether there has been any improvement.
My hon. Friend is making a strong and compelling case. Does he agree that the problem with the extrapolation of population statistics with regard to the funding formula is that they are based on out-of-date figures from 2004, and that those figures should have been updated before the comprehensive spending review? Does he agree that this is having a direct impact on front-line policing across the country?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I know that Slough has had many problems dealing with extra numbers and the resultant financial pressures put on many public services. No doubt Peterborough faces a very similar set of challenges.
The impact of population growth on police services needs to be recognised, so it is only right for the police authority to be consulted on major spatial plans, for example. Support to secure resources from the planning system to meet the costs of infrastructure development is also important for the policing of the expanding Thames Valley region. All that certainly needs to be looked at. We need to think about whether section 106 money should be used to help support the additional policing infrastructure that will be necessary in the years to come as the population expands. That is worth considering. I know that at this particularly difficult time in the middle of a recession, local authorities are going to guard jealously their income from section 106 money, so it is not going to be a particularly easy nut to crack if the Minister decides to go down that particular avenue.
With the current level of population growth, Thames Valley police estimate that their capital costs for new buildings and so forth will be about £90 million—just to keep pace with the level of services provided now. The chief constable has said that the force will have real problems trying to generate that level of capital receipts, so it looks as though there might be another funding gap in the future. He also estimates that the number of staff, including officers, that Thames Valley will need will have to grow to about 1,200—again just to maintain the current level of policing services.
I know that there is a link to population in the revenue support grant, but the floors and ceilings apparently mean that minimal additional revenue grant will be generated for the Thames Valley police. That needs to be looked into further. There are also other funding pressures. The Olympics, for example, is clearly going to suck in resources from the Thames Valley, and it would be interesting to hear the Minister explain how that extra resourcing might be handled and what sort of extra support a force such as Thames Valley will be able to get when it has to provide so many police officers for the Olympics.
Counter-terrorism is another important issue. I cannot speak as freely as I would like on this occasion, so all I will say is that a significant threat still remains within the Thames Valley. I know that there is a specific grant for counter-terrorism, for which we are very grateful, but the pressure is likely to get much worse before it gets better. There is the potential for extremism in Reading, Slough, High Wycombe and other centres in the Thames Valley despite all the excellent work that goes on in those local areas to combat the threat.
I have recently been critical of the detection rates of the Thames Valley police. It is actually one of the worst- performing authorities in the country in that respect. We are not doing well, and that needs to be said. However, I say it as a friend, albeit a critical friend, of the Thames Valley police. The force is doing many things particularly well, but there is enormous room for improvement on detection rates.
I would like to say that we have a particularly good team in Reading, made up of active, responsive and forward-thinking officers, and I would like to repeat the praise I expressed in last week's Westminster Hall debate for Superintendent Steve Kirk, who does a quite outstanding job across my Reading, East constituency. I have also been very pleased by the roll-out of neighbourhood policing in my constituency. It has the potential to make a real difference over time, particularly if it is coupled with a drive to reduce red tape and bureaucracy.
The impact of all the extra money that has gone into policing over the years has to some extent been dissipated because police officers spend less and less of their time on the street performing their front-line duties. There is way too much bureaucracy put upon police officers. I have heard that from them first hand. Like many colleagues, I have been out on my mountain bike with officers in Reading, East; I have been out in the town centre in a van, and I have spoken to officers. They have told me many stories. For example, I heard about an officer arresting a shoplifter at 9.30 in the morning and then having to write off the entire shift while he processed that one person through the system. There are, of course, many more such examples that I am sure colleagues could add. If we could sort out those problems, we could get more return on the investment we make in police officers. In turn, that would massively improve the prospects of neighbourhood policing making an impact.
As I said earlier, I am not asking for more money. I do not think that the Thames Valley police actually need any more money today, but they may well need money in the near future. Any support in the particular areas I mentioned would, I am sure, be very welcome to the chief constable of Thames Valley police.
I express my sincere apologies for not being present at the commencement of the debate— [Interruption.] The Minister says from a sedentary position that I have been busy writing my speech. [Interruption.] In fact, I have been delayed by the vicissitudes of National Express East Coast in travelling down from my constituency.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to debate the police grant settlement for 2009-10. I pay tribute to my local police force, the Cambridgesire constabulary, and particularly to the northern basic command unit, which covers my constituency, under the leadership of Chief Superintendent Andy Hebb. They are all doing a very difficult job on behalf of my constituents.
I want to talk about the very real funding difficulties experienced by the Cambridgeshire constabulary. Members will know that I have raised the issue on a number of occasions and that I was fortunate enough to secure a Westminster Hall debate in February last year on police funding in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire. Peterborough and Cambridgeshire, along with Kent and Lincolnshire, are in a parlous financial position. They urgently need a review of their formula allocation for the next financial year as well as, I would argue, a review for 2010-11. The allocations should be reviewed as a result of a unique set of circumstances, which I will outline to provide some background.
Cambridgeshire is to receive a 3 per cent. increase in its formula funding allocation in 2009-10, despite the fact that it has the third lowest number of police officers per head of population in the whole of England and Wales. In the northern basic command unit, incorporating my constituency, we have actually a seen a fall in the number of full-time equivalent police officers over the last six years. Indeed, the Minister provided that information in a parliamentary answer to me on
Hon. Members will be aware of my consistent lobbying over a number of years for fairer funding for Cambridgeshire. I will not rehearse all the arguments that I raised in the Adjournment debate, at which the Minister was present, but it would be apposite to refer to a number of them today, because in many respects we have not moved forward over the last year.
Cambridgeshire has been among the five worst-funded police authorities in the last six years. Like other police authorities, it will be asked to bear real-terms cuts over the next two years at least, as well as general inflationary pressure and Home Office edicts in respect of efficiency savings, first outlined in the comprehensive spending review of 2007. As the Minister will know, the authority has little effective discretion to alter that dismal situation within the prevailing capping regime.
I commend to the House an excellent report published in November 2007, entitled "The changing demography of Cambridgeshire: implications for policing". It focused on the specific demographic, social, economic and cultural changes that face the county over the next 10 years or so, including population changes, migration from both within and outside the United Kingdom, growth in higher education numbers, issues involving Gypsies and travellers, and tourism, which is, of course, a particular issue in the Cambridge area.
Today, however, I wish to focus on the practical impact of migration—specifically European Union migration—on my constituency and throughout Cambridgeshire, its particular impact on crime and policing, and the financial impact that that will inevitably involve. I recently met a member of the police authority who explained to me that if a police officer in Peterborough stops an individual from, say, Lithuania or the Czech Republic in connection with the committing of a possible offence—or, indeed, if that person has been the victim of a crime—the need for translation and interpretation services can double or treble the time that it takes to process the individual.
Cambridgeshire constabulary's recent briefing to the Migration Impacts Forum, published last month, illustrates the significance of that example. In every month of the calendar year to
Use of Language Line, a telephone translation and interpretation service, increased last year from an average of 373 calls per month to 497 per month in the period up to November 2008. In the last financial year Cambridgeshire spent £1 million on translation and interpretation services, whereas in 2002 it spent only £224,000. Moreover, 50 per cent. of detainees questioned about drink-driving and disqualified driving offences in the northern basic command unit were non-UK citizens, while 84 per cent. of the 213 warrants issued by the magistrates courts in Peterborough for minor offences were issued for EU nationals.
Ministers have known for at least three years about the impact of large-scale immigration on policing but have failed to reflect it in their funding allocations, despite the promises to listen and act delivered by this Minister, his predecessors and, indeed, Home Secretaries during Home Office questions over those three years. I concede that this is, not to put too fine a point on it, more a cock-up than a conspiracy. I do not agree that it is necessarily an issue of whether a police authority is in a predominantly Conservative or a predominantly Labour area. However, Ministers are not listening. Despite visits to Peterborough and visits by delegations consisting of senior police authority members and the chief constable, nothing has been done. Indeed, we are going backwards.
As I made clear in my intervention on my hon. Friend Mr. Wilson, these funding decisions are based on completely flawed population estimates, and Ministers have failed to act to correct them. On
"simply because that is the best available data."
That is not the basis on which to make these funding decisions, because the methodology and the data are flawed.
As was rightly pointed out by the chief constable of Cambridgeshire, Julie Spence, in evidence to the Select Committee:
"There is nothing within government to be able to respond to the rapid changes that have happened...The funding formulas are not rapid and flexible enough to deal with change."
Similar views were expressed by the Local Government Association in its November 2007 report "Estimating the scale and impacts of immigration at the local level", and in a report published by the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs in the 2007-08 Session entitled "The Economic Impact of Immigration".
According to the recent Migration Impacts Forum report, the tragic murder of a young Polish man in Peterborough in September last year
"impacted heavily on constabulary resources and was made even more complex because of the language and translation issues involved."
It gives one simple example, which is that
"over 40 Polish citizens had to be interviewed and statements taken".
The House can imagine how resource-intensive that process was for a force that is already under-provisioned in terms of front-line police officers.
Even without those specific migration factors, Cambridgeshire will be struggling to deliver the police service that local people deserve and need. In 2007, the Association of Police Authorities estimated that the current comprehensive spending review funding regime would result in a funding shortfall across the country of at least £831 million. In a report prepared for the police authority 18 months ago, the management consultants KPMG concluded on the basis of the Cambridgeshire constabulary's current work load that the county required at least an extra 100 officers. Let me put in context how badly underfunded my local constabulary is: just to achieve the average funding and provision of front-line officers for England and Wales, Cambridgeshire would need at least 600 more police officers, at a significant revenue cost.
Despite warm words from the Minister, who is an agreeable chap—I think we can all agree on that—and several deputations from the police authority and the chief constable, we are no further forward this year. The Government continue to undercount population numbers and to underfund core police service activity. Cambridgeshire is losing more than £2 million per annum, which has a major year-on-year cumulative effect, as a result of the funding floors. The force has the fourth lowest number of police staff per head of population in England and Wales. The 2010-11 pay deals, amounting to about 2.5 per cent., mean that it will experience a real-terms cash decrease.
I have not even discussed Cambridgeshire's capital programme. The £1.5 million to be allocated to the force in the next financial year will be only just enough to cover the vehicle replacement programme; it will not cover other key projects, such as the rebuilding of police stations in Parkside, Cambridge and Huntingdon. We are not demanding extra funds for fashionable budget headings such as protective services and counter-terrorism, or the Olympics. Thank goodness, we do not have a major problem with knife crime, gangs and guns; we do, however, require fairness and equity.
For too long, Cambridgeshire's pleas have been ignored and the police authority short-changed, and our dedicated and professional police officers on the front line protecting us have been forced to do much more for much less. This situation is unfair, intolerable, iniquitous and ultimately unsustainable. It cannot go on. My constituents deserve better, as do those of other Cambridgeshire Members. I hope the Minister is listening, and that, for once, we have action and not just words.
This has been an interesting and informed debate. Several Members passionately expressed their feelings about policing issues, especially the current grant settlement. In common with many contributors, I would first like to record my congratulations and praise for the work police officers do not only in my constituency, but across the country. It is always humbling to go out with the police and see the work they do at the sharp end, often in difficult circumstances. It is important to recognise that in the context of this debate, which, by necessity, focuses on funding streams rather than the practical work the police do throughout the country in protecting us and providing safety to the communities we represent.
This debate has, of course, focused heavily on the grant settlement. It is important to recognise the changing funding arrangements and the shift in burden from direct central Government grant to local authority precept. In 1997, direct grant represented 85 per cent. of forces' revenue, but in 2006-07 the figure had fallen to 60 per cent. Therefore, an increasing proportion of the funds going to our police forces is coming from council tax payers in our areas rather than from direct grant. It is important to recognise the amount of funding that is coming directly from council tax payers, rather than from central Government.
There have been some good and important contributions to the debate, and I wish to place on record my congratulations to the Home Affairs Committee on the work it undertakes in putting a number of important issues into the public domain, and thereby informing the general discussion and ensuring that relevant matters are given the attention they deserve. Keith Vaz raised some important issues—for instance, alcohol-related crime, which he and I have debated on several previous occasions. I certainly recognise the link between alcohol and violent crime and the pressures our police forces have to withstand, and the difficulties and challenges they face, in the early hours of the morning. In that context, there is an issue to do with pricing, and the right hon. Gentleman covered it well in his contribution.
In terms of funding arrangements and the efficient use of resources, Government, and particularly Home Office, IT projects are of relevance. The right hon. Member for Leicester, East made an important point about the funding and status of the police portal and the dispute around the contract associated with that. I hope that the Minister will be able to shed some further light on those issues when he responds to our debate. Other IT projects also deserve further scrutiny, such as the Pentip computer system intended to register penalty notices for disorder and other policing matters, which is over budget and running late. It is important that we get good value for money and that procurement issues are dealt with appropriately.
Paul Holmes made important points on procurement and ensuring that we get good value for money and have efficiencies. I think that is recognised in all parts of the House, as is the importance of forces being able to share in certain aspects of procurement.
My hon. Friend Mr. Crabb rightly highlighted the challenges facing many rural police forces, and in particular how population flows caused by tourism can have a big impact on the ability to police. The problems he raised to do with tourism and swells in population are shared by a number of police forces.
Mr. Williams made the important point that we should recognise the work of those officers who ensure safety in our community, and he commented that his area of Dyfed-Powys had been made a safer place. He also said that we must look to the future, and at the review of the funding formula, to which the Minister alluded in his opening remarks.
My hon. Friend Mr. Wilson highlighted the issue of officer retention and some of the challenges in terms of the relationships between police forces, particularly in the areas surrounding London. We look forward with interest to the continuing discussions of the Police Negotiating Board on south-east allowances, which are of direct relevance to a number of Members who have made contributions; the Minister mentioned this.
My hon. Friend also made some important points about counter-terrorism and the Olympics budget. We look forward to receiving further details from the Minister on that budget. Some scrutiny needs to be applied, and we need to have a better understanding of the Government's position and of the costs and impact of all that on police forces throughout the country and their budgets.
My hon. Friend Mr. Jackson is passionate about the issues facing his Cambridgeshire area. His comments reflect those of the chief constable, Julie Spence, on the difficulties and challenges in respect of movements of population and whether the funding formula adequately takes them into account, particularly as it is based on information that dates back to 2004.
Clearly, this discussion is part of a wider debate on the comprehensive spending review, and it is interesting to note that when the first police funding grant was settled, Tim Brain, chief constable of Gloucestershire police and the Association of Chief Police Officers lead on finance, made the following prescient point:
"We don't all start on a level playing field, and some, possibly many, forces will have to continue to introduce planned cuts at a local level. Furthermore, the grant settlement will help maintain most aspects of 'business as usual' but is likely to restrict key development."
His comments then are equally relevant now in terms of some of the pressures and challenges police forces have to address and the fact that those challenges are changing and growing. We have heard about the pressures in relation to the growth of different communities and new communities arising, one of which is translation costs; according to Freedom of Information Act information, in the last financial year the cost to police forces throughout the country is about £25 million. That cost has risen significantly in the past five years, probably by about two thirds. It is also worth remembering that additional policing pressures arise from this.
It would be useful to hear from the Minister about the context and framework of the review of the police funding formula. What will the parameters of that review be, and to what extent will it take into account changes in population and the practical impact that has on police forces and how they manage their budgets? I hope he will be able to give more details when he responds to the debate, and to confirm the timing of the review, whether he expects to publish interim findings, and how this will interrelate with the next comprehensive spending round. That will be important in informing the debate, and in explaining how things will link with the funding arrangements for the police as we move towards the next comprehensive spending review.
A number of different factors are putting increasing pressures on the police. As, sadly, we all know, there is a downturn in the economy, with an accompanying risk of an increase in volume acquisitive crime. The Home Office appears to have recognised and accepted that this will lead to an increase in crime, although we are getting some mixed messages from the Home Secretary about whether she agrees with that perspective. I am thinking of the leaked memo that indicated that the Home Office was expecting a rise. Will the Minister confirm whether he agrees with the memorandum or with the view of the Home Secretary that there might not be such a rise? There are also other pressures—not simply direct burglaries and frauds, which have been focused on, but emerging threats. He knows the interest that I take in the growth in cybercrime and internet crime—the different types of emerging problems that are complex and technical and for which there have been few prosecutions under the Computer Misuse Act 1990. We need to address the reliance on forensics and how dealing with that type of criminality will need to feed into and inform future funding arrangements because of the additional pressures that it will place on policing; we need to respond to the changing nature of the threats that emerge.
The Flanagan review made an important point about the pressures on policing; it said that the current level of policing numbers was unsustainable. Notwithstanding the fact that police strength numbers remained flat, according to the last figures, will the Minister say whether he agrees with Sir Ronnie's view that police force numbers are unsustainable? If he does, will he say what assessment he is making of any reductions that might apply and how that fits into the context of the current settlement and, indeed, future ones?
This important debate has given many hon. Members the opportunity to highlight the financing challenges and problems that may be faced in ensuring greater safety in their communities. We look forward to hearing further details on the funding formula and on how the Minister intends to review and reform it to ensure that it provides for, and reflects the needs of, our communities and is responsive to changes in threat, in population and in need. We look forward to continuing the debate in the months ahead.
I thank all hon. Members who contributed to this debate for the informed and interesting way in which they made their points. I shall try to answer the questions that have been raised and deal specifically with some of the points.
I agree very much with James Brokenshire about the fact that all of us should start these debates, as we have done, by paying tribute to police forces across the country for their work and the fact that they often put themselves in very dangerous situations to ensure public safety as far as they are able.
Mr. Ruffley again sought confirmation about capping. He will know that Cheshire, Leicestershire and Warwickshire were capped in advance for 2009-10, limiting their council tax increases to 3 per cent. That situation stays the same. They had 21 days from
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds asked what capital moneys had been brought forward. Capital moneys for the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the National Police Improvement Agency have been brought forward, and they have been spent on helping with the current economic climate. He asked whether police authorities can apply for the migration moneys that I mentioned. Yes, they can. I want to spend a little time on this issue. We expect the Office for National Statistics to produce estimates of short-term inward migration by this summer, and we want to improve the population data informing the police funding formula debate. The review of the formula gives us an opportunity to try to address some of the issues raised by hon. Members from across the House. That review will enable us from the next comprehensive spending review round—from 2011-12—to move forward on that basis. That is where our intention lies. Meetings have started to be held on what changes we should be reflecting upon, and this afternoon's debate will help with that debate. All the issues such as how we can better estimate population and the impact of migration will be included in our discussions, as will other matter that have been raised.
Mr. Jackson said that no change had been forthcoming. I know he could not help not being here earlier in the debate, but had he been here he would have heard that from April the migration impact fund will be available in Government offices for the regions; police forces, as well as other local service providers, will be able to apply for money to help them deal with some of the very issues that he raised with regard to Cambridgeshire. Cambridgeshire police authority will be able to go to the Government office for its region to put a case for receiving that money, as will authorities in other parts of the country.
My point was that the Migration Impacts Forum was established 18 months ago, but the information available to Ministers on the flawed methodology used by the ONS and others was available before that. These are current problems from which my local force is suffering, and it was incumbent on Ministers to have acted much more quickly.
It is also incumbent on Ministers to act responsibly. What I have said to the hon. Gentleman is that from April his local police force will be able to apply to the Government office for his region for funding. If we unpick the funding formula in the middle of a CSR round, although his force may get an extra few million, countless other Conservative Back Benchers and Members from all parts of the House will say that the Government have broken their word on what they said they were going to do, which was to provide stable funding for the police service. That is why the Home Office has received limited representation about this funding round and why we have heard more concern about what happens in the next funding round—that is what Mr. Williams was arguing about and it is what most other Members in this debate have discussed. They recognise that if a Government unpick a settlement in the middle of it, that causes instability and chaos. That is why we have not unpicked this one, and why we are not going to do so.
I want to carry on—I hope the hon. Gentleman does not mind.
The point of today's debate is that it allows us to inform that funding formula. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East raised the issue of new technology, and we agree with him on it. He, like the hon. Member for Hornchurch, raised a specific point, and I should like to read out a reply so that I put it accurately. The police portal was a website providing a national communications channel. The main service was to enable the reporting of crime and hate crime online. Good use was made of it, but running costs increased as a result of technical problems. The Association of Chief Police Officers took the view that there was not enough demand to justify the increasing costs, so the scheme was discontinued. QinetiQ's contract was terminated by the NPIA in July 2007. QinetiQ then sued the NPIA and it countersued. These legal matters were resolved in November 2008 in a non-disclosed agreement. Some forces do have online facilities on their website to allow the reporting of crime.
I am most grateful to the Minister for telling us that information. How much taxpayers' money was spent on setting up a computer system that was of no use?
To provide the detail that my right hon. Friend requires, over and above the legal opinion that I have just given, I might need to write to him. I will put a copy of that letter in the Library.
The issue of alcohol was also raised by several hon. Members. We take the need to address that issue seriously and we are taking a range of enforcement measures. The Policing and Crime Bill will allow the Government to establish a mandatory code for the off-trade and for pubs and supermarkets. That will help to tackle the irresponsible promotions and pricing that lead to some of the issues that have been raised by hon. Members.
Mr. Crabb mentioned Dyfed-Powys force and the important role of volunteers. We all agree that volunteers are particularly important and we need to ensure that we encourage specials and other volunteers.
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire raised the issue of the future of the rural policing grant. As we have discussed, that will form part of the review.
I confirm again to Mr. Wilson that the south-east allowances will form part of the discussions with the Police Negotiating Board. I hope that the issue will be resolved as quickly as possible to address the problem of the transfer of officers from neighbouring forces to the Metropolitan police.
The settlement before us represents a further significant increase in resources for the police services of England and Wales. The latest figures show not a decrease in police numbers, but an increase. In all forces since 1997, there have been significant increases in police officer numbers, and in staff numbers, as well as the introduction of PCSOs. At the same time, we have seen big reductions in crime. That is a record to be proud of and, notwithstanding the difficult economic times, this funding settlement will allow our police services to continue that fine record.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2009—10 (House of Commons Paper No. 148), which was laid before this House on