The one thing that we can agree on in this debate is that the police of this country do a difficult and usually very dangerous job. On behalf of the Opposition, I would like to pay tribute to their service. They need the resources to discharge their duties to the public in upholding law and order, which is why this debate is so important. This year's settlement is the final part of the three-year comprehensive spending review. Excluding additional grants for counter-terrorism and other specific grants, the police settlement will increase by 2.7 per cent. this year. Including specific grants, total revenue funding will also increase by 2.7 per cent.
It is worth flagging up a few issues that many outside this House, and not just police authorities, have with the distribution of the police grant. It is a complicated calculation, based, as we know, on five separate components, including the needs-based formula, or the "principal formula"; additional rule 1, which reduces grant provision for the South Wales police authority and redistributes it to other police authorities in Wales; and 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. The Home Office decision to amalgamate those grants into a single pot, so that police authorities could have more control over how those funds were used, was welcome. The Home Office also distributes specific grants for police authorities. Finally, the police grant floors are applied. I will return to that issue of scaling later.
What we do know is that this year there are 20 police authorities in total receiving the lowest increase of 2.5 per cent., including Cheshire, Gloucestershire, Lincolnshire, Suffolk, Surrey and the Met. The biggest increase in the police grant is received by the West Midlands at 3.9 per cent.
Let me go to the heart of what I took to be the political thrust of the Minister's speech. We are in a severe economic situation and it has added huge strain to already tight police budgets. In written evidence provided to the Home Affairs Committee for its report on police service strength, the Association of Police Authorities
"acknowledged the deteriorating state of public finances" and the expected impact on police budgets. Similarly, a study undertaken by the Association of Chief Police Officers' finance and resources business area found that several forces in England and Wales-this is the crucial point that I would like the Minister to return to-were already using budget reserves to maintain front-line services.
There is increasing confusion about police officer numbers and police strength, with evidence from police forces contradicting what the Minister is asking us to believe. In research for its report into police strength, the Home Affairs Committee-I am sad that the excellent Chairman of that Committee, Keith Vaz, is not here to confirm this-wrote to all police forces in England and Wales and asked them to provide information on their officer and staff numbers; crucially, likely changes to the work force during the remainder of 2009-10 and 2010-11; and the plans that the forces are putting in place in relation to staffing levels next year.
The responses were very interesting. They were clear. Just four forces anticipated maintaining staff and officer levels. Some forces had already begun to reduce officer numbers and many have plans to do so. To provide one or two examples, Humberside police force said that it was planning to cut 300 officer posts. Cumbria said that there are
"cuts likely of staff and officers".
Derbyshire said that "police staff cuts" will be likely, and Durham is planning a
"vacancy freeze on staff and officer posts".
Kent said that it had
"significant planned police staff reductions for 2009-11 to meet funding savings".
Out of 43 forces, only four said that they anticipated maintaining staffing levels.
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