My Lords, initial estimates provided by the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities to the tripartite finance working group range from £430 million to £600 million. We are working closely with Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and consultants to test the financial robustness of those figures. That is ongoing work, and it would be premature for me to comment further. HMIC has demonstrated that restructuring will lead to significant savings, and in some regions it is likely that those could commence within two to three years of merger.
My Lords, in expending such considerable sums, I presume that the Government must be confident that what they are doing is in accordance with the will of the communities that those police services exist to serve and protect. What steps have the Government taken to establish the views of those communities about the proposals and what are those views?
My Lords, first, as the noble Lord will no doubt be aware, the proposals have been developed over a considerable period. My right honourable friend Hazel Blears, the Minister who has led on the matter, has consulted widely up and down the country to try to ensure that we properly understand people's needs. The review is predicated on the HMIC report, which gave trenchant advice to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary on the changes needed to police communities properly.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the announcement made last week that the Lancashire and Cumbria police forces have joined together voluntarily. May we express our appreciation to the Home Secretary for the financial assistance that he has given us to allow us to do that voluntarily?
My Lords, I very much endorse what my noble friend said and commend Cumbria and Lancashire for putting the needs of their people first.
My Lords, how does the Minister believe that accountability and the tripartite structure can be improved by the proposed amalgamations of police forces?
My Lords, of course we must ensure that accountability is clear. We have set out the role, which is focusing on critical strategic issues; appointing the chief officer and other ACPO ranks and holding him or her to account; setting the budget; and determining the level of precepts. All that is essential. We must consider the size of police authorities. They must be manageable and fit for purpose. Pulling that together is of the utmost importance.
My Lords, does the Minister recognise how much damage to morale the current climate of speculation and rumour—some rumours being initiated by official government papers—is engendering in police forces?
My Lords, performance is very high in the police service, and morale therefore, especially bearing in mind the investment that we have made, is equally high. There are problems. Any change will cause anxiety, and change is not easy; but we have taken seriously the recommendations made by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, which has given my right honourable friend the Home Secretary the most trenchant advice on what should be done to meet the needs of the people we serve.
My Lords, does not my noble friend agree that the main objective of the present proposals to amalgamate forces is in fact to enhance protective capacity and enable the police to prosecute level 2 crime more effectively? In agreeing to merge last Friday, Lancashire and Cumbria had precisely that objective in view: they want to offer the people of Lancashire and Cumbria a better protective service. Will my noble friend assure me that the Home Office will work closely with those forces and others that agree to amalgamate to enable them to offer the public a better service, which is surely what we are all about?
My Lords, I absolutely agree with my noble friend, and I give her that clear undertaking and assurance.
My Lords, the noble Lord will know that we have already indicated a contribution of £125 million for the first phase. Of course we are considering figures; I gave a figure that has been given by others. We continue to consider those issues, and we will be able to say more once we have done so.
My Lords, my right honourable friend Hazel Blears undertook a series of consultations with stakeholders and others. I am happy to write to the noble Lord, setting out the consultations that were held and how they were held. Noble Lords will appreciate that the primary focus of the amalgamation will be on the services themselves.
My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord the answer that he seeks. They probably will be, but I am happy to write to him. To be absolutely frank, I have no idea.