Clause 5

Policing and Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:00 am on 5th February 2009.

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Police collaboration

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

It is early in the morning, hence my uncharacteristic lack of sharpness. I will redress that temporary deficiency by opening in a positive spirit on clause 5, the subject of which is collaboration. The Committee will be happy to know that the Minister and I agree on the principles that the clause will bring into effect. The Government and I believe that it will improve the quality of policing across the board. With your permission, Sir Nicholas, I think that it is worth spending some time in the clause stand part debate airing the recent history of collaboration and what the clause will do to take the argument forward. The clause has new and interesting powers, which I will ask the Minister about.

In September 2005, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary published a famous report, “Closing the Gap: A Review of the ‘Fitness for Purpose’ of the Current Structure of Policing in England and Wales”. Primarily and importantly, it examined the provision of protective services known in the trade as level 2 services. To some minds that is a sloppy shorthand, but I will use level 2 interchangeably with protective services to ensure that the Committee is not detained for too long. Those services relate primarily to serious and organised crime, child protection issues, terrorism and so forth. That important report came to the conclusion that

“when viewed from the context of the range of challenges and future threats now facing the service and the communities it polices, the 43 force structure is no longer fit for purpose. In the interests of the efficiency and effectiveness of policing it should change. Whilst some smaller forces do very well, and some larger forces less so, our conclusion is that below a certain size there simply is not a sufficient critical mass to provide the necessary sustainable level of protective services that the 21st century increasingly demands.”

At about the same time, the Bichard report into the Soham murders highlighted the ineffective co-ordination between police forces in tackling cross-border crime, which had the tragic consequences that we all recall. In 2006, the chairman of the Association of Police Authorities, Bob Jones, wrote:

“unequivocally that there is a gap in the capacity and capability of the service to tackle adequately level two criminality”.

He aired that view at some length in volume 12 of “Policing Today”.

In short, there is a general consensus across the tripartite structure that there are gaps at level 2. The consequences that flowed from HMIC’s report “Closing the Gap” ended in a recommendation that the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), took forward with a plan for force amalgamation. I shall not detain the Committee with, in my view, the unfortunate history of that Government initiative for merger, because now is not the time to go over old, controversial party political ground, and it would detract from the import of what is immediately at issue in the clause, which is collaboration.

However, it is important to understand the failed attempt to close the level 2 gap. It is up to all politicians of good will who want a sister service to do the job better to work out what we can do as a country to close that gap. It is impossible to envision a Government, whether the current Administration or an Administration of a future stripe, in the near or medium-term future, returning to the suggestion that there should be forced amalgamations or mergers whereby nine or half a dozen strategic forces are compelled to merge. For example, Cheshire constabulary would be stripped of its cap badges and independence and put into a north-western strategic force. That proposal was proffered by the then Home Secretary, following the report to which I referred. Unambiguously, it is not on the Conservative party agenda, whether in Opposition or should we be in Government, to revisit such matters.

It is worth repeating that there will be no mergers from us. I accept that the Minister will have his own views, but my understanding is that Her Majesty’s Government are not seeking to rerun the failed attempt at force merger. That is why the solution proffered by the clause must be seen as a direct response to the fact that we need an answer, although we do know that merger is not that answer.

After that brief historical reminder, I shall move to collaboration. On 17 July 2007, the Minister’s predecessor announced that 22 bids for demonstrator status had been received from which a total of 10 demonstrator sites collaborating on matters ranging from back-office services to serious organised crime had been selected. On 12 December 2007, the then Minister with responsibility for policing said that those initiatives had been selected from 22 bids to provide a balanced programme throughout  England and Wales to explore and develop the models of collaboration between forces that can deliver vital level 2 services.

Above all, I emphasise that I am not advancing a dry argument about organisational structures and the process of machinery. Why was the collaboration process moved forward by the then Minister? He was right to stress that it was to protect the public more effectively and efficiently. His colleagues at the Home Office were also right to say that collaborative working was a key part of a national programme that the Government wanted to take forward and that it had the support—as it does now—of her Majesty’s Opposition. It was done in consultation with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities. The selected demonstrator sites were offered £3.7 million of Home Office funding to contribute to the start-up costs and to cover the evaluation process managed by the National Policing Improvement Agency, which I should say, parenthetically, I find from my work on the Front Bench is an admirable organisation. It gives valuable advice to Her Majesty’s Ministers and to shadow Front-Bench Home Office Ministers.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Crime & Security)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that remark. If a problem emerges, everyone says that it should be given to the NPIA, which—under Chief Constable Peter Neyroud who runs it—works exceptionally hard. Sometimes it is criticised because it goes into difficult areas. It is good that he congratulates it and I join him in doing so.

Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I am grateful to the Minister. I wish to go further. This is in order, Sir Nicholas. You are a very strict Chairman and we all admire you for that. I shall talk of the NPIA for a minute in the context of its being an important part now of the collaboration that I hope will happen more often if this clause is enacted.

Picking up on the Minister’s point, some people in ill-informed quarters, who are not as familiar with policing as the Minister and my shadow Front-Bench colleagues, consider it fashionable to call the NPIA a quango, which is a term of abuse quite often used by the media and some politicians. The NPIA is not in my view a quango. It is a high-quality organisation which acts in the public interest, not just by giving confidential and private advice at a high level to Ministers. It has always been available to hon. Members, certainly in my party and, I fancy, in the Liberal Democrat Opposition. That is part of the ethos of British policing. It has been refreshing in my 18 months as shadow Minister to see on a day-to-day basis, with one or two very rare exceptions, that party politics is really of no interest to the policing community. It wants effective solutions and it looks to Parliament and Ministers and even shadow Ministers to advance the effectiveness of British policing, to give the police and the whole policing family the tools needed to do the job, and collaboration is one part of it. The NPIA is important and we respect and value the work it does.

The NPIA is part of the monitoring process looking at the progress of collaboration and the tangible benefits that it can bring. The NPIA has to ensure that the shared knowledge—the success of certain collaborations—is spread more widely to parts of the country where that  collaborative process is perhaps not known. So the NPIA is important in our deliberations and in the development of this policy should this clause be enacted.

The current legislation relating to collaboration agreements is set out in section 23 of the Police Act 1996. Under this section, two or more chief officers may—subject to the approval of the relevant police authorities—make collaboration agreements between their forces in the interests of the efficiency or effectiveness of policing. In addition, two or more police authorities may make collaboration agreements for the provision of premises, equipment or other material or facilities. A collaboration agreement under the existing legislation may be varied or determined, as one might expect, by a subsequent agreement. The Secretary of State has the power, after considering any representations made by the parties concerned, to direct those parties to enter into a collaboration agreement or an agreement to vary or determine an existing agreement.

It might be useful if I illustrated what the concept of a collaboration agreement means in the real world. I shall refer to two examples of collaboration agreements that I have been briefed on. However, because I have chosen these two specific examples does not mean that they are the only ones in England and Wales, nor does it mean that they are necessarily the best, or examples of collaboration that have yielded the biggest financial benefit so far—they are merely the two examples that I am familiar with.

After the Committee, I shall be looking at other examples of collaboration around the country. For the moment, I draw the Committee’s attention to the five east midland forces: Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire and Nottinghamshire. They have a history going back to 2001, when the east midlands special operation unit was formed to create one of the largest and most significant collaborations in the country. The collaboration of those forces goes well beyond special operations and the unit that was set up in 2001. The five forces also collaborate in areas relating to state management, fleet management, training of officers and staff, and procurement. They work together operationally in areas even more specific than that, such as water search, air support, hostage and crisis negotiation and firearms. Additionally, Derbyshire is a lead force for the east midlands counter-terrorism intelligence unit.

The collaboration is overseen by a collaboration board, comprising the chairs of the five police authorities that I referred to, and the five chief constables. This is important, because it goes to the heart of my earlier remarks about the need for specificity in collaboration agreements. It is not just on a nod and a wink; if these things are to work they need to be properly nailed down in writing and a clear government structure put in place. That is why the experience of the east midlands collaboration is worth studying.

There is a further oversight of collaborative work through the east midlands police authorities joint committee, which has the delegated powers of a police authority when overseeing collaborative activity between those forces. In addition to that oversight, the east midlands region maintains a central collaboration programme team which is led at chief officer level. The team exists to promote collaboration and manage the region’s  collaboration programme. The programme is set out in a collaboration plan, which I believe is a first in England. That programme has a strategic element to it and a plan of work. The three workstreams that are currently in play relate to building capacity and capability, and to improving productivity, which will always be a remorseless and ceaseless search for many years to come. The search for greater productivity in our public services is a never-ending war. No Minister will ever be happy with the productivity levels that he sees in any force; there is always room for improvement. Thirdly, they relate to putting in place the structures relating to information technology, to human resources and to finance, which will support better collaboration.

The east midlands chief constables and police authorities are proud of the proactive approach to collaboration that they have taken. One reason why this clause, with its new powers—I will get on to them in a minute—is important is because not every part of England and Wales is as proactive as the east midlands. At the moment, collaboration operates in an unsatisfactory patchwork quilt way, which is what the clause seeks to remedy. East midlands police authorities give two reasons why they have been specially proactive. They say that it is a direct response to the operational risks identified in the HMIC “Closing the gap” report, to which I referred at the start of my remarks. Its main author, Sir Denis O’Connor, described the region as the most at risk in the country as far as protective services were concerned. Therefore, forces in the east midlands have a particular reason for wanting to get on with collaboration.

Moreover, the collaboration approach in the east midlands is a response—this is important—to the financial position facing those police authorities and forces in the region. The five authorities stated that over the three-year period 2010-11, they received—and will receive—£57 million less in Government grant than the raw funding formula indicated that they should get. We touched on that matter yesterday in the police grant debate, so I will not divert into a repetition of the floors and damping arguments. It is well-rehearsed argument because some police authorities feel aggrieved. If I can continue the grown-up and consensual relationship that I currently have with the Minister, I will say that it is not a problem that will go away with a change of Government. Under the current damping arrangements, there are winners and losers, and there are no easy solutions to that that will please every police authority or force. It is a technical issue that admits to no party political fiddling—if I can put it that way. There are Conservative and Labour areas that do better than they should under the current grant arrangements, and there are Labour and Conservative authorities—[Interruption.] The Minister points to his own in Nottinghamshire. There are authorities which are, in their view, disadvantaged and do less well than they should. When I say that, I mean that they do less well than the raw application of the formula grant suggests.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North 9:15 am, 5th February 2009

I understand that this is not a debate about police funding or police performance, but I want to put on record the fact that having looked closely at such matters over the past 10 years I can say that some of the hon. Gentleman’s statements are quite misplaced. In Northamptonshire, although the pattern has been up and down, the authority  has received substantial financial assistance, and great assistance in the form of interventions from the Home Office with which to support improvements in its performance. Without going into the whole debate, I just wanted to put that fact on the record.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Before the hon. Gentleman replies, let me say that although the hon. Lady was quite right to say that the clause is not about funding, she was quite correct to intervene because her county was mentioned. I trust that if the hon. Gentleman responds, he will be brief.

Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I will be brief. I bow to the hon. Lady’s greater knowledge of Northamptonshire, but she should understand that my facts come from the police authorities. They have written to me, and I merely cite what they say [Interruption.] I will not take a further intervention. I hear what the hon. Lady says but she should speak to the collaboration board in her region if she has—[Interruption.] She is talking from a sedentary position. In good faith, I did not seek to make a party political point—quite the reverse. I was saying to the Minister that this does not permit a party political argument. I was repeating a briefing from the collaboration board and if the hon. Lady does not like that, I suggest that she write to the board, and look at Hansard to see what I have said. [Interruption.] She continues to chunter away from a sedentary position, which is desperately unhelpful in what has, until now, been a mature debate. If she has a problem, she should write to the collaboration board.

I come now to the second example, which is the collaboration between Kent and Essex. This is something that is seen to be radical and innovative in the policing community, I have spoken to Ministers about it, and a lot of people are looking at it.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con) rose—

Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I am happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman, who represents the fair town of Chelmsford.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns Opposition Whip (Commons)

It is in the county of Essex, which my hon. Friend mentioned. I wish to reinforce what he has said. The work done between Essex and Kent is extremely innovative. It is going extremely well and is an example that others should study and contemplate following.

Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

My hon. Friend is entirely right. I have had occasion to visit his constituency; I have been to his road at least twice. From my discussions with him, I know that he keeps a weather eye on the policing in a town that he not only represents, but lives in. He is very much part of his community. He is right to point out that the chief constable of Essex, Roger Baker, is a proselytiser of great ability, who speaks to Members of all parties about how more efficiencies can be squeezed out of existing police budgets. That is very much what collaboration, if done well, is about.

As chief constable, Roger Baker has a policy of, among other things, ensuring that his officers attend all crimes. That objective is being delivered on. He also has a policy in the Essex police authority, which is integral to what he is doing, of opening police stations for  longer. That is not explicitly part of the collaboration agreement, but the delivery of those two objectives—longer opening hours for police stations and more police stations open; and more officers attending crimes—is possible only if there is an increase in officers on the front line. He and the police authority explain that it is only because of collaboration that they get more officers back on to the front line. Resources are freed up from the back office and other parts of the organisation and can then be redeployed for front-line activities, to deliver those objectives.

In the Essex experience, collaboration is a means by which more officers can be returned to the front line. Collaboration is not some dry, dusty and dull subject—if done right, it can deliver what we all want. Whatever one’s political persuasion, however perverse and muddle-headed a politician might be, who on earth could conceivably object to more front-line policing, because that is clearly what the British public want? The man and woman on the street want to see more visible policing. They want attendance at crimes, if they are unfortunate enough to be a victim of crime. They want to see a police officer—they do not necessarily want just have a chat on the phone with someone when they ring 999, but to see an officer as a result.

The specifics of the collaboration agreement with Kent constabulary are as follows. I have had the benefit of discussing what that means in practice with the excellent chairman of the Essex police authority, as well Chief Constable Baker, on more than a couple of occasions. In April 2007, Essex and Kent police authorities and forces agreed to collaborate in what they described, rightly, as a ground-breaking initiative to enhance the service to the communities in both their counties. In order to oversee and manage the collaboration, the two police authorities established a statutory joint committee and delegated most of their functions to it to facilitate expeditious and effective decision making. In any collaboration agreement, decision making is always at issue. If there are lots of individuals and more than one force—by definition, a collaboration cannot take place in one force, but needs two, or five, as in my earlier example from the east midlands—one can imagine that there will be tensions or differences of emphasis about how decisions should be made, such as about serious organised crime, across forces. Each force would have its particular interests and its own patch to defend, which is understandable. However, in collaboration agreements, by definition, there has to be a bit of give and take. When decisions are taken, they have to be taken effectively. There has to be give and take because, at the end of the day, only one decision can be taken, so delegation is an important part of the process.

In the Kent and Essex collaboration, the purpose of the strategic mandate for the collaboration programme is

“to engage in full collaboration on Operational Functions and Support Services, whilst maintaining operational independence”.

Since January 2008, 14 reviews across those areas have been completed, identifying £2.7 million of savings, of which £1.8 million are recurring capital savings. The two forces have agreed to create a single procurement department, using a collaborative shared service agreement—the first such venture in UK policing on  that particular scale, I am informed. What do we mean by “services” and “procurement”? I am advised that those words can relate to training, human resources and personnel development, administration, finance, major crime, firearms—a large number of operational activities.

The Audit Commission carried out a governance review of the Kent-Essex collaboration. The findings were extremely positive:

“Essex and Kent Police Authorities have established a vibrant and effective collaboration partnership which is providing considerable financial and performance benefits to both forces. Leadership and governance is strong, and programme management robust.”

I shall not detain the Committee with details of the other drives for efficiency that Essex constabulary and police authority have established, because the savings that they want to achieve over a three-year period far exceed the figures that I quoted, which were specific to the collaborations in hand. A wider programme in Essex is delivering bigger savings, but as I wish to remain in order I will confine my remarks to collaboration.

The two examples that I gave of collaboration are not the only ones, but they give the Committee a flavour of what is possible. Not all police authorities and areas are as proactive those two, so why is the Minister introducing the clause and why are Her Majesty’s Opposition supporting it? Sir Ronnie Flanagan discussed the need for new powers last year in his admirable review of policing. In recommendation 11, he said:

“The Home Office should include in its forthcoming Green Paper consultation”— that refers to the consultation last summer—

“on the establishment of a service-wide consistency of the implementation of standard systems and processes. The Green Paper should also specifically consult on the issue of whether the Home Office should mandate regional collaboration on issues such as procuring IT systems, air support, fleet, uniform etc.”

The necessary levers and incentives to drive forward collaboration are important and the Government rightly said that they wanted a clearer legal framework that would underpin joint working and collaboration in future. In response to Sir Ronnie’s proposal, they sensibly said that they would bring forward legislation to deliver a new improved framework. In the Green Paper, the Government said:

“We will also continue to seek opportunities to reward and recognise collaboration.”

I particularly want to ask the Minister about that, so my first question in this clause stand part debate is will he give us a sense of what the rewards are? In my common-sense reading, that does not refer simply to the new legislative framework in the clause, but implies that they will reward and recognise collaboration. Is it a financial incentive? What kind of recognition are we talking about? It is important, because the police service says, “This collaboration is all very well, Mr. Ruffley, and we know that you support the Government in driving forward collaboration, but there are lots of problems with it”. I am sure that that point has been put to the Minister by members of the police service.

I shall not detain the Committee with a debate about precept equalisation, which reared its ugly head in the strategic merger debate. Among the many reasons for the forced strategic mergers failing is that, in many cases, police authorities with different precept levels could not agree about how precept equalisation should work if a constabulary was abolished and merged into a  bigger strategic force. I am not making a party political point—it is a technical issue that does not permit an easy or simple solution. In that context, police authority members and members of the police service ask whether it is worth their while to join collaboration agreements when the business case might not be good.

Responses to the Green Paper from outside bodies were interesting. ACPO said that collaboration agreements should be determined by chief constables and police authorities with minimum input from Home Office Ministers. It suggested that mandated collaboration from the Home Secretary, which is permitted by the clause, should come about only after the trigger of serious inadequacies in level 2 provision are highlighted by an inspection by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary.

When the Minister and the Home Secretary consider whether to exercise the power of mandation, must they have regard to an inspection report from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary or could they take the decision to mandate without that evidence? What evidence will Home Office Ministers turn to, if any, when deciding whether to mandate a collaboration agreement and set of arrangements in any part of the country? To ram this point home, we must tease out the basis on which mandation might occur. What are the parameters within which Ministers will exercise their powers under the clause?

The ACPO response to the Green Paper, published in 2008, states:

“Chief Constables and Police Authorities should be the determinant figures in the first instance for collaboration opportunities. The assessment of potential for further regional collaboration should rightly remain as part of the remit of HMIC, who have a clear role to challenge inadequate or disproportionate approaches based upon local challenges and circumstances. This view will need to be taken across regions not just police forces. It must be risk based and not formulaic.”

The Minister must answer that point from ACPO. I, too, say that it must not be formulaic. The response continues:

“For these reasons ACPO feels the use of powers available to the Home Secretary should be the exception and only implemented where HMIC identify clear gaps that are not being addressed.”

It is not just ACPO that wants the terms of the power in the clause to be teased out. The APA would prefer what could be described colloquially as a carrot approach:

“If partners are reluctant to collaborate this will usually be for good reason and may not be identifiable through a quantitative analysis, for example where organisational cultures were deemed to be incompatible. The preferred approach should remain to encourage voluntary collaboration through putting in place a package of levers and incentives”.

I do not agree with the position that voluntary collaboration should be tried again. It has been in force since the collapse of the strategic merger project. We need the power to mandate because, in the view of Ministers and shadow Ministers, voluntary collaboration has not been proceeded with rapidly enough.

I conclude my remarks—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Stourbridge wants to contribute to the debate or intervene, I am happy for her to do so rather than have her muttering from a sedentary position.

When I asked about collaboration in the evidence session last week, Sir Norman Bettison pointed out that the first problem is that the current 43 forces have differential and variable costs, so collaborating on an issue is rarely a fair and equitable discussion. He said that the second problem is the variability in the vision of priorities. In other words, forces have different operation and policing priorities. The third problem that arises in relation to arrangements is what he refers to as the “net donor syndrome.” In that context, he said:

“Every individual force and authority imagines that they will contribute to a collaboration and that they will be a net donor. If I were chief or chair of a big force, I might consider that my current assets would be diluted. If I were chief or chair of a smaller force, I might consider that my contribution would be sucked into the bigger metropolitan forces.”——[Official Report, Policing and Crime Public Bill Committee, 27 January; c. 8, Q8.]

We have an important new power in the clause. Some concerns have been expressed by ACPO and the APA. They are not ones that I share, but they raise an important question: what financial levers or inducements might be available to accompany and supplement a mandation from the Home Office? Moreover, in exercising such a mandation, what do Ministers think that they will be considering, and will it be an adverse report across a sub-region by HMIC that informs their decision to mandate? It is on that note of questioning and probing that I conclude my remarks.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield 9:45 am, 5th February 2009

Before I call the next speaker, may I say that the Chairman of the Committee is a servant of the Committee? He or she has the responsibility to ensure that all matters are debated. I say to the Opposition spokesman that I have been advised—unofficially of course—that we hope to get to the end of part 1 this morning. We have had a speech that has lasted 48 minutes. We have about 35 minutes before we must adjourn. The Committee must appreciate that all hon. Members should have an opportunity to participate. If we continue at this rate, we will not make much progress with the Bill. That is a comment to all hon. Members and I hope that it is heeded.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Liberal Democrat, Chesterfield

I will be brief, Sir Nicholas. Everyone involved agrees that collaboration makes sense in a lot of circumstances, whether it is back-room procurement, payroll or the purchase of uniform. I am referring to all the things in which economies of scale can save money, whether it is on the joint provision of an expensive service such as the force helicopter in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, or on serious crime issues and terrorism. Everyone sees the sense of collaboration. Without going over Tuesday’s debate on this issue, I will say that I am still astonished that the Government feel that they need to give themselves the power to interfere quite so much in the process of collaboration—either to force it to happen or to limit it. The issue that we discussed on Tuesday was that, if more than six police authorities want to collaborate on a matter, the Secretary of State must give permission for them to do so. If seven, eight or nine police authorities and chief constables decide that they want to work together on something, why, when all those hurdles have been passed, do the Government feel that they must have the last say? That seems strange and I would appreciate some elaboration from the Minister. Do the Government fear that if 10, 15 or 20 forces collaborated,  there would be a danger of a national police force? That would seem strange, given the Government’s efforts to force mergers and create larger police forces over the last couple of years.

I do not think that this phrase has passed my lips before, but it is worth listening to the wise words of the previous police Minister in the debate on the police grant last year. He said of the Government:

“We made quite a serious mistake throughout the debate on mergers—which we were halfway through when I took over this role—when we assumed that we were at ground zero and that there had not been any real degree of collaboration or significant cross-force work in the past. There had been, and that should have been recognised.”—[Official Report, 4 February 2008; Vol. 471, c. 677.]

As we have heard today and on Tuesday, there are good examples of collaboration. The Minister says that the east midlands forces in his area of Nottinghamshire and mine of Derbyshire are shining examples. Will he give specific examples of areas that are so far behind the curve that the Government think they need the power to force collaboration? Will he also give examples of the grounds on which they would want to stop collaboration?

Magistrates have raised the concern that if there is more police collaboration on certain issues across force borders, there may be more instances like the Redknapp case in which the City of London police issued a warrant to search properties in another force area. Will that happen more often if there are more collaboration agreements? Is that desirable? Should it be the magistrate or district judge in the force area where the search will take place who issues the warrant as a matter of course, or could it be done by the magistrate or district judge in the area of a collaborating force that wants to search out of force area?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Crime & Security)

Good morning, Sir Nicholas, and everyone on the Committee. I will make a couple of general remarks before speaking on the clause. I will bear your comments in mind, Sir Nicholas.

The merger debate is relevant to the clause because although mergers have gone off the agenda, the problem that they were trying to solve has not. That is the important point in this debate, and some good points have already been made. Whatever the rights and wrongs of mergers, a problem was identified by HMIC, and the Government came up with a solution that could not command the support that it needed to go through. Since then, police forces, Government Members and Opposition politicians have been wrestling with the question of what is the right solution.

I do not wish to be party political but, contrary to the comments that this is a damp squib of a Bill, the quality of our Committee debates has demonstrated that, far from not saying much about police reform, the Bill will make quite significant reforms that build on those currently taking place. Those of us who understand police reform can see that. We had excellent debates on police accountability and the senior appointments panel, and we are having another on police collaboration.

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds is right that collaboration is fundamental to the future of policing in this country. We simply have to get this right. The problem with the mergers debate was that, rather than trying to deal with the problem, the issue became taking police away from communities. The collaboration proposals  demand that we get away from the idea that there is a choice between local, regional and national. People on the street know that what happens in local areas is influenced by how police forces in a region deal with regional crime, and by how national crime is dealt with. Drugs appear on a street in my community, or in any Member’s community, because of regional organisation or national gangs. Tackling that through effective law enforcement at all levels is one way to improve community safety. Perhaps it is not a false choice, but it is a choice that cannot be made. Policing at every level is crucial—from the neighbourhood to the local to the regional to the national level.

We were left saying, “The merger debate went away, so what do we try to put in its place?” Through the measures that have been taken, we have tried to encourage and push for collaboration. It is perfectly reasonable to say that significant improvements and changes have been made across the country regarding collaboration. We can all pay tribute to the different steps that have been taken. The debate has moved on and is now much more mature because it is not about, with respect, defending or protecting individual police forces in Cheshire, Nottinghamshire, Suffolk or Devon and Cornwall. It is about ensuring that those forces work together to be as effective as possible in delivering crime and harm reduction in their own communities. So, we have good examples of current collaboration—the hon. Gentleman gave a couple.

It may help the Committee if I state a fact about finance, to show some of the progress that has been made. These figures are only indicative, but initial scoping work by HMIC on subsidiarity has found that police spend on collaboration has more than doubled since 2005-06, from just over an estimated 4 per cent. of overall police spend to some 10 per cent. in 2008-09. Some of that has obviously come from Home Office funding, but much has come from individual police forces. So steps are already being taken by police forces to improve collaboration and to tackle some of the problems that they see.

You might be interested to know, Sir Nicholas, that in Cheshire an improved response to serious and organised crime is being delivered through a joint serious and organised crime unit with Lancashire and Merseyside. That is being enhanced in 2009-10 with £1 million of matched funding for the whole of the north-west region, to deliver a regional capability for tacking serious and organised crime. The West Mercia force—the hon. Member for Bromsgrove is a member of the Committee but she is not here—is working with the other forces in the region to develop an infrastructure to maximise intelligence opportunities for tackling serious and organised crime.

Every region has a regional intelligence unit. In Wales they have the Tarian project, which is making a significant difference, and in my region we have the east midlands organised crime unit, which I have had the pleasure of visiting. Things still need to be done, but that is an excellent example of what can be done. As an aside, the co-location of the counter-terrorism intelligence units is interesting. When I visited the east midlands organised crime unit, I opened the counter-terrorism intelligence unit there. The problem is that, while we can point to good examples around the country—for instance, where serious crime and firearms are being dealt with well—we  have to find a better way to ensure greater consistency of approach and a greater sense in every area of the country that such crime is being tackled.

I see the clause injecting some pace and momentum into the process. That is what is needed, frankly. We all agree—there is no one in Committee who says that we are opposed to greater collaboration or that it is not a good thing to do. Go to individual police forces, and they say the same thing. Go to individual police authorities, and they say the same thing. Everyone agrees that it is something that we should do and that it will make a difference. However, we have to give greater clarity in the legislative framework—that is what the clause provides in the legislation—but also to inject some momentum as we go forward. I will answer a couple of the specific points and leave mandation until later.

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds talked about the issue of rewards and incentives. I do not mean this as a “money does not matter” remark, but we should not underestimate the impact of the clause. That we have now clearly, legislatively, set down a framework in which we expect police force and police authority collaboration will make a significant difference to the terms of the debate. That is one of the things that will help. That is what police authorities and forces have said to us—they lack that certainty of a legislative framework allowing them to collaborate. The legislation will make a significant difference.

As well as that, the efficiency savings that can be generated will themselves be something. The savings will not be clawed back, but can be reinvested into the police force and used in that area. We have provided initial funding for sites, encouraging them to start on particular projects, and we can—it is probable that we shall—look at that, to see whether we can help with start-up costs or have some pump-priming money to begin the process. That may be one of the ways that we try to do that. One of the problems with pump-priming money, however, is that it is not money for ever. The money is to start things. One of the problems with pump-priming money sometimes is that people see it as money that should become part of their core budget. However, sometimes there is a way of saying that we can and should provide it. Using that money is an important possibility.

Bearing in mind the strictures, let us look carefully and quickly—I want to come to mandation as a particular thing at the end—at the ability of police forces to collaborate, so that they can come to an agreement on the joint discharge of functions by members of police forces, or on members of a police force being provided to another force. To overcome some of the problems of direction and control, the collaboration has to be laid down in an agreement. As hon. Members know, only mutual aid, which works particularly well, is currently sorted in that way. However, there are other ways to tackle things.

We clearly delineate—this is important—between a police force agreement, which deals with the operational functions of police forces, and police authorities. We try to ensure the delineation between police forces and authorities, which was the purpose of that amendment  in our deliberations on Tuesday. That is an important distinction, which we need to bear in mind. If we look at police force collaboration agreements and what becomes possible, that clarifies it. With respect to police authorities, the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds clearly laid out what can be done and the functions that could be taken forward, such as premises, equipment, staff services and facilities.

It must be right that we improve the procurement of certain equipment and services, whether it be uniforms or police cars. I do not want to take away from the discretionary powers, but police forces believe that they should be able to do better in the purchasing of some equipment and save money. We all know that, if we bulk buy, we save a significant amount. We hope that the clause will put a sense of urgency and momentum into what people regard as common sense.

The clause lays out clearly how to reach agreement about pay and the accountability arrangements. We have said little about that, but such matters are an interesting follow-on from Tuesday’s debate on accountability. In respect of greater collaboration arrangements, the challenge is what accountability arrangements are put in place for the joint workings when people are moving across borders. We argue that the public should have a greater say in neighbourhood policing, what happens in the local area and the regional delivery of some services and police functions. How does a member of the public decide whether the local police force is dealing effectively with tackling gun or drug crime?

I have tried to get to the nub of the problem, and the hon. Gentleman made an important point about mandation. I accept that the hon. Member for Chesterfield will not agree, but mandation is a last resort. The whole purpose of the clause is not to force police authorities down a particular route. We are not saying that we have a preconceived idea about how they should collaborate but that, in certain circumstances, it is surely in the interests of the delivery of those services for there to be greater collaboration.

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds asked about evidence. That is the crux of the matter because, at the moment, police authorities and chief constables clearly need to be consulted. If the hon. Member for Chesterfield were Home Secretary and was in a region where four chief constables agreed on a matter and one did not, or three chief constables agreed on something and two did not, would he allow that to continue or say, as the Home Secretary, that he has responsibility to take some action? That judgment has to be made. Mandation allows in certain circumstances—as a last resort—that it is in the interests of the public in that area and the delivery of the functions of the police or the police authority for a collaboration agreement to be made.

The hon. Gentleman’s specific point was about the role of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary. I have asked Denis O’Connor to advise us on the issue and to examine where decisions are best made and what collaboration there could be, and to give us advice on what we should be looking for. When we receive that advice, we will have to see how it matches and incorporates itself into the mandation powers in the Bill.

Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 10:00 am, 5th February 2009

In what time scale will Sir Denis give that advice? Are we talking about weeks or months?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Crime & Security)

My understanding is that we will receive that advice next month—March. When I have looked at the report, I shall talk to Sir Denis O’Connor about what is or is not appropriate. I do not know what the report will say, but I am sure that the deliberations will be helpful to the Committee. The hon. Gentleman was going down the same route as me—if we are going to mandate, we cannot do it on a whim, we need evidence and having that evidence will be helpful.

What would the hon. Member for Chesterfield do if Her Majesty’s inspectorate said that in the interests of effective police delivery in an area there should be greater collaboration? We all know the local reasons that sometimes occur, and they are not always positive. We would have no power under the hon. Gentleman’s proposals to do anything when the inspectorate said that collaboration was needed to deliver police functions effectively and efficiently. I do not believe that that position is tenable. The powers are not to be used as a first resort, but should certainly be available as a last resort.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Liberal Democrat, Chesterfield

I would still appreciate some elaboration on the conflict. The Minister has said that there will be situations in which the local people do not agree and the police authority says that it does not want to collaborate, but they will be forced to because the Secretary of State knows better. Equally, if seven police authorities do want to collaborate, the Government have given themselves the power to say no. Why do the Government not trust local police authorities, which they want to be more powerful, more accountable and to have greater responsibility for funding? It is yes on the one hand and no on the other.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Crime & Security)

All the way through this we have been talking about voluntary collaborations and agreements. It is for local people, local police authorities and local police forces to decide on the best way forward, so, far from showing a lack of trust, it shows a great deal of trust. All we are saying is that we should have a reserve power, if, despite all the advice received, the local area refuses to go down that route. It is a reserve power and would be used as a last resort.

I have highlighted the major points. The measures will inject real pace and momentum. Since I have had responsibility for policing, I have been saying that this is important. Neighbourhood policing and collaboration agreements are crucial to delivering what we call the level 2 function. It is not dry, dusty tinkering, as the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds said, it is a fundamental attempt to bring about something that we have been wrestling with since the mergers debates. As I said at the beginning, mergers were off the agenda because we could not deliver them, but the problem that they were trying to solve is still with us. The measure is a radical and bold attempt to work with police forces, communities and police authorities to deliver the collaborative agreements and the change needed to deal with what we all recognise is a real problem.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 5, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.