Police Funding (London)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:21 pm on 16th December 2003.

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Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury) 4:21 pm, 16th December 2003

I am delighted to have the opportunity to introduce a debate on this subject and, because of the staggering of the debates, to have broadened my education on British motorways. I have introduced this debate for two reasons. First, I have a long-standing interest in police matters. I chair the all-party group on police, and I hosted the meeting on 15 October at which the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities gave a preliminary airing to some of their concerns over the looming financial difficulties of some authorities, especially the Metropolitan Police Authority.

Secondly, I am raising the subject as a London Member of Parliament. My particular part of London, the borough of Richmond, is by most indicators the most law-abiding in London. Although it is not law-abiding by the standards of many other parts of the country, by London standards it is considered to be a relatively low-crime area, and I accept the relative indicators on that. None the less, there is a major fear of crime, and much of that has burst to the surface during the past year.

I hosted a public meeting about a year ago in Hampton in my constituency, where the attendance was in thousands rather than hundreds—we had to turn people away and have the meeting in shifts. Part of that public anxiety was triggered by a particularly alarming murder, that of Marsha MacDonnell, but even before that a growing worry about crime was building up. That was underlined by the fact that most people in most parts of my constituency had not seen a police officer on the streets for many years. In that sense, my area was typical of many parts of London. Particularly in the early and mid-1990s we saw a quite catastrophic decline in police numbers; in aggregate London terms they fell from 29,000 to just over 25,000 in 1997–98. In my borough, the decline was from 336 in 1990 to 267 in 1998, a loss of more than 20 per cent. of the force. Street policing simply disappeared.

The situation has stabilised since then, and in the last year we have seen an increase to about 280, a slight improvement. For the first time, people are beginning to note a visible police presence, helped by the police community support officers, a welcome development. My borough commander has recently introduced a system of allocating a beat officer to every ward. That is a big change and a welcome improvement.

I have introduced the debate because I worry that that turnaround, which, if not dramatic, improves the visibility and numbers of police, may be undermined by the overall position of the Metropolitan police and the consequences of the local government finance settlement. The calculations that the Metropolitan Police Authority has made are provisional, so the Minister may want to correct or explain them, but its assessment is that London will lose in the order of £56 million in the next financial year, compared with what it would have received had the formula applied as before.

The reasoning behind that number has several elements. First, the growth for funding for London is apparently 3.3 per cent., as opposed to an average of 4.2 per cent. None of us can understand why London's growth is less than the average. Any needs-based system would presumably reflect the fact that London has an intensification of many law and order problems such as gun crime. Any system based on costs would take into account the fact that labour and property costs in London are rising relatively rapidly. Yet for reasons that are unclear, London seems to have done less well than it would have done under the earlier needs-based formula.

The second reason for concern relates to the funding of those elements of the police budget that are described as national and capital city functions. There are a large number of tourists in the city, as well as the monarchy and the diplomatic service. A whole set of functions accrue to the Metropolitan police on account of our being the capital city. Quite properly the Government funds them separately. The growth rate here is about 2.5 per cent., which is even lower than the overall funding allocated to the Metropolitan police.

Again, the figures are difficult to explain. The rough notional sense that many borough commanders are getting is that abstractions, particularly from suburban areas into the centre, are growing rapidly. I was informally given an estimate of a 9 per cent. annual growth last year. These are police officers who, to maintain public confidence, are being removed from routine duties and transferred to the centre of London for those national capital city functions. Yet that has not been allowed for in the funding formula.