Police Funding (London)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:35 pm on 16th December 2003.

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Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) 4:35 pm, 16th December 2003

As a former Twickenham girl, I am pleased to respond to this debate, and I congratulate Dr. Cable on securing it. I also welcome Mr. Field to the debate.

Such debates are always opportunities to air local concerns about issues around crime. The hon. Member for Twickenham raised the important matter of people's concerns about crime throughout the UK—in Richmond, Twickenham, London and the rest of the country. A major incident, such as a murder, is bound to induce people's concerns and fears about its handling in their local community and about how safe they feel. Much has been done on a number of fronts to tackle crime. In more recent times, the general public have welcomed the reality of our need for police officers. However, we need other people to be engaged in fighting crime, whether they be community support officers or neighbourhood wardens. Tackling antisocial behaviour comes top in my postbag and in my surgeries—it is the issue that people raise daily. People realise that unless we tackle that problem, it can develop into far more serious crimes committed by people who are engaged in such activity. Such matters are important, and I take them seriously as an MP, a Minister and a member of the Government.

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the 2004–05 provisional police funding settlement was announced on 19 November. Details were circulated to all police authorities and forces and have been communicated to hon. Members. The closing date for representations on that settlement is 9 January. Expenditure on policing supported by Government has increased by 30 per cent. since 1999–2000. That was indicated in the hon. Gentleman's comments on how police numbers had plummeted for a time, but were now stabilising, with the trend moving upwards. That is welcome. Next year that expenditure will be increased by a further 4 per cent., which covers police formula spending, specific grants and Home Office direct expenditure. Under the provisional settlement all police authorities will receive, within that total, an increase of police authority general grant of 3.25 per cent above inflation. To set a single rate increase is an exceptional step. I shall elaborate further on that, because it is at the heart of the hon. Gentleman's questions this afternoon.

The Metropolitan Police Authority was allocated a general policing grant of £1,764 million for the current year as part of the overall grant to the Greater London authority. That is an increase of 5.2 per cent., or £87.73 million, which places it at the grant ceiling level. It remains a ceiling authority for the next year, when its grant increases to £1,822 million—an extra £58 million. The GLA also received up to £140 million in grant for specific initiatives in 2003–04. The main items included £70 million for the crime-fighting fund to support more than 2,000 officers and £62 million for counter-terrorism. That is substantially more than the sum received by any other force. Specific grant allocations for 2004–05 are still being calculated, but we have already announced that the force will receive £73 million for the crime-fighting fund. It will also receive a range of other grants.

Specific and targeted grants were introduced as a direct response to what the police service and the public told us they wanted. The general police funding formula is not sufficiently flexible to allocate some funding streams or funds that may not be relevant to all police authorities. Specific grants enable us to target funds in the areas where they are needed. London is a beneficiary in that arrangement.

The hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members spoke about the impact of transferring the specific grant, which was previously earmarked for Airwave menu services funding, to the general grant. That does not increase the total grant, but was done to offer police authorities increased flexibility and scope to use their grants. However, it has become clear to us that a large proportion of the Airwave menu grant was already committed for long-term services. In the circumstances, we have agreed with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities to consider again how to reduce any relative disadvantage to forces. We have written to both bodies suggesting a way forward that includes £30 million of additional funding. Those discussions are under way.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the mechanics of the formula and about providing for grant floors and ceilings and how it disadvantages the Metropolitan Police Authority. In the provisional funding settlement, we provide for a standard level grant increase for all authorities of 3.25 per cent. That requires authorities that would otherwise have received more to contribute towards bringing others up to the average increase.

The MPA would have received considerably more grant—about £56 million more for 2004–05—in the absence of floors and ceilings or standard increases. The GLA contributed about £10 million in 2003–04. The main cause of the difference is the grant formula review in 2002, which moved spending need assessments towards urban and metropolitan authorities, but the shift would have destabilised the finances of losing authorities. Several metropolitan authorities are net contributors to the 2004–05 standard 3.25 per cent. pot, and we are not trying to run away from that. In the absence of a large grant increase overall, it is simply impossible to give the full benefit of formula change to the winners without unacceptable damage to the losers. For example, without a floor, several authorities would lose 5 to 6 per cent. of this year's grant in 2004–05. The situation is difficult because London representatives feel that they have a case to make and lobby for. However, so do many other colleagues around the country who know that to go below the floor would have been unacceptable.

We will continue to keep the grant formulas up to date, so that if and when floors can be lifted, the MPA will be in a fair position to take an increased share of grant. For example, the provision in the formula for national and capital city functions, which the hon. Gentleman raised, was increased from £202 million to £207 million in 2004–05. The gain is locked into the formula and will be realised in terms of grant increase when grant can be eased.

The Metropolitan Police Service increased its budget to £2.208 billion this year: an increase of £170 million or 8.3 per cent. in line with the 8.5 per cent. average increase across police authorities generally. The precept was increased by £28.5 million or 21.9 per cent. I acknowledge the pressures, and hon. Members have referred to the inescapable pressures on precepts and to the possibility of having to tackle issues relating to police authority budget capping. I have no doubt that authorities will need to look at that matter responsibly when considering precepts for next year. They will make well-justified cases for any increases; it is important that they are accountable to local people so that they can explain why increases are necessary. They should want to consolidate the recent gains in police numbers that command universal public support.

In a number of areas, London benefits more than other parts of the country because there is recognition of need. In one of my areas of responsibility—drugs—the Met has been allocated £1.9 million for adult arrest referral, which is committed funding for the next three years until 2005–06. The Home Office is funding the Met to conduct drug testing on charging in selected basic command units—there are 12 at the moment, and another five will be added after April next year. That, along with other specific grants, should be recognised as part and parcel of the fight against crime and the effort to support communities. It also recognises the particular needs of London.

On police numbers, I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate the MPS on reaching record police strength. There were 28,845 police officers on 31 August 2003, some 861 more than in March 2003, and 2,168 more than in March 1997. That is an important part of ensuring police numbers in London, and I am pleased, too, that police support staff numbers increased by 905 in the year to March 2003. Many of the extra staff will be used to free-up police officers from paperwork.

I was pleased to visit Southwark police recently; they provide support to victims of crime who can ring in and discuss their case with civilian personnel. Victims do not therefore have to wait for the police officer involved to come on shift or to come back from leave or from being off sick; a civilian member of staff will act as case manager and give the victims vital support and up-to-date information on their case. There are plenty of good examples of the family of policing growing daily. It should not be forgotten that the Government pay considerable money to support recruitment and retention: 75 per cent. of the cost of the London allowance and £2.4 million towards free travel for Metropolitan police officers. They also try to tackle the problems of housing and additional costs involved in retaining and recruiting police officers in London.

The MPS received capital grant and credit approvals of £41 million in 2003–04, which may be used for capital investment at the authority's discretion. I cannot say more now, but we hope to announce capital allocations for 2004–05 in a few weeks. We are funding the bulk of the capital cost of the MPA command, control and communications information system. The costs up to 2005–06 are estimated at about £160 million, of which the Home Secretary has agreed to meet up to £140 million. That will provide a centralised "one-stop" call handling despatch operation, improve performance in responding to 999 calls and provide more efficient command control, which is to be welcomed. It will reduce call handling centres from 32 to three and the use of civilians in that process will release about 800 police officers for other duties.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the state visit of President Bush. I congratulate the MPS on its handling of the security for that visit; I understand that about 5,000 officers were involved and the extra cost was about £4 million. Unlike other forces, the MPA receives an annual grant of just over £200 million for its specific national and city functions, and I have indicated that that will rise next year. It includes extra work for state visits. The £4 million for supporting that event represents 0.2 per cent. of the force's annual budget.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned further security; there is an element for security in the formula. In addition, in 2003–04 we provided £62 million for the MPS, £6 million for community support officers and £9 million for CSOs to be more widely used. I will get further information on the terrorist situation if the hon. Gentleman wants it, as I do not have it to hand. We are considering the issue of the role of the MPS and other agencies in tackling terrorism on the streets of the capital city.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman feels that we recognise the strength of the MPS and what it does in the city of London. However, there must be a balance; we must ensure that we take into account all forces in the United Kingdom and provide accordingly for special grants and the recognition of special needs. In a number of areas, London is receiving considerable funds for that purpose.

Finally, on asset recovery, I am pleased to say that a multi-agency asset recovery team incorporating a money-laundering team will be established in London, paid for from the proceeds of crime, to the tune of £5 million. A very good job has been done in London with Customs and Excise in respect of Operation Payback, which has been a great success. I am considering incentivisation for police forces, not just in London but elsewhere, to ensure that they look at criminals' assets, to ensure that where we can do so we get those back and use them for good rather than for bad purposes.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at eleven minutes to Five o'clock.