[John Bercow in the Chair] — Police Funding (East Midlands)

– in Westminster Hall at 12:00 am on 28th February 2007.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Claire Ward.]

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 9:30 am, 28th February 2007

I begin by thanking Mr. Speaker for selecting this subject for debate this morning.

The issue of police funding affects every constituency in the east midlands. As I understand it, it does not divide the Labour, Conservative or even the Liberal Democrat parties this morning. The issue seems to be of regional importance. This morning, the Chamber is full of hon. Members from across the region, in particular from my own county of Leicestershire; I see my hon. Friends the Members for Bosworth (David Tredinnick) and for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan).

My right hon. Friend Mr. Dorrell and my hon. Friend Mr. Robathan would have wished to be here. Unfortunately, other duties have kept them away. I see my friend, David Taylor, in his place as well. Many Members are here. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend Nick Herbert, of the Front Bench, for his presence and to the Minister, both of whom will respond in due course.

Alongside continual improvement, the critical issue for us across the east midlands is funding. The financial situation facing the east midlands remains stark. All five east midlands police authorities face a significant budget shortfall for the financial year 2007-08. I see Mr. Todd; Derbyshire is £3.2 million short. Leicestershire is £3.4 million short. Lincolnshire, for which my hon. Friend Mark Simmonds speaks, is £4.3 million short. My hon. Friend Mr. Hollobone is here; Northamptonshire is £4.9 million short. John Mann is also here; his county of Nottinghamshire is £4.5 million short. Paddy Tipping is also present, as is the hon. Member for Broxbourne—[Hon. Members: "Broxtowe!"] I meant Dr. Palmer. The Mounties will get their man, do not worry.

Those figures make a total of £20.3 million. The east midlands also contains some of the most underfunded police forces in the country; all receive less funding per capita than the national average. As a whole, the region is on average in the bottom third of police authorities for expenditure per head of population, a situation that has existed for at least a decade and has been a problem under successive Governments. Medium-term financial projections put the shortfall in the region of £129 million.

I should acknowledge my right hon. Friend Mr. McLoughlin, as well as the hon. Member for South Derbyshire. My right hon. Friend has also taken a keen interest in what we are discussing.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman, my county colleague, for giving way. A week or two ago, I was present at the making of the police precept for Leicestershire at the police headquarters at St. John's. It is clear that this year the gap has been bridged from reserves and resources, but they will have gone by April 2008. The key issue is that we must have an improved formula and settlement 12 months hence. Otherwise, the east midlands forces will have significant difficulties. Is that not true?

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

It is. As the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, my hon. Friend Mr. Osborne, has said, Home Office spending needs to go back into the comprehensive spending review. Until that is done, many of the problems that hon. Members have mentioned, or will mention, will continue.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend on securing this debate. He is right to point out that funding is the crucial issue. He alluded to the figures involved. In simple terms, an average £174 is spent per person in England on police forces; in the east midlands, the figure is £143, 18 per cent. below the national average. Spending in the east midlands ranges from £126 to £158 per person. Until the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety deals with that essential point, we shall simply make no progress on policing in our region.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

My hon. Friend's figures speak for themselves, and I hope that in due course the Minister will have some sort of answer to his points.

In 2005, the east midlands police authorities commissioned an independent study, which was carried out by Rita Hale, an expert in local government policy and finance. The study shows that, between 1995-96 and 2005-06, their combined income rose more slowly than inflation—by 23.8 per cent., compared with 28.3 per cent. When assessing gross police spending in 2005-06, the study found that the average for England was, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering said, £174 per person. When spending in the region is expressed as a percentage of the average, it is clear that all five police authorities suffer in comparison with the rest of the country. Derbyshire's spending was 78 per cent. of the average. Leicestershire's was 84 per cent., Lincolnshire's was 72 per cent., Northamptonshire's was 79 per cent. and Nottinghamshire's was 90 per cent.—on average, they were 82 per cent. of the national average.

Photo of Mark Simmonds Mark Simmonds Shadow Minister (International Development)

My hon. and learned Friend should be congratulated, first, on securing this important debate and, secondly, on articulating the important issues in such an informed way. The statistics that he has just highlighted pinpoint the fact that Lincolnshire, even of the five police authorities in the east midlands, has the lowest per capita spend, at £126 per head, and the lowest spend as a percentage of the English average, at 72 per cent. That is causing particular tensions, given the increasing population, which has grown by 10.6 per cent. in the past decade. Per head of population in England and Wales, the difference between Lincolnshire and the next lowest spending force equates to £11 million. A disparity of that magnitude causes immense problems for the chief constable and police authority in delivering efficient policing in Lincolnshire. I hope that when the Minister comes—

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

Order. I should say to the hon. Gentleman that interventions must be brief. Will he bring his remarks to a close?

Photo of Mark Simmonds Mark Simmonds Shadow Minister (International Development)

I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Bercow.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

My hon. Friend is entirely right to point out those stark figures. I believe that his county has the fourth fastest population growth of the 39 English police force areas. It also happens to have received the second or third lowest grant, per head of population, in the country.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

One moment. Lincolnshire is a large rural area. It suffers from all the problems of sparsity of rural areas in Leicestershire, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth and I represent, and in Derbyshire, which my right hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire represents. However, that is not to say that we are happy to ignore the difficulties of inner-city Leicester, Nottingham or Derby. We understand that across the country, places such as Birmingham, Liverpool and London will have equal claim to central Government resources. However, we are after fairness. We do not wish to be better funded than anywhere else, but we do not see why we should be less well funded than anywhere else.

Photo of Nick Palmer Nick Palmer PPS (Malcolm Wicks, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman, who is being extremely generous in allowing interventions. I apologise for not being able to attend the entire debate.

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the Home Office assessment shows that our region needs higher spending, and that the presence of floors has so far made it difficult to adjust to that? There is no point in having assessments if one does not make progress towards them.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman asks a complicated question in a complicated way. The Minister will be able to deal with it later without even a flicker of confusion. In so far as I understood the hon. Gentleman's point, I probably agree with it.

I refer briefly to some other points made by the Hale report. It also found that police authorities whose populations were growing rapidly tend to receive lower per capita increases and central Government support than those with similar characteristics whose populations were growing more slowly. That is important for us in the east midlands because the region's population grew much faster than that of England as a whole between mid-1993 to mid-2003—by 4.1 per cent. compared with the national average of 2.7 per cent.

That is palpable in my own area of Harborough. When I first became a Member of Parliament in 1992, the town of Market Harborough had a population of approximately 12,000 or 13,000. Now, it must be in the region of 20,000. I promised to give way to my hon. Friend.

Photo of David Tredinnick David Tredinnick Conservative, Bosworth

I am building on my hon. and learned Friend's head of steam. Is it not a fact that the botched proposals to amalgamate police forces in the midlands vastly irritated the problem and made it much worse? Many of the current funding issues could be resolved if all that money had not gone down the drain. In my own area, we could have had extra police officers on the streets of Market Bosworth right now. What does he say about that?

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

My hon. Friend's points about the amalgamation of our five police forces into one east midlands police force are well made. Unfortunately, it took the Government a little while to wake up to the reality of the situation.

Our region stretches from the outskirts of Manchester at the top end of Derbyshire; in the south, to the outskirts of Milton Keynes, at the bottom end of Northamptonshire; and from the Leicestershire-Warwickshire border in the west to the North sea in the east. The Government are obsessed with regionalism and central control, but if they want to carry out policies that are fuelled by such obsessions, they must learn what is happening on the ground in our communities. Having learned the lesson—I hope—of the failed experiment of the amalgamated police forces and, in the meantime, having wasted a great deal of management time, police officer time and, more to the point, public money, perhaps they will accept that the wasted money should not be an excuse for not funding properly our police forces across the region. As I said, we are after fair funding, not more funding than other people. We simply want to be treated on an equal basis.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Opposition Chief Whip (Commons)

Would my hon. and learned Friend further point out the differences between various counties? For example, Nottinghamshire gets £132 million in grant, which is equivalent to £127 per head on last year's figures, as opposed to Derbyshire, which gets £105 million, or £106 per head. That means that the people of Derbyshire are paying more in their council tax for their police service. Derbyshire's police service charge at band D last year was £135, as opposed to Nottinghamshire's at £132.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

My right hon. Friend is entirely correct to point to those figures. As Conservatives, he and I of course wish to keep a tight rein on public expenditure—that is not in dispute.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I shall just finish this point and then come back to the hon. Gentleman.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree about the figures, whatever the actual numbers in pounds, shillings and pence. Can he explain—I do not think that he can—why it is fair for his constituents in Derbyshire to receive police funding at 78 per cent. of the average national spend? Can the hon. Member for Bassetlaw explain why it is fair that Nottinghamshire receives only 90 per cent.? Can the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire explain why Leicestershire should receive only 84 per cent.? Can the Minister explain any of those figures? I hope that he can.

Photo of John Mann John Mann PPS (Rt Hon Richard Caborn, Minister of State), Department for Culture, Media & Sport

By asking me a question, the hon. and learned Gentleman invites me to intervene, but I shall keep my comments to what they were going to be and attempt to catch your eye at a later stage, Mr. Bercow. In the light of the hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks about keeping tax and expenditure within reason, it would be helpful if he were to outline the exact increases in expenditure on the police service in the east midlands, and, in terms of value for money, what the trends have been for burglary rates, for example, during the past 10 years.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I am sure that that would be helpful, but I shall not detain myself by going into such detail. I know that the hon. Gentleman will be here until 11 o'clock in order to furnish us with that information. I want to move on to deal with some of the more practical consequences of the funding problems in our region.

There has been much discussion in recent years about police community support officers. The Government promised in their various manifestos and effusions that 24,000 PCSOs would be recruited by the end of next year. As a result of the funding arrangements in our region, the promise simply will not be kept. The Government do not seem to be too keen that we should know about the promise, and they certainly do not want us to know that they will not keep it.

My county of Leicestershire currently has 155 PCSOs. The recruitment target of 350 for the county, as set out in the Government's manifesto, has been reduced to 229, so we will have a net loss—delivery as compared with promise—of 121. The net loss for other counties is 128 for Derbyshire, 84 for Lincolnshire, 75 for Northamptonshire and 149 for Nottinghamshire. The Minister needs to respond to those figures.

I understand from speaking to members of my police authority that not only Leicestershire but other police authorities in the region have fully taken on board the concept of PCSOs. Local communities have seen the benefit of those officers' work in support of the police. I note in particular South Wigston in my constituency, where PCSOs assist the police in treading the streets, preventing antisocial behaviour and ensuring that unruly gangs of youngsters do not get into trouble.

However, the funding basis is not sustainable. It is predicated on efficiency savings, which are already inadequate to balance the books, and partnership funding, which is restricted by budget deficits in local government. Current funding levels provide for 16,000 PCSOs across the region at 75 per cent. of their pay. That runs the risk of undermining the initiative and will lead to a debilitation of local policing as support is not provided at the anticipated levels.

What about medium-term financial projections? The five forces within the region have tried to wind the clock forward, to make some projections for budgets up to and including the financial year 2010-11. The projections were developed on the basis of a consistent set of resource assumptions: central grant support increase at 2 per cent., which many of us may think is somewhat optimistic; annual precept increase capped at 5 per cent.; general price inflation at 2 per cent.; pay inflation at 3 per cent.; and continuation of the PCSO grant at 75 per cent.

Even on those assumptions, we will be left with a funding gap that will be the equivalent of 800 officers across the region. If the Minister is prepared to stand up and say that by 2011 our region will be 800 police officers short, he is a braver man than I am. The consequence of that Government policy will hit hard in our region, and we ask the Government to take that on board.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

The two main drivers for the plans for regionalisation of the police, which were aborted, were savings by the central authority on back-office functions, and the funding gap for protective services. However, has not the east midlands shown itself to be a beacon region? The east midlands special operations unit has achieved a great deal in recent months, but its central Government funding runs out on 31 August 2008. We can demonstrate to the country how co-operation and collaboration between forces can best be carried out, but that vital initiative needs funding security in the medium term. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree with that?

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I think I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, and the Minister will have heard it as well. I hope that he will take it on board. Partly because I have been extremely generous in allowing others to intervene on me, I have taken up your time and patience, Mr. Bercow. I shall draw my remarks to an end.

Our region faces a stark choice, as does every region, when it comes to the expenditure of public money. If the Government wish to maintain their borrowed reputation for being effective on matters of law and order—if the reputation was ever deserved, it is extremely tarnished—they, too, must make stark choices. Those stark choices involve being fair to the police authorities and people of our region. We understand that there is no such thing as free taxpayers' money and that resources have to be carefully marshalled and husbanded. We understand, too, no matter which party we come from and which part of the region we represent, that fairness is something that the British people expect and understand. At the moment, we are not getting it. I hope that my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen throughout the Chamber will support me in asking the Government to be fair to the east midlands and its police authority.

Several hon. Members rose—

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

Order. It might be helpful for right hon. and hon. Members to know that I intend to call the winding-up speeches from the Front Benches at approximately 10.30 am. Several hon. Members have let me know either just now or in writing that they would like to catch my eye, so with moderate succinctness they should be able to contribute to the debate.

Photo of Mark Todd Mark Todd Labour, South Derbyshire 9:50 am, 28th February 2007

I congratulate Mr. Garnier on securing the debate. It is an important subject on which, as he has rightly said, there is a great deal of consensus. By and large, his speech invited consensus—he strayed into occasional political rapier thrusts, but not much more than that.

I want to concentrate on only one aspect of this large subject—regional partnerships and the concrete steps that can be taken to improve their longevity and effectiveness. As my hon. Friend David Taylor has mentioned, the original reasons behind the proposals for a regional force for the east midlands as a whole or for two larger sub-regional forces were the need to address the shortfall in protective services in the region and to try to ensure that resources were redeployed from the back-office functions of the police forces into the front line. That was the theory behind the idea.

As my hon. Friend the Minister knows, I was not a supporter of the proposals at the time, mainly because I felt that they did not do what they said on the tin, as I said to a number of local meetings that I attended on the subject. I would have endorsed many of the proposals, if it had been clear that they would have improved the quality of protective services for my constituents and had demonstrated means of saving substantial sums of money over a reasonable period of time. Neither of those objectives were enshrined in the proposals that we had to consider. A variety of other things were missing, too, but I shall not go into those.

Let me turn first to the issue of protective services. The O'Connor review highlighted the shortfall in protective services in the east midlands. I think that it is generally agreed—I shall refer to an august opinion that I have obtained privately that backs this up—that the shortfall in protective services is greater in the east midlands than in any other part of the country and that its remedy deserves greater priority. That is in part because the east midlands has no large city base on which protective services are likely to have been developed in the past. We do not have a location such as Greater Manchester, London or the big north-eastern cities on which we can base our expertise and where we can have a solid core of experienced officers who are used to tackling such crime. That is to our merit, to some extent. We have not been troubled by the scale of organised crime and terrorism that has been faced in some other parts of the country, and so there has not been the call to develop such services, but none of us is unrealistic enough to think that that could long continue.

We recognise that there are threats among us and from outside the region that we should counter. It is reasonably obvious from an analysis of the region that significant threats are likely to be present—a young man who was educated in my constituency was a suicide bomber in Israel. One cannot say that simply because an outrage has never been committed in the east midlands, it is not likely to happen. I am pleased that the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers responded to the obvious shortfall by putting £8 million of funding into the regional initiative. The east midlands special operations unit, which has already been referred to, is based in Ripley and was established at the end of last year. It has already done some sterling work.

The funding is secure only until 2008. One of the purposes of the debate should be to make clear that that funding is required for the long term and that to expect it to be absorbed into the mainstream budgets of the individual police forces that serve our constituencies is wholly unrealistic. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough has already set out the budgetary constraints that the forces will face in the long term to absorb the impact of the regional unit. It has been established that that is quite impossible and would mean disabling an important process. The unit does not simply address counter-terrorism requirements. As hon. Members, especially the Minister, will know, I have taken a particular interest in cash machine robbery and assaults on people delivering to shop retail units in my area and elsewhere in the region. The regional unit has spent a good deal of time tracking the organised criminals involved in such violent criminal activity.

I have mentioned the august opinions of others. I had the opportunity to speak to Sir Ronnie Flanagan at a private event a few days ago, and he strongly endorsed the need for the east midlands to have priority in securing additional protective services. He made the confident assertion that he could not see how the funding could be turned off in 2008, and I hope that he is right. He is certainly a senior and well-respected adviser to the Minister, and I hope that he has the Minister's ear on that matter.

I have had private discussions with the Minister on sharing resources, and he has complimented the region's forces on co-operating on addressing the need to assemble projects that will save money in the longer term. Most of those who have managed large organisations, as I have, know that reorganisation to achieve substantial savings normally has initial costs. In that circumstance, the Home Office ought to make a budget available to forces that produce high quality business cases for resource sharing and partnership so that they can secure initial funding to start the initiatives that they have researched. At the moment, such resources are not available. I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity offered by the debate to say that such initiatives, which are based on a solid track record of savings in all the east midlands forces over the past few years, will be supported by his Ministry.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

My hon. Friend talked about information and communications technology services by implication when he mentioned back-office functions. He will be aware of the bid that the forces are making for links and a gateway, which would cost £400,000 in the first year and less than a third of that in the following years to facilitate access to core systems, to develop new applications and to provide business continuity across all five east midlands forces. That is a worthwhile initiative. Speaking as someone who was an information and communications technology manager in the public sector over a long period, I think that it could work.

Photo of Mark Todd Mark Todd Labour, South Derbyshire

Speaking as someone who was an IT director in the private sector, I, too, endorse that. Such projects are exactly the kind of things for which we should be seeking additional resources.

I conclude by congratulating the hon. and learned Member for Harborough on his speech, and I endorse all that he said about the underfunding of forces across the region. I very much hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will respond supportively.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Chair of the Parliamentary Party, Cross-Portfolio and Non-Portfolio Responsibilities, Shadow Minister (Arts and Culture), Culture, Media & Sport 10:00 am, 28th February 2007

I congratulate Mr. Garnier on securing this important debate. It is not the first on this issue and I doubt whether it will be the last.

For a long period, there was a group of councils known as the F40 group. The councils had historically been underfunded, and the group campaigned for a long time to get the message across to Governments, both previous and present, that they needed to change the funding formula in order to recognise the problems. The east midlands counties were part of that group and took part in the campaign.

The five east midlands counties have been badly hit. They have been badly underfunded for many years, and it has had a cumulative effect that must be tackled. It affects not only the police but fire services and councils. Derbyshire, one of those five counties, has been particularly badly hit over the years. You can imagine the joy, Mr. Bercow, with which those councils and regions heard in 2006 that the Government had accepted their case and that they would rework the formula, because they recognised that some areas were being unfairly underfunded as a result of the workings of the formula.

However, for 2006-07, the financial year that will come to an end in three or four weeks, and 2007-08, the financial year that will start on 1 April, the Government are saying, "This is the money that you should have to deliver your police, fire and council services, but we are not going to give it to you." The Government tell us what we need in order to deliver the services that they say we must deliver, and they will criticise us if we do not—for instance, in respect of Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary baseline assessments—but they are not going to give it to us.

That obviously plunged many people into deep gloom. They thought that they had won the case and that they would be able to improve services, but although there was some increase in funding the brakes were slammed on. For example, the average amount that Derbyshire was not getting from the Government for the police, even though the Government said that it should have it, was about £5.5 million a year.

What are the prospects for the future? We are coming up to the three-year common spending review round for the three years after 2007-08, and we are being told that, in every field of Government spending, it will be a tight phase. Even the health service has been told that it will receive some increase above inflation, but nothing like what it has received in recent years. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport and other Departments have been planning on cuts of between 5 per cent. and 7 per cent. or on funding being below inflation. If, in 2006-08, the first two years of the new formula, the Government are saying, "This is what you should have, but you cannot have it", what hope is there that things will improve during the three years of the next spending review?

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping PPS (Rt Hon Jack Straw, Lord Privy Seal), Leader of the House of Commons

The situation is even worse than the hon. Gentleman describes. Although the comprehensive spending review results have yet to be announced, the Home Office has already come to an agreement—a no-growth budget. That highlights the fear expressed by Mr. Garnier that if things do not change we could lose 800 police officers in the east midlands.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Chair of the Parliamentary Party, Cross-Portfolio and Non-Portfolio Responsibilities, Shadow Minister (Arts and Culture), Culture, Media & Sport


In the 31 January debate in the House on the police grant, three Derbyshire MPs—one Labour, one Conservative and one Liberal Democrat, which was me—asked questions on the matter. The Minister effectively said, "Don't complain. Grin and bear it." He said that overfunded authorities would lose out if the underfunded ones were given the money that the Government say is needed to deliver the services that they insist are delivered—things that the public rightly expect, such as policing. During that debate the Minister said:

"I ask people to resist the notion that there are winners and losers".

Three minutes earlier, however, he had said:

"for every loser there are gainers."—[Hansard, 31 January 2007; Vol. 456, c. 240-41.]

He slightly contradicted himself.

The east midlands police forces, fire services and council services are losers. They have been losers for many years. They thought that the new formula would bring that to an end and were then told that it would not. There are losers for every winner, and the east midlands is a loser. Derbyshire suffers particularly badly in most of those areas—I shall deal with this in detail a little later—and the services are underfunded according to the Government's criteria.

To add insult to injury, under the HMIC baseline assessments, which the Government use to judge whether a force is good or bad, efficient or inefficient, Derbyshire is judged against forces such as West Mercia, which is at the top of our group. According to the formula, West Mercia gets £10 million more a year than the Government say is needed. Derbyshire gets about £5.5 million less than the Government say is needed. That is a gap of £15 million in police funding. Derbyshire is therefore being judged against a highly funded police authority and is told to grin and bear it and not to complain. That is remarkable.

Derbyshire is the fourth worst funded police authority in England and Wales. As we heard from the hon. and learned Member for Harborough, Derbyshire police receive 78 per cent. of the national average per head of population. Within the east midlands, all five counties are poorly funded, but if Derbyshire had the same funding as Nottinghamshire, itself an underfunded authority, Derbyshire could put 240 more police on the beat tomorrow. That is comparing two poorly funded authorities, let alone the better funded authorities elsewhere in the country.

Almost weekly, constituents come to me or write to complain about police response times. They have phoned the police, who may have arrived 30 minutes or two days later, or not at all, simply sending a letter with a crime number. I can explain to my constituents why that is. I have been out on patrol with the police a number of times. I have been out with the response cars and with the Transit van at 2 o'clock on a Friday night or Saturday morning when the clubs are turning out. I have been out with the traffic police, I have been out with a beat police officer—although chunks of Chesterfield still do not have beat police officers—and I have been in the control room where civilian controllers take 999 calls. I have seen the stacking system whereby people have to judge which calls are the most urgent, given the limited resources, and which can be stacked at the bottom of the list. Although crimes are involved, some are more serious than others, such as when someone has been injured, a robbery is in progress or a fight is taking place on the street. As to the person whose car has been stolen from outside his house, well, the police might get around to that two days later because they do not have the manpower to respond immediately.

I can explain that situation because of my personal experience, but it is a long process. One can explain it only to so many individuals. I am then asked why Derbyshire police are so understaffed and underfunded. Without adequate funding, Derbyshire police and all police forces in the east midlands—we are all in the same position—cannot turn the words about being tough on crime into reality. We need people on the ground to deliver.

Matters have been made worse because, as we heard earlier, the 280 police community support officers that were promised have been cut to 160. That cheaper version of the policeman still has a considerable effect when patrolling the streets, but we are not even getting that. [Interruption.] The Minister says that it is not a cheaper version. Of course it is. The officers are paid less, are less well trained and do not have the same powers, and if they apprehend a criminal they can hold him only for half an hour until a policeman comes to arrest him.

As I said, many of my constituents say that they often cannot get a policeman to come within two days, let alone 30 minutes. Community support officers have a good and visible effect, as we see on the streets of London. However, they are not fully trained or fully qualified police officers and do not have the same powers. Even then, their number has been cut nearly in half, as we heard in recent Government announcements.

David Taylor said that one east midlands force is using reserves to plug the gap caused by the serious funding shortfall. Derbyshire is in the same position. We heard that, by the end of next year, that force will have no more reserves to plug the gap; Derbyshire can probably manage another two or three years before it runs out of reserves.

Derbyshire's chief constable and the chair of the police authority wrote an open letter to Derbyshire MPs on 6 December, in which they said:

"As available resources become exhausted...the constabulary faces serious challenges to maintain existing services...There is a very serious prospect that within three years we will be forced to make substantial cuts in police officer numbers, or PCSOs or possibly even both".

That authority has been underfunded for 20 or 30 years. It is already the fourth worst funded, and it is looking to make substantial cuts to an already unsatisfactory force. However, despite the constraints of underfunding and understaffing, Derbyshire police authority is judged by the Government to be very effective. Imagine what it could do if it was funded at the national average level, let alone above it.

Derbyshire and east midlands forces, as hon. Members have described, are not led by authorities that complain. Derbyshire is judged to be efficient, and there are five police authorities that work together on certain levels of policing—for example, there is joint work on level two policing. Therefore, the authorities are not simply luddite dinosaurs who say that they do not want to change or work together. They are doing all the right things, but they are chronically underfunded.

I shall finish with a quote. On 22 February the police authority announced a 5 per cent. above-inflation increase in its share of the council tax to try to make up for Government underfunding—it has done so for a number of years in a row now. In the 22 February edition of the local weekly paper, the Derbyshire Times, the chair of the police authority, Janet Birkin, is quoted as saying:

"We would have expected our full grant entitlement—an extra £5.7 million from the Government—but we have been short-changed in order to protect better-off authorities".

A Home Office spokesman is quoted as saying:

"All police authorities continue to receive their fair share of available resources".

They do not. In the east midlands, five police authorities do not receive their fair share and have not done so for many years. In 2006, the Government said, "Yes, you are right; you should have more money, but we will not give you your fair share". That is an inequitable position and I do not see how the Minister can defend it.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping PPS (Rt Hon Jack Straw, Lord Privy Seal), Leader of the House of Commons 10:11 am, 28th February 2007

I congratulate Mr. Garnier on initiating this debate and on reminding the Minister of the number of east midland MPs who are here from all three political parties. We are all singing from the same hymn sheet and there are no divisions among us. We are making the same point because we have all been briefed over a long period by our own chief constables and police authority representatives.

Nottinghamshire police force set its budget last week. It was a tough time for the police authority as it had to make hard choices about priorities. The budget shortfall was £4.5 million, which the authority has met—as other hon. Members have said—in part by using reserves and in part by changing priorities. The real problem is that although police authorities in the east midlands in 2007-08 can manage the situation, in future the scale of the problem will be even greater. Unless there is a change in the budgeting mechanism, there will be real difficulties in the future. In Nottinghamshire, police numbers stand at a record level. The police are backed by new police community support officers, who are funded by the Government. I do not disparage what PCSOs do; they are part of the community and a visible presence on our streets. Indeed, in Nottinghamshire, crime is falling for the fifth consecutive year. We have achieved a lot, but the outlook is challenging.

My hon. Friend Dr. Palmer and Paul Holmes raised the issue of ceilings and floors. I do not complain about funding formulas; there has to be a funding formula. What I complain about is the funding formula not being properly implemented. The floors mean that, in the current year, Nottinghamshire loses out by £5.1 million and the five police authorities in the east midlands lose out by £20.3 million. As the hon. Member for Chesterfield said, that issue was discussed in length during the police grant settlement debate on 31 January 2007. In that debate the Minister said:

"I cannot say today how long the taper on floors and ceilings will remain in place".

He went on to say:

"I know that there are frustrations; there is some disquiet, and a debate is needed on the whole issue of police funding. The Lyons report will ensure that the subject is debated, at least in part."—[Hansard, 31 January 2007; Vol. 456, c. 240-241.]

It is clear that hon. Members from the east midlands, chief constables and police authorities want that debate. It is also clear that there needs to be a resolution of that debate. Perhaps the Minister could tell us when the Lyons report will be produced as some of us have been waiting a long time for it? The story is that it will be published before Easter, but I have heard other rumours that the report might be delayed yet again.

The essential point made by all hon. Members is that if there is a funding formula, it ought to be implemented and that people are losing out because that has not happened. It is important to us all to move towards a funding formula. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough and other hon. Members have talked about the disparity in funding per head of the population in the east midlands compared with the English average. I have had discussions with Home Office Ministers over many years about that point and I think that the Home Office recognises that the east midlands is relatively disadvantaged. The problem has been accepted by the Government, but what puzzles us is that there does not yet seem to be a solution.

My hon. Friend Mr. Todd rightly spoke about the report from Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary, "Closing the Gap". He was right to say that the Home Office and HMIC analyses show that protective services in the east midlands are the least robust in the country. That report has proved to be an incentive for change in the east midlands. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough took us on a guided tour of the east midlands, which is the size of Belgium. It is a big area and police authorities in that area know that they must make progress, and in fairness they are doing so. Police authorities are meeting regularly and the five police authorities are trying to set up a joint sub-committee to take joint decisions about the regional agenda. That is a big step forward. The five police authorities are also funding a small team to look at where regional gains can be made. There is a cost to that, which police authorities say will be £2 million over two to three years.

Such proposals look to the future and use existing resources that could be used on the front line now to try and make long-term savings. In a sense, it is a spend-to-save agenda, which the Government support. The police authorities have commissioned KPMG to introduce proposals for back-office savings to increase the regional agenda, bring the threads together and take us forward as a region. That is good work, which the Minister and his officials should reinforce.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire talked about comments made by Sir Ronnie Flanagan. I say to the Minister that there is an open invitation for him to come and see the east midlands special operations unit. Many of us have seen it and know that by working together at a regional level we can make significant progress. We accept that the unit has just started, but as my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire said, the grant aid runs out in August 2008, so it is not too early to discuss the future of it. If the Minister came to look at EMSOU, he would have the opportunity to talk to people in the east midlands about the progress made on the regional agenda. I have been impressed by the way in which the five authorities have come together.

Hon. Members have talked about a shared ICT system. Clearly, reducing back-office costs is a way to make progress. The Minister will also know that there is talk in the east midlands of a money laundering and confidentiality unit. Again, bringing the authorities together in the east midlands to try to tackle issues on a regional agenda is the way forward. He was wise to move away from the notion of regional police forces, but he is also right to encourage police forces in regions to work together, and that is exactly what is happening in the east midlands. I want him, his officials and the HMIC to get behind those initiatives. We may not in the short term be able to do a great deal about changing the funding formula, but it is possible in the short term to use the east midlands as a demonstration model of regional co-operation. All the MPs there are co-operating, as are the five police authorities and the chief constables.

The Minister wants to make progress on the regional agenda. Why does he not back some of those initiatives? I am thinking of EMSOU, the ICT initiative, the money laundering initiative and the fact that the team in the east midlands is making progress on trying to find savings on a regional agenda. That is the Minister's agenda. It is a shared agenda. I hope that he will take up the invitation to visit EMSOU and engage in a discussion with colleagues from the east midlands about the regional agenda, because it is an agenda that we need to tackle and are tackling. I hope that he will reflect on the points that have been made on both sides of this Chamber and produce proposals, however difficult that might be, for change and extra resources for the east midlands.

Photo of John Mann John Mann PPS (Rt Hon Richard Caborn, Minister of State), Department for Culture, Media & Sport 10:21 am, 28th February 2007

Given the time, I will not take any interventions, but I have to start by saying, "Woe is me." I have been hearing about the dooms and glooms of the east midlands, the desperate state of things, the cuts in PCSO numbers, people being taken off the streets and removed from such duties and the terrible underfunding—one would almost suggest, given the tone of the debate, that it is reductions that have taken place. Well, if the east midlands is Belgium, Bassetlaw is the Antwerp of the east midlands. Half the population wish that they were not in the east midlands and the other half did not realise that they were in the first place. Rather ironically, even a Member as learned as Mr. Garnier put the northern boundary of the east midlands in Derbyshire, even though a quarter of the land mass of Nottinghamshire, entirely in the Bassetlaw constituency, is to the north of Derbyshire. That is a relevant point because we are on the Yorkshire border. If people are asking for increased taxpayers' money for the east midlands, they must also suggest where that money should come from. Let me put it firmly on the record that I would not like to see any reduction in police funding in south Yorkshire, because that would have a significant spillover effect on my constituents.

When I hear some colleagues from various parties represented in this Chamber speaking, it makes me think about the health debate, because north Derbyshire and north Nottinghamshire have been underfunded in that respect for 50 years, and when the Government do something about that, we see questions such as question 1 at Prime Minister's questions today from a Liberal Democrat whinging about the situation in Oxfordshire. Where will the money come from to ensure that proper money is put into north Derbyshire and north Nottinghamshire if not from places that have been relatively overfunded in respect of the health service, such as Oxfordshire?

The same applies to the police service. Those who are saying, "More to the east midlands," as I am, need to say where the money will come from, but I am not hearing suggestions for cuts elsewhere in the country. I would be interested to hear at a future stage precisely where else the Conservative party and Liberal Democrats suggest that there should be a reduction in police numbers.

I can suggest to my hon. Friend the Minister where the money for increased funding for the east midlands should come from. He will have read my pamphlet on drugs treatment, published by the Fabian Society, and the issue is dealt with in a significant section of that pamphlet, using the Bassetlaw experience, in which the police, along with the health service, have been key partners. That has meant that crime has reduced very significantly, not only in Nottinghamshire but particularly in Bassetlaw and in Worksop. Indeed, the reduction has been greater there than elsewhere in the country. The reason is that we have a coherent drugs strategy, which saves the taxpayer vast amounts of money.

Merely by spreading that model to the rest of Nottinghamshire, we would be able to fund the sort of increases in police spending that the police and the police authorities are demanding. Taking the model to the east midlands and beyond would create such a pot of gold that it would also, on my calculations, fund the health spending in both directions—keeping the overspending and bringing the levels for the other areas up. That is a specific suggestion that the Minister should consider.

We need to analyse the police output. If we consider the time since I was elected to this place, we see a rather different picture from that painted today. That is not because I was elected; I suspect that it is because previous, Conservative spending plans have ended and new Labour plans have come in. We see an increase in Government grant of about £50 million for Nottinghamshire. I was elected in 2001, when actual police expenditure was £140 million; it has now gone up to just under £180 million. On my crude mathematics, there is a real increase above inflation of 10 per cent. There has not been a reduction in police spending; there has been an increase in police spending. There are 160 full-time equivalent new police officers in Nottinghamshire. In my drugs pamphlet, I have suggested ways in which money could be taken without increasing the tax burden, but others who are suggesting that increased spending is needed in the east midlands need to say where that money would come from. Otherwise, by definition, it will come from reductions in police spending elsewhere.

I have other interesting statistics that should be placed on the record. There has been a reduction in the total number of crimes in Nottinghamshire. The figure is down in the period since I was elected from 160,000 a year to 138,000 a year. Burglary is down from 16,400 to 10,400. Those are significant reductions in crime, but let me describe the development that I find most astonishing. When I was elected, I found that people's main complaint was, "You ring 999 for the police, but you can never get through. You can never get hold of them." Two or three years in, it became, "You never see a police officer." Now what I hear all the time is, "Police officers are not stopping offenders on the street," by which they usually mean kids cycling through on bikes and people parking on pavements and double yellow lines. That is an interesting change in the complaints that the general public raise with me.

Let me give the figures for 999 calls in Nottinghamshire, because that is perhaps the best barometer of how the public feel about crime. There were 367,000 calls in 2002, 309,000 in 2003, 292,000 in 2004, 271,000 in 2005 and 262,000 in 2006. We can argue about whether definitions of crime and whether fixed penalty notices are altering statistics. Doubtless the Minister could give a robust definition and statistics for all recorded crime, but I am talking about the public's perception or fear of crime and what they are identifying as crime, and the numbers in Nottinghamshire have come down significantly every year. That is because we have a police force that is higher performing and that is significantly better funded.

I hope that the Minister will consider the issues raised in this debate, but the public will not lose the clear message that there is more money, there is a more efficient police service and crime is coming down.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 10:29 am, 28th February 2007

I am grateful to you, Mr. Bercow, for calling me as the first Member to speak in the debate who does not represent a constituency in the east midlands. However, I did live in Nottingham for four very pleasurable years. I congratulate Mr. Garnier on securing the debate, and my hon. Friend Paul Holmes on speaking so forcefully on behalf of the people of Derbyshire. Indeed, I congratulate all hon. Members present whose interest in this subject extends to staying here for the duration of our discussions.

It is true that the funding per head for police in the east midlands is lower than the national average. In 2005-06, the average spend per head of population on the police was £174 across the country as a whole, but £143 in the east midlands, so there is a significant disparity.

I take on board the points that John Mann made. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough said that he sought fairness and parity for his constituents, but I have yet to hear a Conservative Member whose constituents receive more funding per head for police than the national average argue that they also seek parity. Given that the hon. and learned Gentleman is a party spokesman on Home Office matters, that issue could be explored further in this debate, including by the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman.

I acknowledge that the Home Office has increased overall police numbers. It is accurate and reasonable to note that spending on the police has increased in real terms across the country as a whole and that that has translated into more police officers being employed now in England and Wales than in 1997. It is also fair to say that that increase has been less marked in the east midlands than in other parts of the country. In the past five years, the number of police officers has increased by 8.7 per cent. in the east midlands—so there has been an increase—but by 18.5 per cent. in London. I can therefore see why some people in the east midlands might, despite being grateful for the increases that they have received, feel that their treatment has been relatively disadvantageous compared with other parts of the country.

Let me explore some of the reasons for the underfunding and some of the wider issues that affect the east midlands and other parts of the country. Hon. Members have talked about the malign effect of the Government's aborted programme for police force mergers. I do not have a special attachment to 43 as a magical number for police force strength across England and Wales, but my party and I were certainly unpersuaded of the merits of creating enormous regional police forces, as was envisaged, of which there would have been one for the whole of the east midlands.

The proposed south-west region that would have covered my constituency stretched all the way from Stonehenge to the Scilly Isles. That is a vast area. Indeed, Tewkesbury, which would have been in the region, is closer to Scotland than it is to Land's End. The Government were proposing gigantic, monolithic regional police forces that would have been remote from the people whom they served, more unresponsive and less accountable. Also, considerable cost was expended first on exploring those options and then on pulling the rug from under the process.

There is merit in co-operation. As was observed earlier, there is not a very big city in the east midlands, and consequently some of the protective services there are perhaps in a less developed state than those in Greater Manchester or London. There is scope for greater co-operation between the police in Nottingham and Leicester, for example, but that fact falls a long way short of making a case for a regional police force for the east midlands, which would have all the disadvantages that I have touched on.

The hon. Member for Bassetlaw rightly made the point that those who champion the cause for more police funding ought to identify potential areas of saving elsewhere in the Home Office budget. I shall introduce him straight away to an area of saving for which the Liberal Democrats have argued for a considerable time: the Government should not go ahead with the proposed identity card scheme. I understand that the current cost—this is way before ID cards have been introduced and simply involves employing people at the Home Office to consider all the pitfalls that will inevitably arise from introducing them—is £97,000 a day. That is just on investigating the possibility of introducing them. There is a lively debate about the likely cost of introducing the scheme, if and when we get to that point, but I do not think that anyone disputes that it will run into several billions of pounds.

Our contention has always been that ID cards should not be introduced in the UK. We are the only one of the three main parties that has consistently taken that view. Our belief is still that that money would be better spent on visible community policing in our neighbourhoods, so that people could see the effects through reductions in crime and antisocial behaviour. Frogmarching elderly ladies from their village to the nearest ID iris-scanning centre—

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

Order. May I say to the hon. Gentleman that he is entitled to animadvert to, but not dilate upon identity cards? I feel sure that he will now bring his remarks into order.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I take that point, Mr. Bercow, but to a village in the east midlands, having ID cards would not be as effective a use of money as putting more police visibly on the beat in counties such as Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire.

Another area that has been touched on is PCSO numbers. The Government introduced PCSOs, and I do not pretend that their numbers have not increased since then. I agree that they have a useful contribution to make. Clearly, they provide a more cost-effective method of community policing than fully fledged and trained police officers, and they provide reassuring visibility for people in the east midlands and elsewhere. As long as they are a supplement to and not a replacement for the regular police, most people welcome them.

None the less, the Government gave a cast-iron promise in the Labour party manifesto that there would be an increase of 24,000 officers—including in the east midlands—if the Labour party secured a majority in the general election. After the election, that number was revised to 16,000, and that has had an impact on all five of the east midlands counties and across the country as a whole. That is no reason to detract from the Government's achievements in introducing PCSOs, but the Minister should acknowledge that there is great cause for concern as a result of police authorities having to change their plans abruptly because of the sudden cut in the promised number of additional PCSOs.

This has been a valuable and interesting debate and a welcome opportunity for Members who represent constituencies in the east midlands to bring their concerns to the Minister's attention. I look forward to hearing his response.

Photo of Nick Herbert Nick Herbert Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 10:38 am, 28th February 2007

I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend Mr. Garnier on securing the debate and on defending so robustly the interests of his constituency and the east midlands police forces. It has been a most edifying debate, in which I am grateful to be able to intrude. I have learned a great deal about the relative latitudes of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. I have also learned about the Bassetlaw experience; that is something that I feel every time John Mann speaks. I shall return to some of his comments shortly.

The fear that my hon. and learned Friend expressed reaches across the national stage and is felt in all of the 43 police authorities in England and Wales. It is not just a reflection of current funding pressures; it is about their fears for the future, which arise because the Home Office budget will effectively be frozen in a year's time. The Association of Police Authorities and the Association of Chief Police Officers have predicted that, as a consequence of that and of the fact that their own costs will run ahead of inflation, there will be a funding gap by 2010. Their most optimistic projection of the gap is £633 million nationally, although their realistic projection is £966 million—or getting on for 10 per cent. of the entire police budget.

Warnings have been issued by representatives of police organisations and by police authorities about the consequences of that scenario. There is already a flattening off in the rate of recruitment of police officers. The latest figures showed a reduction in their number for the first time in several years. We have heard about the reduction in the promised recruitment of police community support officers—a promise that was made as recently as 2005, in the Government's manifesto. The cut will mean 557 fewer PCSOs in the east midlands.

There has also been a loss of £70 million that was promised for neighbourhood policing. The Government have still not explained exactly where that money has gone. Last week, money that had been top-sliced for amalgamations was apparently being returned to police authorities, but when one examines the figures one sees that it appears that £25 million has been held back by the Government as a result of funding pressures in the Home Office. Those problems are occurring despite the fact that local people have paid considerably more for their policing. For example, the band D precept in Derbyshire has increased by 165 per cent. since the Government came to power.

Against that background, police forces face significant contemporary challenges. As we have heard, those include the need to invest in improving protective services, which are weak in the east midlands, and to respond to the demands of the public for neighbourhood policing and for police officers on the beat. Police forces will have to respond to those challenges.

I have three points to put to the Minister about the issues arising from this situation. First, there has been a substantial increase in resources for the police, as the hon. Member for Bassetlaw said. Until now, that has allowed the recruitment of additional police officers and PCSOs. All of us welcome that additional recruitment, but I should point out that much of it has been paid for by the local taxpayer through their council tax; their share of the burden of policing has doubled under this Government.

The question is whether the increases have been sustainable. There is concern about the go-stop financing that the Chancellor is now inflicting upon the Home Office. There is also the question of whether it was wise of him to exclude the Home Office from the comprehensive spending review; it has simply been removed from that and told that the money is to be frozen. Given the background of the various challenges that I have described, not to mention the security challenge that faces this country, that matter should be reviewed.

The second issue relates to protective services. We have heard about the encouraging co-operation that is taking place in the east midlands. Such co-operation will be important not only in ensuring that protective services can be developed, given the fact that amalgamations are not going to happen, but in providing a potential source of significant savings, particularly given that the sharing of services will extend into back-room services.

I detect little national impetus on the programme for sharing protective services and sharing services generally. That was the force of the criticism made by Paddy Tipping. There has been little Government drive towards that aim since the collapse of the mergers—indeed, the Government appear to have been at sea since then. The Minister should update us on how he proposes to drive that both in the east midlands and elsewhere.

My third point is that much of what the police will be asked to do over the next three or four years, against the background of very tight financial settlements, is predicated on forces being able to achieve significant savings as a result of things such as work force modernisation. That is made explicit in the Treasury paper published in December last year, which said that police forces would have to achieve double the current levels of cashable efficiencies and that savings of up to £250 million a year could be achieved by forces through, for example, better management of overtime and through other work force modernisation programmes.

Again, I detect little national impetus towards those programmes. I would be grateful if the Minister updated us on where the Government have reached on pushing forward the pilots for work force modernisation and on ensuring that the momentum continues, so that police forces are able to make the kind of changes that will ensure that resources are available to meet the budget shortfall and that there can be an investment of police officers on the front line, which is where all of us and the public want to see them.

My fear is that there has not been a national impetus on either of the key questions that I have mentioned: developing the shared protective services agenda; and developing savings through work force modernisation that can result in efficiencies and in the investment of police officers on the streets. Indeed, we need to protect the number of police officers currently on the streets.

If I had to make a prediction, it would not be an optimistic one. My fear is that as a consequence of the relaxation of the crime fighting fund, which the Government stealthily announced—or, rather, did not announce—just before Christmas, and under which police forces can now reduce police officer numbers if they wish, the savings will not be achieved and there will start to be a reduction in police officer numbers. There will not just be the reneging of the pledge on PCSOs; there will also be a reduction in officer numbers. That process has started to happen in some forces, and my judgment is that, unless things change, it will happen over the next few years in forces up and down the country.

That is not just my own judgment; it is reflected by police professionals. Rick Naylor, president of the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales, has said:

"This is a trend we will see continue because the financial position for forces is very serious. The only way they can balance the books is lose staff."

The Minister, Labour Members and all other hon. Members might like to reflect on something. I suspect that the police are about to experience the same thing as has happened in the national health service. Despite big spending increases and the commitment that the Government have made to those public services, they have reached the position where significant cuts have to be made to balance the books. If that happens to the police, it will be very uncomfortable for the Government.

The solution lies in the Government's hands. I hope that the Minister will tell us how he will be able to drive forward the agendas of savings and sharing services that can prevent the scenario that I have outlined.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State, Home Office 10:48 am, 28th February 2007

This has been a reasonable debate, and I congratulate Mr. Garnier on securing and opening it.

I am minded to say that this is almost, like I believe Ernie Bevin once said, "Déjà vu all over again." Two days after I was appointed to my post, I had the great pleasure of attending a debate in Committee Room 14 on police mergers in the east midlands. Many of today's dramatis personae were present then, and they were making equally erudite, or, in some cases, less than erudite, comments.

We owe it to ourselves and to our police forces, almost as my hon. Friend John Mann was suggesting, to have a temperate debate. Such a debate should not be laden with doom and gloom. It should not be ahistorical or out of context. Massive strides have been made over the past 10 years by our police forces, including those in the east midlands, and that should be recognised. Do difficulties lie ahead? They may do, depending on one's view. Are there issues to be addressed on funding and finance? There certainly are; I alluded to that in the debate on the police grant report. We owe the public and our police forces a proper discourse on such matters, rather than straying into a sixth form debate, because they are serious. I am not blaming Nick Herbert, because his points were fair enough. I want to discuss three matters: context, finance and then some of the points made by the hon. Gentleman.

There may be difficulties ahead for the five east midlands forces. We must look at the context of the past 10 years. There have been huge and significant increases in central Government grant for all those forces over the past 10 years, ranging in cash terms from 40 per cent. to 55 per cent., and in real terms from 10 per cent. to 22 per cent. Interestingly, at the same time—not instead of—there were increases in the precept, and I shall return to that.

As I said during the debate on the police grant report, it cannot be right for the vagaries of history and geography, and past political administrations, both locally and nationally, to dictate police resources, whether funded centrally or locally, in such a disparate way throughout the country. I am not saying that there should not be vagaries because of local conditions and circumstances, but the service is essentially universal and, whether in Cornwall or Cumbria, it should be at approximately the same level. I am not entirely sure that funding per head is—bogus is too strong a word and I am trying to think of a more gentle word, but it is not in my nature—an entirely accurate way of grasping the disparities, and disparities there are, as I said last week.

The funding per population figure is not fair, partly because of the Met, which receives all sorts of funding, as everyone recognises, for national purposes above and beyond local purposes. The national elements should probably be removed from the Met's pot for a fairer assessment of funding per head in London, so that it is based on local and regional policing rather than national policing. None the less, however crude a measure, it goes to the disparities in funding for what should be a normal service. I do not start from the premise that the funding position is clear. I am not responsible for the Lyons review, but I am told that its report is coming soon—so is Christmas. We have waited a long time for it, and I think it will be instructive when it does come, but that is in the gift of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

This debate and others have prompted questions, and I do not demur from people's right to put their case for their constituency, local constabulary and so on. That is right and proper, but it should be in the context of funding and the number of officers, which are rising by 12 or 13 per cent. in most cases. Strangely enough, there was no rise in Lincolnshire, and I shall return to the difficulties there with which we are trying to help.

Importantly, next year's funding for police community support officers and neighbourhood policing will rise by 36 per cent. or more in each and every constabulary. We can debate the point about 24,000 or 16,000 PCSOs, but there has been huge investment this year in neighbourhood police funding and PCSOs, and that will increase by 35 or 36 per cent. next year.

Crucially, today's policing includes support staff who work with the police, and the number is rising by 32 per cent. in Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire and up to 78 per cent. in Northamptonshire, against a backdrop, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw said, of a significant reduction in crime throughout all five forces. None the less, issues remain.

I agree with the encrypted assertion of my hon. Friend Paddy Tipping that he was told on the quiet that in risk assessment terms the east midlands was in some difficulty with its protective services. That is right, which is why we have provided funding to the tune of £8 million for the east midlands special operations unit. I shall be more than happy to visit it.

Whatever the outcome of the merger debate, it is significant that it has drawn together more readily than would have been the case without that debate the five east midlands forces, which have started talking seriously to each other. I am impressed by the progress in that regard.

I have had considerable discussion, both nationally and locally, with individual forces on taking protective services forward and filling the gap. Last October or November, I sent a letter indicating the Government's general direction and had a huge meeting of chiefs and chairs, which almost everyone attended in November. On 14 February, I sent out an 11-page missive—it is called my Valentine's day letter—to all forces explaining broadly where we are and where we need to get to. There have been similarly impressive advances throughout the country, not least with the four Welsh forces talking to each other, and considerable appetite, spirit and enthusiasm for the collaboration that, as the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs implied, is necessary to move forward.

As it happens, this debate is timely because, next Monday, in a hotel near Gatwick, which is not a million miles away from the hon. Gentleman's constituency, I shall meet the 14 forces that want to take forward the next stage of work force modernisation. Again, he is right in saying that that is crucial to the future of policing.

I return to the underlying point that all hon. Members made about funding. It is important to consider the matter in the context of hugely significant resources and the huge outputs of those resources in terms of crime. It cannot be right that in 2006-07 some people pay £72 in police precept for a band D property while others pay £210 or £220. That disparity in local contributions for what should be a universal service is wrong. Equally, the funding formula was based on each area's needs in the context of historic funding and taking account of precisely the local vagaries and disparities that make the service other than universal. Essentially, it should be funded on a universal basis. Hon. Members are right to say that we need the funding formula to deliver what it says. I do not apologise for damping and a transitional period to get there. It is interesting that four of the five forces in east midlands lose, but Northamptonshire gains marginally with £600,000 or so.

I want to get to a stage where the funding formula reflects the national part of the contributions. I repeat what I said during the police grant debate that we need a substantive debate on resources, not just on the overall cake. We have got the debate right on the national portion of core funding, let alone additional grants. It is more about how that formula will eventually deliver. There remains a debate about the local tax base specifically for policing and whether there should be a disparity in precept, and equally a disparity in the contribution that that precept makes to the overall budget. In some cases it is barely 20 per cent., but in others, particularly in the south-east, it is more like 50 per cent. Let us have that debate. I am willing to engage with everyone in the east midlands and beyond in that debate in the coming year. I accept that next year and subsequent years will be even more difficult.

I welcome the freshness of the debate, and hope that consensus will emerge on policing and how to finance it in the 21st century.