Policing (Peterborough and Cambridgeshire)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:05 pm on 20th February 2008.

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Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General 3:05 pm, 20th February 2008

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Jackson on securing this important and timely debate on the funding for Cambridgeshire constabulary. I join him in recognising the skill and effectiveness of our local police force and I commend him on what he had to say, all of which I agree with.

My hon. Friend's area is urban whereas mine is more rural, but the variety of our constituencies and the differing requirements of urban and rural crime fighting make the lack of resources, if anything, more acute. As hon. Members will appreciate, the police grant and local government finance reports for 2008-09 were debated in the House on 4 February. That has raised a number of problems in Cambridgeshire. Admittedly, the grant settlement for 2008 and 2009 provides for a 3 per cent. increase, which is an improvement on last year's 2.5 per cent., although I understand from the police that above-inflation growth in policing costs has eroded any benefit in that regard.

In particular, the settlement does not take into account the fact that the police service is already a victim of cumulative significant underfunding in recent years. Indeed, Cambridgeshire is now the third most underfunded force per capita in the country, following the Government's introduction of the new funding formula in 2002. That is because when applying the formula as of 2002, the Government used out-of-date population figures. Had the correct figures been applied to the formula, Cambridgeshire constabulary would have been some £15 million better off over the previous five years.

That situation is compounded by the requirement to achieve efficiency savings equivalent to 3 per cent. a year over the next three years. As other hon. Members have said, the staffing position is very lean—there is no more fat to be shed. I have written to the Home Secretary asking when there will be a full and fair application of the funding formula.

The settlement also fails to take into account the needs of a rural area such as Cambridgeshire. Indeed, it proceeds on the very basic assumption that a rural area does not need as many policemen as a city because there will be less crime in the countryside. Unfortunately, as other hon. Members have said, that analysis is all too superficial.

In the past 25 years, the county of Cambridgeshire has changed considerably. It is prosperous and in full economic growth. It is expected to continue growing significantly. Projections include increasing migration and huge housing programmes—that is, new county towns and thousands more homes in existing towns such as the market towns in my constituency. That will accelerate the transformation in both the density of the population and its cultural mix. Of course, most people in Huntingdon welcome migration if it is controlled and supported by infrastructure, and appreciate that it has contributed significantly to the economic development of the county. However, it has also had a significant impact on policing and law and order, and the Government simply do not seem to be aware of that or to appreciate it.

Cambridgeshire constabulary is already disadvantaged because it currently has only 187 police officers per 100,000 people when the national average is 266. As other hon. Members have said, that proportion will decrease further because Cambridgeshire's communities are growing in size. Importantly, we need to appreciate that it is Government who are forcing huge house building, which will have consequences, not least the need for more police. That places an even greater strain on the police and other agencies. My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough referred to the chief constable's letter of 18 February, in which she stated:

"We have, currently, no opportunity to expand the infrastructure to deliver for the growing county. This will result in a continual stretch of already stretched resources. The impact of this stretch should not be underestimated, with officers already indicating a reason for going to the Metropolitan Police is more money and an easier life."

It is important to note that Cambridgeshire's changing demography is partly the result of international migration, and that has been touched on by previous speakers. Migration has increased particularly since EU expansion in 2004, with a large proportion of migrants coming from eastern Europe. Cambridgeshire has absorbed 50 per cent. of the migrants who have come to live in the eastern region, and that has contributed to the county's economic growth, but it has also raised a number of issues that simply cannot be ignored. Incidentally, there has been significant EU migration not only into Peterborough and Cambridge, but into Huntingdonshire market towns.

To address the point made by David Howarth, migration has changed the nature of the offences that are committed in Cambridgeshire, and that has put pressure on police resources. For instance, hostility towards EU migrants and towards asylum seekers in the cities has led to tensions in the communities where such people live and work. If such incidents are not managed carefully, they could escalate into violence and require more work by the police force. At the moment, community cohesion is being well managed, not least by the police, but the result is that people in Whitehall seem to be believe that it is not a problem, so resources are not directed towards it. However, resources are being sapped by the need to manage and control such issues.

Large families and large numbers of migrant workers sharing the same house have rapidly increased the number of people living in certain communities. That has raised several issues for local service providers, such as dangers in relation to fire safety, petty robbery, disputes in households, summary eviction and temporary homelessness, and all those issues require an efficient and available police force. There have also been increases in offences linked to different cultural values, particularly offences relating to knife crime and vehicle-related offences such as drink driving, which my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough mentioned. All of that will inevitably have an impact on resources.

However, the Government's response is to reduce the proportion of funding for policing, and Government grant has fallen by more than £15 million since 2002. Worryingly, the independent report by analysts from KPMG, to which my hon. Friend referred, concluded that the county requires an additional 100 police officers, based on the constabulary's current work load. So where are those officers going to come from?

Mrs. Spence, the chief constable, made another important, but slightly wider point when she said:

"If the answer to Cambridgeshire's future lies in cross government discussion as clearly housing growth, infrastructure development, inward migration and policing are not the remit of the Home Office alone, how does one county start that discussion and how do we make our case to ensure the complex intertwined range of issues we face are properly understood and taken account of quickly?"

I do not see how the Government can answer that question, but it is surely the key issue for rapidly developing areas such as Huntingdon and Cambridgeshire.

Cambridgeshire is suffering from the results of an outdated funding scheme that fails to take into account the reality of the county's position. That is a dangerous situation, which could hamper the growth of my constituency, in a part of the country that is leading the way on job creation and wealth creation—developments that benefit not only the local population, but the whole country. I therefore look forward to hearing from the Minister how the situation can be resolved as soon as possible.