Policing (Peterborough and Cambridgeshire)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:29 pm on 20th February 2008.

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Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Shadow Minister (Olympics and London), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Olympics and London) 3:29 pm, 20th February 2008

Thank you, Mr. Gale, for that guidance—I shall attempt to stay within those limits.

I congratulate Mr. Jackson on securing this debate and for eloquently setting out the reasons why we expect the Minister to respond positively. The contributions from all parties demonstrate that there is a cross-party consensus on the matter; indeed, if a Labour MP represented the area that we are talking about, I am sure that they would speak in favour of the points that many hon. Members have made.

Clearly, it is an understatement to say that police funding is an important issue. People obviously need their local police to work effectively and efficiently, and for them to provide value for money. However, the bottom line is that if there is not enough money going in, there will not be enough crime-fighting resources at the other end. That is what the debate is about.

I do not profess to be an expert on policing in the area that we are talking about. Hon. Members have made detailed and pertinent points to which the Minister needs to respond, but there are clearly some significant, pertinent issues that are specific to Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, principally those to do with migration. My hon. Friend David Howarth also asked where the Government's tax revenues go. I am sure that the Flanagan review will provide some of the answers regarding additional limited resource from within Cambridgeshire and Peterborough's existing resources, but the outcomes of the review will provide only a small component of Cambridgeshire's needs. As a number of hon. Members said, there is a declining trend in the number of officers per 100,000 population. I checked with Cambridgeshire police whether there was any good news at their budget meeting on Monday but, of course, there was not, and they are in the same position and are being told that there will be no quick fixes.

As well as facing national challenges such as the issue of police pay and people's rising expectations of police forces, Cambridgeshire faces the specific challenges to which hon. Members referred. The force has responded positively to the challenge of managing its own resources, which, as my hon. Friend David Howarth said, was perhaps of its own making. The latest Audit Commission report shows that it has made a significant improvement in how it manages its affairs while other similar forces' performance has declined. Hon. Members are worried about what chief constable Julie Spence and the police authority chairman say about their ability to do the job. They are the people in the front line; they know what resources they need to do the job; and they are telling the Government that they do not have sufficient resources to do the job properly.

The issue of population growth has been taken up by my hon. Friend and others with Ministers previously. The responses on the necessary changes to funding formulas and the time over which those take place have been somewhat disappointing. I would have thought that, given the Home Secretary's statement today, we would get a positive response from the Minister. The Green Paper says that the Government

"recognise that occasionally there can be transitional impacts on the provision of public services in communities which might be subject to particularly rapid change at the local level".

Will the Minister say whether police force funding might be useful for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough? Will he also say whether any assessment of the community infrastructure levy has been made? The Government are of course putting that forward as a way to get additional resources into local communities on the back of local developers' proposals. That might have a role to play and I hope that the Minister will say that he expects that it will make a contribution.

Other hon. Members have listed significant statistics on the scale of the impact of migration—I do not intend to go over those again. By deploying those statistics, and with their much more detailed and specific knowledge of policing in their areas, hon. Members were able to make a convincing case for the unique situation of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. The debate is not about calling for additional resources across the board to help all police forces up and down the country to meet challenges. Rather, hon. Members have identified some specific challenges in a particular area, to which the Government must respond. It is about hard facts and special circumstances, which are linked particularly to high levels of migration. For that reason, the Minister must respond positively, given the Green Paper's reference to the "transitional impacts" of migration and the funding that should be made available to manage them. I hope that he will be able to demonstrate that formulas are capable of flexibility, and that they are not always straitjackets.