Policing (Peterborough and Cambridgeshire)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:35 pm on 20th February 2008.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 3:35 pm, 20th February 2008

I will not give way because we are tight on time, and I am conscious, Mr. Gale, that you might pick me up on it.

The cost implications for policing have come through very clearly in the debate. I respect a number of the initiatives that have been undertaken in Cambridgeshire. In a positive effort to engage communities and provide community cohesion, a newcomer's guide to policing and the law has been published. Various other councils in the county are taking steps to ensure that that sense of togetherness and an understanding of common norms and so on are developed and strengthened. I pay tribute to the work being undertaken by so many people.

We must also consider the cost of things such as translation services. We heard of figures showing the increase in costs that Cambridgeshire has had to bear. From the Freedom of Information Act requests that I have made, I know that that is reflected across the country. From 2003-04 to the end of the last financial year, there was an increase of about £9.3 million in the cost of translation and interpreter services. It certainly puts into context the scale of the problems that we are having to face. The Home Secretary spoke today about levying charges; tens of millions—I do not know how many tens of millions—are proposed to be raised by the new levy, but clearly that sort of sum could be used up rapidly for such services in policing alone.

Another issue is the lag in population numbers—they are not being picked up effectively under the formula. However, it is important to recognise that the Government have fastened on to the problem. During the police grant debate, the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing said:

"However, there are genuine concerns about increasing levels of population and about how the Government formula allocations can be quite tardy in picking them up."—[Hansard, 4 February 2008; Vol. 471, c.674.]

Those concerns have certainly been amplified during this afternoon's debate.

The question is how those concerns are to be taken forward, and how those factors are to be addressed and considered. I hope that the Minister will be able to provide an explanation for the recently announced migrant impact forum. Will it advise Ministers on such questions, and what sort of programme and what sort of time scale can we work towards in order to ensure that those factors are properly assessed when considering grant allocations? I understand from the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing that although the budget for the next financial year is now set, the indicative figures for the following two years are still open for discussion and debate, so I hope that that will provide an opportunity for such factors to be addressed.

The final point I raise is that of police numbers. The funding settlement is obviously very tight, as I indicated earlier, and that has led to some concerns about what that might mean for policing numbers. We heard earlier how policing numbers in Cambridgeshire have reduced in any event during preceding years, and what the new settlement might mean. However, the Flanagan report states that

"maintaining police numbers at their current level is not sustainable over the course of the next three years...we would not be making the most effective use of the resources dedicated to the police if police officer numbers were sustained at their current level."

That suggests that we might be looking at more cuts in police numbers; rather than the emphasis being on cutting red tape, as we had thought, we might find that the thin blue line is being cut even further. What will that mean for places such as Cambridgeshire? What does the Minister think is a sustainable level of policing for the county?

Real and genuine concerns have been expressed this afternoon. There will always be winners and losers in any system, however well intended, however well constructed and however well considered; but at a time of real concern over growing levels of violence, with violent crime having doubled in the last 10 years, it is imperative that public safety does not suffer. The public, in Cambridgeshire and elsewhere, should receive the policing that they require and rightly demand.