It is a pleasure to serve under your benign chairmanship for the second time today, Mr. Gale. I am delighted to have the opportunity to debate this issue, which is of significant concern to not only my constituents in Peterborough, but local residents and taxpayers across Cambridgeshire, who are represented by my hon. Friends the Members for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) and for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara) and David Howarth. I am grateful that those hon. Members are here today.
I pay tribute to the men and women of Cambridgeshire constabulary, who serve and protect us in the county so ably, given the resources at their disposal, which is the kernel of today's debate. In particular, I pay tribute to the northern divisional commander, Chief Superintendent Paul Phillipson, and the men and women who serve every day in the city of Peterborough and put duty above personal risk and the ever-increasing danger of injury and even death.
It would be remiss of me to overlook the leadership shown by the chief constable of Cambridgeshire, Julie Spence, who has shown guts and determination in waging her campaign for a fairer deal for my area. She has been strongly supported in speaking out by the chairman of the police authority, Councillor Keith Walters—leadership is about speaking out and sometimes making oneself unpopular, sustained in the knowledge that one's cause is just. The arguments made in the excellent paper, "The changing demography of Cambridgeshire: implications for policing", published last September, are unanswerable, and Mrs. Spence would have been derelict in her duty not to have raised those arguments so forthrightly.
Both the Home Secretary and the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing have met Cambridgeshire constabulary and the police authority in the past six months to discuss funding, and I thank them for their courtesy in making themselves available. According to robust and independent data, Cambridgeshire is the worst-funded police force in England and Wales. It has been disproportionately affected by the current funding formula for at least the past five years and, as a result of a unique set of factors, should be regarded as a special case. Ministers should, in the light of that, consider reviewing Cambridgeshire's grant settlement this year and up to 2012.
It is important to put Cambridgeshire's current and ongoing fiscal position in the national context fully to understand its severity and the likely impact on the delivery of front-line policing. The Minister will be familiar with the national picture of a tight 2.7 per cent. grant increase this year through until 2012 as part of the three-year comprehensive spending review settlement. As we know, with the exception of counter-terrorism funding, there will be no real-terms increase in funding to police authorities.
The Association of Police Authorities and the Association of Chief Police Officers have a police expenditure forecasting group, which has identified a substantial funding gap at this level of grant allocation, even allowing for council tax increases up to 5 per cent. It is as well to remember that, because of the historical restriction of the council tax precept and grant allocation, some police authorities, including in Cambridgeshire, are forced to consider higher tax rises, not least due to the gearing of the police precept against total Home Office funding. In other words, a big precept rise is necessary to deliver even a modest expenditure increase.
The police service is also affected by general inflationary pressures, to the extent that any increase in funding in this and subsequent years may well be absorbed by pay increases and other factors. In addition, as recognised by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary three years ago, funding for protective services—those in respect of serious criminal activity—is not specifically covered by generic grant funding and relies instead on collaboration between forces under the redeployment of existing limited resources. On top of that, police forces have been committed to significant efficiency savings over the past eight years. The 9.3 per cent. in savings over the comprehensive spending review period will inevitably mean cuts in front-line police numbers, which will certainly be the case in Cambridgeshire, as the one-off nature of some savings will diminish leeway for further savings over time.
That is the national context in which Cambridgeshire constabulary finds itself. It is appropriate to consider Cambridgeshire's situation in detail. The first and most important issue is the changing demography of the county and the impact of that on policing. We are not a leafy rural idyll, and the cultural predisposition of the Home Office on that point must be faced down, because it is simply not the case. The forecasted increase in migration across the United Kingdom over the next 10 years will have a disproportionate effect on Cambridgeshire. The population of Cambridgeshire is set to grow by 12.5 per cent. by 2016, which is twice the UK average, compared with 12 per cent. by 2031 across the country as a whole. Cambridgeshire will have the highest forecast growth rates in the east of England. Among similar forces, only Warwickshire exceeds Cambridgeshire for projected population growth, according to the Office for National Statistics. Net migration is expected to account for 64 per cent. of Peterborough's growth and 73 per cent. of Cambridgeshire's growth by 2016.
The growth of residential housing developments, such as Hampton near Peterborough and Cambourne and Northstowe near Cambridge, and migration by eastern European migrants in particular, has had and will have a major impact on population growth. According to statistics prepared by Anglia Ruskin university for Cambridgeshire county council, by 2016 there will be 25,200 more people in Cambridgeshire just as a result of natural growth, including people moving in from other parts of the UK, in addition to the 69,000 people predicted to come from outside the UK, mainly from the European Union.
Before I move on to discuss migration and immigration, it is as well to touch on the sheer scale of residential developments in the county in future years, because I have time only briefly to illustrate the implications of demographic changes on Cambridgeshire constabulary. In short, the Northstowe development at Longstanton and Oakington in south Cambridgeshire will mean 10,000 extra homes and 13,000 extra people by 2016. In Teversham, 10,000 new homes will be constructed as part of Cambridgeshire's east area plan, and 3,000 new homes will be built in north-west Cambridge. No fewer than 25,000 new properties will be built in Greater Peterborough by 2021. However, that is only a partial list of proposals for residential development.
The primary cause of concern, however, is migration. Since May 2004, population pressures have had a major effect on the delivery of policing as well as other public services. The eastern region hosts a high proportion of the country's new migrant population—indeed, it is the second highest after Greater London—and approximately 50 per cent. of that cohort has settled in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire. Research by the East of England Development Agency in its 2005 paper, "Migrant workers in the East of England", indicates that the number of migrant workers resident in the region is somewhere between 50,000 and 80,000 at the peak of seasonal periods. Figures produced by the Office for National Statistics last year in its paper, "Migrants from central and eastern Europe: local geographies", indicates that out of 410 local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales, as at December 2006, three local authorities in the top 10 for A8 registered workers were in Cambridgeshire—Peterborough, with 7,110, Fenland, with 3,441 and East Cambridgeshire, with 3,072, which, of course, has major financial consequences.
The constabulary's translation costs for dealing with incidents and crime are almost £1 million in this financial year, which is up from £805,000 in 2006-07, compared with just £224,000 in 2002-03. That increase would have been even greater had the constabulary not appointed 29 multilingual support officers, funded by the mainstream police authority budget.
Demographic changes have led to non-UK offenders becoming associated with certain types of crime, such as drink-driving and knife crime, necessitating the routing of resources into tactical work, particularly in the Peterborough area, to tackle those trends. Intelligence from the northern basic command unit suggests a link between immigration, illegal immigration and criminal activity and the development of an international dimension to crime in offences such as the establishment of cannabis factories, credit-card skimming and human trafficking. My neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire, has taken a particular interest in human trafficking, and he may touch on that later.
The Times recently reported an authoritative assessment by Cambridgeshire constabulary that the number of brothels in Peterborough alone increased from three in May 2004 to more than 40 at the end of 2007. A practical example is that, between 2003 and 2006, the number of non-UK nationality detainees passing through the custody block in Peterborough increased from 894 to 2,435. The number of detainees arrested for drink-driving saw a 437 per cent. increase in the same period from 57 to 306 cases. For a small police force, that is a significant increase in work load. Overall, the number of non-UK nationals arrested in the northern basic command unit—the area covering the city of Peterborough—increased from 894 to 2,435. The figures are bound to be higher in 2007.
In 2005, the research consultancy IBIX Insight published "Policing Peterborough", which identified the implications for policing large-scale migration in my constituency, particularly in respect of houses in multiple occupation. Issues identified were, inter alia, fire safety issues, petty robbery, disputes within households, violence and sexual assault towards women in mixed households, neighbourhood tension about lifestyle and noise issues and car usage and parking issues. In practical terms, that has massive resource implications.
An anecdotal example from a briefing note published last month by Cambridgeshire county council for the migration impacts forum stated:
"A Police Inspector in Wisbech who recently reviewed the detention of a Latvian national who spoke no English took over an hour on a task that would normally take 10 minutes. In this instance, the Inspector had to locate a translator, explain the process to them and once that had been completed actually do the review. This issue with detained persons, languages and translators is repeated countless times throughout the County on a daily basis."
Yet, astonishingly, the Minister for Borders and Immigration confirmed in a recent written answer that there is no formal system for assessing the impact of migration on public services, including policing.
Other hon. Members may wish to focus on alternative demographic issues that are pertinent to the county, such as the likelihood of an increase in the number of Gypsies and Travellers from an already high base—Cambridgeshire is now home to more of the community than any other county in England—the pressures exerted on policing as a result of the high student population in the county, which currently numbers more than 25,000 full-time students according to a paper written last year, or tourism, given that Cambridgeshire has the largest visitor numbers in the eastern region. I would like to say that the tourism is a result of Peterborough's attractions, but it is in fact largely due to the city of Cambridge. Nevertheless, the point has ramifications for policing.
That is the environment in which the police service serves my constituents. The Government's funding regime militates against Cambridgeshire on two levels. First, there is a lag between the population and population estimates, and Cambridgeshire will and has been short-changed. For 2008-09, the Home Office will use the 2005 population estimates by the Office for National Statistics, amounting to a difference of 24,493 people. Were Cambridgeshire to receive the correct funding in 2008-09, based on the more accurate and up-to-date statistics, it would be granted an additional £2,678,152 in its formula grant allocation.
Secondly, the floors-and-ceilings funding formula, which has been in place since 2002, has consistently and unfairly impacted on the grant allocation made available to the county, which has hit the ceiling every year since April 2002, to the extent that the police authority has said that the sum withheld cumulatively during that period is £14.769 million.
In her excellent letter dated
"We find it difficult to understand why the Department for Communities and Local Government is giving some relief over the next three years to Peterborough, Fenland and Huntingdon Councils to offset some of the costs of dealing with the consequences of migrant workers, whereas the Home Office has given us nothing and we face similar, and often more acute problems. For the Record, we have no way of accessing any of those funds."
As a result of that iniquitous situation, not only are there many fewer police officers on the beat—I shall say more about that later—but a far greater burden of revenue funding consequently falls on council tax payers and the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge.
According to the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, 34.1 per cent. of the police budget in Cambridgeshire was funded by council tax precept, against an average throughout England of 26.8 per cent. My constituents are forced to cope with the results of migration policies and development policies over which they have no control. They are short-changed by out-of-date statistics, and they are on the receiving end of a funding formula that is flawed and unfair. Consequently, to add insult to injury, they are grievously under-provisioned in respect of beat officers.
An independent report last year by KPMG concluded that, based on the current work load of the constabulary, the county requires an additional 100 police officers. The northern division, which covers my constituency, is currently served by 287 full-time police officers, as the Minister confirmed in a written answer on Monday. In comparison, the London borough of Lewisham, where I am proud to say my younger brother is a beat officer, boasts around 600 police officers to deal with a population and crime patterns that are comparable to those of Peterborough.
Indeed, in the Peterborough city council area, for the year ended March 2007 per capita crime rates for violence against the person, burglary from dwellings and theft from motor vehicles were substantially above the English average. Even allowing for the redeployment in 2004 of some resource to central functions, unbelievably, we have fewer officers now than in March 2003, when we had 360. The number fell to 356 in March 2004 and to 308 in March 2005. Police numbers have fallen in the Peterborough area.
According to the Library, between 2002 and 2007 the percentage change in full-time equivalent officers in Cambridgeshire was an anaemic 1.4 per cent. compared with, for example, an 18.9 per cent. rise in the Home Secretary's police force area. In precise terms, that means that we have had 19 extra officers in five years. Only Surrey constabulary has fared worse.
Based on the number of full-time equivalent posts, Cambridgeshire has the lowest number of police officers per 100,000 head of population compared with not only the most similar force, but every other force. That fact was contained in a written answer to my hon. Friend Mr. Ruffley on
Instead, we have seen a cumulative reduction in funding of more than £16 million over the past six years. The current funding regime means that Cambridgeshire had to take £7 million out of its budget this year just to balance its books. The floor mechanism is costing £2.7 million this year, and there is no review mechanism—the gearing means that after council tax precept capping there will inevitably be a reduction in officer numbers for the period 2008-2012. While the police authority must stick to national efficiency savings targets and deliver a police service with fewer resources, central Government collect tax revenue across a growing county without recycling or ring-fencing fair, up-to-date and transparent funding. The situation is iniquitous and unsustainable. It is unfair to all those who work for the constabulary, and it is an affront to my constituents, who pay their taxes in good faith and are being short-changed.
"happy to talk...about the time delay between growth in population and the formula for police grant, and I am happy to extend that invitation to Cambridgeshire."—[Hansard, 14 January 2008; Vol. 470, c. 645.]
I want the Minister to address all my issues. I do not want to hear a cherry-picked list of existing operational initiatives, such as e-cops, customer contact officers, core-handling services and the rest of the list that we get from Ministers. We do not want a polite peroration around the Flanagan review or the benefits of employing more police community support officers. I hope that I have shown with fact, and not merely anecdote, that Cambridgeshire constabulary is a special case. At the very least, it merits a proper review of its funding to 2012. The artificial cap needs to be lifted, and funding needs to be restored proportionately back to 2002. Accurate demographic data and forecasting needs to linked closely to methodology in the allocation of grant moneys, and a one-off payment needs to be considered to recruit at least 25 new officers for the county this year.
This has been a good opportunity to raise a local issue of grave concern that cuts across party political divides. I know that my hon. Friends will contribute well to the debate and will have a different perspective. We all represent constituents, who have been unjustly and unfairly treated. The gravity of the situation should not be underestimated, and I hope and expect the Minister to rise to the challenge.
I congratulate Mr. Jackson on securing this debate. The situation in Cambridgeshire is on the edge of intolerable. Cambridgeshire has 183 police officers, the third lowest number of police officers per 100,000 of population. It is the lowest of the comparable forces for similar areas. That situation will get worse as the population grows. At present trends, the figure will fall to as low as 170 officers per 100,000 of population by 2016. The funding crisis, however, is not in 2016, but now. As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, we are already seeing reductions in the number of officers. We are also seeing reductions in support staff. If one goes to police stations around Cambridgeshire, one will see that there are already unfilled vacancies on each shift because the commanders cannot fill the full quota of officers who are needed every day.
The average number of crimes per 1,000 of population per year across England and Wales is 61. At 57, Cambridgeshire is slightly below that average. However, it is not very far below the average. There are 20 forces that deal with lower crime rates than Cambridgeshire. Nearly all of them are better funded than Cambridgeshire.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the crime situation in Peterborough, so I had better mention the situation in Cambridge. As I said, the average figure is 61 crimes per 1,000 of population. In the county, the figure is 57. The relevant figure for Cambridge is 72. Therefore, there is above average crime in Cambridge. However, when it comes to violent crime, Cambridge is below the national average. The crimes that take Cambridge above the national average are shoplifting—because Cambridge is a retail and tourist centre—and bicycle theft, for which Cambridge holds the national record. That point illustrates why it is important to have local determination of police priorities.
There is nowhere else in the country where bicycle theft would be as important a matter. In Cambridge, one quarter of the population goes to work by bike. It is extremely annoying to have one's method of going to work taken away by criminal action. Nevertheless, if we look at the crime pattern across the county, Cambridgeshire is not a high crime area, but it is not a low crime area either. That was the point that the hon. Gentleman was trying to make. He said that there was an image of Cambridgeshire as some sort of rural idyll in which nothing ever goes wrong. That is not true. The effect of years of underfunding on council tax payers in Cambridgeshire is clear. Council tax bills are higher than the national average for a lower level of service. That is what people complain about.
Last Monday, the police authority increased the council tax precept by 5 per cent, which was the maximum that it could do. That will not be enough to fund some of the Government's new national requirements, including requirements on sexual offences, and on custody and detention. It would have cost another £1.4 million to fund the whole range of new Government requirements. That would be another 3.6 per cent. on the tax, which would blast through the capping limit.
I am not going to pretend that Cambridgeshire police are perfect or that it is the best force in the country. There have been problems, but those problems are being addressed by the chief constable and her commanders. For example, there was a problem in Cambridge about matching police resources and shift patterns to when people expected and needed police officers to be available. That did not quite work, but the problem was addressed and the situation is improving. As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, the key to the funding problem is the lag between funding and the increase in population. The population is expected to increase by 12.5 per cent. by 2016. Cambridgeshire is already one of the country's fastest growing areas. That comes about through a combination of factors, but one factor is Government policy. The Government are telling Cambridgeshire that it needs to grow at that pace—that it needs population increases and housing to match. The question is: are the Government putting in the funding to match the growth that they are requiring of Cambridgeshire?
There is a long history to this. Economically, the Cambridge area grew immensely through high-tech industry throughout the 1970s, '80s and '90s, but very little of that was planned by any of the Governments of the time. It just happened, in a way that national Government sometimes seemed indifferent or even hostile to, and the needs of the area were never effectively matched by funding from national Government. That has been added to by changes in the labour market in the rural part of the county, in the north of the county, which are producing in-migration from other parts of Europe.
Those two factors combined have caused an extraordinary mismatch between the funding that is offered and the funding that is required. That problem does not affect only the police in Cambridgeshire. It also affects the district councils in terms of housing costs. There will be a debate tomorrow in Cambridge city council about the fact that the Housing Corporation will not pay the proper amount towards building houses in the Cambridge area. It affects the health service. We have had debates in this very place about the funding of mental health services in Cambridgeshire. Again, that is affected by this problem. It has even affected Cambridge regional college, and further education funding. It is the same point over and again: the Government are not fully prepared to back the economic success of Cambridgeshire. They ask for more from Cambridgeshire, but are not prepared to put in more to help that success to continue.
I shall finish by talking about migration. My perspective on that issue is somewhat different from that of the hon. Gentleman. I would not want to give the impression at all that immigration by itself is a cause of crime. There is no evidence that immigrants commit more or, admittedly, less crime than anyone else.
For the avoidance of doubt, I should point out that I was not saying that migrants commit crime per se. I was merely quoting from an operational note whose provenance was the northern basic command unit. Far be it from me to make any sort of assertion that people who wish to come to this country and make a better life for their family are therefore de facto criminals. I have used data provided by my local police in Peterborough.
I am very glad to accept that clarification, but it should also be said, on behalf of the chief constable, that the chief constable was saying not that migrants cause more crime, but that there is an extra cost for the authorities in dealing with incidents involving them, both as accused people and as victims—it is important to stress that—and those costs in terms of interpretation and the translation of documents are important.
For me, the issue is more about the division of finance between national and local government. The hon. Gentleman mentioned that in passing, but for me it is a very important point. Overall, migration into this country has an economic benefit for this country. The question is where that benefit goes in terms of levels of government and who bears the costs associated with a rising population. On the whole, the tax revenues from income tax, national insurance, profits of companies and VAT come to national Government. Some, in the form of council tax, comes to local government, but not much, especially if not many new dwellings are built in the process and it is just that the use of existing dwellings is being intensified.
The revenues, the benefits from migration and population growth, tend to go to national Government. Population growth or migration mainly involves young, active, employed people, who do not cost national Government very much. They do not use the health service much. They do not claim much in the way of benefits and they are not pensioners. What costs there are tend to fall on local services, including, in this case, the police. That is the core of the problem. It is not just about sorting out which bits of local government get which funding. It is about the balance of funding, the balance of cost and benefit, between national and local government. That is at the heart of the problem and that is what the Government have to sort out.
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
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
"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.
May I say what a pleasure it is to take part in a debate with you in the Chair, Mr. Gale? May I also say what a pleasure and privilege it is to follow my hon. Friend Mr. Djanogly, who is my neighbour? I also thank David Howarth and my hon. Friend Mr. Jackson. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough on securing this important debate on policing in Cambridgeshire. It has been an issue for a considerable time, and it is right that we have a Minister here to take our concerns on board.
I must tell the Minister that this issue will not go away. Cambridgeshire Members of Parliament, the local police and other vested interest groups will not remain silent until the imbalance in the funding of Cambridgeshire police is properly resolved. I hope that the Minister does not intend to sum up with warm, supportive words that will not lead in practice to additional funding, because if he does, we and others will continue to raise this important issue. While I am talking about others who are dealing with this issue, let me pay tribute to Cambridgeshire's chief constable, Julie Spence, to Councillor Keith Walters, who is chairman of Cambridgeshire police authority, and to their entire teams, which do sterling work throughout the county, despite their limited resources and the difficulties that they face.
The funding for Cambridgeshire police is flawed. Over the period 2002-03 to 2008-09, the shortfall will be £17.5 million, and it will continue to rise and to impact on the local community. The problem has arisen entirely because the funding system relies on out-of-date population statistics and uses ceilings that prevent Cambridgeshire from receiving the additional funds that it rightly deserves.
As other hon. Members have said, we must recognise that Cambridgeshire is one of the fastest-growing counties in the country, and I hope that the Minister and the Home Office will recognise that. There are two reasons for that growth. First, additional housing is rapidly appearing throughout the county. My constituency contains the southern third of Peterborough and 80 villages on the way down to, but not including, Huntingdon. The Peterborough part of my constituency includes a massive development called the Hamptons—it is one of the largest developments in western Europe—which is having a massive impact on the entire infrastructure of the area. Pockets of new housing are also cropping up all over the rural parts of my constituency.
Secondly, my constituency contains additional people from the migrant community. For the sake of good order and the avoidance of doubt, let me make it absolutely clear that neither I nor anyone else in the debate is talking about a race issue; the issue is about people management and recognising that more people are coming to Cambridgeshire, which is why local people want additional funding, including, in the context of this debate, funding for the police. I emphasise that, because I do not want the media or individuals either here or outside this place to take a different stance. The issue must be addressed sensitively and carefully, but it must be addressed. We must recognise that the migrant community creates different pressures, which perhaps do not exist in other areas, and I will return to that later.
The northern part of my constituency experiences all the issues that one could attribute to urban areas, such as antisocial behaviour, theft and assault. In such urban confines, the police do not have a lot of distance to cover, but they nevertheless struggle to deal as effectively as they would like to with all that occurs in their areas. What is more, however, there is, as has been said, a presumption among some decision-makers in Whitehall that all is well and good in villages such as mine in rural Cambridgeshire and, indeed, anywhere rural—the view is that everything is peaceful and quiet.
If any civil service mandarin in the Home Office takes that view, I suggest that they be seconded for just half a day to any hon. Member who has a rural patch in their constituency. We would be more than happy to take them to a rural village, where we could easily identify instances of serious crime. It is impossible for the police to give attention to some villages in my constituency, because of the distances that must be covered. I shall not repeat the points about the acute difficulties that arise in a mixed county with acute urban pressures as well as rural areas.
I want to outline the types of crimes that lead to extra pressure on infrastructure and the police, because the migrant community brings an international aspect. I have been particularly involved in campaigning on human trafficking. The Minister's approach to the issue is welcome, and I acknowledge all the hard work that he does and will, I am sure, continue to do to combat that evil, barbaric trade in human beings in the 21st century.
Last year, Cambridgeshire police undertook Operation Radium, which identified a number of brothels and instances of trafficking throughout Cambridgeshire, and the template for that operation is now being used by other police forces throughout the country. Cambridgeshire did all the hard work and homework without additional resources, and so other police forces will take up a ready-made solution to the question how to deal with that difficult problem. I am not saying that that solution will deal with it as effectively as we would like, but it has gone further than has been done before.
When people are found in the course of that work, it adds to the need for translation. The sum of £1 million in costs for a year has already been mentioned. Every year, additional translation costs of £1 million are required to deal with the migrant community. It is imperative that everyone in this country should have proper justice, but with that goes additional time. An issue that might normally take 10 minutes to deal with, as my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough has said, can easily take an hour, because of the need to wait for translators and deal with the different language.
There is also a cultural aspect, which was also mentioned earlier. Among some east European communities, there is a different attitude towards, for example, carrying knives, drink-driving or fishing. In Britain, anglers go fishing and, if they have a successful catch, they put the fish back in the river. Some of the new communities here take the view that that fish will be their dinner for the evening. We must get used to that cultural change, and additional manpower, both in the police and generally, is needed to deal with those cultural aspects.
Some of the civil servants are smiling at what I am saying, but perhaps they should come to some of our rural areas, in which case we might not need a debate such as this. It is precisely those issues, which we see every day on the ground, that are not being fully understood by civil servants and the Home Office. I hope that the Home Office will not do what it has done in the past, when the Home Secretary promised a summit and we were promised a forum. Today, I hope that the Minister says that action will be taken to recognise that the people of Cambridgeshire are not getting a police service that is as effective as the one that they deserve, because of the unique circumstances articulated in this debate. We need action, and I hope that the Minister will go some way towards alleviating our concerns.
The reason for my appearance in the debate, Mr. Gale, is that my constituency shares a lengthy border with Cambridgeshire, from St. Neots in the north all the way down the eastern side through Wrestlingworth, Gamlingay, Edworth and Dunton to the Hertfordshire border. The two counties are identical in character. Today, I want to raise some cross-border issues on which Cambridgeshire's resourcing affects my constituents. Cross-border issues do not always get much time or attention, so, although I do not expect the Minister to answer my points in detail, I feel it important to raise them for communities that often feel caught between two stools. I thank my hon. Friend Mr. Jackson for raising the issue and my hon. Friends and David Howarth for taking the debate forward. Of course, many of the issues that have been raised would be raised in Bedfordshire—the pressures in relation to rural crime and resources—but I do not want to spend too long on them, for obvious reasons.
I want to raise some of the difficulties that are caused by being in a cross-border area. First, postcodes are not always an accurate location finder in a county, because someone who lives in one county may have a postcode that refers to another. In that case, a call centre will sometimes misdirect a call and tell a resident who is waiting for assistance that they have phoned the wrong force, which causes immense frustration and upset. The Alington road industrial estate in Little Barford, which my hon. Friend Mr. Djanogly will know well because it is adjacent to his constituency, has had such problems. People have called the police, and it has taken a long time for the force from the right place to be sent. That lack of certainty is an issue for those people.
A second issue is the availability of resources to deal with partnership work on the borders. Naturally, forces with constrained resources will concentrate, first, on the Home Office targets set by the Government, and, secondly, on urban areas or areas of high-volume crime. Rural crime will never be high volume compared with urban areas within or just outside our constituencies, so if resources are tight in Cambridgeshire—my hon. Friends have made it clear they are—how much attention will be given to the cross-border partnership that is necessary to ensure some degree of protection for those who live close to a border between constituency forces? What time and effort can be spent on ensuring that there is more partnership work, that scarce resources are shared, and that when police are not available in one area it will be easy to call another force on the other side of the border, which may have officers available to deal with the problem?
Lastly, I want to raise an issue on behalf of my local National Farmers Union and its chairman Charlie Porter, who has been in touch with me on the impact of crime in some outlying rural areas. Rural constituents in cross-border areas feel not only that they are relegated to minor importance because they live in a low-crime area, but that their location on the border, whether it is the Bedfordshire or the Cambridgeshire side, makes their position even more precarious.
There has been a significant increase in the eastern region in recent months in thefts of metal, because the worldwide price for scrap has gone up very much. There is a travelling community in the eastern region that has in the past been able to pick up on thefts of metal, and there is concern about how those criminals are tracked from whatever source that might be. Again, if resources in the counties are tight, who will put time and effort into cases that cross borders and involve thieves who know what they are doing as they move through an area and how to resist attention, so that they can concentrate on their crime? There are stories of farmers in outlying areas who have been threatened and bullied, or whose wives were told when they put their heads out of the window, "Just get back inside, love. Leave us to do what we are going to do, and no one will get hurt," when there is no one else in the farmhouse to protect them. People are very frightened.
I raise those issues on behalf of the cross-border areas, where those pressures exist. I hope that the Minister will take account of cross-border issues when he gets a chance to respond, either today or in writing in due course.
Order. I have the power to limit the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen to five minutes each, as the debate is a local one, but I do not propose to do that. However, I would be grateful if both Front-Bench spokesmen were to bear in mind that the Minister will probably need at least 15 minutes to reply.
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.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Gale. Mr. Jackson has done a very effective job of setting out the case for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough: the police force faces challenges associated with population growth and the pressures and costs that a more diverse community can create.
A number of other interesting issues have come out of the debate. I learned this afternoon that Cambridge has the highest number of bicycle thefts in the country, which I had not appreciated before—I am grateful to David Howarth for telling me that. He also made an effective point on the need to ensure that we have local priorities and that discretion is applied to local forces, and said that top-down targets from the centre cannot possibly reflect the needs and aspirations of local communities.
My hon. Friend Mr. Djanogly made the important point that we should not look at the matter in isolation—there are so many other interconnecting factors, such as economic and social ones, and those related to housing. A cross-cutting approach is necessary if we are to get the right solutions. We are discussing policing this afternoon, but I am well aware of how things such as education are acutely affected by the population growth in the Cambridgeshire area and some of the challenges associated with it.
My hon. Friend Mr. Vara rightly highlighted some of the frustration in rural communities where people feel that their issues are not being properly addressed, which was followed up by my hon. Friend Alistair Burt. A lot of rural communities feel and fear a sense of isolation, not only in relation to policing but other services. That message is repeated time after time, but the Government do not appear to have been listening. When I talk to people in rural areas, I find that they feel that their voice is not being heard as clearly as it should.
Some specific points have come out of the debate. Obviously, it is taking place in the context of the Government's funding settlement and the police grant, which averages 2.7 per cent. throughout the whole country. Cambridgeshire will receive a 3 per cent. increase over the period, but it is clearly a tight financial settlement. In areas such as Cambridgeshire, certain factors draw into question the effectiveness and appropriateness of the current structure. There is the issue of policing needs and the different patterns of offending in migrant populations. That does not mean that there is a higher propensity towards crime in those communities, but that there are different patterns of offending, which might be related to drink driving or the carrying of weapons. Police forces will have to modulate how they respond to those things.
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.
I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Gale. I congratulate Mr. Jackson on securing the debate and thank him for his kind comments—I appreciate what he has said. However, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing does not read the comments made about him.
I start by making what I believe to be an extremely important point. Migration and its effect has been mentioned by a number of hon. Members, but no one did so in a derogatory sense. It was mentioned by Mr. Vara, but certainly not in a racist way. We have heard that migration has an adverse impact on crime; it may have an impact on types of crime, but it does not have an impact in that sense. The debate was very good tempered and well measured, and it important to reiterate the fact that no hon. Member here today spoke in a derogatory way.
I assure all hon. Members who have participated in the debate that the Government are aware of the issues with respect to Cambridgeshire. As hon. Members know, I do not necessarily deal with those issues myself, but my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing is aware of them. As has been said, the Home Secretary met the chief constable of Cambridgeshire and the chair of the police authority in November last year, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing recently met others from Cambridgeshire. I join hon. Members in congratulating the police on their work in the county—I have not heard anyone denigrate their work. We often say such things in order to get our retaliation in first, but everyone has been most complimentary. I will take back all the points that have been made today to my right hon. Friend, and I hope that that will be useful.
I shall answer a couple of specific questions that I will not cover in my later remarks. The hon. Member for Peterborough has mentioned population figures, but he knows that police funding is not based purely on population and that the funding formula takes account of a range of other factors. I note that the ACPO lead on finance, the chief constable of Gloucestershire, has said that the funding assessment was a
"genuine attempt at finding a balance between competing priorities" and that it was
"broadly in line with anticipated rises in core costs".
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman and I can talk about that point after the debate, but I would be interested to know where he found a 24,000 discrepancy between the ONS figures and the anticipated population figures. The figures that I have for 2008-09 and 2009-10—I appreciate that after then we have only projected increases—show a difference of about 6,000. The ONS figure for 2008-09 was 767,325; Cambridgeshire police's estimated population was 773,084. As I have said, we can talk about that after the debate.
Mr. Djanogly has discussed 3 per cent. efficiency savings. Police forces are required to make efficiency savings of 3 per cent., but that money does not go back to the centre; it remains with forces, which can use it in whatever way they think appropriate.
The hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire has raised the issue of trafficking. He was kind enough to congratulate me on my work in that respect, and I know that he is involved, as are a number of other hon. Members here today. The hon. Gentleman will know that we are looking at what more we should do to support the work of police forces in tackling trafficking—Cambridgeshire will have issues in that respect. I know of the force's good practice, and others forces wish to learn from it. The hon. Gentleman will also know that Pentameter 2 is ongoing, and forces throughout the United Kingdom are involved in that work.
The hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire made an extremely important point about cross-border collaboration, which is collaboration between Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire in the case of his area. I am not sure about the geography of the areas represented by other hon. Members, but this is an issue that affects everyone, and we have allocated £35 million over the next three years for cross-border collaboration and cross-border work. Either Bedfordshire or Cambridgeshire could bid for some of that money to help with their cross-border work. Again, I hope that is helpful to the hon. Member.
Tom Brake and James Brokenshire have both raised the issue of the British trust fund, which was announced today by the Home Secretary. Of course, it could well be that money raised from that fund, irrespective of the charges for it and how much they will be, is used by the police force in Cambridgeshire and by other forces across the country to pay for certain services.
The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington also mentioned the community infrastructure levy, which, as he knows, will replace section 106. The details of that levy are still being worked on. However, the levy is the type of new development that one would expect to contribute to public services in a particular area.
First, the Minister will be aware that section 106 money is being used in parts of Cambridgeshire to build police stations, although there is no revenue public funding to put police officers in them. Secondly, we are in a situation where, two days ago, the budget was set but, because of Government policy, the authority had no option but to recruit police community support officers on a standstill budget. That is a crazy situation, too. Will the Minister address those two key issues?
I will come on to revenue funding. Section 106 funding, which may be replaced by funding from the community infrastructure levy, has been used not only in Cambridgeshire but across the country to support the provision of public services. I will come on to the revenue implications in a moment.
I would just like to mention the migration impacts forum, which the hon. Member for Hornchurch has referred to. The July meeting of that forum will be dedicated to crime and policing. Other hon. Members asked what effect the forum will have. As I have said, the July meeting will consider crime and policing. The ACPO representative in that forum is the chief constable of North Yorkshire police, Grahame Maxwell. Of course, as hon. Members will appreciate, North Yorkshire police is a rural force and no doubt the chief constable will be able to bring some of his knowledge to the work of the forum. Indeed, the Home Secretary has recently asked all the chief constables, including the chief constable of Cambridgeshire, Julie Spence, to contribute to the work of that forum in July.
Will the Minister confirm that when that forum examines crime, it will also examine the crimes that migrant communities are often the victims of? I have personal experience of Kent and the farming communities there that rely very heavily on migrant workers, who themselves are either victims or at risk of becoming victims of trafficking within the UK, for example.
It seems to be a perfectly reasonable suggestion to ask that forum meeting in July to look at that issue. What may be appropriate is for each hon. Member here today to talk to the chief constable in their area—in particular, Cambridgeshire Members should talk to the chief constable of Cambridgeshire, Julie Spence—and ask them whether they feel that it is appropriate to make particular contributions to the forum. I suggest that the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington makes a suggestion to his chief constable to see whether they will take that issue to the forum.
I want to go through a few other issues. First, I want to discuss funding for Cambridgeshire. Total Government grants to Cambridgeshire increased by more than £30 million between 1997-98 and 2007-08, which is a cash rise of 52 per cent. or a rise of 19 per cent. in real terms. Having said that, I know that the hon. Members here will be keen to look to the future. Under the terms of the provisional funding settlement, which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced on
I know that Cambridgeshire still has concerns about the fact that the funding formula is still not fully implemented. Of course, in an ideal world we would make all payments strictly in accordance with the needs-based formula, but that would leave some forces in dire financial straits. In the most extreme case, one force would lose 10 per cent. of its budget. Although hon. Members are keen to secure additional resources for their own forces, including Cambridgeshire, we would not want to be in a position where other parts of the country experienced dramatic cuts in policing provision. If that happened, we would be in a situation where other hon. Members would be arguing against changes that were having an adverse effect on their own forces. Indeed, I understand this argument very well, since Nottinghamshire, which is the force for my local area, suffers from exactly the same problem as Cambridgeshire with regard to the application of the funding formula.
I apologise for my late arrival, but I was in the Foreign Affairs Committee, which is producing an important report. Otherwise, I would have liked to have spoken in this debate.
The key issue is that the Government seem to be making some allowance for migrant workers and the growth in population by giving additional moneys to local authorities with problems associated with migration, and yet on the police side there is not the same recognition of the problem. As Cambridgeshire Members, we cannot understand why the same kind of approach cannot be made towards policing, so that additional money could be provided both for local authorities and for the policing of what are real problems on the ground.
The chief constable of Cambridgeshire pointed out in her letter that the Department for Communities and Local Government is making certain funds available for policing. Certainly, that is another issue that the migration impacts forum will need to examine. Again, I suggest that that is the type of point that needs to be made at the forum, which will consider how best to address it.
I would like to say something about the strength of Cambridgeshire's performance. It is clear that the increased investment in Cambridgeshire has been put to good use. There are now more police officers in Cambridgeshire than there were in 1997. There are 288 more support staff who, of course, help to release uniformed staff for front-line duties, and there are also 180 community support officers. If one adds all those extra staff together, 500 more people are working in the police family in Cambridgeshire compared with 1997.
I know that hon. Members have made points similar to this, but it is important to recognise when we congratulate the police that overall recorded crime in Cambridgeshire fell by more than 18 per cent. from 2002-03 to 2006-07. Burglary was down by 31 per cent., and violent crime was down by 6 per cent. In the authority of the hon. Member for Peterborough, crime fell in the same period by 24 per cent., and crime was also down in other basic command units. Of course, there are challenges for police forces. However, in the same way that we have tried to put this debate into a wider context, it is also important to recognise the falls in crime in the past few years.
I would like to say a little more about migration. A number of chief constables, including the chief constable of Cambridgeshire, Julie Spence, have expressed concern. As was said at the beginning, they have generally been at pains to say that migrants have not caused a crime wave. Instead, they having been trying to make the point that when people whose first language is not English come into contact with the police, perhaps as victims—as the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington has said is sometimes the case—or as witnesses, there may be extra costs involved for services such as interpretation.
I want to make three more points. First, the Government recognise that there is an issue here, and Ministers have made that clear in our meetings with Cambridgeshire constabulary and other forces that have been affected. When I return to the Department, I will relay the points made in this debate to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing.
Secondly, population is a key factor in the police funding formula. In calculating the comprehensive spending review funding settlement for the police, we used the best available ONS data from September 2007. The data incorporate recent methodological improvements, principally an improved estimation of international migration nationally and of the distribution of migrant numbers to local areas.
Finally, as I have already said, the Government have set up the migration impacts forum and we hope that people everywhere will contribute to that forum.
In the short time that I have left—less than a minute—I want to say that this has been an important debate. Hon. Members have been very measured in the way in which they have made their points. I also reiterate my belief that such debates are important and worthwhile only if we try to learn from them. As I have said, I will take back to the Department the points that have been made by hon. Members today, particularly those made by the hon. Member for Peterborough. Hon. Members have raised what they feel is a real issue in Cambridgeshire, and they have represented their constituents' concerns. I hope that some of my earlier points in response to specific questions about collaboration and other issues have helped hon. Members. I will write to the hon. Member for Peterborough in due course, once I have discussed those points with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing.