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Neighbourhood Policing

Volume 455: debated on Monday 15 January 2007

Although there is no one model of neighbourhood policing, as each police force is tailoring its neighbourhood policing response to the particular needs and priorities of its local communities, neighbourhood policing will be introduced to every area by April 2007, and every community will have neighbourhood policing teams in place by April 2008. Delivery of neighbourhood policing has now extended to some 6,700 neighbourhoods. There are 81 neighbourhood policing teams already in place in Humberside and 96 in Hampshire.

In light of recent announcements about allowing local flexibility in the allocation of neighbourhood policing resources, does my hon. Friend agree that that should allow forces such as Humberside the flexibility to recruit the higher number of police community support officers that they want, and that the level of funding that they expected should be given?

Every community will have a neighbourhood policing team by 2008. This year, the funding for Humberside specifically for PCSOs will be some £3.1 million, and next year it will be some £4.4 million—an overall increase of some 42 per cent. I agree with my hon. Friend’s fundamental point that that should mean that the mix required for neighbourhood policing appropriate to Humberside is achieved.

The Government have announced their policies on neighbourhood policing many times, yet this year, in Hampshire, Government cuts have meant the loss of more than 200 PCSOs. Has the Home Office changed its policy or does it no longer think that neighbourhood policing requires visible policing?

Visible policing, including the role of PCSOs, is central to what the Government require of police forces in Hampshire and everywhere else. The allocation for Hampshire is some 333 PCSOs. This year, the funding for Hampshire is some £4.8 million; next year, it goes up to £7.8 million. The overall funding for the neighbourhood police fund will be some 41 per cent. higher than this year. I am not sure how the hon. Lady works that out as being a cut.

Given the reports over the weekend, has my hon. Friend had requests from chief constables for additional funding for neighbourhood policing?

As I said, it is for each chief constable to determine the mix and the balance of and approach to neighbourhood policing. The Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities have asked for as much flexibility as possible in funding and resources for neighbourhood policing as well as other matters so that they can use their resources as effectively as possible for local policing needs in my hon. Friend’s constituency in Coventry and elsewhere.

Surrey police would like to engage in more neighbourhood policing. However, given that they had a relatively poor settlement compared with other shire counties, that they were underfunded by £500,000 through the costs of the abortive merger with Sussex, and that we recently heard that the number of community support officers will be cut against expectations, how can they deliver services to the people of Surrey?

I take the hon. Gentleman’s point and accept his sincerity but, given that funding for PCSOs for Surrey will increase next year by some 28 per cent. and that Surrey’s settlement next year is some 3.6 or 3.7 per cent., I fail to understand his complaint. I speak regularly to the chief constable of Surrey as well as the chief constables of other forces. They say that the key to the future of policing is the greatest possible flexibility in not only resources but performance frameworks, targets and all the other dimensions. That is precisely what we are trying to provide, working with the APA and ACPO.

May I invite my hon. Friend to Bolton to see Greater Manchester police’s mobile police stations, which go into the heart of the community? The idea was borrowed from the town represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Ms Johnson). The mobile police stations are enjoying remarkable success in reducing crime by as much as half in the areas where they operate. Will my hon. Friend visit one?

I am tempted by that suggestion. If my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) can sort out the ticket, perhaps we will go later today. Although I have been to Oldham and Rochdale and seen many of the constituent parts of Greater Manchester in the context of policing and neighbourhood policing, I have not visited Bolton, and I look forward with great interest to seeing the mobile facilities about which he is so clearly pleased.

In October, I asked whether the Home Secretary planned to abandon the Government’s promise of 24,000 police community support officers. He categorically denied that. However, that manifesto pledge has now been abandoned. Three days before Christmas, the Home Office altered the crime fighting fund so that police numbers can drop. No announcement has been made publicly or to the House, and police authorities have been told to keep quiet about it. Will the Minister publish the change or are cuts in policing another example of a failure about which Ministers would rather we did not know?

I should rather like the evidence for the hon. Gentleman’s point about everyone being told to keep quiet about the matter, given that half today’s questions have been about it. Crime fighting fund and PCSO flexibility were afforded the APA and ACPO at their request in discussions. As hon. Members know, given a history of seven or eight years of continuous—now record—growth in policing, we are flattening out resources. All the APA and ACPO protestations have sought greater flexibility not so that numbers can drop like a stone, but so that they can decide locally the best priorities for any force in any area. That is the key point. Given that we have afforded greater flexibility to individual forces and listened to the APA and ACPO, the hon. Gentleman should welcome our actions.