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Volume 456: debated on Wednesday 31 January 2007

As a Middlesex MP, I beg to move,

That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2007-08, House of Commons Paper No. 207, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th January, be approved.

I am pleased to tell the House that we have delivered another reasonable funding settlement for the police service next year. It is important to say that that builds on considerable investment over a sustained period. Government grant and central spending on services for the police will have increased from £6.2 billion in 1997-98 to some £11 billion in 2007-08. That is a cash increase of nearly £4.8 billion, or 77 per cent.—almost 40 per cent. in real terms.

Let me put the increase in resources for the police service in a wider context. The Government have presided over the most intense programme of police reform for more than a century. We have not only provided significant extra resources for the service and increased personnel, but overseen performance management, a changing mix of roles in the work force and the implementation of neighbourhood policing. All those elements command support across the House.

The hon. Gentleman knows that there is considerable anxiety in several police authority areas—not least in my area of Avon and Somerset—about the change of policy on the provision of community support officers.

I spoke for my party when we considered the relevant Bill and we were very much for them.

I do not challenge the Minister’s decision, because I understand why it has been taken, but is there any possibility of deploying unused funds from elsewhere to support the recruitment of community support officers in areas that can recruit and want to meet the Government’s original targets?

If I may, I will come to CSOs in more detail later. I have said to the chair of Avon and Somerset police authority and others that if there is some slack, or an unwillingness to pick up the respective contributions for the 16,000 recruitment target that was set for April 2007, I will be more than happy to consider the redistribution of the extra CSOs.

The latest figures from the Association of Chief Police Officers show that 10,000-plus CSOs have been recruited, and the feedback from the forces is that they will all reach the 16,000 target or just exceed it by April 2007. To be fair, the change from 24,000 to 16,000 has concentrated minds. Before the announcement, many authorities questioned whether they could reach the 16,000 target by April even with an accelerated recruitment pattern, which is one reason why we looked at the issue. The catharsis that resulted from our shifting the target means that all the forces have focused on it and, on latest intelligence, are on schedule to meet it. However, I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point—I want the target of 16,000 or so to be implemented, and I have told the chair of his police authority that, if give and take is required at the edges, we are prepared to look at that.

I accept that the Minister will come to police community support officers in a moment, but is he aware that Norfolk constabulary is trying very hard indeed to roll out the safer neighbourhoods partnership scheme, which has had a significant impact on reducing crime in Norfolk, particularly petty crime? That is critically dependent on the 280 PCSOs promised by the Department. The figure has been reduced, which means that either the scheme is at risk or Norfolk will have to increase the precept, thus risk capping. What advice can the Minister give Norfolk?

Earlier this week I met a delegation from Norfolk, and they made many of the points that the hon. Gentleman has just made. I am encouraged that he shares the Government policy agenda on neighbourhood policing, and accepts that it is successful. I do not dispute the fact that Norfolk has some challenging decisions to make about its budget. However, I am gratified that, as reported by the chair of the police authority, every district, county and other council in Norfolk supported the original target to implement—I think “implement” is preferable to “roll out”—neighbourhood policing, and I wish them well in doing so. We had a strong and fruitful discussion, and I said that I am more than happy to help in any way that I can by, for example, making representations across government and, if necessary, going to see what is already in place in Norfolk—

May I finish my sentence? I have, in fact, done so, so I shall give way to the right hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin).

I am grateful to the Minister for finishing his sentence quickly. Police authorities throughout the country want to know what their position will be in future years. There was a widespread welcome for the new funding formula introduced by the Government, but there are concerns that the floors remain in place. Can the Minister tell us today whether there are any plans to reduce the existing floors so that counties that thought that they would do better under the new formula may receive greater funding in due course?

That is a fair question, and I shall come on to deal with the issue in detail. I accept that under the formula, with its existing floors and ceilings, Derbyshire is a loser, rather than a gainer. However, as I told the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) when we debated policing in Greater Manchester in Westminster Hall, for every loser there are gainers. I cannot say today how long the taper on floors and ceilings will remain in place, but—

May I finish my paragraph—not just a sentence this time—as my answer may affect the questions that hon. Members wish to ask? Without wishing to be churlish, I urge the right hon. Member for West Derbyshire to talk to colleagues in Cheshire, Cleveland, Cumberland, Devon and Cornwall, Dorset, Durham and so on, which gained from the settlement. I know that there are frustrations; there is some disquiet, and a debate is needed on the whole issue of police funding. The Lyons report will ensure that the subject is debated, at least in part. The frustrations to which I refer relate to the question of when we will receive that report, and I share those frustrations. If, outwith this debate on the settlement, we can have a mature, reflective and grown-up debate on where we should go with police funding, that would be welcome; we would then not need to talk about floors and ceilings.

The problem in Derbyshire is that the change in the formula has been negated for two years running, and there has been no progress in getting it implemented. For example, a similar authority, West Mercia, should get £4 million less than Derbyshire, but gets £10 million more. When will progress be made on that general problem for Derbyshire? We have reasonable local government settlements, but overall the county is losing £22 million because of the floors. Other authorities that have done much better than us over the years keep bleating about their settlements, while taking money away from us.

With the best will in the world, I have to demur. We are talking about seeking to reduce the impact of changes in formula across the country. We want to consider the impact of the changes—which are all in the right direction, by the way; all the changes in resources are upward. We want to equalise the impact across the country, as a prelude to ensuring a more level playing field in police finance, as the right hon. Member for West Derbyshire suggests. With the greatest respect to my hon. Friend, it is not enough for any Member to talk about “bleating”, or to give any other such description of counties that benefit—at least for now—from the ceiling, rather than otherwise.

I ask people to resist the notion that there are winners and losers, although I know that I will hear plenty more comments to that effect in our debate from colleagues on both sides of the House. The overall context is one of significant interest in resourcing for policing, so that everyone is a winner. It is not appropriate language to talk about the “cumulative losses” of authorities that have been at the wrong end of the floors and ceilings.

I appreciate the Minister’s approach to the debate. Does he accept that although Surrey has an excellent police force, our grant per head is only £89, which I think is the lowest rate in the country? It is well below the average in the south-east. That is a very low grant for us, and we have had extra expenses in connection with the police merger talks, and as a result of hosting the EU Heads of State meeting. Surrey is under a great deal of pressure, and I hope that the Minister will sympathise and perhaps take that into account.

I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that I am known for my sympathy for Surrey, in all respects. International events are dealt with under the special grant route. On his specific point—again, this goes back to the need for a general debate about finance—history plays a strong role in the situation. I take his point about the figure being relatively low, on a per-head basis. However, in terms of precept, Surrey is at the other end of the scale. It has a significant precept, and is ranked higher than many of the 43 authorities in England and Wales, but it has a larger population among whom to spread it. In terms of actual resources, Surrey is not hard done by compared with other forces. It is not ill-served by either the formula or the precept increases. However, the hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, in the sense that it cannot be right—this is my point about the general police financing arrangement—for the precept per head to range from £88 to £210. Alongside that, the precept contribution as a percentage of overall police resources varies. It is 18 to 20 per cent. for some forces, but for Surrey, among others, the figure is way up in the high 30s, if not 40-plus per cent.

Well, there we are; it is not quite 50 per cent. I said that. None the less, there should be a broadly similar service across the country. Of course there are specific needs, given factors such as deprivation, make-up and history, but those disparities are the sort of factors that will be addressed in the Lyons report and elsewhere. I half take the point made by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), but I do not accept it in the broader sense.

There is indeed a good story to tell, as there has been real-terms growth in police funding over recent years, but the formula needs attention, particularly in the east midlands. One of the flaws of the formula is that there is a lag between population growth and the rate at which grant rises. The per capita increases for the rapidly growing population in the east midlands, where the population growth rate is almost twice that of the rest of England, create problems as the years go by. The best example—or worst, depending on one’s point of view—is Lincolnshire, which is growing at a rate of 10 per cent. over 10 years. The population growth rate for England as a whole is less than 2.5 per cent. Will the lags in the system be addressed, so that the formula is more effective in the five east midlands forces, including Leicestershire?

Like other Departments, we seek to address those issues, but I take my hon. Friend’s point about the rapidity of some changes and the population increases in many areas, and not just the east midlands. The formula, or formulae, and other elements are perhaps not sufficiently able to keep pace with those increases. I have had discussions about the “growth areas” with colleagues in other Departments, including the Department for Communities and Local Government—I think that it calls itself CLG now; I do not know what happened to the D—to ensure that the police and security dimensions are considered in the early stages of any planned growth in an area. I take my hon. Friend’s point, including on the wider issue that I thought he was addressing, which was basically that there were flaws in the floors.

Perhaps I can help my hon. Friend to move away from arguments on distribution. Ipswich witnessed exceptional events before Christmas, but the police grant will not meet the full costs, so will the Minister say anything about how he can help Suffolk police authority with the additional and exceptional costs that have arisen? I do not refer just to next year’s settlement, but to the costs that it will have to meet before the end of this financial year.

I am glad that my hon. Friend has had the chance to intervene, because there are very specific circumstances relating to Suffolk, and particularly Ipswich, given the events that took place in the run-up to Christmas. Rather erroneously, one of the leading 24-hour news channels suggested yesterday—I do not know why—that we were somehow letting Suffolk down, and that it would carry a huge deficit because of those special circumstances, so it is useful to have a chance to explain the situation in more detail. The routine is that when exceptional events take place, whether they be the international events that took place in Surrey, or the murder inquiries in Suffolk before Christmas, constabularies apply to the Department for a special grant, outside of the settlement that we are talking about today. The claim is duly assessed by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary in a routine fashion, and then passed to Ministers to make a decision. In the case of this financial year—

I have a whole answer to get through, rather than just a paragraph or a sentence, before I give way. I understand that there are significant local dimensions to the debate, and I will seek to take all interventions. I will then get back to my 20-minute speech, but not deliver the whole 20 minutes of it, if hon. Members follow what I am saying.

Suffolk has applied for some £9 million in special grant to deal with all its activities thus far. HMIC has determined that much of that claim is entirely reasonable, but this is only the first half of an extended special grant process, because pre-trial preparation and further investigations will carry on well into subsequent financial years. HMIC recommends to me that it is more than appropriate that the authority itself should cover about £1 million of the £9 million. These are examples, because the issues involved go far above and beyond those that we need to address, but at least some of the cost can be taken on board by the Suffolk police authority. It is suggested that we should pay £8 million, and I am convinced that that is absolutely right. We will tell Suffolk that we will provide £8 million of that £9 million request for this year.

As I said to colleagues from Ipswich and Suffolk when I met the murder inquiry teams and the chief constable—on, I think, 4 January—we will be very sympathetic, given the unusual circumstances faced by that relatively small force, and when the application is made for the second half of that special grant next year, we will treat the request in a similar, or better, way. I congratulate Suffolk constabulary on all it did over Christmas and beyond. It was an enormous task for such a small force. I thank all other forces for getting involved as readily as they did—it was a genuine exercise in working together. I assure the Suffolk force that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who was mentioned yesterday in this regard, and I have taken seriously and sympathetically its request for extra payment.

I recognise the risk of the debate becoming a surgery for individual complaints and problems, so I shall try to give my point a wider dimension. The Minister is aware that the Dyfed-Powys police authority argues that its police inflation costs exceed the inflation increases offered through the settlement. Is he willing to consider an environment where the Minister and the Department discuss at a macro level with the police forces how the funding settlements are reached? The police forces are not trying to rip anyone off. They just want their concerns to be taken on board in the formula. Perhaps that would resolve at a strategic level the kind of tactical issues that I would raise about Dyfed-Powys police and which many colleagues raise about their police forces.

Again, that is an entirely fair point and should form part of the broader debate that we need to have on all aspects of police finance, in the context of the huge growth that there has been in resources, and recognising that police forces have been using those resources efficiently and productively and want to grow beyond that. I accept the hon. Gentleman’s broad point and do not apologise to any Member for raising specific points about policing in a police settlement debate.

Does my hon. Friend agree that although we can celebrate the fact that Thames Valley police has a record number of officers—some 4,280, thanks to increased investment from the Government—the benefits are somewhat diminished by the attempts of neighbouring forces, including the Met, to poach fully trained officers from places like Reading and Slough? Is it not time that we considered transfer payments to compensate areas that are losing out for the costs of training and recruitment?

As a Middlesex MP, a London MP and probably a beneficiary of such a perverse relationship, if indeed such a perverse relationship exists, I should say that that is a fair point, which should be considered in a wider debate about police finance in more general terms.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. His charm and courtesy leave my noble Friend Lord Tebbit in the shade. I identify with the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter), who is entirely right. Given that the Thames Valley police force has been able to balance its budget only by a £7 million cut in support costs, which is necessarily one-off and cannot be repeated next year, and that in 2008-09 the increase in revenue support grant still leaves a £15 million shortfall on required budget, how does the hon. Gentleman expect that Sara Thornton and her colleagues will cope in the face of a projected and substantial increase in the population of the region?

I was about to be hugely insulted when the hon. Gentleman started, but I was quite complimented by the time he got to the end of his opening remarks. I pay tribute to Thames Valley police and chief constable Sara Thornton for all that they have done. I have been up there two or three times in the wake of Project Overt, not least to go wandering through the woods around Wycombe to speak to young coppers who were there all the way up to 22 December, long after August and Project Overt. The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the growing level of resources which, as I said, forces are using productively and efficiently, and they are still making efficiency gains and still seeking to grow. Whatever difficulties forces have in reaching their target with this year’s settlement, next year will present a more significant challenge for them to match their ambitions with the resource envelope.

That means that, on the basis of cross-party consensus, the sooner we have a substantive and hopefully non-partisan debate on the wider aspects of police finance, the better. With 67 per cent. increases and forces wanting to do far more than they have done, not least the Thames Valley force, which is hugely creative and imaginative in all that it does, I do not want to restrain them by flat-lining resources, even after huge increases. The hon. Gentleman makes an entirely fair point.

I should put on record again my enormous gratitude to Thames Valley for all that it did in Project Overt, not just in Wycombe, but beyond. With the agreement of the local treasury, we have hopefully sorted out the contribution from the centre towards the force’s resources spent on Project Overt.

May I take the hon. Gentleman’s helpful and conciliatory answer to mean that if the hon. Member for Reading, West and I get together, formulate a powerful case, arrange a meeting with him and advance it in our usual mellifluous and responsible terms, his answer will be yes?

I am happy for the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) to get together, as he calls it.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) mentioned the influence of population on funding. May I ask the Minister respectfully to consider coastal areas where there are caravan parks where people live—they should not, but they do—for 12 months of the year? In my county, Denbighshire, it is estimated that there are 700 people living in caravan parks. Across the whole of north Wales, there are many thousands. Will my hon. Friend look into the matter and ensure that people living in caravan parks are recognised for the purposes of the police funding formula, and that sufficient funding is put in place?

My hon. Friend makes a fair point, which the formula seeks to address in the general sense of population. If we move to even greater complexity, rather like the local government report that we will discuss later, I am not sure how profitable that would be for policing, but the formula should be a mix that captures what is required in the national sense and is flexible enough to reflect local peculiarities of population, growth levels and other elements more readily than it does at present. It is a reasonable point, which I will consider.

I thank the Minister for the generous amount of time that he is giving to Back Benchers. May I ask him to look again at the settlement for north Wales? I know that we are all bidding for our own areas. He will recall in September, on an uncharacteristically wet day in St. Asaph, opening the new communications centre, which he said was cutting-edge technology, probably leading forces throughout England and Wales. In that spirit, is he prepared to meet a small delegation from the police authority and myself in order to discuss specific issues and, more broadly, rural policing and the financing thereof?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me of St. Asaph. It was extremely interesting. Naturally, to kick off events in the marquee in the car park, with chandeliers and all that sort of thing, those present sang the national anthem in Welsh. I made sure that I did not, having learned from the experience of previous English occupants of significant positions.

If there is, as I believe there is, within the broad discussion, a need to focus on the specifics of Wales or the specifics of rural policing in the Principality or more generally, I will have that discussion, with respect, with a wider group than the hon. Gentleman suggests. I have seen the four Welsh authorities together and separately a number of times since taking over my present post in July. I have had discussions with a range of colleagues, particularly Labour MPs from north Wales, and there is still to come an outstanding meeting—not an outstanding MP—with a Tory colleague from north Wales. I am happy to have those meetings, but to deal adequately with the finance base in Wales and elsewhere, and with rural policing and the other points that the hon. Gentleman makes, we need a much wider debate than a series of meetings with individual MPs. I am happy to have such meetings, in a wider context.

The Minister will know that the Essex police force provided support to the Suffolk constabulary during its recent major inquiry. Given that he is seeking to encourage voluntary working together between forces on issues such as the vital fight against terrorism, may I remind him that the Essex police force has considerable experience in those fields because of the special facilities at Stansted and the assistance that it gave to the Met on 7/7? Will he bear that in mind when the protocols are being negotiated?

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I shall not, but I hope that Essex and the other police forces with which it draws up those agreements and protocols will do so. I would say generally to the House that whatever people’s perspective on the strategic forces merger debate in the summer, I am impressed and heartened by the significant progress made throughout the country in talking to each other in practical terms about shared operations on a local basis, between forces or more regionally. We have heard about the east midlands region, where a lot of work is going on across the five forces in that regard. That is almost the reverse of the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West. The proximity of Essex, Kent and some of the other home counties forces to the Metropolitan police means that there is a lot of positive operational two-way traffic and subsequent experience in relation not only to terrorism but to other serious matters that are more common in London and the home counties than elsewhere. I will certainly bear that in mind.

I am sure that the Minister is aware that many people in west Yorkshire wonder why we have a needs-based funding formula if it is not actually going to be implemented. I understand that West Yorkshire police has been underfunded to the tune of £15 million against the needs-based funding formula. Can the Minister confirm the level of underfunding for this year?

Let me make a practical suggestion as to how police budgets can be improved. Forces should be allowed to recover the full cost of policing events. For example, people who pay for expensive tickets for football matches and concerts at Roundhay park in Leeds effectively get free policing outside the event which is paid for by local council taxpayers and residents, who are also missing out on policing. Can the Minister—

Order. I think that that is sufficient for the time being.

I take the hon. Gentleman’s second point, but not his point about underfunding. While we might still be in a transitional phase in terms of fully implementing the new funding and therefore still have floors and ceilings, I would say as sharply as I can that he should go and talk to his hon. Friends in North Yorkshire, which is not a million miles away from his area, and ask them when they want to lose the positive contribution that they get from floors and ceilings. Then he could pop over to Cumbria and speak to his colleagues there: he still has some, including an ex-Home Office Minister. As regards football, if I was being facetious—which as a West Ham supporter I am not really entitled to be—I should not think that there are many crowds around Elland road or in Bradford at the moment.

The Minister has talked about population changes. In popular tourist resorts such as my constituency, the population doubles for three to eight months of the year, but that is not taken into account in the current formula, although the growth is year on year. The police have made that case to me, so will he seriously consider it?

I take my hon. Friend’s point in the same spirit as I have taken those from other Members. This extends to a broader debate about finance. I am sure that he is very happy about the growth in tourism on Anglesey, but that tourism is not new. Of course it has grown, and perhaps grown increasingly, but it did not drop out of the sky all of a sudden. It is not something extraordinary, as in some other cases.

I forgot to say to the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) that there are still a few London MPs, whether in Middlesex or Essex, who sit for the Conservatives. London benefits to the tune of some 33 per cent. through ceilings and floors, so perhaps he might like to talk to his colleagues there when he talks to those in North Yorkshire and Cumbria.

Bournemouth police are very concerned about the fact that tourism is not included in the formula, as is made clear on page 13 of the police grant document. The number of bars is taken into consideration, but not their size. We have 30,000 visitors on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday night. Elements nightclub has 3,000 visitors, compared with the Holyhead pub in Moordown, which has 30. That means that half the police on duty in Bournemouth are looking after a quarter of a square mile and denying the rest of Bournemouth the proper policing that it needs. Bournemouth police are overstretched, and because of the formula they will lose out year after year. I ask the Minister to consider that.

Bournemouth benefits from the floors and ceilings system rather than losing from it, so I do not know what the hon. Gentleman’s point is in that regard. I take the broader point that tourism and the night-time economy feature increasingly in the activities of many forces throughout the country. If they are not reflected sufficiently in the formula, then let us have a wider debate about police finance. These dimensions are increasingly reflected in the wider local government formula. Many of the comments that hon. Members are making about policing go to wider public service issues that are not specifically the domain of the police authority. We could have a significant debate, I hope on a non-partisan basis, about what we want from our police, what the resource base should be, what the mix between local and national contributions should be, what are—not only for London but elsewhere—discernibly national or regional issues that should be dealt with at that level rather than through local policing, and what the relationship should be between local neighbourhood policing, response policing and some of the wider strategic county-wide or region-wide issues, which is something that every force struggles with constantly.

The fact that I am the third MP from Derbyshire to intervene probably indicates the strength of feeling about the issue there. As regards the Minister’s comments about winners and losers under the floors and ceilings system, it is extraordinary that the losers should have to just bite their lips and get on with it. The Government introduced a new formula in 2006-07 precisely to address the fact that counties such as Derbyshire were historically underfunded over a long period. Under that new formula, the Government have said that Derbyshire should get another £5.7 million a year or so more, but with the next breath they are saying that we cannot have it. That is an extraordinary state of affairs. Derbyshire is currently funding the gap out of the reserves, but it cannot do that for much longer without having to slash policing in the county.

I am grateful to most Members for having made non-emotive and grown-up contributions. Talking about slashing this and slashing that is not helpful, nor is it true. Neither Derbyshire nor anywhere else will be slashing its way back to pre-1997 levels, and the hon. Gentleman should be careful about what he says. I give him the same exhortation that I gave to the hon. Member for Shipley—he needs to go and talk to his hon. Friend over in Cumbria, who benefits significantly from this. We are not saying, “We’ve got a new formula and we’re putting floors and ceilings in, so if you lose from it, go hang.” We are saying that we need, in all equity, to get to a stage where we can fully implement the new formula, but not in one hit; otherwise, this would be a substantially different debate. Funnily enough, there are few Liberals down in Devon and Cornwall, which also benefits significantly from the floors and ceilings aspect of the formula. I think that there is also the odd one—I mean numerically rather than in terms of the individual—in Norfolk, a very odd one in Sussex, and one in West Mercia too.

There must be some degree of national equity and some recognition that we need to buttress the full impact of any new formula. The “Little Derbyshire” approach taken by the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes), which is not shared by my hon. Friends who are more substantial Derbyshire MPs, is not good enough. People need to make the strongest arguments in the strongest terms with that wider police backdrop instead of talking about silly little issues for “Focus”.

The Minister mentioned Norfolk in response to a relevant point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham). The Minister said that he was open minded, but does he accept that Norfolk has one of the lowest ratios of police officers to population and that under current proposals we will have 90 fewer police community support officers than promised? That reduced number is totally intolerable to local people.

Yes, but every single PCSO in Norfolk would not be there without the investment, resources and policy of the Government. I had a very constructive meeting with—I think, to be fair—the Conservative leader of the county council, a range of his officers and others, and we had a very interesting debate about exciting plans to take Norfolk forward. I wish him well in that regard and the plan has the full support of district councils, the county council and everybody else. They need to make the judgment—I cannot make it for them—in terms of where they set their precept and what they do with their budget, but they did express some very interesting plans to me.

I apologise to the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Fraser), as I was flicking open the Dorset page and had forgotten momentarily—I do not say this in any nasty way—that he had shifted seats, so I am glad that he said Norfolk; otherwise, I would have quoted liberally about Dorset.

Perhaps I should have been nastier, in that case.

To return to my speech—I will respond to individuals’ substantial contributions later if there is time—I hope hon. Members will indulge me if I do not dwell on the 20 pages left as a result of my taking so many interventions. I will just make some broad points.

I take seriously what hon. Members have said about damping the formula. Having looked, lived and breathed the figures for so long, I say in all sincerity that there is a need for a substantive debate on where we are going with the local element of police finance and the huge disparity between authorities. I do not say that in any way to cast doubt on how we have got to where we have. As I said to some hon. Members, history is largely responsible for it, but it cannot be right to have such a huge spread between the level of the precept and how much it contributes to the overall budget in what should be, taking account of variations in local circumstances, a national service delivered regionally and locally through constabularies. There will be issues around that.

I made a sedentary intervention earlier and the Minister noted that Surrey is virtually at 50 per cent. and will soon go through 50 per cent. of the precept. The problem for the people of Surrey is whether that means that, when it goes through the 50 per cent., the rules for Surrey police should be set by local residents rather than by the Government.

The balance between the two is partly what I have been referring to. I think I mean that in the context of the outliers on both ends of the scale. It is even more complex in the sense that those with lower precepts are not necessarily those that have the lower contributions from a local level to overall police budget. It is not as simplistic and linear as that. When I talk about collectively having a look at the finance base and the local contribution, I do not necessarily mean that everyone should gather up to the Surrey level in terms of a contribution, although I know the precept is high. Nor do I mean that everyone should be down at the Durham and Northumbria ends, where we are talking literally of £88 for a precept in one case and just more than £100 and some contributions of 18 and 20 per cent. in others.

There must be a way of collectively having a debate that is not about the national contribution or the level of funding from the centre, but perhaps more about round the edges. Increasingly, what are national policing issues—above and beyond things like counter-terrorism, which should be funded from the centre—need to be balanced by an argument about what the local contribution should be. I understand the point. It is specific at that end—in part, the Met, though it has a large population base, and Surrey and Sussex and one or two others—and at the other end historically are some other parts of the Met and some of the northern authorities.

When we get to a situation where there has been significant investment over 10 years and where it is flatlining or becoming less in terms of growth—growth is still way above inflation—and there are these tight and serious decisions to be made on a force by force basis, the flexibility around the local contribution is a serious element of the equation.

Significant representations have been made about the settlement. I think that we received some 40 written representations, covering some 26 police authorities, including letters from the Association of Police Authorities, chief constables, police authorities and MPs. Representations were made—interestingly, I think—chiefly in nine areas. They are the original level of the settlement, capping and council tax policy, continued use of a funding floor, police grant for the next three years—in terms of the comprehensive spending review for 2008-09 to 2010-11—capital provision for restructuring, neighbourhood policing, funding flexibilities, police efficiency and specific grants. Broadly, those issues were covered by hon. Members in today’s debate.

I understand that the Minister received representations from members of the Dyfed-Powys police authority, who were accompanied by a Minister from the Wales Office. The main issues were community support officers and how Dyfed-Powys producing its budget more prudently had worked against it. The Minister wanted to allow the authority to work towards having more community support officers, but not as many as it hoped to secure. Will the Minister comment on that?

The hon. Gentleman is entirely right that the meeting with the police authority and some MPs from Dyfed-Powys was focused on those issues. Given the accelerated targets for PCSOs by April 2007—ably assisted and funded by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to the tune of £90 million—Dyfed-Powys was one of the authorities that said that it would rather sit out from the target and then try and pick it up again subsequently. The authority was effectively penalised, through not fault of its own, so I promised that I would look again and see whether more funding could be found to get back on target—not just for Dyfed-Powys, but for Gwent and Cleveland. To be fair, we had squeezed the pot dry—if pots can be squeezed—to the extent that although I was pleased to find some moneys, I do not think that Dyfed-Powys should hold out much hope for further moneys from the centre as part of the exercise. I was pleased to find at least some.

The Minister went through the various representations that he had received. Earlier in his comments, he said that he did not want to restrain the police authorities by flatlining them. He has made it clear that one of the main concerns of police authorities is that, over the remainder of the comprehensive spending review, it looks as though there will be flatlining. I do not understand how the Minister can reconcile his earlier comments about not wanting to restrain police authorities by flatlining them with the fact that over the next two or three years of the comprehensive spending review, they are going to be flatlined.

With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, that argument works only if police authorities are rather like a child and being spoon fed. If the resource base becomes static after 10 years of growth, there are ways in which police authorities and constabularies can look at everything they do to gain further efficiencies beyond what they do now.

The debate—in part, the wider financial debate—about contributions from the local level is one that I hope we can have. We need to see what the balance is and what it should be. It involves the notion of capping and the notion of the relationship between the local precept and the council tax. It involves the contribution from the centre and what it should be in all equity from local areas. There is much to be debated about that.

I take the point that we are achieving sustained, but far lower, growth over the comprehensive spending review periods than we have thus far. One of the advantages of two-year—and, hopefully, eventually three-year—settlements is that they can begin to be planned for. I do not accept the notion, which belies experience as well, that throughout those eight or 10 years of sustained and relatively high growth, all that police constabularies have done is put the money in their pocket and just carry on as they normally do. There have already been enormous efficiency gains across police authorities. Significant examination of how police authorities and constabularies do what they do has also taken place. To be fair, the picture today, 10 years on from 1997, of what they do and how they do it is enormously different. That must continue because things are ever changing.

To put it simply, the terrorism threat is enormous today compared with 1997. All forces work alongside local councils far more readily than they did 10 years ago on, for example, antisocial behaviour and community safety. There is now a genuine multi-agency approach, to use the lingo. The balance and mix throughout the country of police officers, police staff, other specialists and analysts is rightly different from the position 10 years ago. That should continue.

In short, police authorities and constabularies need to do significantly more in a different way with the high but fixed growth rate of resources. It is a case of much more than, “Daddy, stop giving us money, we can’t do things.” I appreciate that that is a generalisation of the comments of the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry); it is a form of short hand.

I shall now conclude my speech because I have been on my feet for 50 minutes or so, although about 30 minutes were taken up with interventions. I am grateful for interventions and happy to take them, but we need to move on. I also appreciate that there is a time limit on some hon. Members’ speeches.

The comprehensive spending review years and the multi-year settlement provide challenges, with which forces will start to wrestle as they settle their budgets this week. There has been a good efficiency record and I expect it to continue. I believe that the police authorities and constabularies want it to continue because the efficiencies that they make release funds to spend elsewhere rather than being clawed back to the centre.

There is a good news story about what police authorities have to do and where their priorities lie. We have listened carefully to all stakeholders in determining the detail of the settlement, which is a good one. Our proposals will ensure that all police authorities in England and Wales receive a fair share of resources next year. We have added to that some funding flexibility so that forces get the work force mixes right locally, balance their budgets and continue to improve the service.

I am sorry that I have taken slightly longer than I anticipated but I appreciate the local dimensions to the debate and I wanted to take as many interventions as possible. I commend the police grant report to the House.

I thank the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety for setting out the grant settlement for this year, but I fear that what he said left many questions unanswered.

It is clear that the police fear that the 3.6 per cent. increase in their budget this year means that money is already tight. The Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities estimate that the police service needs an annual 5 per cent. increase in its budget simply to stand still. The president of ACPO said:

“To maintain … high standards, the Government must maintain sufficient levels of funding. Demands on the police service mean that although the 3.6 per cent. settlement for the service remains above inflation, our expenditure increases at a far greater rate, a fact that must be reflected in our financial allocations. The Government has planned an ambitious programme for police development in the years ahead, but this settlement is not a springboard for it.”

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way so soon in his response. As a fellow Sussex Member, he knows that Sussex police have been asked to do more and more. The settlement will make it much harder for them to deliver the target of 525 police community support officers, for which they budgeted under earlier Government commitments. The current plan will leave them with 171 fewer PCSOs. Does my hon. Friend agree that, in his constituency and mine, that represents a genuine disappointment for people who appreciate PCSOs and know that they do a valuable job, especially on low-level vandalism and antisocial behaviour?

I agree. The consequence of the so-called flexibility that the Minister mentioned is the withdrawal of the promise of 171 PCSOs in Sussex, or 8,000 nationally—4,000 in the so-called respect areas that the Government announced only a week ago. Chief constables throughout the country were busy making promises to communities about the additional policing that they believed that they could provide. They will now be unable to do that.

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the cut in the target for PCSOs. In Gloucestershire, that translates into 74 PCSOs that we were expecting and needed, but will not now get.

An additional problem is that the one-off funding that is being provided in lieu of the permanent final tranche is heavily skewed towards London and the Metropolitan Police Authority. In Gloucestershire, that means only £167,000 in one-off funding instead of the £1 million in permanent funding that we expected. Will the hon. Gentleman comment on that?

I agree. The Metropolitan Police Authority received the lion’s share of the remaining funding, although the Government withdrew £70 million. The Met received approximately two thirds of what remained, leaving the provincial forces even shorter of resources. That means that they cannot provide the promised number of PCSOs.

As ACPO’s head of finance pointed out, the settlement is not all that it seems. A range of specific grants, for example, for forensics, supports the general grant. In most cases, they have been frozen. Consequently, as ACPO’s head of finance, Dr. Tim Brain, who is also chief constable of Gloucestershire, said, the overall value of the general grant to forces and authorities has been substantially reduced. That will put further pressure on force budgets.

In my force in Sussex, the special formula grants for rural policing, forensic testing, special priority payments and south-east allowances will remain unchanged and frozen at last year’s levels. That amounts to a cut of 2.8 per cent. in real terms and will cause the force and the authority problems.

The hon. Gentleman has been told that police inflation is some 5 per cent. However, a significant part of police expenditure is on pay. The settlement this year was 3 per cent. and the formula was 3.6 per cent. How does he calculate 5 per cent. inflation for the total budget? I am interested in his reply.

The hon. Gentleman is right: more than 80 per cent. of a police force’s budget is spent on pay. Pay increases generally outstrip the rate of inflation because the pay settlement is index linked. Other costs increase as the police’s mission widens. Consequently, as the Minister pointed out, forces have to make efficiency savings year after year.

The genuine question is not about this year, when forces are already beginning to face difficulties, but about future years under the comprehensive spending review. The Minister alluded to that, but we need to examine the matter. From next year, which is the first year of the comprehensive spending review settlement, the Home Office budget will be frozen in real terms, and the police have been told to expect an increase of no more than 2.7 per cent. It could be less than that. Consequently, police budgets from next year onwards will be frozen in real terms.

The Association of Police Authorities and ACPO estimate that, by 2010-11—the third year of the proposed settlement—the police could face a funding gap of as much as £966 million. To put that in context, the police’s annual national budget is £10 billion, so we are considering a potential funding gap, as set out by the APA and ACPO, of 10 per cent. of the national policing budget. That will pose very serious challenges for the police. In a document called “Sustainable Policing”, the associations point out that the risk posed by under-resourcing is not that policing will suddenly collapse, but that with the contraction of capability the services provided to communities will erode, and particular functions will either be withdrawn entirely or unable to perform to acceptable levels.

Concerns are already being expressed up and down the country about the funding that police forces might have in future. The Police Federation has gone so far as to claim that 999 calls could take longer to answer, and that the number of fully trained officers will be reduced. I will refer to that in moment. The Hampshire force is already looking to make a 10 per cent. cut in services in the next financial year, according to the local police federation, and if there is no significant increase in funding, which there will not be, its police authority predicts that it will have to make a cut of 20 per cent. the following year. Durham constabulary is axing 100 police officer jobs and in the next financial year plans cuts of £3 million. Surrey has described its budget for the forthcoming year as insufficient. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) has said, Sussex is predicting a budget deficit of £6 million and cutbacks. North Yorkshire police considers the situation sufficiently dire that the police authority predicts that even a 5 per cent. increase—which it will not get—would leave a £3 million deficit next year. West Mercia predicts a £1 million gap in funding, with further more acute financial concerns over the next three years.

My hon. Friend has outlined several areas, including my county of Hampshire, that are experiencing great difficulty in delivering services, and yet we continually hear from the Government about policies such as increasing visible policing, which are not matched by the budgets to ensure delivery. The people who are left to pick up the pieces and deal with disgruntled residents, however, are the police, not Ministers.

I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend. Hampshire and other police authorities up and down the country will face a loss of promised police community support officers—there will be 206 fewer—which will affect her constituency of Basingstoke and others. The chairman of the police authority finance committee has expressed concern about that. It is a pity that in an area where, for instance, the non-emergency 101 number was piloted and customer satisfaction has increased as a consequence, the other side of the equation is a reduction in the front-line policing promised by the Government, diminishing the service available to the public.

Is not there another dimension that has not yet been raised in the debate? Given the overall chaos in the Home Office in relation to prisoner numbers and the need for new prison building, is not the danger that the police part of the Home Office budget will be squeezed even more than is projected?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why the police have expressed fear that although the indicated 2.7 per cent. annual increases would be at or around the level of inflation, they could be less than that. We should therefore question whether it was sensible for the Chancellor to take the Home Office out of the comprehensive spending review at such an early stage and to freeze its budget. That prompts questions about how seriously the Government are taking the security and policing challenges to which the Minister alluded. As my hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor has made clear, there is a case for putting the Home Office back within the comprehensive spending review to allow a proper assessment of the challenges facing the country, rather than assessing the priorities of other Departments but making a presumption that the Home Office budget is frozen, which does not seem to make sense.

Would the hon. Gentleman put those so-called cuts in historical perspective? Is it true that the previous Conservative Government cut the number of police officers by 1,000? Was that cut the result of rising, static or falling policing expenditure? In contrast, in the past 10 years under Labour, an extra 14,000 officers have been provided.

No, it is not true that there was a cut in police officers. There was a rise in the number of police officers under the previous Conservative Governments. We are debating whether policing will be sustainably financed going forward. Yes, there has been an increase in police officer and community support officer numbers. We are now seeing that increase not only starting to fall off but numbers being cut. That does not seem to be sustainable or to make sense.

The Government have reneged on promises made as recently as the last general election in relation to police community support officers. There is a serious question that needs to be addressed not just by the Minister but by the Government as a whole, as the Chancellor has effectively made those decisions. Whether that has been a consequence of him playing political games with successive Home Secretaries, or of an error of judgment in freezing the Home Office budget, it does not seem sensible to exclude the Home Office from the comprehensive spending review.

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman in the middle of his mildly pathetic political rant. I hope that he will get back to the issue of policing. How can he describe an increase in the neighbourhood policing fund next year of 41 per cent. as a cut? Will he please not seek, however erroneously, to mislead the House?

Order. We are careful about the words that we use in debates. Would the hon. Gentleman care to rephrase his last remarks?

I thought that my use of the word “erroneous” covered that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If it did not, I withdraw the remark.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the neighbourhood policing fund will increase by 41 per cent. next year, and that the “cuts” that he talks about ought to be considered in that context?

The Minister knows perfectly well that I was talking about cuts in promised police community support officers, and there has indeed been a cut in the neighbourhood policing fund, to which I will refer in a moment.

Let us be clear about who has provided the additional resources for extra police officers. In 1996-97, almost 85 per cent. of police forces’ gross revenue expenditure was financed through Government. In 2006-07, the latest year for which figures are available, the proportion is expected to fall to 60 per cent. The amount of police spending financed through council tax has therefore doubled in real terms between 2001 and 2006-07. Council tax now accounts for more than 21 per cent. of police force expenditure finance, compared with 12 per cent. in 2001-02. The Government and Labour Members like to claim that they have recruited additional police officers. They have not recruited additional police officers; council tax payers up and down the country have done so.

I support what the hon. Gentleman says. In the past two years, our previous chief constable went around the whole of Devon and Cornwall imploring people to support an increase in council tax for additional officers and so on. The people responded that that was what they wanted to do. They have given the money, but they have seen all the advances taken away. Some of them are now saying, “We want our money back.”

The hon. Gentleman is exactly right. People have paid the increases in council tax, they will pay the increase in council tax this year, and they are entitled to expect the service increases that they were promised as a consequence. One of those was the promise of 24,000 police community support officers in the Government’s manifesto, on which they have reneged. The Government should apologise to people for that.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Council tax does not pay for the police locally; police precept—

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but that is not a point of order. [Interruption.] Order. He ought to know better than to try to raise a bogus point of order on what is, in fact, a matter of debate. Hon. Members listened with great courtesy to the Minister, and I suggest that they do the same to the hon. Gentleman who is now addressing the House.

Of all the fatuous points that the Minister has made so far, that was one of the most fatuous. Of course the police precept is an element of council tax, and it is absurd to claim otherwise.

The Minister raised the specific issue of the neighbourhood policing fund. I have here a letter sent by the head of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Ken Jones, when the Minister announced the so-called flexibilities in the fund. He wrote:

“The Home Office have now decided that only £35 million of the £105 million is to be returned to us. I am urgently seeking clarity as to the destination of the £70 million and whether the £35 million is available year on year or is a one off grant.”

Where has that £70 million gone? It has been cut from the neighbourhood policing fund; if the Minister can tell me where it has gone, I shall be grateful. As for the £35 million that remains, as I told the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), the Home Office has decided to allocate £20 million to the Metropolitan Police Service. That leaves just £15 million to be distributed to forces across England and Wales. The Government like to dress this up as flexibility, but in the words of the president of ACPO,

“Being given the flexibility to manage decline is not a position we have sought.”

In the same way, the Government announced changes in the crime fighting fund and said that those amounted to new flexibilities. Actually, “announced” is not the right word, because the Government have signally failed to make that announcement to the House despite repeated requests from Conservative Members. The Association of Police Authorities instructed its members not to obtain any publicity for the change.

As a consequence of this “flexibility”, it is possible that police numbers will fall in the future, something that would have been prevented in the past by the tight operation of the crime fighting fund. Conservative Members welcome flexibility if it is to be used sensibly, for instance to release front-line police officers from administrative tasks that they should not be performing and return them to the beat where the public want to see them. The fear is, however, that as a result of the freezing of the Home Office budget and tight future financial settlements, that will not happen.

Only yesterday, we learnt that police officer numbers had fallen by 173 between March and September last year. The significant element is not that they fell by that small amount, but that this may be the beginning of a worrying trend. As the president of the Police Superintendents’ Association has said,

“This is a trend we will see continue because the financial position for forces is very serious. The only way they can balance the books is to lose staff.”

That echoes concerns expressed by forces and by ACPO.

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way to me again. He is being very generous.

In my constituency, Basingstoke, there are only seven front-line police constables on duty at any one time. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that a lack of visible policing is doing little to promote a culture in which antisocial behaviour and fear of crime in the community can be reduced?

I do share my hon. Friend’s concern. There is little point in increasing the number of police officers if they are to be tied up with bureaucracy, unable to do what they wish to do and what the public want to see them doing—get out on to the beat to deter and engage with criminals, detect crime, make arrests and so on. Less than a fifth of a police officer’s time is currently spent on the beat. The figures that my hon. Friend gives for a town as large as Basingstoke are remarkable, but I suspect they are replicated throughout the country.

We, and the Government, should be focusing on how to get resources to the front line, particularly in an environment in which resources will be tight. One thing that the Government should do is take a careful look at the costs of their own administration, and the costs of the central direction that they have imposed on police authorities and the police force. I have been investigating something called the police and crime standards directorate. I do not know whether my hon. Friends know what that is; they may be interested to learn that it is a directorate at the Home Office with 150 staff and an annual budget of £205 million.

I have been looking into what the police and crime standards directorate does. It includes something called a local delivery unit, which costs £0.8 million a year—£0.8 million spent centrally to ensure local delivery. There is a partnership performance and support unit which costs £2.3 million, but there is also a performance and partnership policy unit which costs another £2.3 million. I shall be happy to give way if the Minister would like to tell me the difference between the partnership performance and support unit and the performance and partnership policy unit, and why those units are so important to driving up standards in policing.

There is also something called the performance framework and assessment unit. That costs another £5.3 million. There is something else called the police standards unit, which costs a further £20 million. All that money would have gone quite a long way towards preserving the police community support officers who are being cut from our communities.

The latest document published by the police standards unit is called “Co-ordination of performance assessment and support activity”, and is described as

“A joined-up approach from the Home Office”.

Such an approach would certainly be welcome and, it could be argued, unusual. Much of the document, which has been sent to bewildered police forces up and down the country, is completely incomprehensible. I decided to read no further than page 6 when I saw the third bullet point:

“Possible courses of action flowing from this consideration include… No action to take”.

Is it not time for the Government seriously to review the cost of all the agencies that are seeking to interfere in and direct policing, the proliferation of those agencies, and the overlap between them? A significant sum of money is now being spent at the centre to direct policing. At a time when Home Office budgets are frozen and Ministers appear to have lost the argument with the Treasury about whether that will continue for the next three years, it behoves the Home Office itself to ensure that its own spending is moderated so that resources can reach the front line.

The Government claim that they have cut the number of forms that police officers are having to fill in. They say that they have freed up thousands of police officers, and have made 7,700 forms obsolete across 43 forces. Indeed, they now claim that that number of obsolete forms has risen to 9,000. When I asked the Minister what those forms were, it transpired that the Government kept no record of the information. According to the Police Federation, it is extremely unlikely that anyone could establish whether the forms that have been withdrawn were significant, or whether any real savings had been made.

We know, however, that the Government have introduced a very important new form which has reduced the amount of time that police officers are able to spend policing our streets properly. That is the stop form, which takes eight minutes for each officer to complete. In fact, the trend has been not to cut the number of forms and the amount of bureaucracy, but to increase the volume of red tape under which the police are labouring.

When we debated the financial settlement here last year, we were still discussing the potential cost of police force mergers. Since then those mergers have been abandoned, leaving police forces with a bill that has not been met in its entirety by the Home Office. That is another item of expenditure that police forces up and down the country are having to cover. As the chairman of the Sussex police authority has said:

“We have been short-changed by the Government and now the council tax payers of Sussex are being asked to pay for the failure of an unwanted Government initiative. We warned them that an enforced merger would never work and - lo and behold - it didn’t.”

In this context, the Minister has said nothing, albeit I accept that he called for a debate on the future of policing. Perhaps there should have been a debate on how forces are to make arrangements in terms of closing the gap and strengthening their protective services. We will have to return to that issue, because despite the abandonment of mergers, police forces share services not only to reduce costs, but also to make sure that they are able to make significant investments and deal with cross-border crime.

I am surprised that the Minister said that forces were already using resources in, to borrow his words, an entirely efficient and productive way, because that is not the view of the Treasury, which published a document last October explaining that resources would be much tighter than in previous years and that there would have to be efficiencies of double the current level. The Treasury said that work force reform could release

“£250m from better overtime and sickness management, and 10-20 per cent. improvement potential across processes from investigation and custody to call handling, training and HR”—

human resources.

As the work force consume 80 per cent. of a police force’s budgets, those are very significant savings to demand from the work force. If we had been having a sensible debate, the Minister could have told us—and police forces—exactly how the Government expect such savings to be made over the next few years so that resources do not have to be cut at the front line. In the absence of the Government offering any explanation of why the figures are justified or how the savings will be achieved, it is inevitable that we pay attention to the fears of those running the forces—the police chiefs and authorities—that those savings will not be achievable, and that as a consequence there will be cuts.

I shall not detain Members much longer, because I know that many of them wish to speak, but let me say a few words in conclusion. Police resources are tight and police stations have been closed, and a judgment must be made as to whether the savings that the Government are now asking the police to make will impact on front-line policing. All Members support efficiencies being made and agree that it is right that any public service that has received a large increase in resources should deliver value for money to the taxpayer. Therefore, in respect of my own force in Sussex, when it proposes measures to save up to £10 million a year by 2010 and some of those measures are a good way to save public money—such as to share the £500,000-a-year police helicopter with Kent and Surrey—I hope that my hon. Friends will take them seriously and agree that they are good measures. However, we would react with concern if police forces were to talk about reducing the opening hours of smaller police stations.

The challenge over the next few years will be for forces to deliver savings in a way that improves the service that they give to the public and deals with waste, bureaucracy and inefficiency and does not cut front-line services. The Government have a serious part to play in addressing the bureaucracy that they themselves have created.

The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies has pointed out that the UK now spends proportionately more money on law and order than any other country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, including the United States of America and major European Union members such as France, Germany and Spain. The largest proportion of that money—almost two thirds—is allocated to the police. That has led to an increase in police numbers. The key question will now be whether those numbers are sustainable and whether those officers will appear on the front line. What the public want to see is police officers out of their police stations and on the beats. They want to see the police being properly locally accountable. They want a criminal justice system that functions properly, and which is joined-up so that when the police make arrests and try to bring offenders to justice there is a court system and a prison system that backs them up. The public also want to see swift justice and firm justice, not soft justice as a consequence of cautions replacing convictions that should properly be made in court, and not unenforced antisocial behaviour orders or uncollected fixed penalties. As a Member said, the public have paid their taxes and they are entitled to a return on the investment that they have made. Their tax bills have gone up, and their council tax bills have soared; they are entitled to proper levels of policing in return.

Order. Before I call the next speaker, I remind Members that Mr. Speaker has placed a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches, and that that applies from now on.

Let me start with the good news. Police numbers in Nottinghamshire are at record levels, and the police are backed by valuable police community support officers funded by the Government. The crime statistics came out last week: vehicle crime in Nottinghamshire has decreased by 22 per cent. and overall crime has fallen by 4.6 per cent.—the fifth consecutive fall. There have been significant reductions in serious crime in the city of Nottingham—homicides and gun crime. Nottingham has an undeserved reputation in that respect in the press. Police and local authorities working together have made genuine improvements. Most importantly, Her Majesty’s inspector of constabulary has been looking at the Nottinghamshire police over a long period, and it has concluded that it is effective and efficient and that it is an improving police force. However, we should be cautious: in relative terms, Nottinghamshire is still a weak performer. Although much has been achieved, there is still much more to be done, and there is no room for complacency.

Let me now turn to the bad news. All across north Nottinghamshire—from Halam to Hucknall and from Rainworth to Ravenshead—nobody believes the figures. The fear of crime continues to increase, and people complain about lack of police presence. There is a strong view abroad that the Nottinghamshire police are underfunded. That has not been helped by the strong campaign run in recent years by the Nottinghamshire police authority, which has involved the chief constable, arguing for “more cops for Notts.” The reality is that grant to Nottinghamshire police has increased significantly—by £36.4 million since 1997 to £145.9 million in the current financial year, which is a 33 per cent. increase in cash terms and a 7.8 per cent. increase in real terms. The indications in respect of next year’s settlement are that Nottinghamshire will receive an additional £4.5 million.

However, there are anomalies, and there is room for complaint. The average spending on police per head of population in England in 2005-06 was £174. In the east midlands as a whole—the five police authorities—the figure was £143, and in Nottinghamshire it was £158, so in comparative terms per head of population the police in the east midlands and Nottinghamshire are being underfunded. It is interesting to note that the Nottinghamshire police authority has more crimes per officer than any other police force in the country, save one, and that the spending per offence in Nottinghamshire is the lowest in the country. Therefore, there are real concerns.

Faced with that financial situation, and with the view abroad that the funding formula is not fair to Nottinghamshire and the east midlands, there are real problems. There is a police authority meeting on 21 February and difficult decisions will have to be made. It has already been announced that the innovative Drug Abuse Resistance Education programme—known as DARE—looks set to be cut. Adam Cable, who is aged 12 and lives in Hucknall, wrote to me as follows:

“I am…writing to say that I am terribly upset that Nottinghamshire Police Authority have decided to stop doing the DARE programme…Thanks to the DARE programme I am now more confident about speaking to others.”

He concludes:

“I still think DARE has worked wonders for youths and teenagers and that it’s a terrible loss to lose it.”

There is also speculation about the future of the mounted section. Police horses provide high-profile policing and reassurance to people in the community. The speculation is that in 2008, the mounted police will be cut, thereby saving £200,000. That is an achievable saving, but in the long term the only way to balance the books, as has been acknowledged, is to look at manpower. The figures are fairly straightforward. Nottinghamshire police face a budget shortfall of £16.5 million, if nothing changes, by 2010-11. It would be sad if the record levels of police officers that have been achieved were to be reduced.

So what is to be done? There has been much discussion in this debate about floors and ceilings. The floors in the east midlands work against the five police authorities to the tune of £14.8 million, and, in the case of Nottinghamshire, the figure is £5.1 million. We cannot change the system immediately—it needs to be stable—but this is an allegedly fair funding formula, and over time, the Minister must give some assurances about how it can be tapered and wound down. He said the following in a letter of 22 January to Nottinghamshire police:

“I recognise that those police authorities that have had their grant scaled back feel they are not getting their full share of the pot.”

I would like him to move away from recognition and into action, and to show good faith by reducing the ceilings and tapering the formula.

Secondly, the Minister is well aware of the important work of the East Midlands Special Operations Unit, which brings together the five police authorities and focuses on serious crime. It is jointly funded by the police authorities themselves and by the Government. The grant from the Home Office runs out on 31 March 2008. Ministers are aware of the significance of what has been achieved, and I invite the Minister to look closely at maintaining that grant in future years.

Thirdly and most particularly, the Minister and his officials must look at the work that the five east midlands police authorities are doing in response to Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary’s report “Closing the Gap”. There is a real recognition that protective services in the east midlands are very weak. In fairness to the five authorities, they are trying hard to work together, and the progress that they have made probably puts them ahead of any other region in the country. Let me talk about some of the plans that are going ahead. A small team of officers, backed by accountants KPMG, is looking at how regional collaboration could make money available for protective services. The police authorities are working up a scheme for a regional information technology network, not least to provide shared information to help tackle back-office costs and to help with business management systems. That costs money up front, but in the long term it could produce significant savings.

The police are also working hard to recover assets. There is £10 million-worth of unclaimed assets in the east midlands, which does not have an asset recovery body. However, part of the East Midlands Special Operations Unit is trying to recover those assets. There is also a very strong case for setting up a confidential unit in the east midlands, so that material received covertly and secretly can be shared across the region.

The five east midlands authorities will shortly be setting up a joint sub-committee, involving all five police authorities. That is a sign of their intent. The Minister will soon be writing to police authorities asking them to make bids for collaborative projects in order to bridge the gap. I invite him and his officials to look very carefully at the work going on in the east midlands. What those authorities are trying to achieve is what he wants. Progress is being made. There is more to be done, but when the Minister issues the invitations for bids, I hope that he will ask the officials, chief officers and representatives of the east midlands police authorities to meet him, so that their bid can meet the bidding criteria that he is about to set out.

I would like to preface my contribution by congratulating our police officers and acknowledging the tremendous work that they and their support staff do throughout the country, sometimes under extremely difficult circumstances. I am sure that other Members will join me in doing so and agree that is our obligation, as Members of Parliament, to ensure that the support and funding that is so desperately needed is available to the police.

The funding given to police authorities must be realistic, in order to allow them to deliver the high level of local policing that the population expect and deserve. Last November, the police service expenditure forecasting group estimated that without additional funding, the gap in police funding nationally in 2007-08 would be £380 million, being optimistic, or £391 million, being realistic. It also forecast that in 2008-09, that gap will reach £582 million or £656 million respectively. As the Association of Police Authorities argues, that gap

“represents a significant proportion of the overall police budget and poses a very real risk to maintaining current services and capability”.

This report does little to reduce that gap. The mere 3.6 per cent. announced does not address the funding crisis that many police authorities are facing.

In my constituency of Cheadle, the Greater Manchester police face a £39 million deficit over the next three years, according to the Labour-run authority’s own figures. Some estimates suggest that that could result in the loss of more than 600 police officers, in addition to the 216 already lost.

As my hon. Friend rightly says, such a loss would be on top of the 200-odd officers whom we have already lost this financial year. Michael Todd said that we required a minimum of 8,000 officers, but we now have fewer than that. Does my hon. Friend agree that, if we lose up to a further 600 officers, as he has estimated, the total number of officers would be closer to 7,000, rather than 8,000?

I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution, and he is of course absolutely right. It is a matter of record that Michael Todd, the chief constable of Greater Manchester police, has already said that as long as the GMP continues to subsidise the funding of the Metropolitan police, the situation is unlikely to get any better. Frankly, given the obvious lack of financial support from central Government, the GMP will have no choice other than to cut local services.

In case the hon. Gentleman fails to mention it, will he remind the House how many officers there were in the GMP in 1997, and how many there are today?

I regret to say that I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was a Member of the House at that time. I was not, and I am sure he will understand if I do not have those statistics immediately at my fingertips. However, I am happy to correspond with him on this issue.

I want to make some progress, as I am at only the very early stages of my contribution.

Such a situation is unacceptable, but it is sadly not uncommon. The Hampshire force, as we have already heard from the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), will have to cut 10 per cent. of services in the next financial year and predicts that unless funding increases significantly, it will be looking at a 20 per cent. cut in the following year. The North Yorkshire police force predicts that even with a 5 per cent. increase in funding it will still have a £3 million deficit next year, and the Derbyshire police authority faces a £14.6 million funding deficit over the five-year period to 2010-11.

The Government need to do more to sustain the work that local police authorities are doing. A joint report by the APA and ACPO in November last year called for

“Government to provide realistic levels of funding to ensure continued improvements in policing for communities across England and Wales.”

By not meeting their responsibilities, the Government have left local council tax payers to foot the bill for the increase in police numbers that Labour promised. The amount of police expenditure financed through council tax has almost doubled, in real terms, between 2001-02 and 2006-07. Council tax now accounts for more than 21 per cent. of police force expenditure finance, compared to only 12 per cent. in 2001-02.

With high levels of council tax everywhere, and the Government threatening to take capping action to stop the average council tax increasing by more than 5 per cent., the police are entering a funding crisis that can be fixed only by significant increases in funding from central Government—3.6 per cent. is not enough.

To add insult to injury, residents paying council tax are actually being double charged to cover the cost of community support officers. Due to the cuts in Government grants, police authorities increasingly have to go back to local councils to ask for more funding to make up the deficit. That is over and above the police authority precepts that residents are already paying. That effectively means that some residents are paying for CSOs twice, once through their precept and once when police authorities are forced to return to local councils with a begging bowl. That situation places too much of the burden on local council tax payers.

The hon. Gentleman says that 3.6 per cent. is not enough. Can he give a round figure that he thinks would be enough and how would he raise the extra money?

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has raised that issue. If he bears with me a little longer, I will come on to precisely how that funding gap might be met. I suspect that he will not be too surprised by what I have to say.

The Durham police authority is a case in point. The situation there is desperate. If funding does not improve it will have to reduce police constable numbers by up to 300, and with the current budget it is planning a reduction of 100 police constables in the coming year. Even with those cuts, the Durham police authority would need an 18 per cent. council tax rise to meet the bill.

Lack of central funding and a capping of council tax leaves nowhere for police authorities to turn, and cuts are inevitable if the Government refuse to provide a realistic level of funding for local police authorities. Members of Parliament from all parties agree that we need more police out on the streets. A stronger police presence is essential if we are to be serious about fighting crime and resolving the issues of antisocial behaviour which blight the lives of too many of our constituents.

However, under this grant report, the level of funding offered means that police numbers will again fall in a majority of police authorities. The cuts are already taking place. The Home Office’s announcement yesterday, admitting that police officer numbers nationally have fallen by 173 from the end of March last year to 141,873 at the end of September, comes as no surprise to those of us who have been involved with police funding issues in our constituencies.

In the last year, 2005-06, 24 forces reported reductions in officer numbers, while only 19 reported increased officer numbers. Police authorities cannot keep up police officer and CSO numbers if their funding is being cut. In Hampshire, which was mentioned earlier, budget cuts caused the number of CSOs to fall by approximately 40 per cent. The Government are putting the police authorities in a very difficult position. Plans that have been made based on higher levels of funding and high staffing numbers must be re-made, wasting precious time and resources.

Jan Berry, the chair of the Police Federation, spoke to The Observer earlier this month on this issue and said:

“If you’re going to increase police numbers you have to make sure you’ve got the money to maintain that”.

The Government have not done so.

Lack of funding has also caused a significant number of police station closures. Some 580 police stations have closed since Labour came to power in 1997, with the worst hit areas including Essex with 66 closures, South Wales with 43 closures, Gloucestershire with 40 closures and Greater Manchester with 39, including two in my constituency.

The Government are making it more difficult, not easier, for police to provide good local services. Local police stations are vital to ensure that the local community have confidence in their police, and are important for consolidating ties between police and community to allow them to work effectively together. By closing so many police stations the Government are creating a situation in which a permanent and personal local police service is a thing of the past for all too many people.

The Liberal Democrat “We can cut crime!” campaign, launched last week by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) posited a solution to the funding problem—namely that the £97,000 per day currently being spent on the identity card scheme be spent on local police. That money could go directly to police authorities, which could use it to create 10,000 more police officers and 20,000 community support officers to back them up. It could also be spent on greater use of the latest IT systems and communications technology. The APA has said that one of the key risks of funding shortages is that police authorities will be unable to invest

“in improved technologies and systems which will produce longer term savings and efficiencies”.

The fourth report of 2004-05 by the Home Affairs Committee noted that a Home Office commissioned study, “A Diary of a Police Officer”, found that officers were spending as much time in the police station as they were on the street. Of the 43 per cent. of time spent in the station, 41 per cent. was spent on preparing prosecution files and paperwork. We need to reduce that time by spending more money on employing civilian administrative staff to allow police officers to spend more time out on patrol where they are needed.

I agree about the need to take paperwork away from front-line police officers. In North Wales, in 1997, there were 533 civilian staff and there are now 977. Can he give me the figures for Greater Manchester?

I will be happy to confirm the precise figures after the debate, as I do not have them immediately to hand. I am pleased to hear that progress is being made in the hon. Gentleman’s area. I have not tried to suggest that every aspect of the situation is bleak everywhere. In fact, I made a point of mentioning the number of police authorities that have seen an increase in police officer numbers over the time. Unfortunately, they are in a minority.

If this debate has shown anything, it is that we need more and better funded police services, not an expensive and intrusive identity card system, to tackle the criminal problems facing Britain today.

Has my hon. Friend ever met a single constituent who has told him that they would prefer an identity card to more police on the street?

I have knocked on a fair few doors in my constituency and others over the years, but I have not met anybody who has said that they would prefer an identity card scheme to greater investment in our police forces and an improved police presence—so woefully inadequate at present in many constituencies—on our streets. Such people may exist somewhere. The introduction of some flexibility into police funding is welcome, but it does not go far enough. The crime fighting fund and the neighbourhood policing fund have been criticised by the APA and ACPO for placing unnecessary restrictions on police authorities. Both require a particular mix of staff that may not be optimal for the individual local communities concerned. Only the police authorities can know what mix of officers and other staff is needed to provide the best level of local policing. Placing ring-fenced restrictions on funds can lead to distorted budgets and cause highly trained officers to be moved into administrative roles. That causes inefficiency and the poor use of resources.

The APA and ACPO have both gone on record with their requests for the freedom and flexibility needed to deliver the best possible local policing to our communities. We need to give them that freedom by stopping the ring-fenced funding and allowing police authorities to make staffing decisions that are tailored to the needs of their areas. The APA has stated that, to meet its financial needs fully, the police service needs a funding increase of more than 5 per cent. annually just to stand still. Without significant moves in that direction, the accumulated impact of the deficit facing so many police authorities will worsen, police staff and officer numbers will continue to fall and the much needed police presence in our communities will be even less substantial than at present. That will allow levels of crime and antisocial behaviour to soar to completely unacceptable levels.

The Government grant report does not do enough. Some police authorities will be happy with the funding that they have been allocated, but many will not. They will have to make difficult decisions in the coming year about whether to cut services or seek a rise in the council tax precept to an exceptionally high level. They should not have to make such a choice. The Government must support local policing and increase funding to a level that would allow police authorities to provide the sustainable and improved service that our local communities demand and deserve.

Finally, the Government’s approach to delivering local policing, like so many other policy areas, has been disfigured by their talking big but delivering small. It has dashed the expectations of many local communities. The stop-gap funding provided by the Government shows their inability to keep their promises, and reflects the political short-termism that permeates so much of their policy. Cutting police numbers while wasting money on big Government schemes such as ID cards shows a woeful lack of priorities and the extent to which the Government are out of touch with what the public want.

I want to start by expressing my gratitude for the impact that the Government have had on policing in Slough. That has not been the approach exhibited by Opposition Members, but when I was first elected my regular surveys of constituents showed that their greatest concern was the fact that police officers were absent from the streets. Now, after a period when people complained that officers were seen only in the centre of Slough and not in their neighbourhoods, we are getting to the point that they complain that they do not see police officers in their roads. That is a reasonable point to have reached. We have got there thanks to the Government’s investment in policing. Initiatives such as the policing priority area in Britwell and the introduction of police community support officers have brought about a shift in people’s feelings about policing, but that is now under threat.

I agree that more police can be seen on the street, but the bigger problem arises when people telephone the police in an emergency. They want an officer to call, but that simply does not happen, and as a result they believe that there are too few police officers to respond to emergencies.

In fact, I have noticed that my constituents make fewer complaints about how the police respond when telephoned. Moreover, officers less often say, “My hands are tied”—I think that that sentence should be banned, because it means that someone else should get the blame—when contacted by the public. I agree that we must make sure that the police should respond appropriately to people, although that might require us to educate citizens about how they should go about contacting the police.

Slough’s neighbourhood policing presence is under threat—not from the Home Office, but from the Metropolitan Police Service. Slough is in the CDRP family that includes Brent, Ealing, Greenwich, Hackney, Haringey, Islington—

Order. I am a little apprehensive about the use of initials in the House. In case everyone does not know precisely what they mean, I wonder whether the hon. Lady will spell out what they mean at least once.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Home Office bunches crime and disorder reduction partnerships into crime families. I was giving the names of the crime family to which Slough belongs, and I think I got as far as Islington. The others are Lambeth, Lewisham, Newham, Southwark and Tower Hamlets. The House will see that Slough’s fellow family members all have something in common—they are all in the area served by the Metropolitan police. In addition, they all have more police officers per resident than Slough, and their officers are better paid.

I see that my hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety has returned to his place. My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) intervened on him earlier on this point, and the Minister was rather gracious in acknowledging that his constituents benefited from the Met’s poaching of officers from Thames Valley. When he responds to the debate, I hope that he will say that he will take action to bring that poaching to an end.

Police officers in my area get a starting salary of £20,000. That compares with the £27,000 that Met officers get. After two years, those in my area get £24,000, which compares with £31,000 in the Met. A very vigorous campaign in Slough—run by me, my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West and our local police officers—has led to the introduction of area allowances that reduce the gap, but other bribes are available. For example, Met officers enjoy free travel for a 72-mile radius around London, which of course includes the borough that I represent.

The Metropolitan police force is undertaking a sustained and predatory attempt to recruit experienced officers from Slough. I engaged in correspondence on this matter with Sir Ian Blair, before he received his knighthood and became the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. In November 2002, when he was the deputy commissioner, he wrote to me saying that the Met

“had persistently argued, in the past, for the cessation of adverts designed to encourage officers to move forces”,

but such advertisements are being used deliberately in my constituency. In addition, I was told that the Met wanted

“the introduction of a transfer fee for experienced officers to recoup the cost of training.”

However, neither idea was supported by other forces around the county.

At present, the Metropolitan police force is recruiting in a predatory manner in the Thames Valley police area. It is offering bounties—I can think of no other word—of £200 or £250 to anyone who introduces an experienced officer into the Met. Next Monday, a coach load of 30 Thames Valley officers will go to a Met open day, and the substantial pay differentials mean that it is not unlikely that we will lose some of them.

I recall what it was like in Slough in the days after the Tory dearth of police officers. The investment made by the Labour Government led to the recruitment of more police officers, but they were very inexperienced. That was evident in the quality of our policing. Now, we have reasonably experienced officers, but they are being taken away by the Met’s recruitment drive.

My local police commander told me that between 25 and 30 cops had left the area since last autumn. In Slough, there are 12 cops out on patrol for each shift, but the commander told me that he had received two more resignation notes in the previous two days. That is the scale of the impact. As he said:

“We have the dilemma of balancing experience on the shifts or the specialist teams such as CID. The shifts are generally young in service and rely on the Sergeants for experience (but they are sometimes young themselves—in fairness, most of my Sergeants or Acting Sergeants are pretty experienced and are very good). The amount of serious crime in Slough necessitates having some experience on CID, but even then they are ‘fed’ from shift, so I can have some very young (service-wise) DCs, dealing with kidnaps, attempted murders, etc.”

The situation for policing in my town is being made worse by the predatory recruiting of the Metropolitan police.

The Minister generously said that some local problems ought to be solved by broad discussion. He responded positively to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West who actively supports the campaign, so when he replies to the debate will he take on board proposals to deal with the waste of public money that occurs when one police force invests in stealing trained officers from another force?

I am of course aware that some officers will for life reasons want to leave Slough and move to the Metropolitan area. That is fine, but I do not approve of bounties and targeted recruiting. Will the Minister consider stopping the Metropolitan police and other forces spending public money on bounties and on ringing and texting serving officers in other forces? Obviously, they should provide information about posts, but aggressive marketing and recruitment is inappropriate.

Will my hon. Friend consider the imposition of a transfer fee if officers transfer to another force after training, whereby the receiving force would recompense the sending force for the cost of training the officer? Public money is used for that training, and transfer fees could make a huge difference. Perhaps future settlements could reflect the number of officers trained in a particular area but who transfer elsewhere. I take Sir Ian’s point that the Met has traditionally been an exporter of officers, so it might benefit from that proposal as much as areas such as mine.

Finally, will my hon. Friend look at the cliff faces in police pay that still occur? I was grateful that the campaign that we ran after the 1997 election resulted in area allowances in places such as Slough, but there is still a substantial pay gap between Slough, which is similar to the Metropolitan police area, and the Met. The situation will be made substantially worse, because although terminal 5 will be policed by Metropolitan police officers it will be on the doorstep of my constituency. A number of officers will be attracted by the idea of completely indoor policing, as well as the extra money and firearms training that will accompany it.

There are real challenges, which are not the result of Government policy but have arisen from the way that we deal with the boundaries of our localised police forces. The Mayor of London keeps asking me why Slough does not join London, and there are moments when I think that that would be the right thing to do. One such moment is when I look at the pay of our local police—another is when I look at our local transport services—but if the Minister could respond to proposals for transfer fees for our police, the option of joining London would look less attractive.

The Minister was benign and positive during his opening speech, and we were grateful for that, although he reverted to his more usual acerbic self during later interventions. It is perfectly reasonable to say that policing in general is of a high standard and that not everything has gone bad.

In my constituency, which is in the borough of Elmbridge and thus in the county of Surrey, the police have a good record. Surrey police work hard and effectively, often in difficult circumstances, and I pay tribute to them and to Inspector Yearwood, who is based at Staines but covers north Surrey and, therefore, my constituency. They do an effective job in often stretched conditions. Policing has other impacts locally, not least through co-operation with the volunteers who man two police stations in my constituency and with the neighbourhood watch.

I do not want to paint a bleak picture. Surrey is a safe county. The crime statistics have shown one or two worrying signs recently, but by and large, Surrey is one of the safest counties in the country and we want to keep it that way. Keeping Surrey safe means having an effective and well resourced police service, which is where some problems begin to emerge and where I pick up on some of the points made by the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart).

Part of my constituency used to be in the Met. Under the Labour Government, co-termination of boundaries meant that Cobham, Claygate and related areas in that part of the constituency left the Met and came under Surrey police. For a while, there were transitional payments, which helped. There was also some assistance for Met officers who wanted to transfer to the Surrey force, which was welcome because we received extra resources. However, the Minister should not ignore the fact that now that the transitional arrangements have ceased there are considerable problems. I shall take advantage of the speech made by the hon. Member for Slough and refer everybody to her remarks. I know about the problems and tensions she described, because our area, too, borders on the Metropolitan police area.

Of course, some serving Met police officers live in my constituency. One of them recently drew attention to the fact that the Met police would have responded much more quickly to some of the local incidents in Surrey. I am not being critical of Surrey police, but we are beginning to worry about stretch and the ability to respond to emerging pressures.

We have an excellent chief constable, Bob Quick—I am not saying that just because he is giving me lunch on Friday, but because there are undoubtedly problems and he is trying to deal with them. He is attempting to adjust services to the problems we face, which is not easy because the public like to see police on their streets. They have adapted to, and now admire, police community support officers; indeed, they expected more PCSOs. However, unfortunately, because the Government have reconfigured some of the budget for the current year, we will receive not the £1.7 million for CSOs that we were expecting but only about £450,000, which means a net reduction of 107 officers. I do not know how many CSOs there will now be in my constituency, but obviously the reduction will mean rationing in Surrey. In places such as Cobham, we have become dependent on the work of CSOs and we were expecting another officer. I paid tribute earlier to the work of the neighbourhood watch and the volunteers at Cobham police station, but they depend on CSOs, so if there are to be fewer of them I want to know how the Minister will protect the county of Surrey.

The Minister is obviously a master of the funding formulae, but that does not mean that they are right—only that he understands what they are at the moment. The problem for Surrey is that the formulae are not right. Our county borders on the Metropolitan police area, but we have major road conurbations and supplementary policing responsibilities at Heathrow and, at the other end of the county, extra responsibilities for Gatwick. There are terrorist implications and the police have to respond to that situation and maintain awareness. There are extra pressures when there are special events.

In addition, we had the merger considerations with Sussex police. I advocated that the merger should be aborted very early on, but in fact it was aborted very late. The figures are rather interesting. I hope that the Minister will listen to this, because he gave me what Surrey police called an obfuscating answer in the recent oral questions session in the House. The total cost to Surrey of the aborted merger was about £811,000. That included manpower costs; it is higher than the figure that the Minister will have, which is about £560,000. The grant to Surrey police from the Government is about £100,000. There is a shortfall. These things are cumulative.

The Minister has already acknowledged to me that the police precept in the county council tax contribution in Surrey is just under 50 per cent. That will soon rise, but over the next three years the underfunding of Surrey police that is estimated by both the police and the police authority is about £18.2 million. There are no ways in which further efficiency gains can be found. Surrey police have already found efficiency gains that exceed the Government’s target. The Government wanted a £5 million efficiency gain; the police have achieved about £8 million.

The Minister has to understand that there are severe problems in Surrey that are not necessarily evident. It is inexplicable that Surrey does so badly in relation to the other shire counties. The per capita figure is about £89 and the average is about £107. I do not want him to come back to me with the fact that there are 14,000 more officers compared with 1997.

I am not saying that everything that the Government have done in relation to policing is bad. I am saying that we are dealing with some serious problems now. In my view, those problems derive from the fact that, given its geographical position, a county such as Surrey has stresses and strains that are not recognised by the formula. Surrey has problems in raising further money from local people to fund its police force, not least because council tax increases will be capped at 5 per cent. anyway, even if the people of Surrey wish, in a fit of generosity, to pay more council tax. There are issues in relation to the organisation of the police force, not least its proximity to the Met and that fact that policemen and women make a comparison with people who happen to work for the Met but live near them.

All those things cumulatively can be thrown out of gear by big problems that might emerge, such as the EU heads meeting at Sandown Park, which happens to be in my constituency. We also get big criminal trials. In one case, there is not a trial but a continuing inquiry into the tragic murder of Milly Dowler several years ago. The culprit is yet to be found. There is also the evident problem that a lot of the crime—particularly the more violent crime—in Surrey is carried out by criminals who come across the boundary from London and then go back again. I ask the Minister please to think of Surrey sympathetically and to be constructive in his responses.

I welcome the increase that we have seen this year. Clearly, we would like more. I am sure that every hon. Member wants more for their area. However, the £76.3 million in general grant that North Wales police will receive will be an increase of some 3.6 per cent. or £2.6 million over the previous year. I stress that that is an increase. It is not a cut, a reduction or a decrease. It is not less, but more. The inflation-plus increase this year builds on the extra investment of previous years—investment that has resulted in a dramatic increase in policing and in support staff. At the start of the financial year in 1997, there were a total of 1,367 police officers in North Wales police. By 2006, their numbers were about 1,600. That is an increase of about 18 per cent.—a higher increase than that experienced in many other parts of England and Wales. There has been an even greater increase of nearly 100 per cent. in support staff. Numbers are up from 533 in 1996 to 997 in October 2006, as my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) pointed out. There are now 58 community support officers. That will rise to more than 240.

Those extra resources have certainly produced results. There has been a fall in crime and, importantly, a greater police presence on the street, which I am sure that hon. Members would agree is what they want and certainly what the general public want. Clearly, we still have a long way to go before we have a police presence on every corner—not that we ever did—but we are making good progress in the right direction. The introduction of community beat managers has been a major success in putting police where they should be: at the heart of local communities. I can certainly testify, as my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) has also said, that the number of people coming to see me to complain about a lack of police presence has gone down compared with when I entered the House, although we have a long way to go.

The investment must be sustainable and long-term. Budgets need to be planned accordingly. That is key. Finance is gathered not only from central Government, but from the council tax payer. The council tax payer has certainly made a sizeable contribution. In 1996, the police precept on a band D house was £46.21 in north Wales. That has now risen to £166.89. The increase in the police share of council tax has been in excess of 273 per cent. The response from the chief constable of North Wales to this year’s increase—I again stress that it is an increase—has been to claim that his budget has been cut and that 120 jobs will go this year, with further job losses in future years. To head off that situation, he wants council tax payers to pay an increase in the precept of some 12 per cent. A point has been made about the inflation rate in the police force, which he claims to be 6 per cent., although, as has been said, I think that that has now fallen to 5 per cent. However, 80 per cent. of police costs are salary costs, which are running at around the 3 per cent. level. The inflation rate of the remaining 20 per cent. of costs must be staggering.

I am sure that we could all argue about those issues long into the night. I know that I can speak for other colleagues in north Wales when I say that we feel that we have on many occasions. However, there is a more serious issue that arises and that is at the heart of the whole funding debate. It gets to the heart of the problem in north Wales. The Home Office grant provided this year was delivered at the level that North Wales police expected. It was not less than they expected. If we examine the figures from previous years, a similar picture arises. The figures are produced by North Wales police, not by me or the Home Office. In 2004-05, North Wales police anticipated an increase in the grant of between 2.2 and 3 per cent. They got 2.7 per cent, within the expected band. In 2005-06, they anticipated an increase of between 2 and 3 per cent. They got 3.85 per cent., which is considerably above what they were expecting. In 2006-07, they expected an increase of between 2 and 3 per cent. and they got 3.1 per cent. One would be hard pressed to argue that the Home Office has failed to meet the expectations of North Wales police.

If we look at the council tax precept, however, we see a somewhat different picture. Again, the figures are produced by North Wales police. In 2004-05, North Wales police expected an increase in council tax precept of between 23 and 25 per cent. They received 19.4 per cent., which is still a dramatic increase. In 2005-06, they expected an increase of between 14 and 16 per cent., but received 4.86 per cent. In 2006-07, they expected to receive between 10.5 and 12 per cent. and received 5.67 per cent. It is clear to me that their expectations from the council tax precept have been wildly unrealistic, not just this year, but in many years in the past. In addition, the Welsh Assembly Government have made it clear in the last few years that they will cap increases that they think are excessive at around the 5 per cent. figure.

Why, we must ask, have North Wales police been producing budgets that they know they do not have the funding to meet? Why have they recruited officers and staff in the knowledge that they do not expect to have the funding to meet their ongoing cost? At best, it is brinkmanship to bring about extra funding, or, at worst, it is mismanagement—it is probably both. Even if North Wales police are doing such things with the best of intentions of receiving extra resources, they are playing with employees—officers and support staff—who are doing a good job for the people of north Wales. Worry about the financial management of North Wales police is also caused by the situation involving the general reserves, which are predicted to fall to 1.4 per cent., which is well below the 5 per cent. guideline figure.

If North Wales police have to examine their expenditure, they will find many areas on which they could cut back. It is important that such cuts do not fall on front-line policing. Cutting support staff is not the answer either, because letting support staff leave only to replace them with front-line officers is neither a sensible nor a cost-effective approach. Again, we are seeing an element of brinkmanship.

I will not go into great detail on how North Wales police could cut back, although I am tempted to do so. However, I will give a few illustrations of where cuts could be made. The publication “Y Glas” is sent to every home in north Wales and has included such vital information as a poem in praise of the chief constable. The latest edition informs us that John Nettles will be filming “Midsomer Murders” in north Wales. Although that is very interesting stuff, the money that funds the publication—some £200,000—could probably be better spent on front-line policing. I am pleased that the police authority has acted on that.

The chief constable wants to take forward mounted police at a cost of about £300,000, although that money could be better spent. The fleet of Mercedes cars has been extended to further grades. The police uniform has been changed to black and now includes a baseball cap. In addition, the force failed to take up the first tranche of money for CSOs, and the chief constable and his colleagues have blogs, which are translated, that have cost more than £4,500 to date. Of course, opinion and research companies have been employed to point out that people are crying out to pay even more council tax than they do at present. There was also a famous inquiry costing £82,000 over a leaked document from the police authority that resulted in members of the police authority being DNA tested. I could go on.

Whatever the arguments and counter-arguments about the present difficulties, we need to maintain front-line policing. As hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, we need to find a position that is sustainable not just now, but in the future. North Wales police have received substantial increases in funding from both central and local government. The funding has produced good results and we need to carry on the work. If the situation is sustainable, we will be able to build on the great success that we have already achieved.

Policing is probably one of the most—if not the most—important issues to our constituents. For Cherwell community partnership, which is made up of Cherwell district council and all the other local councils and agencies, making Cherwell a safer place to live is the lead priority.

I endorse the comments made by the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart). There is considerable frustration about the number of police officers who train in Thames Valley, but then transfer to the Met. The hon. Lady did not mention the double whammy that because the Met provides those officers with transport costs, they can continue to live in the Thames valley and travel free to the Met area. There is an additional unfairness for parts of the country such as mine because police officers tend to get drawn from places that are perceived to be quieter, such as north Oxfordshire, to areas of high stress, such as Oxford, Slough and Reading.

The hon. Lady, like me and every other Member for the Thames valley, would have received yesterday an e-mail from Sara Thornton, the excellent acting chief constable of Thames Valley police, which said:

“the financial outlook is very severe … ACPO and APA have produced a number of forecasts which make it clear that without additional funding or changes in current policy and priorities there will be a significant and increasing gap in police funding over the CSR period … Over 80 per cent. of the Police budget is accounted for by officer and staff costs and the real worry is that this gap will only be closed by a loss of officer numbers … The Thames Valley budget for next year … as it currently stands with a 4.99 per cent. increase in Band D Council Tax and nearly £7 million cut from support costs … is balanced. I have been able to do this by taking money from Headquarters functions and have therefore avoided cutting frontline operational officers. I very much doubt that we will be able to do this again next year. Indeed the draft revenue estimates for 2008/9 suggest that there is a £20 million increase in budget needed and only a £5 million increase in revenue support grant—clearly some very hard choices will have to be made next year.”

The acting chief constable is clearly not alone. It is not like Thames Valley police is somehow out on a limb. Ken Jones, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, has said:

“To maintain … high standards, the Government must maintain sufficient levels of funding. Demands on the police service mean that, although the 3.6 per cent. funding settlement for the service remains above inflation, our expenditure increases at a far greater rate, a fact that must be reflected in our financial allocations.”

In response to the Government’s grant settlement, ACPO expressed concern about the lack of projection for the next financial year and fear that the grant level could be as low as 2.7 per cent. I think that it could be even lower than that because all sorts of pressures on the Home Office, such as the need for prison building and to deal with asylum seekers, could well drive the figure down lower.

As the head of the ACPO finance committee, the chief constable of Gloucestershire, says:

“The settlement … gives us no firm foundation for the future … Many authorities will just about be able to get through next year, but unless there is some guarantee of funding for the future it will only be a matter of time before the cuts become cumulative, with consequent decreases in service levels.

The Minister said in his speech that he did not want to restrain police authorities by flatlining them, but I genuinely do not understand how, if revenue support for police forces is flatlined over the next few years of the comprehensive spending revenue, we will see anything other than a serious reduction in the number of front-line officers. I predict that when this debate takes place next year, considerably more hon. Members will wish to participate because the cuts on front-line services will have started to bite.

Does my hon. Friend agree that front-line staff play an absolutely crucial role not only in combating crime, but in reducing the fear of crime, which is a major concern to residents in Guildford?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Whether in Guildford, Banbury or Bicester, the fear of crime is best dealt with if people are confident that there will be police officers out on the streets.

An article in The Observer on 14 January with the headline “Police funding crisis ‘will put public at risk’” said that the Police Federation, which represents Britain’s police officers,

“claims 999 calls will take longer to answer and that the number of fully trained officers will be reduced.”

That concern is shared by the acting chief constable of Thames Valley police, chief police officers across the country and rank and file police officers, as represented by the Police Federation. Ministers must confront the Treasury and make it clear that if they do not receive a year-on-year increase in funding there will be a cut in front-line funding. The Minister said that police forces must become more efficient, but funding has flatlined and police forces have to cope with ever increasing demands. For example, the witness protection provision of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 came into force in April 2006, and administrative support is required to manage the scheme. The nature of major crime is constantly changing, and police forces have to apply the national intelligence model, and are engaged in counter-terrorism initiatives. Alternative criminal tactics require additional resilience and resources. More work is done in organised crime units, and the Thames Valley force requires a new team of appropriately vetted and highly professional intelligence practitioners to set up a confidential unit.

There are ongoing demands on police forces, which are ever more sophisticated in their response to major crime, specialist crime and, as we have heard, the increased terrorist threat. I fully endorse and support what my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) said. Our complaint is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a serious error of judgment when he decided early this year to freeze the Home Office budget until 2011. He effectively announced that policing and security were not a priority, creating considerable difficulties for the police. This year, there has been an increase in the Thames Valley police budget of 4.62 per cent. If the budget is to stand still, next year a 5.94 per cent. increase is required and a 4.3 per cent. increase is required in 2009. Something must therefore give, and I suspect that it will be front-line policing and PCSO provision, on which a promise was made but never quite delivered. The 2005 Labour manifesto pledged to deliver more than 24,000 PCSOs, but no sooner was the print dry than the Home Office reneged on its word, and reduced the national number to 16,000 without adequate explanation.

In the Thames Valley, 675 PCSOs were originally promised but, in fact, 417 will be recruited, so there is a shortfall of 258. Even worse, district and parish councils are increasingly told that if they want PCSOs they must provide match funding. In effect, they must pay for PCSOs twice, through the police grant and through the district council or parish precept, even though the amount of funding for the police from council tax has increased substantially. In 1996-97, almost 85 per cent. of police force revenue was financed directly by the Government, but that percentage has fallen substantially, and it is about to go down to 60 per cent. in 2006-07. Council tax accounts for 21 per cent. of police funding—up from 12 per cent. in 2001-02—so a stealth tax has been levied, as more and more burdens are imposed on local people and the amount of money paid by the Treasury and central Government has decreased.

The Minister kindly said that he would meet the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) and my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow)—I hope that he will extend that invitation to me, as I represent an Oxfordshire constituency—to discuss funding for the Thames Valley force. He suggested that he wanted to engage in a process. This is an extremely important subject, and we all want to engage in the process of trying to ensure that over the next two or three years our police forces are properly funded without cutting the number of front-line police officers.

Police funding in the past 15 years has gone through a number of different phases. It has gone from famine under the Conservative Administration to a feast in recent years. Every feast is always followed by a diet, and we are in that position now, as people have to tighten their belts and manage their budgets more responsibly.

In the past 10 years, the performance of North Wales police has improved considerably, and the force’s detection rates have increased faster in the past four to five years than those of many other areas. The north-west Wales division, which covers my constituency of Ynys Môn, is one of the best performing divisions in the United Kingdom. Like many hon. Members, I have regular meetings with the chief superintendent and local inspectors, who point to advances in community policing such as the neighbourhood policing teams that have won the trust of the community—something that has been missing for many years. The Government have an excellent record of funding community policing. In 1996, there were no community support officers at all, but in north Wales, we now have 58 CSOs—a figure that will rise to 240.

PCSOs have made a real difference. North Wales police missed out on the first tranche of funding, because the chief constable suggested PCSOs could not do the job that he wanted them to do. That is certainly not the case, and he has changed his mind, but we have lost out on valuable Home Office money. That money was left unclaimed, but there are complaints now that that there is insufficient money from the Home Office. Good police performance in north-west Wales is the result of the dedication of police officers and, indeed, civilian staff, accompanied by steady increases in Government funding. In north Wales this year, and in 2007-08, there will be a rise in grant of 3.6 per cent., and the area has received a real-terms increase of 33 per cent. since 1997.

In addition to the increase in central funding, there have been massive increases in the council tax precept: there has been a 53 per cent. increase over the past three years, and a staggering 100 per cent. increase in the past five years. Such increases, as my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) said, are not sustainable and, indeed, are unacceptable. Police numbers in my area have increased by 18 per cent. compared with the UK average of 11 per cent. since 1997, and we have 1,600 police on our streets. In that period, the number of civilian staff doubled to 997. In the comprehensive spending review, as the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) mentioned, the Chancellor made it clear that the Home Office would receive flat-rate increases between 2009 and 2011. It was known well in advance that an average increase of 3.6 per cent. in the general grant would be awarded in 2007-08, yet when it was delivered the police claimed that the Home Office had cut their budget. The general grant increase is worth £2.6 million while total funding is £76.3 million. The police have secured extra revenue from council tax, but resources still do not meet its expectations. Indeed, the police are still considering increasing council tax by between 7 and 10 per cent. per annum. The Welsh Assembly Government have indicated that they would cap increases at 5 per cent. There has been poor budget planning by North Wales police during a period in which there were sufficient funds coming from the Home Office. North Wales police has made some controversial management decisions, some of which were referred to by my hon. Friend.

In an intervention, the Minister mentioned that he launched the St. Asaph call centre, but I can tell him that the call centre is not working. There are insufficient numbers of front-line staff answering calls, and the centralisation that has taken place in North Wales police has come at the expense of moving experienced and knowledgeable people from different parts of the division to a central call centre. It is a white elephant, and it is sucking front-line staff into it to plug gaps.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the amount that North Wales police has spent on IT is very high, compared with the amount spent by other forces?

Indeed. North Wales received specific grants from the Home Office, which it spent well, and that has worked, but the call centre is not working because of the lack of knowledge of the region that it is supposed to represent. Council tax payers have paid for extra policing. Indeed, when the police authority proposed the rises, people were told that they were getting a 10p bobby. They have paid for extra local policing, but the chief constable is now making alarmist statements in the press, saying that he will cut the number of front-line staff—staff for whom people have already paid—if he does not get more money from the Home Office. I repeat what my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside said: the authority is getting extra money from the Home Office, year on year, and is not facing a cut, as has been suggested.

My constituents in Wrexham, north Wales, tell me that they strongly think that a 5 per cent. limit, in relation to council tax increases, is, if anything, too high. Does that agree with the views expressed by my hon. Friend’s constituents, and do they feel that the projected increase of 10 to 12 per cent. would be way beyond their means?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We all know that in the 2005 general election, council tax was the big issue. The Welsh Assembly Government have asked local authorities and police authorities to bear that in mind, and to consider inflation, which is at some 3 per cent., when setting the precept. I know that that is the case in England, too.

My hon. Friend the Minister has met me on a number of occasions to discuss a north Wales issue that is specific to my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson)—port security. The arrangement for funding port security is not clear, and the system was changed in 2006-07 to reflect a new method of payment to the police authority. I talked to the police authority spokesman only yesterday, and it is still unclear how much money is dedicated to port security. The Minister will know that port security is high on the agenda, not just in my area but throughout the United Kingdom. Can he say exactly how much money will be allocated and when, so that we can use it properly in the port?

Failure to secure extra funding for the port will mean one of two things: either we cut the police presence alongside immigration officers, or we take front-line police officers from the street and put them in the port areas. My constituency has the third heaviest port traffic in the United Kingdom. On average, the number of lorries and the amount of heavy freight is increasing by 2 to 3 per cent. a year, so the amount of traffic flow through the port to the Republic of Ireland and back is increasing. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to bear that in mind.

On police authority specific grants, another issue that has caused concern is protective services. I was strongly opposed to North Wales police force merging with the rest of Wales, because it would result in over-centralisation, but one of the issues identified in the mergers debate—I think that this point was agreed by everybody—was that there was a gap in level 2 funding across the UK. That is certainly the case in my constituency. North Wales police and other police authorities in Wales have submitted plans to the Home Office, and the Minister is considering them in great detail. I urge him to make a decision as soon as possible. In February, the police authority will set its precept, and I hope that it will discipline itself this year. If the Minister made it known that additional funding would be available over the next few years for level 2 policing, and for port security, it could balance its budget better, and it would have some flexibility.

To conclude, North Wales police is experiencing pressures, largely of its own making—

Before my hon. Friend concludes, would he consider suggesting to the Minister that police forces with good records for delivery, like the North Wales police, which has the third or fourth best record on crime in the country, should be rewarded for that good practice?

I am sure the Minister heard my hon. Friend’s plea, which we have made on previous occasions when delegations from north Wales met the Minister. The Minister should take that consideration on board.

Port security is a priority in my area. I urge the Minister to take it into account, along with level 2 policing. A third factor that the formula does not recognise fully, as I said in an intervention, is the population changes in popular tourist areas such as mine. Small communities with community policing have to deal with double the population and a different type of population in the evening and at night. Will the Minister reflect on that? He said in response to an intervention that tourism was nothing new in the area, but I am proud to tell the House that since 2001 tourism has increased in my area, and the number of people using north-west Wales and other UK destinations has grown significantly over that period. Not everybody is taking advantage of cheap flights abroad. Many are staying in the UK. The formula for police funding does not recognise that fully. I urge the Minister to give extra attention to those three aspects of policing in north Wales—port security, level 2 policing and tourism.

When Ministers say that we have had a good debate, they often do not mean it, but I do mean it. The debate has given Members the opportunity to air local concerns—I accept that, as the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) said, policing is, rightly, a hugely important local issue—and to make more general points about the processes, the formulae and all the other elements of the settlement. In that sense the debate has been good and focused.

The hon. Member for Banbury is also right to say—it is jargon now, and I do not remember when the expression was first coined—that the broader issues of finance and policing in our communities are a process, rather than an event. That seems to apply to most things these days. Although many contributions focused on the specifics of the immediate settlement and its consequences for individual communities, many hon. Members, not least the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor), dealt with the broader picture. I do not blame hon. Members for adopting either approach.

The debate was constructive and represents the start of a wider debate. I do not say that as an abdication of responsibility for the development of public policy on policing. I say that because the subject is important enough for us to have a proper national debate, as I suggested earlier.

I am sorry to interrupt the Minister’s flow and I am grateful to him for giving way. I agree with him about the need for further debate, especially in view of the funding constraints over the next few years. When he announced the police authorities grant back in November, he said that the Government would publish a vision for policing and a reform road map by the end of the year. Plainly, that vision and reform agenda are needed. Can he tell the House when he now plans to publish them?

I will, in all candour. We had hoped that the Association of Police Authorities, the Association of Chief Police Officers and Government consultation processes would all be aligned and would be completed by the end of the year, but that was not possible. ACPO is taking considerable time to reflect on these matters, which it is important to do, and will not be ready until April. The position of the APA is similar, though it may not need until April. To engender the debate, the Home Office will set out in February the broad vision and way forward in terms of the components of reform—broadly, what we need more of and what we need less of.

Some of the issues that I have not touched on today but which are important were mentioned by Members—unfairly, in the case of the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert)—such as the function of the police framework assessment, the police standards unit and other units in the Home Office.

I want to get to a stage whereby, on the back of good performance, the Government, while of course still measuring that performance, step back more and more in terms of inspection, bureaucracy and telling people what to do in a very prescriptive way and let local forces concentrate increasingly on that while we concentrate increasingly on output. The Home Office statement in February will engender a wider debate with colleagues in the APA and ACPO. In terms of reform and vision, I agree with much of the joint ACPO-APA document on sustainable policing; I could sign up to that tomorrow. I have some concerns about their comments on finance and resources, which I am happy to discuss with them, but I think that many would agree with the overall thrust of the document.

I am grateful to many Members who talked about the huge improvements in policing that have taken place and made their comments in that context. My hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping), who is not with us at the moment, said that there have been huge improvements in Nottinghamshire although there is a long way to go. He echoed a point made by many other Members: whatever we do of substance in terms of reducing crime and getting more and more police officers on the front line, there is real difficulty in trying to shift the public perception of how safe or otherwise their areas are. The hon. Member for Esher and Walton rightly said that although, compared with many other areas, his area is safe—we may want to put that in inverted commas or contextualise it—that is a hard message to get across to many of his constituents, who still perceive it as relatively dangerous or crime-ridden. For the record, my borough of Harrow invariably stands at anything from 30th to 33rd in the crime rankings in London, including the City of London, yet it is still very hard to shift people’s perceptions—although things are changing with the introduction of the safer neighbourhood teams. That is not for political reasons, but simply because crime is such an important issue.

Members are right to ascribe to the police the importance that they have in this debate, and I want to dwell on a few of the specific points that have been raised. With the greatest respect, I will not refer to the comments of the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter), not least because we heard them all last week in the Manchester debate. I took the opportunity to have a little comfort break at that point, because I knew that it was the only break that I was going to get. I apologise to him for my absence. I am sure that his speech was as excellent this week as it was last week.

Several Members on both sides, including hon. Friends from the Thames valley, Kent and Surrey, spoke about a situation that arises particularly in relation to the Met and its surrounding forces and to a lesser extent elsewhere. It is a fair point, but I do not have a piece of paper in my pocket to give an immediate response to it. I am not sure whether transfer payments are the answer. As Ian Blair has said, as much traffic goes the other way. I should think that the Met is, at worst, static in terms of imports and exports. Other Members mentioned Greater Manchester and its influence on Lancashire, Cheshire and other forces. However, the incentives offered by metropolitan forces outside London are not of the same nature as the Met can offer. It is worth exploring further the relationship between metropolitan forces with a larger resource base, relatively speaking, than the county forces surrounding them.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) and my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) will be more than happy for my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) and the hon. Member for Banbury, to come one, come all for a chat about Thames Valley and its relationship with the Met as regards recruitment and a whole range of other issues. It is certainly a matter worth exploring. By the by, I add to the comments of all Thames valley colleagues about the excellence of chief constable Sara Thornton and all that she is doing in the Thames valley. I wish the authority well.

I am not sure that I would go as far as to say—though I understand why people say it—that this is all about bribes and predatory behaviour and all those other elements. However, I understand why some of my hon. Friends talk in those terms.

As a small aside—it is germane to the points raised by the hon. Member for Esher and Walton and another Member representing Sussex, though I cannot remember who—we are, in tandem with the Department for Transport and through the Boyce-Smith report, looking at the policing of airports and who should pay for it. That relates to some of the points made about terminal 5 at Gatwick and other issues that impact on Surrey as well as Sussex. We will report on that in due course.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Esher and Walton for the way in which he put his case. I have taken into account the point about the peculiarities— historic, geographic and otherwise—of some of the south-east forces, which requires further detailed consideration. I do not have all the figures to hand but when there have been specific international events at Sandown or elsewhere in Surrey, with unique policing dimensions, sooner or later—on balance and to be fair to the Home Office and Surrey—they have been dealt with. I do not think that the point about proximity to London in that regard means that it has been somehow ill served by the special grant regime. Again, some of the broader points about policing, crime markets and wider points that go beyond recruitment and the whole nexus of London and the surrounding counties, including Essex, were well made. I will try to think positively—I urge everyone to do the same—not just about Surrey’s predicament but about everybody’s position as we go forward into what will be, as I have said in all candour, three quite tight years.

I would say to the hon. Member for Banbury and others who alluded to terrorism that the funding for counter-terrorism has increased fourfold since about 2002—to the best part of £0.5 billion. That is not part of the settlement and does not count as money going directly between forces and the centre. It is a grant put on top, so terrorism should be taken out of the equation. That does not mean that points raised about gaps in protective services at level 2—referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) and others—do not exist, but they are starting to be addressed. Quite deliberately, counter-terrorism has been put to one side and needs to be dealt with in a regional, local and national configuration. That is being done.

The hon. Member for Banbury and others raised another important point, which I tried to write down, about continuing demands being made of our police forces in ever-more sophisticated ways in an ever-changing world. That is absolutely the case. We are trying to address those points in an environment in which growth in resources has slowed down. That is the safest way of saying it, rather than the impression of “cut, cut, cut” that has been created by some hon. Members. There has been significant growth over eight or nine years. Yes, the rate is slowing and yes, it causes difficulties, but if all things remain the same and we go forward to the year after next, we should be able to address the issues collectively in all substance. It is not simply the point that 80 per cent. or more of funding is in people: if it is nothing more than 3 per cent., how can the inflation rate be described as very exorbitant?

This issue is also about, to use the jargon, processes, business re-engineering and all the other elements. It is about doing things smarter. It is about more and more civilianisation of custody suites, thus releasing police officers for the front line. It is about, however traduced, doing more on bureaucracy. It is about looking into the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and carrying out a full review of the Act, taking into account all the paperwork and paraphernalia surrounding the process of an arrest all the way through to dispatching people to the courts. That is about to commence. It is about the balance between summary justice, fixed penalty notices and who goes through the courts. That does not apply in a sharp, black-and-white, “That’s a dreadful way to do it; do it this way” manner, but in a serious fashion. It is about IT improvements such as the greater implementation of Airwave radios and live scan units for fingerprint images. Many exciting, challenging and sophisticated innovations and changes are happening in policing. I therefore believe that many of the efficiencies that we need to continue to secure from policing will come far more readily than would otherwise occur.

I will not give way, partly because there are only two minutes left and I promised that I would not speak for that long, and also because I do not have the answers about port policing. I will happily write to my hon. Friend.

I broadly agree with much of what my north Wales colleagues said. They have made the same comments previously. It is important to point out that North Wales receives an extra £7.3 million from the Home Office in special grant to prop up the general grant as well as £1.2 million to cover relocation from South Wales. We are not therefore cutting the money for North Wales police or any other authority in Wales. I have written in terms to the chairman of the North Wales police authority to say so.

Although the subject is emotive and hugely important, the police—from the Fed to the supers to the sergeants to ACPO and the APA—would demand that we dealt with policing calmly, maturely and reflectively, thus according it the importance that our communities do. I commend the report to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2007-08, House of Commons Paper No. 207, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th January, be approved.