[Relevant documents: Fourth Report of the Home Affairs Committee, Session 2006-07, on Police Funding, HC 553; and the Government Response to the Committee’s Fourth Report, Session 2006-07, HC 1092.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Alison Seabeck.]
I am grateful to the Liaison Committee and to you, Lady Winterton, for the opportunity to allow the House to debate the fourth report of the Home Affairs Committee from the last session, which is on police funding. The purpose of the debate is to discuss the issues that were raised in the inquiry and to look at developments since.
I am pleased to see the Minister back in Westminster Hall after the debate yesterday on police pay, which was initiated so eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). At 80 per cent. of the policing budget, police pay-related expenditure is a major aspect of funding, and I shall speak about the issue later.
As this is my first speech on a Select Committee report as Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, I should like to pay tribute to the Committee’s staff, who are led by Elizabeth Flood and Tony Catinella, who do a wonderful job.
I am also pleased to see the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) attend his first major debate on his new portfolio. His website tells us that:
“Chris is unusual among modern politicians”.
I am sure that we will find that that is the case, as he proceeds with his new portfolio. It is worth noting his quote of the month from his defence of Albrook farmhouse in a local publication. He said that it was
“clearly better to be a Beatle than a Beale”
I wish him well in his new position, no matter what his musical tastes are.
Policing and law and order are fundamental to a modern society. We ask the police in our country to perform a wide range of tasks, and we rightly expect a high standard of service. In the past 10 years in particular, we have seen the role of police officers greatly increase. That is partly owing to our growing anti-terrorism operation, but it relates also to the fact that there has been a growth, in the past 10 years, in the domestic agenda that requires police activities and assistance. We ask some officers to carry firearms and to approach people who may be a threat to their lives.
During the de Menezes case, we heard that a police officer had thrown himself on a man whom he believed to be a suicide bomber, to stop the public being hurt—the officer was rightly commended for his actions. Officers quite literally deal with life and death situations. Our law and order agenda, as set by the Government, is wholly dependent on our police force, and it is vital that good relations are built between the people who make the laws and those whom we ask to enforce them. I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the 142,374 police officers in the 43 forces throughout England and Wales.
It is worth bearing it in mind that the Committee began to inquire into the funding that police forces receive, how it is used and what changes can be made to improve efficiency in April 2007. The report made a number of wide-ranging recommendations to which the Government initially responded in October 2007. The most significant question was whether we are getting value for money. Had the increase in funding been matched by a fall in crime trends? The Committee felt, on balance, that it had not.
It was agreed that there had been a general fall in crime, but that was most significant in the years predating the bulk of additional police funding. The fall in crime figures has now levelled off, despite significant increases in police funding for the years 2000-01 and 2004-05. The report acknowledges that crime levels are affected by a range of factors other than police resources and that it is difficult to draw firm conclusions from high-level data on overall crime and funding levels. However, the report concludes that the reduction in overall crime did not seem to be directly related to additional resources.
The Government response was that Home Office research showed that increases in police
“strength, visibility and focus”
have had a
“significant impact on reducing crime”.
The Committee welcomes the range of steps that are being taken to assess the effectiveness and efficiency of the police service, but urges the Government to redouble their efforts to ensure that investment in the police is used to maximum effect and that there is a direct relationship between expenditure and the fall in crime. I think the public expect that, and I regard it as the ultimate benchmark.
Efficiency was an ongoing theme of the Committee’s findings. We looked at research by the Treasury and the Audit Commission that confirmed that there remains scope for significant improvements in the way in which police forces use the resources available to them. We recommend that those who are in senior police leadership must demonstrate that they are making a concerted and sustained effort to improve the use of the resources that they are given. Perhaps the Minister will tell us when he replies whether he is satisfied that resources are being used in that way?
Our report noted that, in the past 10 years, the proportion of total police funding raised through the council tax precept had risen from 13 per cent. in 1997-98 to 21.5 per cent. in 2006-07. There is no specific cap on police precept increases, but there is a cap on an authority’s overall budget. The Government have made it clear that they expect council tax increases for 2007-08 onward not to exceed a 5 per cent. each year. Given that the proportion of police funding raised from local taxation is increasing, the Committee is concerned by the implications of limits on council tax increases for the resources available to the police. During an evidence session, the Minister said that the Government remained committed to the overall council tax increase of only 5 per cent. His view was that it was appropriate
“to look not at overall council tax and capping, but to look at the issue of police precept and whether it remains appropriate for that to be capped”.
He also gave examples of flexibility in the capping system. The Committee notes the Government statement that they will not hesitate to use their capping powers when necessary, and it shares the Minister’s concern at the wide variation between forces in the proportion of total police funding raised locally. It acknowledges that decisions taken locally underpin that disparity and welcomes the Government’s undertaking to consider whether it is appropriate to seek to narrow the range of police authority precepts. The Minister told us that the issue of
“local contribution versus national contribution”
in police funding was
“a really interesting debate”.
We hope that the Home Office will take steps to inform the debate by commissioning research on that important question.
The Committee’s inquiry was published before the comprehensive spending review settlement for the next three financial years. The Committee was concerned about previous Government statements that any shortfall in the funding settlement must be met by increased efficiencies. We feel that the Government need to be clearer on, and more realistic about, how much cashable increases can be. The CSR asked for even greater increased cashable efficiency in the next few years, and the Committee recommends that the Home Office keep its policy of not mandating police forces to share services to cut costs under review. Will the Minister inform us whether that remains under consideration?
Crucially, the Association of Chief Police Officers has said that the CSR settlement is enough to retain day-to-day running of the police, but not enough for any key development. Although the Government confirmed that they did not intend to impose any new burden on police authorities, it seems strange to suggest that there will be no new roles for the police to fill over the next three years. The Government are urged to consider centralised funding for any new initiative.
The total provision for the policing revenue grants in 2008-09 will be £9.2 billion—an overall increase of 2.9 per cent. We accept that that is also the provisional figure for 2009-10. I hope that hon. Members will not mind if I digress slightly to talk about the increase received by my local police force, Leicestershire. The Leicestershire constabulary received a 2.9 per cent. rise in funding for the next three years, which is above the average but not at the top of the scale. It would be churlish and ungrateful of me not to thank the Minister for that increase.
Following a meeting that I had with the chief constables from the east midlands, I wrote to the Minister to ask him to ensure that there was future funding for the east midlands special operations unit. I am glad to say that that has been provided, which is very welcome. The unit is one of the few collaborative efforts between forces that still exist, and it has been very successful. The Government must centrally fund such efforts when they produce such excellent results and allow local forces to concentrate on other funding areas. I congratulate my local chief constable, Matt Baggott, who was made a CBE in the new year’s honours list. He is deserving of that award.
Too much bureaucracy and paperwork was considered a major problem for police forces. We acknowledge that there is a minimum amount of time that has to be spent on paperwork, but the time that officers spend on it remains unacceptably high. I recently met a serving officer in a west London police station. He told me that many in the force felt overburdened by the amount of paperwork that they had to complete, and he was keen on the idea of introducing handheld computers as soon as possible. He echoed the point made to me by a number of serving officers about how to reduce bureaucracy by the introduction of new technology—what I call the force behind the force. More needs to be done to ensure that handheld computers are made available to police forces as a matter of urgency.
I, too, am interested in mobile working as a means of reducing police paperwork. Can the right hon. Gentleman give some indication of the resources that are, or might become, available that he came across during his inquiries?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I am sorry not to have acknowledged his presence on the Opposition Front Bench today; he was very busy yesterday as well in the debate on police pay. He raises a very important point. We did not specifically consider it in the last report, but as I will say when we go on to our new inquiry later this year, it is one of the issues that we need to consider. It needs to be examined, and as the hon. Gentleman has suggested, the police are very keen to have that technology. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced in September that he would make more cash available for that purpose and made a commitment to ensuring that that was done, but unfortunately, there has not been a significant increase in such technology since then.
I recently met representatives of BlackBerry, which already supplies about 15 forces with its devices. They wanted to know how to help the Government to increase their usage. They were concerned that there would be a sudden rush to use them, but wanted to emphasise that it takes time to programme the computers, so they need to begin that work as soon as possible.
In 2002, the Labour Government introduced police community support officers. It was thought that they would provide savings by giving us a much more flexible work force. We found that, although that may be a good idea, many are not used as the Government intended. Many are not used in front-line services; instead, they are deployed on administrative work in police stations. We therefore welcome the undertaking by the Government and the Police Federation to research how PCSOs are used, and we recommend that that should be done as a matter of urgency.
There is no doubt that many questions have been raised about the role of PCSOs, with some police forces reporting that they often get in the way of regular police officers and can be too expensive. Only this summer, we heard about a young boy who was drowning, but a number of PCSOs allegedly did not help him because they were not trained to do so. That issue and others reported nationally have begun an important debate about the training of those officers, what they are meant to do and, indeed, what the public expect them to do.
I welcome the independent review of policing headed by Sir Ronnie Flanagan, whose interim report has made early recommendations to address challenges concerning bureaucracy and managing resources more efficiently, as our report highlighted. The final report is expected soon, and the Select Committee looks forward to receiving its recommendations. We hope that Sir Ronnie will come to give evidence as soon as possible.
In all, we made 22 recommendations in our report. The Select Committee felt that more issues needed to be examined comprehensively, which is why it decided, when it looked at its programme for this year, to conduct a further inquiry into policing. On 22 February, the Committee will launch its inquiry into policing in the 21st century. The launch will be in Newark and will be hosted by the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer). Once again, the main issue that we will examine will be funding, of course, but we should also highlight concerns such as terrorism, gun and knife crime and identity fraud. We will also consider the role of PCSOs, the role of technology in the police force, the definition of front-line policing and the recruitment and retention of officers. That will be a major inquiry, as the Committee has not considered the role of the police in such a way for some time.
Could the Select Committee consider the relationship between police forces and other aspects of justice? I was always against the reorganisation of police forces into larger units, but we have reorganised, for example, the magistrates service into larger geographical units, and there is now a very rough edge between the way in which policing works and other aspects of justice. If that could be included in the inquiry, I would be overjoyed.
Two other members of the Select Committee are attending this debate. We will certainly want to touch on the issue that my hon. Friend raises. I thank him for his intervention. We are going to Monmouth, Reading and Newark, and we might even visit him in Stroud if he is lucky.
Police and staff pay takes up the largest amount of the annual police budget, at 80 per cent. It is therefore the most crucial aspect of the police budget. As I have previously said, without the dedication and hard work of police and staff, none of the Government’s law and order agenda would be possible. Three things struck me about yesterday’s debate in this Chamber at about the same time. The first was the sheer number of colleagues who came to express their anger and concern about that issue. The second was the isolation of the Minister in his defence of the Home Office’s decision. The third was the complete unity and eloquence of hon. Members present from all parts of the country and from all parties in support of the police officers’ position.
At this point, I should like to thank my colleagues on the Home Affairs Committee: the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne); my hon. Friend the Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck); the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison); my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer), who is here today; the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies); my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mrs. Dean); the hon. Member for Newark; my hon. Friends the Members for Luton, South (Margaret Moran) and for Dover (Gwyn Prosser); the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell); my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter); the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter); and, of course, our senior member, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). I thank them for extending our programme last year to allow for an extra session. That reflects the fact that the Committee views the subject as both urgent and important.
Is not that list an indication that this is not a party political question, but a matter of justice? Is it not ironic that the police, who are part of the justice system, are treated so manifestly unjustly in their pay award? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware—it may be outside his remit—that the Serious Organised Crime Agency has similar grievances? Having been promised comparable terms to those of their employment before joining the agency, staff now find the terms of their employment eroded, so that they are worse off, contrary to the promise made to them when they joined an agency of crucial importance in fighting serious crime.
No, I did not know that. We will take evidence from SOCA at the beginning of February, when we can explore the issue.
The matter has caused enormous concern, and has become the most controversial part of police funding. As the hon. Gentleman said, it can be seen from the list of Members that I read out that the Home Affairs Committee consists of many different personalities and views, yet its view on the issue is unanimous. As a result of the evidence given, I wrote to the Home Secretary to ask that she reconsider her decision and accept the recommendation in the letter to her agreed by the Committee.
In our June report, we spoke of our concern about the link between pay and recruitment and training, recommending to the Home Office that the matter be reviewed. We are concerned that it will now become an even greater problem in light of the pay dispute, and evidence and testimonies submitted by the chairwoman of the Police Federation, Jan Berry, and the chief constable of Nottinghamshire police indicate that our fear is well founded.
There is particular concern about the loss of experienced officers who have become disillusioned with their jobs. A force cannot function with purely new recruits; it takes time to build up expertise. My letter to the Home Secretary spoke of that concern and of harmful effects on trust between the Government and the police. The Government’s decision weakens the arbitration panel’s power and role. Without trust and respect for the decision on both sides, arbitration becomes meaningless.
The police are a special case. They are one of only a few types of public service employee who cannot strike, and until now, they have not wanted to do so. With the Government turning their back on their duty of honour, the Police Federation has balloted its members on whether it should support a strike. As we heard yesterday, during the past month, Members have been receiving e-mails from constituents and police officers all over the country expressing anger at the Government’s decision. Let us consider one of those boroughs, Harrow—the Minister’s own local police force—where 354 police officers work. They are, of course, all eligible to vote.
It is the principle that infuriates, and the principle directly affects how we consider police funding. Sometimes, it is morally right to act in a certain way. In response to the Northern Rock crisis, the Government found £25 billion of taxpayers’ money. Why put at risk the trust and good will of the police force, which is so important to the running of the country, for the sake of £30 million out of a £9.2 billion Home Office budget?
I listened carefully to the Minister’s speech yesterday to put it in the context of what the Committee said in its report on police funding. I have heard him speak many times and have always found him to be firm, strong and decisive. I count him as a good friend—until recently, I lived in his constituency when I was in London—and I rate him as one of this Government’s best Ministers, but I felt that his argument yesterday lacked the conviction and intellectual robustness that we expect of him. Frankly, I do not believe that making his defence yesterday was his finest hour.
The Government’s case is weakening by the day. During an evidence session, we were told that most of the police forces in the country have budgeted to pay an award of 2.5 per cent., backdated from 1 September 2007. The Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have continuously defended the Government’s decision by arguing that pay awards must be kept in line with the Government’s targets on inflation—not on police funding, which would have been understandable—yet we heard from the chief constable of Nottinghamshire police that the 2.5 per cent. was in his budget and that he was ready to pay it. The Association of Chief Police Officers described the recommended pay deal as both fair and affordable.
From such evidence, it seems clear that our police forces would not suffer by paying officers the award in full, and the potential effect on inflation seems minimal, especially as the Government have decided to pay PCSOs—who work with officers—and police desk staff the full 2.5 per cent. If I am wrong, I am happy to be corrected by the Minister. He admitted in December that the police are a special case:
“We have made sure that the police are, in relative terms, considerably better paid than others in the public sector.”
How can he defend the indefensible idea that the police should be paid in line with other public sector workers when they are so different?
We explored the issue of the arbitration panel in our arguments with the Minister yesterday, which I shall not repeat. Mention was made of the situation in Scotland, where the award has been paid in full. During an evidence session, the Home Secretary spoke of the savings that would be made by not paying the full award, saying that the amount was equivalent to 800 extra police officers. The Minister confirmed yesterday that the money would not be spent on new police officers—the savings made for police officers would not go to new recruits. It reminds me of the terracotta army—a group of people who will not be paid for, do not exist, cannot move and take a very long time to see.
Some 203 Members from all parties have signed early-day motion 512, which calls for the Government to reconsider their decision on police pay. It demonstrates the strength of feeling in the House, and it cannot be ignored. We hear that there will be demonstrations in Westminster on 23 January and in Redditch later in the month, and the Police Federation has mentioned the possibility of judicial review.
A solution to the police pay dispute must be found soon. It threatens to distract attention away from the reforms that the Minister feels are important for the police force and that the Committee has commented on in our report. We want our officers focused on what the Government want them to do, rather than sending us e-mails or demonstrating. That is why the matter is vital.
The public should see the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary meeting the Police Federation, discussing the issues and finding a way forward that results in the award being paid in full. The Government have made a mistake on the issue; their reasons might be clear from the so-called Kershaw memorandum that circulated in local and national newspapers. The new Prime Minister has said clearly that he wants to listen to Parliament. Through the early-day motion and the speeches of the past few weeks, Parliament has made its voice clear. It is time for this Government to listen and pay the police what they deserve.
I am sorry, Lady Winterton. My shy and retiring manner prevented me from standing up. I was momentarily paralysed by fear, but I have overcome it now. May I apologise, too, Lady Winterton, for being on duty as a Bill Committee member? I hope that, as I do not wish to put specific questions to the Minister, he will forgive my discourtesy in leaving before the end of the debate.
I have two specific points to make from a Welsh perspective. First, the Dyfed-Powys police force has an excellent record of keeping crime rates down, especially in rural areas. In congratulating the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) on his erudite and clear-minded exposition of issues—those issues have been raised with me, too—may I assure him that the problems that he foresees affect the Welsh constabularies as well? My hon. Friends the Members for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams), and for Ceredigion (Mark Williams) and I discussed those matters yesterday, and our concerns were in accord with those that the right hon. Gentleman has just highlighted.
The second specific issue relates to the question of pay. The arguments, which were covered in yesterday’s debate, too, are not really matters of party politics, but of basic justice. Either we take seriously the findings of an independent commission on police pay, or we do not. It is certainly not acceptable to go to arbitration, but then to ignore the outcome of that arbitration when the police themselves have agreed to be bound by it. Of course, they would like to receive more than the arbitration indicated, but they were willing to live with the constraints of what that process offered them. It is the Government who have stepped back from a promise that they implicitly made by entering the arbitration process.
The other side of the funding issue, which I suspect is within the Select Committee’s remit, is the terms and conditions of employment for members of the Serious Organised Crime Agency. When I had the opportunity to discuss the matter with SOCA members, they said that they were promised that their salaries and pension would not deteriorate as a result of their helping to set up that very important agency. Subsequently, it seems that the Government have gone back on that. In fact, terms and conditions for SOCA members have got worse, as they are being paid less than they were promised. That is reprehensible, because tackling organised crime is a difficult, dangerous and very important job. We all know that organised crime is a terribly serious and debilitating element of crime as a whole because, by definition, it is organised by some very professional criminals who stop at nothing to protect their interests. People who are on the front line of dealing with some of the most dangerous crimes in the country entered the agency in good faith with regard to the salaries and pensions that they could expect, but the Government have back-pedalled on their promises.
I welcome the fact that the right hon. Member for Leicester, East plans to take evidence from the agency, and I hope that the Government will listen to the points that have been made by agency representatives. It is unjust that the police as a whole did not receive the arbitrated increase, and that members of the agency, who entered employment on certain terms, have had those terms unilaterally renegotiated by their pay masters. I hope that the Minister and his colleagues in the Home Office will contemplate that and right a double wrong, as it is in their gift to do so.
I am delighted to be able to say a few things, because there seems to be a shortage of speakers, and this gives me a second chance to have a go at the Minister—I had a say yesterday in the debate on the police pay settlement. However, I will ask him to update us when he comes to his final remarks.
I have read the letter from the Home Secretary that came out yesterday. I took it to be helpful because it tried to say—as far as I could interpret—that the door is open and that we will be looking to restart negotiations on the structure of police pay. However, after that it was quite difficult to deconstruct its meaning—a bit like the remarks made by the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing yesterday. I need some early guidance because I have just sent the letter to all those lovely police officers who phoned me and sent me e-mails and letters. They will be interpreting that letter, so I hope that the Minister will say how the negotiations can be taken forward.
Let me be very clear. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is referring to the parameters for the next pay round. One of the confusions that I mentioned yesterday is that the police pay deal arrived so late because of arbitration and everything else, so people assume that it is the first of this year’s round, rather than the last of last year’s round. My right hon. Friend is very clear. If we can use the basis of the arbitration report—the new index—as the way forward, she will be more than happy to talk to the Police Federation about sustained deals, perhaps over two or three years. She will also be more than happy to talk about the commitment from the Government on full funding for the duration of that period. I think that the letter was very helpful.
I am pleased to hear that. I always believe that the best way to resolve a dispute is to get round a table and understand what the other side is trying to say. I welcome that intervention and the letter. I will also welcome—when it comes out—the second part of the Booth review. Presumably the work on that has been going on at the same time as the problems that we have been facing.
As I said yesterday—this is the only mention that I will make of it—the problem was going to arise at some time. After the breakdown in negotiations the previous year, it would have been helpful if the Government could have moved their position—I know that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) agrees—because the Police Federation was very willing and able to negotiate on new structures of pay. It was less keen to look at pensions and conditions. It just seems that that was a bit of a lost opportunity. Now we have a great deal of hurt to overcome, and the situation is not as good as it would have been if we had had such negotiations at an earlier stage. What the Minister has said on the back of yesterday’s letter gives us a bit of an open door, rather than one that was apparently slammed in everyone’s faces. I fear that some of us will get the door slammed in our faces when we tell the police about the wonderful things that we are doing for them, so we must move on from that.
My hon. Friend mentioned the second part of Booth. That was published at around the same time—if not on the same day—as the decision on last year’s pay round. That took place on 6 or 7 December, and the recommended pay review body is still out for consultation. I concur absolutely with my hon. Friend in that, pay aside, I have found the Police Federation to be eminently reasonably and willing to discuss—and, if needed, disagree on—a whole range of issues over the past year and a half or two years. I wanted to take the opportunity to put that firmly on record.
I thank the Minister and I am sorry that this is becoming a dialogue. Hopefully, it will help to resolve these difficult issues. I am sorry if I have misunderstood the nature of the second part of the Booth review. I thought that the work was still ongoing. If the review is now fully published, I must go back and read it.
It was purely fortuitous that I had a meeting with my chief constable last Friday. Interestingly, he was the same chief constable who appeared before the Home Affairs Committee. On that Friday, I had to take evidence from him on the flooding situation in Gloucestershire because he had missed our Committee’s session due to failing to arrive on time. It is interesting that he did not quite get to the Home Affairs Committee on time, either. I now say to him that he should use the train. Perhaps, after that discussion, he will have learned one lesson. What he said to the Committee, and then to me in private about Gloucestershire, were roughly similar. It is always good to hear that we say the same things in private as in public.
It is fair to say that the chief constable was satisfied with the funding situation, although it is tight. One of the few advantages of the non-payment of the full arbitration award is that it has given us an opportunity to use some of the money, although that is not really that advantageous. Policing is better funded than it has been, although my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) said that the jury is out on value for money. As someone who regularly goes out with the police, however, I have seen enormous improvements, and we should bear it in mind that the police work in an increasingly pressurised world and do a very difficult job.
Let me draw some parallels with what has been said, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will address some of these points. There is an ongoing worry about the fact that every settlement has as its adjunct the demand for efficiency savings; indeed, the two are like apple pie and warm custard. The reality, however, is that there is only so much that we can get out of a stone—sorry about all the analogies. The implication is that savings will be made on back-office costs by introducing much greater co-ordination among different forces, and that is a worry. As I said, I went through the difficulties of the reorganisation mania and I know that it did not help relations. I read the O’Connor recommendations and I am glad that the Government—in the guise of not the Minister’s predecessor, but his predecessor’s predecessor—put the issue of reorganisation to bed and set out the desire to leave the status quo in place.
Why do I raise this issue? I was quite critical of the setting up of separate police authorities because I felt that policing was an important responsibility of local government. In these days of terrorism and major emergencies, there are clearly national priorities alongside the regional and sub-regional priorities, but policing is at its best when people see what the police do. The best line of accountability is through local government, and I have never been a fan of police authorities, which just add to the layers of bureaucracy and the number of committees on which some people sit. In my area, county councillors sit on the police authority, which makes it just another authority. Bizarrely, some people can be working at four different levels of local government, if we include police authorities alongside the other three. Authorities are therefore an unnecessary layer.
None the less, police authorities are in place. They do function and they have increasingly defined their independence over time. Indeed, they do some interesting things. For example, four years ago, Gloucestershire bravely decided to go for a huge increase of more than 50 per cent. in the precept so that it could make progress— perhaps it could see the allegation that was coming its way from the Government that it would never be big enough to provide level 2 and 3 policing. None the less, it went for the huge precept increase, which made a big difference to its funding and allowed it to make progress on some of the issues that were becoming its responsibility. That also meant that the balance between the local demand for funding and the central pot was re-skewed.
Those days are gone, however. As the Committee Chairman clearly said, there is now a question of whether police authorities would ever be capped when they had special responsibilities. Gloucestershire has such responsibilities, which include handling our recovery from the flooding. Thankfully, central Government have been very generous—I would like to think that they will continue to be very generous—in making good some of the additional costs involved. However, there are other issues, and such things have an impact on smaller forces such as Gloucestershire. For example, there are issues in relation to police overtime. It was a nice idea that police officers should, like everybody else, give hours of their time, but they were on duty on those occasions. When officers are assigned to be in charge of a water dump for the best part of 24 hours, as has happened, it is pretty fair that we pay them overtime. There are therefore ongoing funding issues, and the Minister might care to make some nice noises about that when and if we make funding requests.
That links to the growth in bureaucracy, form-filling and all the things that go with them. Anything that can be done to get more police officers out doing the things that they do best—meeting the public and working in education and the criminal justice system—rather than sitting filling in forms can only be a good thing. However, such things have been made more difficult by changes in police structures, which was why I intervened on my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East.
I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a great interest in this issue. Does he share my concern about the average time it takes officers to case-build when dealing with fairly straightforward crimes such as shoplifting? In his inquiries, has he witnessed at first hand the panoply of forms that are used, which seem completely pointless to the layman?
Mr. Drew: Yes, I have. Whatever intentions the Government have to clarify things, this is a core area. People will be at their most vulnerable when things are apparently not done properly, and the response is to fill in another form. We just have to get away from that and to be honest about the fact that things will not always be done by the book and that the urgent need for action will mean that people intervene in a certain way. I would be in favour of anything that would cut through the dreadful growth in bureaucracy, including handheld computers—as long as they work and we do not go for some wonderful private finance initiative contract that costs an arm and a leg in the years to come.
We went through various difficulties all those years ago when we were looking at restructuring police organisations on at least a sub-regional basis. For all sorts of reasons, however, the issue was lost, and I congratulate the Government on coming to their senses. However, that did not follow through into other aspects of the criminal justice system, and we now have a complete mess with probation. I am never sure whether I have a county probation officer, although people sometimes purport to be him. However, they are never around long enough for us to know whether they are fulfilling the functions of that post.
Other issues include the reform of the magistrates system and the Crown Prosecution Service, which has remained largely on a county basis, although the situation is different in urban areas. Every six months in Gloucestershire, we used to have a meeting of the great and the good so that we could at least have a dialogue with people and understand who they were and what they were doing. We were told about some of the really good improvements in the criminal justice system in Gloucestershire, and it is important that we as MPs keep up to speed on such things. That cannot happen now, however, because, in the case of the magistrates courts, we would have to drag people up from Poole, in Dorset. That does not make it easy to encourage the right level of relationships, which is why I have asked my right hon. Friend to look at the impact of such issues on policing.
My final point is a naked grab for some reassurance about the different funding streams that we use to provide our police officers and PCSOs. I have never been greatly persuaded about ring-fencing those sums, although it is good that that is something that has come from central Government. We have received moneys through the crime fighting fund and the neighbourhood fund for PCSOs, and that is fine, but the implication is that eventually that money will have to be raised locally. Perhaps that will not apply to the totality of it, although, then, grants will be lost in the ether when central Government claim they have been paid and local government, or in this case police authorities, say that they have not received them.
Will the Minister explain the Government’s intentions in relation to those different funds? For how long do they intend to provide funding from the centre? That makes a difference in relation to the PCSOs, because even though we do not have several of the budgetary problems that we thought that we might have, there is some likelihood that we shall lose some PCSOs in the next year, because of the way in which budgets will be realigned. That is made more complicated by something else that might be just a Gloucestershire phenomenon—I do not necessarily agree with it, but it is happening. The county council is now funding up to 65 new police officers. Obviously, those who run the county council are not of my political persuasion, but the idea was that every area would have its own county police office. It did not work in that way because, operationally, the chief constable says, “I deploy people if and as I want to.” There are thus several different funding streams, which is fine if they are guaranteed in perpetuity. In reality, that is not likely, and I worry that those streams may end suddenly, and together, which will put us in considerable difficulty.
The public have grown used to seeing more police and PCSOs, which is a great thing. I was told by a county councillor of a different party to mine that despite initial criticism, PCSOs had been a revelation, because of their visibility. I have always argued that there are two distinct aspects to policing: visibility, which matters to many of the public; and activity, which is, of course, something different that encompasses solving crimes and so on. We need to create a match between those different things.
I congratulate the Select Committee on its work and I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East for chairing it so carefully—and adventurously, in view of this year’s investigation of policing in the 21st century. I look forward to an outbreak of peace on police pay, because that is the great sore. When one talks to the police, it appears that everything else is much more settled than it has been for generations, and the Government should be praised for that. However, the pay issue is a huge barnacle on an otherwise clean vessel.
I found the Select Committee report very interesting. Police funding, particularly value for money in relation to the police, is a matter close to the heart of many Londoners, as the Metropolitan police, perhaps more than most police forces, face a particularly challenging crime situation. London is a diverse, busy city with a mobile and ethnically diverse population, so there are many communities with which the police liaise. There has been a growth, too, in recent years in terrorism issues for the police to tackle, and in recent months—tragically, we have already seen it this year—there has been a rise in the number of young victims of crime. Many of us who live in London wonder whether that trend will grow in coming years. We have heard, too, of the bureaucratic challenges that the police face.
The backdrop against which we consider police funding is no doubt challenging, but in my area of London we question value for money from two perspectives—what we put in and how much we can see we are getting. Those are the two key equations. The band D precept for Wandsworth, and the whole of London, was £56 in 1996-97. That was confirmed for me in parliamentary answers in the past month. In the current year, 2007-08, the precept that band D council tax payers across London are paying the Metropolitan police has risen to £224 so there has been a fourfold increase in 10 years.
I have described the increased challenges faced by the police, which suggests that they need more resources, but there is no doubt that investment has been put into different parts of the city to different extents. In Wandsworth, although we have PCSOs, the number of uniformed, warranted officers at borough level directed by the borough commander, is lower, perversely, than it was in the 1996-97 financial year, when my constituents and I were paying £56. We may not believe that we are getting great value for money, but that does not necessarily bear any relation to the massive effort that our local police make to keep our community safe. Understanding what value for money we obtain from our police resources is difficult and challenging.
The difficulty arises in several different areas, one of which is reporting. The British crime survey says that reporting and recording of crime cover perhaps 31 per cent. to 33 per cent. of crime that is committed. If memory serves me right, people’s propensity to report crime to the police relates to about 45 per cent. of crimes The police record 75 per cent. or 78 per cent. of the crime that is reported to them. That is why roughly one in three crimes make it into police figures. Inevitably, therefore, we start without as clear a picture of crime as we would wish. The flip side is that even if resources provide value for money, we do not have the full picture, so it is possible that the true value-for-money statistic does not come through in the figures. Perhaps it does, but perhaps it relates to the two thirds of crime that does not make it into the records.
Another challenge in the reporting and recording of crime arises in the attempt to see through the opaque crime record in the British crime survey. The BCS adopts a sensible approach, but it is essentially an attempt at a victimisation survey. It asks people who perhaps would not report a crime about their experience of crime. The survey is increasingly flawed from my perspective as a London MP, given the rise in numbers of young victims of crime. It does not interview people under 16, which creates a danger that it will be less useful to us in time. Additionally, it does not include victims of drug offences, because they are not perceived to be victims. It is difficult to examine value for money in that context.
Finally, the question of local versus national funding is difficult. With the rise of safer neighbourhood teams and panels, which set local priorities, I wonder whether we have a better framework to make links back to the local precepts paid by council tax payers. As a London MP, I am keen on a much closer relationship, with any precept paid to the Mayor for policing in London tied more closely to our local priorities, which the safer neighbourhood panels set for police in each of the London boroughs. I think that we have a chance to link those two things more carefully. It was the lack of a clear formal link that led to our experience in Wandsworth of a quadrupling of precept but not, to our minds, a quadrupling of police resources.
The Minister said that he found the local versus national police resourcing debate interesting. Would he say a little more about how it could develop over the coming months and years, and whether he sees more of a role for local communities, not only in deciding police priorities, but perhaps having a closer tie between the money paid into government and those local priorities?
I am sorry, I should have said the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz); I stand corrected. I pay tribute to him for calling this debate. I found the Home Affairs Committee report to be thorough and interesting, as was the Government’s response.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind words in welcoming me to this area. I am very much an ingénue in home affairs, having the background of an economist. As we all know, economists were invented to make accountants seem interesting. I lay claim to no special expertise. The reputations of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley), the right hon. Gentleman and the Minister are well known outside the House, and I approach the subject with some trepidation.
I agree very much with the remarks of the right hon. Member for Leicester, East on police pay. I realise that the House debated the matter extensively yesterday, but it is hard to deal with the question of police efficiency and funding and the stresses thereon if we do not also touch on the issue of police pay. For us, it is a simple matter. If the Government ask a group of their own employees to give up certain basic rights—rights that are available to other employees—in exchange for a set of arrangements that are meant to deliver 2.6 per cent. against the 1.9 per cent. allowed by the Treasury, the results of arbitration ought properly to be accepted. There will be serious consequences for police forces across the country if they are not.
The report found, quite properly, that police forces have no difficulty in recruitment or retention, partly I suspect because of the extremely specialist nature of their work. However, the three traditional objectives that employers should bear in mind when it comes to pay include not only recruitment and retention but motivation. If one is unable to motivate a professional force because one has behaved unfairly towards it, the consequences can be extremely serious. I therefore join the right hon. Gentleman in calling for the Government to think again. Indeed, when the Minister intervened on the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), there seemed to be at least some sign that the Government were beginning to move on that front—but they may need to move a little further if they are to assuage some of the feelings that now exist among the police.
One indication of the stress that police funding is under is what has happened to the financing of police forces through the council tax—a point mentioned by the right hon. Member for Leicester, East. The figures are striking, with an increase from 11.7 per cent. of total police gross revenue expenditure in 1995-96 to an estimated 21.5 per cent. per cent. in 2005-07. The percentage has nearly doubled, which is a substantial increase. We should remember that the police authorities did not do that lightly, not least because the council tax is an extremely unpopular and regressive form of taxation. We are asking for an increasing proportion of police funding to come from an inequitable and unsatisfactory source. That is a clear measure of the stress on police funding, and I welcome the report’s call for the full assumptions in the police funding settlement to be published. The Minister was not as open in the Government’s response to the Committee’s fourth report on police funding as one might have hoped, particularly as all those matters are open to freedom of information requests. I hope that he will bear that in mind, and make available the full assumptions behind the settlements.
The Committee calls for a renewed effort to establish comprehensive benchmarks for productivity and police efficiency. One of the first bases is the need to understand the different factors that affect the outcome that we want to achieve—a reduction in crime. The Government’s response states:
“Current Home Office research shows that, when controlling for some of these factors—for example changes in the economy, demography and social factors—increases in police strength, visibility and focus have had a significant impact on reducing crime.”
I am out of date on this matter, but I can remember many years ago seeing work that attempted to model the impact of different factors on crime. One factor then regarded as extremely important was the number of young men in the population. That still seems to be the case. It would be helpful for the deliberations of all Members who are interested in the subject if the Minister placed the Home Office research to which the Government refer to in their response in the Library. Indeed, would the Minister tell us a little more about the modelling work that is under way, and whether it has sufficient sophistication to find out a little more about the impact of extra police resources against some of the others factors that have been mentioned? That is obviously crucial if we are to move forward with evidence-based policy.
In a past life, when I used to rush around attempting to assess the riskiness of various public authorities, I had the honour of interviewing Rudy Giuliani when he was mayor of New York. He was already renowned for making a substantial improvement in the crime figures in New York city through the introduction of a dramatically more detailed reporting system of crime at precinct level, and even at a more local level. Outside London, extensive figures are now available for each basic command unit. I understand that figures are available only at ward level in London, but if we are to probe successfully for best practice, and if best practice is to spread from one police force to another, we need substantially detailed information about resources and crime at ward level. Perhaps the Minister could tell us about progress in that direction.
I do not underestimate the difficulties of dealing with subjective factors such as the reassurance of the population and fear of crime. I am far from believing that we can encapsulate all the output or outcomes of successful policing merely in terms of conviction rates and other numbers. However, it is essential that we have detailed numbers if we are to inform the debate and ensure that there is a thorough, ongoing debate on the efficiency of the police and make sure that best practice spreads.
We are all aware that it is a lot easier to achieve a conviction in Dyfed-Powys than on Merseyside, because in the average village in Dyfed-Powys, people know their neighbours and on Merseyside, quite possibly, they do not. In any big urban area, it is much more difficult for the police to find out whether there have been untoward activities in the street. I do not underestimate the differences or the importance of those subjective factors, but the more detailed local data are, the easier it is to benchmark one area against another with similar social characteristics—and the more important and fruitful the process of improving productivity becomes. That was one of the lessons from New York city and the Giuliani episode—I am sure that it is true here as well. The Home Affairs Committee report is right to say that there should be
“renewed effort into agreeing a comprehensive framework for assessing police productivity”.
I hope that Sir Ronnie Flanagan’s report will help in achieving that.
I agree with hon. Members who have mentioned the importance of moving away from bureaucracy towards a greater use of new technology. It is sad, in a world where the use of information technology has moved so fast, that we are still way behind in the police force. What I know about this area is entirely due to my excellent local constabulary in Hampshire under Paul Kernaghan and his excellent senior team. Talking to local police officers, the reality is that they note in a notebook the salient details of a particular case, then decant that entirely into a personal computer at the station. It would be enormously beneficial if they could use a single keystroke to get things into a personal digital assistant. There is a programme for rolling out PDAs so that the repetition in the process can be cut down.
It is clear in the report that 42 out of 43 forces are regarded as doing well or adequately, but that none have yet been seen to be doing excellently. If we had more detail, not just locally but perhaps about particular police functions, it would be possible to identify and praise forces that are doing well in particular areas, rather as there are schemes in the local government, for example, for establishing beacon status for particular local authorities that have made a specialism of a given area.
I agree with what was said about moving away from ring-fencing. The Government have, to give them credit, made a commitment on that score in their response to the Home Affairs Committee report. But perhaps the Minister would say more about whether more progress can be made on that front in the next financial year. The Liberal Democrat policy is to try and increase police numbers. We draw particular comfort from the fact that the safer neighbourhood teams in London have been a clear success.
I do not wish to be churlish, but would the hon. Gentleman clarify his statement that the Liberal Democrats want more police? Does that imply a spending commitment or is he suggesting that more police will be funded from the existing Home Office spending envelope?
Indeed, no other party can make that claim, whatever the Minister says. If he would like to put the Labour party’s manifesto through the same process that we invited the Institute for Fiscal Studies and various accountants to apply to ours, I would be delighted. However, there are plenty of quotations from independent experts about our manifesto for the last election showing that that is so—hon. Members do not have to take my word for it. Our policy on extra police is predicated on making savings from the identity cards programme. We are therefore making a spending commitment that is offset by reductions in expenditure elsewhere. My party’s policy is not to ensure that we have an overall increase in expenditure or taxation, but to ensure that there is a change in priorities.
The safer neighbourhood teams scheme has had an impact on crime in London. That local visibility is crucial, and we have clear evidence of its success. Again, that highlights the importance of ensuring that we have good local data, as well as data dealing with particular functions in the forces, in the ongoing dialogue about improving productivity.
Can I urge some caution, given the hon. Gentleman’s sweeping statement about the fact that safer neighbourhood teams have been a success? Teams work to different levels of effectiveness in different areas. Certainly, my experience locally is that the teams that are most challenged in working effectively are the ones in the most challenging areas. Often, residents are less willing to get involved in higher crime areas because they are worried about the consequences. Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that there are some clear, ongoing issues in respect of safer neighbourhood teams that need to be carefully considered?
There is no doubt that we do not strike into sunlit uplands easily. There are ongoing problems, but it is obvious overall that visibility on the street has had an impact—that has come out, too, in international evidence. I hope that the Home Office and those interested in this area and in benchmarking police performance will not merely look at differences within the UK, but will consider international experience. That lesson about visibility, local presence and the involvement of local communities is clear.
That work is ongoing. We welcome the Committee’s call for more work and for the way in which it has focused on key areas where data needs are important. It is crucial that those data are properly provided, if only because, when the Treasury comes to any Department and asks for efficiency savings, a large sigh goes up due to the assumption that that is merely a euphemism for a service cut. Only if we have serious and detailed local data, with a clear understanding of the productivity impact, can we assess whether cuts are matched by efficiency improvements, with genuine improvement in the outcomes that we all hope for, or whether there have been cuts in service delivery. This whole agenda is extremely important.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) on his contribution today and on the very welcome news that, in February, he will begin what sounds like a groundbreaking inquiry on police reform and the future of the police service in the 21st century—something that is long-overdue in the House. I am sure that with his usual enthusiasm, energy and intelligence, he will drive forward a debate that is vital for our constituents and police officers.
How we fund the police is the subject of the report before us today, and it is part of the wider debate about police reform that my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) opened two years ago, when he created the Opposition’s police reform taskforce, which I am privileged to chair. It is an interesting time to be discussing police funding and reform, because of the imminent report by Sir Ronnie Flanagan, whose investigation kicked off last spring. He will report to the Home Secretary and will focus on many of the issues chewed over in this report—red tape, how local accountability can drive up police performance and so on.
I should like to place on the record again what other hon. Members have said today and in the debate yesterday on police pay: the police officers of this country work with distinction, dedication and tirelessly to protect the public. They take risks daily from which many of us would shrink. They have restrictions placed on their working conditions that do not apply to almost any other job that one could think of, such as a no-strike requirement. Furthermore, they have to put up with restrictions on their personal lives when off duty, which others do not have to do. Above all, they are trusted and respected by the British public.
It seems to me that the task of all those engaged in police reform, of which the report is a part, is to work out how we can help the police to do their job better. We should not be kicking them or carping at their performance, but saying, “We can do better; we are in this together; we can tackle crime better and help the police to detect more crime.”
In my short period as a Member of Parliament—since 2005—no issue has led so many of my constituents, including dozens or police officers, to contact me in such a state of anger in such a short period. Furthermore, 509 people have signed a petition on my website, which I wish was better known. That shows the level of local concern, and it is a sign of the Government’s ineptitude: of all the people to pick a fight with, they have chosen hard-working police officers, who put their lives on the line for us every day of the week.
I am grateful for that typically powerful and punchy contribution from my hon. Friend. I am sure that his constituency experiences are echoed in every single constituency across the length and breadth of the land.
We need to understand one thing in particular. The report talks about the need for better police performance. It does not pull its punches on a central proposition, which is that crime is still too high for the public. Given the amount of resources that have been invested in the police service over the past 10 years, crime should be lower. I shall first tackle the problem of the level of crime as it relates to police funding.
According to a 2006 paper from the Prime Minister’s strategy unit, Great Britain spends more on law and order as a percentage of GDP—approximately 2.5 per cent.—than any other country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The majority of law and order spending is, of course, attributable to the police—a total budget of just over £12 billion, which equates to £550 for each household in England and Wales.
Despite those figures, the European Commission’s 2007 crime and safety survey—I do not often turn to that organisation, any more than you do, Lady Winterton, I am sure—named the UK as a high-crime country. Victimisation rates—the probability of being a victim of crime—in the UK are higher than in all but one of the 17 other European countries subject to the survey. The UK is the most burgled country in the EU and has the highest levels of assault crimes, and our citizens suffer the highest victimisation rates from vehicle-related crime. Only Ireland has higher levels of personal theft.
Crime in England and Wales is not only too high, as I think that those figures illustrate, compared with other European countries, but it is high compared with other industrialised countries around the world. According to the 2000 international crime victims survey—the latest version of the most comprehensive international crime survey, which compares crime across 17 industrialised countries—the risk of being a victim of crime is higher in England and Wales than anywhere else, apart from Australia. I do not mean those to be scaremongering tactics or statistics; they are an indication that this country can do better in reducing the fear of crime and actual crime.
Over the past decade, Government grants to the police have increased by about 50 per cent., in the wake of which the Government applauded themselves for achieving some of their targets on reducing vehicle crime and robbery. They always point to the British crime survey as an indication that overall crime is falling. It is not for me to rehearse the usual arguments about the flaws in the British crime survey, compared with recorded crime statistics: drug possession, murder and crimes involving adolescents are not scored under the BCS, and so on. We do not for a minute accept the BCS as the last word on the crime that is taking place on our streets and in our homes in this country. However, the Government talk about having met some of their targets.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we also need to look at the statistics in a more sophisticated manner? We often hear that people have a one-in-x-hundred chance of being mugged, but, in reality, many crimes are now more age-related. Let us consider my own borough and the number of muggings of 11 to 16-year-olds in 2006, compared with the number of 11 to 16-year-olds. A typical secondary school child had a one-in-20 chance of being mugged, but at the borough level that figure was more like one in 163. Clearly, not all the statistics are accurate.
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for an excellent point. It is beholden on all who speak on this subject to disaggregate some of the global figures. In disaggregating the figures in her own borough, she makes a very powerful point. It depends on whom one is looking at. She is entirely right to draw to our attention the fact that some crimes disproportionately affect younger people.
According to the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies—a respected body at King’s College London—the targets that the Government boast about hitting are
“being set on the basis of existing trends continuing regardless of Government action.”
That point was supported by a leaked draft of the Prime Minister’s strategy unit’s crime, justice and cohesion policy review—required bedtime reading—which revealed that the Government themselves estimated that 80 per cent. of the decrease in volume crime, which refers to property and theft and so on, was due to economic factors and the UK’s economic cycle. That assessment also goes some way to explaining the Home Affairs Committee report that we are discussing. In the report, the Committee makes the observation that
“The significant decrease in overall BCS-measured crime occurred before any significant increase in police funding or police officer numbers.”
I wonder whether I can provide what I believe might be an explanatory factor. The British crime survey is also quite clear in saying that the biggest correlating factor to a reduction in crime is, in fact, reductions coming from property crime and the biggest correlating factor in property crime is steps that individual people are taking to make their cars and homes much safer. I must say that, when I went out and bought my window locks, I do not remember a Home Secretary being beside me.
I do not think that the Minister has heard all this before, because I only wrote it this morning, so he has probably got that wrong and not, I stress, for the first time.
The BCS measure on volume crime has fallen, largely due to wider trends. My hon. Friend has just alluded to them: individuals taking more personal responsibility, and car manufacturers understanding that people want to buy cars that cannot be nicked, which is to do with technology and very little to do with Government exhortation, I fancy. However, the fact remains that knife crime has doubled in the past two years alone and gun crime has increased fourfold on the recorded measure.
The global statistics show that less than a quarter of recorded crimes in the UK are detected and receive a sanction. In straight numerical terms, that equates as 4.3 million crimes not being brought to justice. So, contrary to ministerial spin and claims, the public do not feel safer when there are so many undetected crimes and the fear of crime is not less than it was in 1997, when this Government came into office.
One of the themes of the report that we are discussing is police bureaucracy; there is too much of it. Indeed, too much paperwork is one of the reasons why police productivity is not as high as it should be.
In fear of anticipating the next part of my hon. Friend’s speech, as my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) has done before, I should like to say that, when I have worked shifts with my local police and seen the bureaucracy that front-line officers must put up with daily, the cause of that inefficiency is quite clear. It is not a lack of zeal on the part of front-line officers, not least those in my local force in Beverley and Holderness, to whom I pay tribute, but the endless tinkering and imposition of targets and other bureaucratic interventions from the centre and from ministerial desks that has led so many police officers to a state of low morale and a failure to be out on the streets when that is where they would devoutly like to be.
Although my hon. Friend brilliantly anticipates what I am about to say, he is right to draw attention to the fact that police bureaucracy is not the fault of police officers, whether in Beverley and Holderness or any other constituency. They just want to get on with the job, but they are demoralised, in extreme cases, by the amount of paperwork that they have to fill in.
At this point, I think that it is worth plagiarising the metaphor used by Sir Ronnie Flanagan in his interim report on 11 September, when he said that paperwork is like cholesterol and that there is good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. The problem is that there is too much pointless paperwork. It is idle for politicians to pretend that all paperwork can be abolished. No one believes that; indeed, the police would not want it. However, there has not been sufficient focus in the last 10 years on the fact that a lot of double-keying and treble-keying of basic information still goes on because of insufficient investment in IT, poor direction from Ministers at the centre and a risk-adverse culture that Ministers do everything they can to support instead of hacking it back.
The response from the Government to recommendations 1 and 2 in the report states:
“Current Home Office research shows that…increases in police strength, visibility and focus have had a significant impact”.
Well, I suppose that Ministers would say that. However, that response does not meet the charge that the police spend too much time back in the station, which is not their fault.
Police officers want to be crime fighters not form-fillers, and it is incumbent on all of us to help them; I particularly look forward to discussing the work that the right hon. Member for Leicester, East does from February onwards on this issue. We need more time-and-motion studies to bring to the attention of the public, as much as we can, how much pointless activity is being shuffled on to officers in the course of their doing routine paperwork, including the recording of very basic crimes.
I agree with the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. Regarding the metaphor of good cholesterol and bad cholesterol, it is a question of getting that good cholesterol into new technology, if we can extend the metaphor a little further. If we use new technology effectively, it could enormously help the police to get on with the front-line services that we want them to provide.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point. However, he will know, as I do, that there is now a patchwork quilt of IT systems right across the country, not just between police forces but quite often within forces. There is a legacy of systems, and to junk them on day one in some big bang approach would be, frankly, fiscally unsustainable. That is something that the Minister and I would agree on; there is no magic wand to be waved in terms of IT solutions cutting police paperwork. Would that there were a silver bullet, and even if there were, it would come at a significant cost.
Although I do not blame the Minister personally for a completely shambolic IT procurement strategy since 1997, the fact remains that the problem has been growing over the past 10 years, rather than being improved. [Interruption.] I hope that the Minister will not be too churlish from a sedentary position. I have said that it is not his fault that police IT is a complete shambles; I am merely saying that his predecessors have contributed to a complete shambles on police IT since 1997.
I will stop chuntering from a sedentary position and chunter when I stand up. I merely mentioned 1957, not 1997; I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the problem has arisen, but it has done so since the inception of IT in policing, rather than over the past 10 years. I hope that he agrees.
It is Thursday afternoon in Westminster Hall and I am happy gracefully to take the Minister’s point: the problem has been going on for longer than the past 10 years; equally, there has been very little evidence in the past 10 years—certainly I have been given very little evidence by serving officers, from senior ranks and below—that things have got better. There have been lots of good intentions, but not enough action.
Before Christmas, I was fortunate enough to spend a shift working with the traffic police who cover the East Riding of Yorkshire. One sergeant, Martyn Moore, is one of just four traffic police sergeants who cover 933 square miles of the East Riding. The fact that so much money is spent on unnecessary bureaucracy undermines the funds that are available for that type of traffic policing. In rural areas, such as the one that I represent, affording the local priority of visible, local traffic policing, to reduce accidents and encourage public safety, appears not to be happening in an appropriate way. Officers such as Martyn Moore attend a fatal accident in the East Riding every 12 days. They are there, picking up the pieces—often literally—from the highway of people who have lost their lives because we have not managed to put our resources where they are most needed according to local, not nationally set, needs.
My hon. Friend gives a graphic—almost too graphic—example of why too much paperwork takes officers away from the job that they want to do, which is being out on the street preventing and detecting crime, rather than at the station filling in too many forms.
The Government state in their response to recommendation 22 of the report:
“The Government remains committed to tackling unnecessary bureaucracy.”
Again, that is a noble aim, but I am afraid that many of us who have recently drilled down into the subject remain unconvinced about the Government’s record. Various Home Office Ministers have said that, under the current Administration, 9,000 forms have been abolished. I have received that information in response to a written question. I have asked the Home Secretary whether she would be good enough to publish a list of those forms, not the forms themselves, because that would be too onerous. Surely, such a list much exist, otherwise she or her officials could not have calculated that 9,000 forms had been abolished.
On behalf of the many officers to whom I have spoken in the past few months during my inquiries into police bureaucracy, I ask the Minister, in the spirit of transparency and generosity for which he is well renowned, to publish the list of 9,000 forms. If he cannot give an undertaking today to place a copy in the Library within the next month, why not? If he knows that there are 9,000 forms, he must know what they are called and what they are.
The amount of time that patrol officers spend on incident-related paperwork has risen by 1.1 percentage points, from 8.1 per cent. in 2004-05 to 9.2 per cent. in 2006-07, the last year for which figures are available. The amount of time that they have spent on patrol has fallen by 2 percentage points, from 19.1 per cent. in 2004-05 to 17.1 per cent. in 2006-07. In short, patrol officers are spending barely one fifth of their available time on patrol, as we—the public—would understand it, and things appear to have got worse in the past 12 months. The Minister has published extensive written responses to the questions that I and other hon. Members have put down on the subject, and he engages with his officials in rather arcane definitions of front-line policing, to bamboozle us and confuse the simple-minded layman. But it will not wash. The public understand patrol to be what it is, and patrol officers—not all police officers—spend less than one hour in five on it, which is not good enough.
I do not wish to give a long disquisition on what I think about police bureaucracy. That will have to wait for another day, and I shall talk at great length in another forum about it during my activities as shadow Minister with responsibility for police reform. Before I give an example of pointless paperwork, however, I shall again give way to my hon. Friend.
Local police officers have raised an issue with me that is well known, just like the amount of bureaucracy that the Government have imposed. The problem is associated with the nature of the criminal justice system and the amount of time that police officers, when they are not filling in forms, hang around courts, having courtroom days adjourned. The Government have made promises over the years, but from listening to front-line police officers, I know that they feel that far too much time is spent on those negative pursuits. If the Minister were able to demonstrate a sense of missionary zeal for tackling that aspect of the system, I am sure that we would all be grateful, not least local police officers.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, on which I have reflected when speaking to Sir Ronnie Flanagan about his views on the police spending time outside the station unnecessarily. He points to time at court, and I understand that he is mulling over the idea of virtual courts, but we will come to know about that in detail later. It is essentially a teleconferencing proposition, whereby an officer could be in the station saying what he needed to say to a magistrate down a video link.
We are all turning our minds to such technological solutions in the 21st century, but it all comes back to the issue in the report: funding. Members from all parts of the House have talked this afternoon about affordability. The right hon. Member for Leicester, East pointed out in the report that there will be no extra money for doing extra and more challenging work in the next decade. There will certainly be more for the police to do, and they will need the tools to do it, but many of those tools are expensive.
Another area in which police bureaucracy and time-wasting can be reduced is mobile working—palm-held computers, BlackBerrys and so on. In my earlier intervention on the right hon. Gentleman, I, too, noted with interest the prime ministerial announcement on the subject at the Labour party conference, and I scratched my head and wondered how big the roll-out would be. If the general intention is for every response officer to have mobile working capability—I am not sure whether it is, so perhaps the Minister could clarify the matter—when will it be achieved and what is the price tag? Will it be affordable within the comprehensive spending review limits for the next three years and beyond? I somehow doubt it.
I am not trying, and have no desire, to kick the Minister around on the issue, but we need a grown-up debate about the affordability of such expensive technological solutions. Whether it is new kit in the station for filling in MG—manual of guidance—forms, or new kit for filling in electronically what Ronnie Flanagan hopes will be a national suite of standardised case forms with minimum reporting requirements to streamline and universalise a common standard and enshrine best practice, it all costs money, and we need a debate about it. The report throws up such questions, and we have not been honest enough about the costs of such solutions.
I shall provide one example of a pointless form. I have done a time-and-motion study at a station. The procedure did not require form-filling in days gone by; the police managed quite well. My example relates to the procedure for intercepting communications—basic surveillance. Officers are being taken off front-line duties, not in all cases, but their time is being tied up, in order to populate the RIPA—Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000—forms, known in the trade as the “grim RIPA”. The time spent filling in those forms is disproportionate to the ends that they achieve.
To undertake surveillance, for example, on a suspected cocaine dealer in a bar, the following RIPA requirements would have to be met: an application form to authorise the procedure—four pages; an intelligence schedule—two pages; an authority form—two pages, with each page having to be hand signed; a review form—five pages; and for surveillance lasting more than five months, a renewal form—five pages. When the police decide to cancel an operation involving a suspected drug dealer, there is a six-page cancellation form. A review of the RIPA regime in 2006 by the Association of Chief Police Officers found that there were unnecessary forms, training was piecemeal and different guidance was being given to different forces.
That is a good example of how the pendulum has swung away from a paperless to a bureaucratic process.
Another example is the covert human intelligence source, which in normal language is what we call a snitch or an informant—a police grass. Under this Government, they now have to be registered by the police. What was once a completely form-free process is now form-intensive. Formalising the relationship between the police and informants obviously provides safeguards for both, and that will be the Government’s defence. However, we hear that the process of applying, registering and tasking an informant can involve a total of 16 different forms. For one operation with an informant, 41 pages of forms needed to be filled out—that comes from a Nottingham case study. If the informant is subsequently asked to undertake further work, more copies of several forms are required.
That information is not just the result of an inquiry undertaken by a redoubtable shadow Minister of State—that is me. The situation was picked up by the Police Superintendents Association, which wrote to the Home Office about two and a half years ago flagging up the disproportionate application of RIPA. A series of recommendations were put to the then police Minister, who is now Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. As I understand it, no change has been made to how RIPA is operated. Will the Minister share his thoughts on that? Does he think that there is a problem, or does he think that the PSA’s concerns have disappeared like mist? I think not.
Getting the police back on to the streets, which I think we all understand is vital, must involve a radical review of the forms, RIPA or otherwise. It will involve more mobile working, which I have mentioned, and the more regular use of video links, which, of course, must be piloted and evaluated. We must also consider proposals that are up and running, and alive and well, in New York city, such as what is referred to in Government circles as “short-term holding facilities”. Where there is a large volume of crime, such as at a large shopping centre on a Saturday afternoon, if a response officer needs to collar a large number of shoplifters, it too often involves long treks back to the police station. If there were what I call a mobile jail—some tabloid newspapers have called it a “retail jail”, and I think that a large cage in Selfridges was the example cited—a suspect could be apprehended and a swab, photo ID and fingerprints could be taken. There would still be a custody officer of some description there, and there would certainly be a cut in travelling time. Such solutions need to be not just talked about—I know that something along those lines appeared in the March 2007 consultation paper that the Minister issued—but got on with.
The Minister is even more grudging and miserable than usual.
The principle is that we should trust police officers more and not use a form-based system to check up on everything that they do. We should have a system that punishes those who break the rules or behave inappropriately. Fundamentally, we need to reverse the Government’s position of not trusting front-line police officers to be honest, decent people who want to do the right thing.
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Police officers are professionals and, as with those in other areas of public service—doctors, nurses, teachers and so on—we should trust the professionals. That means returning more discretion to the police, as he rightly points out.
We have heard contributions on police productivity. Recommendation 3 in the report states:
“it is difficult to assess how effectively the increased spending on the police in recent years has been deployed.”
The Home Office responded:
“It is generally accepted that no single measure of productivity will ever be a definitive source of the relationship between outputs, outcomes and inputs for a complex public service.”
Of course, there is truth in that for many Departments, particularly complicated ones. Health issues are at least as complicated as the police service, and I remember spending much of my time when I was a member of the Treasury Committee trying to get my head around productivity measures in the health service. It was fiendishly difficult and it is no less difficult in the police service, but that does not mean that we should not keep on working and trying. It is an important intellectual endeavour with a real point behind it.
The substantial increase in police resources in the past few years does not appear, either to me or according to the report, to have delivered a corresponding increase in outputs. To the man or woman in the street, that would be safer streets, less violent crime, lower crime generally and less fear of crime. Despite the Government’s saying in their response to the report that measuring productivity is difficult, they have measured it quite a bit in their own way. In 2003, the Office for National Statistics suggested that a weighted measure of crimes successfully investigated by the police should be used to measure productivity. In 2005, the Government’s Atkinson review—it was instigated by the Treasury, as I recall—recommended a wide range of performance data to assess productivity, including the police performance assessment framework and our dear old friend without which no debate would be complete: public service agreements, from which come the dreaded PSA targets.
The Government have introduced a complicated method of measuring police performance involving progress against key performance indicators, reoffending rates and judgments about the inputs required to achieve particular outputs. They have commissioned endless outside research on police effectiveness, and one example that is always worth thumbing through for those interested is “Measurement of output and productivity for the criminal justice system and wider public order and safety: A conceptual framework for the National Accounts”, which is an online report of 19 May 2005. I can tell those who have not yet looked at it what a scintillating read it is.
The police performance assessment framework, which is currently operating but will be amended on an ongoing basis, it seems, is the current performance management framework. It is intended to get a handle on police performance and thus productivity. PPAF consists of far too many quantitative performance indicators, which are combined to produce headline performance scores on tackling crime; serious crime and public protection; satisfaction and fairness; resources and efficiency; the implementation of neighbourhood policing; and local priorities.
The problems with PPAF are legion, and, at base, it seems to measure the wrong things and too much. Even just the collection of the data that officers and enforcers have to send to the centre wastes too much police time. Let me give an example: the practice of attempting to measure senior officers under the framework for qualities such as leadership and training, development, and organisational learning. There is no doubt that they are important factors for any organisation, but should they be assessed centrally? Those indirect performance indicators do not reflect what the public are most concerned about: better crime prevention. They are interested in the absence of crime and in better detection rates for the crimes that are committed. Assessing police performance on factors that can be instrumental to achieving the good goals of policing, such as training, rather than simply assessing them against those goals is at the heart of the matter. We should not have spurious targets on the quality of training. If we are to have targets, let us focus on a small number of core objectives, one of which should be addressing basic crime.
A force can succeed on several performance indicators without doing what it wants to do, and many senior officers have written about that in the past few months. The most recent big PPAF document, which was published before Christmas, put Surrey at the top of the league table for the performance of constabularies. One might expect the chief constable of that constabulary to be cheered at having come top of the class, but not a bit of it. He said:
“Some of the statutory targets skew activity away from the priorities the Surrey public has identified. We are at risk of claiming statistical success when real operational and resilience issues remain to be addressed.”
That is why the framework does not work. Even the chief constable of Surrey, who succeeded under that regime, thinks that the system is flawed. We need a seismic change of course—a serious slashing of pointless indicators, not timid tinkering. The new assessment framework, which we expect in April, is an opportunity for Ministers to carry out that serious slashing of pointless indicators once and for all. It is an opportunity to get on with things and to give the police a simplified framework in which they want to operate.
Before I conclude, I shall touch on two issues that have been raised in this important and interesting debate. Will the Minister answer the implied question asked by the right hon. Member for Leicester, East about funding? On average, 21.5 per cent. of police spend comes from the precept. Is that likely to change? Is that too high an average? Will the forecasts that the Minister’s officials will no doubt provide him with for next few years suggest that the figure will rise above 21.5 per cent. in the comprehensive spending review? It would be helpful if he told us his forecasts for average precepts as a percentage of police spend because we are all interested in that.
My next question has been raised by many officers in constabularies across the country, and I know that the Minister is doing important work on this issue. In the wake of the failed forced regional mergers, it is Government policy to have better collaboration among forces. I think that we all, including the Minister, agree that we need to speed up the pace of collaboration. Forces that fit neatly together, probably on a regional basis, because that is a logical fit, should be encouraged to collaborate more on IT procurement, for example, and to collaborate better on air capability, roads, serious organised crime—level 2—and all protective services—[Interruption.]
The Minister has been chuntering to himself. I do not know whether he is chuntering about something that I have said, or doing so because he is still upset by the powerful comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart).
I am glad that the Minister is not chuntering at me because I am trying to be constructive. He has had to pick up the pieces from the failed merger policy, and his response has been that there should be better collaboration. Will he indicate, as it is pertinent to the report, what kind of economies of scale and efficiency savings he sees being delivered in the next three years as a result of faster, deeper collaboration? Across which services in which parts of the country will that collaboration occur? I have indicated the kinds of areas in which collaboration could quite easily be speeded up—procurement is the obvious one, but I have listed others. Are there wins to be made that will be such that the spend that the taxpayer puts in will go further? I know that he works hard on this, and I would be keen to hear any figures that he can put on savings over the next three years as a result of the greater collaboration for which he is pressing.
This has been a useful debate on an excellent report. It is a point of departure for the right hon. Member for Leicester, East as he begins, in February, important cross-party work on policing in the 21st century. This is a vital time for all politicians. It is a time when crime is too high, although it can be reduced, so there should be no complacency from Ministers about crime levels. It is also a time when we have a pretty good idea that the threats and challenges to British society, and therefore the police, are likely to grow, particularly in the context of terrorism. Fighting terrorism successfully will involve more than specialist cadres within the British police service; it will involve all the police being ever vigilant in the work that they do to look after British citizens up and down the country, day in, day out. The time for police reform is now, and I am delighted that we seem to have such a large measure of interest in this most important of policy areas.
First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) on his accession to the Chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. I very much look forward to working with him. I regret his demise as a part-time constituent of mine, given that he serves his constituents in the east midlands so well. As the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) said in his closing comments, the report is as good a prelude as any to my right hon. Friend’s wider report on police in the 21st century. I know that he will do his job in an extremely diligent fashion.
I also welcome the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) to his new role. Who knows? If the polls had been open for an extra day, the much vaunted 1,200 votes that came in after 5 pm may have been hanging chads in his favour rather than his colleague’s. I am sure that he will bring some real energy, if not, by his own admission, expertise to home affairs. While I am on the subject of welcomes and departures, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills on all that he did during his time as Chairman of the Select Committee—he did it in adept and expert fashion—and on his elevation to DIUS, or whatever the Department is called.
The thrust of the report and, to be fair, our reply, is that there are significant improvements but there is scope for further improvement. That is absolutely right—it is right on an entirely non-party basis, because if what we are doing now in policing mirrors exactly what we were doing five years ago, let alone 10 years ago, collectively we are in trouble. The strength—and one of the downsides of what we do in policing is its complexity, but that also makes it interesting—of policing is its dynamism and ever-changing nature. I agree with the rather limited view that the time for police reform is now, if our police are to do the job that they should be doing in five years’ time. Police reform, I am afraid, is rather like what Mao called for: an ongoing and permanent revolution just to keep up with what is happening in society.
I take seriously the report’s views about leadership at a local level rather than just the chief constable level. I do not offer this as an alibi, but some of the many issues around cream buns, slices of cucumber and so on—I am referring to the question of the police having to get involved in so-called crimes that are nothing of the sort, but which cause people difficulty—are, as the superintendents half-agreed with me at their recent conference, as much to do with the risk-averse nature of local leadership that Ronnie Flanagan spoke about rather than things imposed from chief constable level or from my desk. I have not imposed anything at all from my desk in the past 18 months, other than, clearly, a stern will to get on with the job.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) for quoting, as others did, his chief constable, Dr. Timothy Brain, who said, when the settlement for this next period was made, that it was fair but that it would still be challenging. That is right, and I have made no bones about this being a tight settlement period. I have said—and I will come back to the point about collaboration—that over the next three years things will be tight, not least, to be fair, because there have been strong efficiencies by police authorities and forces over recent years. However, there is more that they could do.
Over the next period, for the first time, we want the customary 3 per cent. efficiency to be cashable, and that will be tight for authorities. If I have time, I will come back to that. I have made it clear that anything that forces save on recalibrating their internal processes, whether at operational or functional level, back office or front line, or in collaboration with other forces, I want them to reinvest in what they do, and to do it even more efficiently. There must be a function for me as a bulwark, if I can characterise it like that, between the police forces and the Treasury. If forces make savings because of innovation and collaboration with other forces, whether functionally or in back-office work, they need the time and the scope to be able to get on and invest them.
People have raised interesting points about the local versus national dimension. I think that there is a whole range of issues, not just funding or precepts, to consider. I welcome in part the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East about a wider investigation into policing. As he knows, the Home Secretary has already said that rather than just formally respond to Ronnie Flanagan’s report, we want to issue a Green Paper. The timing may, or may not, work out in that regard. Certainly, if I have anything to do with it, I want the Green Paper to feature a clear exposition, perhaps for the first time in a while, and not just since 1997, of what should be done nationally, regionally—I am thinking of the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud about super-regional matters—and at force and local levels. The historical notion that whatever the number of forces—43 now, 110 not long ago and God knows how many before that—autonomy was absolute, and there was an aversion to a national police force of any description. That meant that there could be no national direction, but I do not think that that is right, given my limited experience over 18 months.
With the emphasis strongly on the word “anticipate”, rather than anything more accurate, Ronnie is looking towards the end of this month, and the Green Paper should be out a couple of months after that—the end of March or something like that. However, my right hon. Friend will know the fluidity of such dates, given other events.
The Green Paper will provide an opportunity to say what should be done at national or regional level, for example, to pursue the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud, regarding procurement. What I do not want to do, however, is to fall into the mistake that I think we fell into on mergers, and assume that nothing by way of collaboration and working together has happened before. In the rush to the debate over mergers, we assumed that it was year zero. We assumed that the forces did not even talk to each other, let alone collaborate. There was plenty of work on collaboration prior to the mergers debate, and I would say plenty—and probably more—has been done in the past year or so since the mergers denouement, which happened under my watch, not anyone else’s, I should tell my hon. Friend. The mergers denouement happened during the first three weeks of my taking this role. Huge fun.
I do not know. Credit, mis-credit, whatever else, but there we are.
I accept the view that there was a pall, or a sort of sclerosis in the entire policing family for some three to six months after that—it really did stick for a while before people got out from under it. None the less, one of the key things that I said to forces after in what is now called McNulty’s Valentine letter—some five or six pages that just happened to go out on 14 February last year—was that I wanted to see significant action and movement. I would say that there has been significant action and movement, all in the right direction. The east midlands special operations unit is a good example, which is why I have insisted that we carry on funding it, although we will eventually taper the funding so that the five forces can pay for it. The east midlands were in particular difficulty with protective services and level 2 services. There are demonstrator sites up and down the country involving pretty much all forces. Quite a lot happened on an all-Wales basis, but I said to people, “I am not terribly bothered, unless someone on high tells me otherwise, that things have to be within Government regions.”
Some excellent work is being done by forces across regions: Essex and Kent are doing a hell of a lot together; quite naturally, North Wales and Cheshire are working together in the north-west; and South Wales is working along with Avon and Somerset. I am more interested in what works than in tidy little boxes to put things in. As I said, given that the purpose behind the proposals is not efficiencies, I see my job as saying to forces that whatever they save from collaboration, they can spend wherever they want in pursuit of improving policing in their area, as long as we get the 3 per cent. cashable efficiencies overall—that will suffice.
Establishing in the broader sense what should be done and directed nationally under the Police Act 1996 is a starting point. As for the question of accountability, I would be strung up by the Association of Police Authorities if I came close to agreeing with the characterisation of police authorities given by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud, but there are issues about what they do and how they do it. Not least because of the roll-out of neighbourhood policing, there are concerns such as those expressed by the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening), among others, about what accountability looks like at that very local level.
I take the point made by the hon. Member for Eastleigh about local information. We will insist that forces produce local information, not least to satisfy the requirement for a customer-satisfaction, customer-focus type of approach at the local level. I do not want to introduce a whole new layer of paperwork—I will come on to bureaucracy in a moment—just to ensure that forces are doing something at a macro level that I dictate rather than at the most appropriate level for them. In London, such work will naturally focus on the wards, because that is a real organisational unit.
I will, given the huge amount of time I have left after the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds made his Bury St. Edmunds declaration.
In other cases, the work will be done at the locality, basic command unit or neighbourhood level, or at the level of some other organising function, but the notion that local information should inform the debate about local priorities is one that we have taken on board and will move ahead with.
It depends. Many areas, including Hampshire, organise around neighbourhoods that are subsets of BCUs, which may be the appropriate level. At the other extremity, the county of Warwickshire is the BCU—the only one that organises the whole county as a BCU. The Government need to look at that, but the hon. Gentleman is right that we cannot have informed views on local policing beyond the purely aspirational unless we have information about local performance. Therein lies one of the bigger dilemmas.
The hon. Gentleman was wrong for a couple of reasons—I shall not dwell on them—about the difference between the performance and assessment framework and assessments of policing and community safety. APACS will look different from PPAF; the latter served its purpose in its time, but we are moving to the new system. There is a tension between wanting to know more about all aspects of every business process in which the police are involved and letting them get on with it. That begins to address my right hon. Friend’s questions about productivity and efficiency.
We are trying to establish something that is not a million miles away from the local government model, whereby if people deliver and perform, they will be afforded some degree of earned autonomy or whatever to get on with it, and the inspection and performance regimes will back off. That model works only if there is some kind of big stick, so that if a police authority underperforms or looks like it is failing, there would be proper intervention and matters would be taken in hand.
I am keen to ensure that we go for the good cholesterol—I lack the medicinal knowledge that I would need to understand further Ronnie’s analogy, so I do not know whether there is such a thing as too much good cholesterol if one gets rid of the bad stuff, but the analogy is useful. When both local people and me are satisfied with the measurements of the new performance framework, I want an appropriate focus on customers and local priorities and for the police to do what they should be doing. Let us be honest: that is not always the local priority, and there is a tension. When the police are doing what they should be doing, there should be a much more strategic or stand-offish approach from the centre. That is clear from the Home Office’s new crime strategy and any number of the new strategies that we are putting in place, including police service areas and the new performance frameworks. In such a situation, the tension is about how we afford our police, as it should be.
On over-bureaucracy and paperwork, I shall write to the hon. Member for Eastleigh to tell him why he is completely wrong about Suffolk and paperwork connected to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. That dilemma is about two years old and I thought, rightly, that I had resolved it. If a local force is not doing what it should be doing, it is to do with training. RIPA paperwork—
I shall not give way, because I have only about seven minutes left.
The tension between knowing what our police do and affording them discretion and flexibility is real, and the Government want to deal with it. I accept the point, as I have said before, that we need to debate how to strike an appropriate balance between local and national contributions to police resources. I do not know whether local contributions have gone up from 11 or 13 per cent., or whether they have gone up to 21 per cent.—the picture is patchy.
Those figures are not based on this year, or even last year—they run around in my head—but local contributions vary from 18 per cent., which was the figure two years ago in Northumbria, to more than 50 per cent. in Surrey, despite the fact that the money pays for a service that is universal, at least partly. Figures from before the last budgetary round vary from anything from £88 to well over £240. It is perfectly legitimate to debate the calibration of local and national contributions, and the difference between, for example, Cumbria and Cornwall. Of course, there will be peculiarities to local policing priorities in Hampshire, Leicestershire or Suffolk, but essentially, the service is universal
I knew that. It is not news to me, so I do not know at whom that point of order was aimed.
There are peculiarities, but we would do well by the public to have a proper debate about the financial base and the balance between local and national contributions. We should consider that dimension in our deliberations.
It is not right to say or assume that, given the resource base for the next three years and the fact that the police must do everything they do in the same fashion, there will be no new Government-funded initiative in that period. That is not an appropriate or fair description even of the current police resource base or of the ability of police to change. Policing, as I know from London, is different—fundamentally, in some ways—from 10 or even five years ago. That is not a political point; I am simply saying that eight or 10 years ago, in reality, the Metropolitan police force was a complete and utter mess as an organisation, rather than as a policing operation. People joke that the Metropolitan Police Service only discovered double-entry bookkeeping in 1999, 2000 or 2001 or that that was when it began to get some substantial organisation into what it does and how it is done.
Both as an organisation and as a police force, the Met is now a very different beast from 10 years ago, and I do not doubt that it will be different again in five or 10 year’s time. It is a model for how, if possible, neighbourhood policing should move forward, but I take the point made by the hon. Member for Putney about the difference between neighbourhood policing and safer neighbourhood teams within and between boroughs. Deprivation in the communities that the police serve certainly varies. I do not take the point—it may be the case in Wandsworth, but I do not know—that the poorer, more deprived or the harder the criminality the area, the less organised or structured the local public input is. If that was not the hon. Lady’s point, I should be happy for her to elucidate.
The Minister has misunderstood me. I made no reference to income and crime. I said that, in areas where crime is higher, people are often less reluctant to come forward and to get involved visibly in neighbourhood panels, because they are worried that, by identifying themselves as people who help the police, they will become targets.
I take the hon. Lady’s point, but involvement varies. We are about two years on from completing the roll-out. In time, the measure will develop in all areas. Of course, it is different from ward to ward, but in my experience, there is as much enthusiasm for such organisation in high crime areas as elsewhere.
I told my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud that the Government will do more on protective services. The south-west is taking tentative steps in that direction. In a very imaginative way, people there are trying to take forward much of what they do on a global, public sector basis in many instances. For some back-office functions, including IT, the police are trying to work alongside health services, local government and others. That is happening initially in Avon and Somerset, but it will broaden out. Such working is certainly worth further investigation and interest.
My hon. Friend’s local chief constable, Dr. Timothy Brain, was exceptional in his role in gold command in performing above and beyond the call of duty. As was implied, it is not strictly a policing matter at all. Dr. Brain’s work is to be commended. My hon. Friend will know that Gloucestershire is making an application under the Bellwin scheme. I have already said, I think, to Gloucestershire police that, as is the norm, if they think that there are more specific policing costs beyond what they receive through the Bellwin scheme, they can at least apply to the Home Office for special grant. Such an application will be assessed in the normal fashion.
I thank the Minister for that and I will pass on what he has said. Will he also make some nice comments about the tri-service station because the arrangement has been under some pressure? It is a complete myth that it is being shut, but obviously the loss of some of the fire personnel puts pressure on both police and ambulance personnel. That is a great shame because it would be an interesting model to pursue.
I am happy to agree with my hon. Friend’s points about the tri-service model. I apologise for being so parochial and just concentrating on the police. Collectively, the emergency services and the broader society in Gloucestershire certainly did an excellent job.
I want to return to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East said. He gave the impression, at least, that somehow the Government were responsible for awarding PCSOs the full pay award. We had no control over those awards; they are a matter for the local government bodies. There was no mechanism at all for the 2007 award to be referred up to us.
I am most grateful to the Minister for clarifying that, but is it his understanding that PCSOs have received their award of 2.5 per cent. in full from 1 September? Can he see the problem with two sets of people working together every day, some of whom have received their award in full and some of whom have not?
And all of whom will have had the award from 1 December onwards. A Member said yesterday that it was terrible that the Scottish police were being paid differently. That point was erroneous, too, because that endured only for September, October and November. I repeat what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud. There is a way forward from the 2008 pay award onwards, which relates to the new index—accepted in full, by the way, by the arbitration tribunal. We are talking about an award that is multi-year, as has been suggested by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and fully funded, as has been suggested by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, if it is based on the PAT index, as it has become known. That name is utterly unimaginative and simply means the police arbitration tribunal index and no more. However, there is a way forward in that regard.
I hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud says—I heard it about 18 months ago—about mergers. I know where his position was then and, probably, where it remains. If we can make progress with the collaboration among services across regions or otherwise, that will answer some of the questions that forces have about economies of scale and efficiencies. I do not wish to set any hares running, but I never said that mergers were entirely off the agenda. If forces come to us saying that they would like to merge on their terms, or at least consider that, we will think about that in full.
My hon. Friend made points about funding streams, and other hon. Members made the same points about ring-fencing. The Home Office has a very good record in that regard, in that pretty much the only thing now ring-fenced, at least in terms of policing, is the neighbourhood policing fund, which is the fund that pays for PCSOs from the centre. I will happily have a debate about whether that should be un-ring-fenced. Nominally, the crime fighting fund is still ring-fenced, but that is suspended, precisely to give local forces flexibility. The crime fighting fund was about top-up numbers and, in effect, a fines system if forces fell below particular numbers. For reasons of autonomy of forces, forces getting on with what they need to get on with, and local decision making, we decided to suspend that fund. That position is working okay so far. The only other element of police spend that is ring-fenced is the counter-terrorism budget, and I am not about to un-ring-fence that in a hurry, given that it involves national and regional frameworks and structures that cover the whole country. That is appropriate.
Again, I do not wish to set any hares running, but there is a debate to be had about the British crime survey, recorded crime—even the definition of crime—and the auditing processes and trails inside policing and police stations. I have said that before, because some comparisons that are made, not least by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the EU, are utterly erroneous. I have yet to find, in any comparison that I have done, any police service anywhere else in the world that counts crime in quite the way that the UK does. The last but one chief commissioner of police in Boston worked until recently in the Home Office heading up the standards unit and he thought the situation very strange. Representatives of American forces—New York included, by the way—would regularly come over and say, “What the hell are you measuring all this stuff for? We don’t measure half of what you measure here.” People need to understand that when they make comparisons. The same is true on the continent. There is a slightly different definition of what an assault is and what a violent crime is, and all of a sudden the comparisons become all the more erroneous.
Does that mean that I think everything in the garden is rosy in terms of policing in the UK? Of course it does not, but that debate should be had because I suspect that we do measure too much and that, collectively as politicians, we are probably too scared not to do so now, or to change things. One of the most fundamental problems, as the Smith review showed, relates to the definition of assault and violent crime. It would be a brave politician who would stand up in government and start redefining violent crime. We have done the easy bit. Rather erroneously, trespassing on a railway line was classed as a violent crime until recently. That is clearly not the case, so we got rid of that. Bigamy was a violent crime. I do not know why, but if you looked through the list, those crimes were on it.
Maybe so, but there are issues about threatening and harassing behaviour that does not turn into violence. In many other policing worlds, that never gets anywhere near being defined as violence, but in this country, because of the potential threat, it clearly does. All those elements are important because they go to the efficacy, efficiency and professional approach of our police.
When I talk about the link between local and national, I am not tempted by the suggestion, although I think it worthy of discussion, that if very localised teams are well established, as they are in London and will be everywhere else by April, albeit not on a ward basis, would it be worth exploring the idea of some money going straight to that level as part of policing priorities—it would probably be only a small amount—and getting a link between safer neighbourhood teams and funding? Is it worth exploring—I suspect not, but I understand the point—a link between SNTs and a localised precept rather than a London-wide precept? I am not sure. I just know that a serious debate is needed on the whole issue of finance.
I shall not get into the real debate on Giuliani—the hon. Member for Eastleigh addressed the headline debate. That is not wrong; let me say that it is selective. There were huge issues relating to how crime was measured in New York, how resources were put in and who paid for it. It certainly was not paid for by the federal Government. It was paid for by an array of local taxes including sales tax and phone tax. The hon. Gentleman would probably like that, as he likes local taxes. The outputs and the endgame are, to some extent, indisputable, but some of the issues are not. The notion that New York is in a better place because the NYPD, the transit police and the housing police are all now one force makes sense, as do some of the other points.
The point within that about making it compulsory to publish local crime figures is absolutely right. We will do that, and I can give hon. Members more information on what the units should be, when we will do it and what the timetable will be.
A Front-Bench Member—I cannot remember who—mentioned the equivalent of beacon status. The Association of Chief Police Officers has referred to foundation forces and the like. That is sort of what I was suggesting when I said earlier that if there is sustained performance over time, perhaps we could afford more autonomy—with the centre stepping back a bit, fewer performance inspections and so on—and effectively free forces from central perusal, as in the local government model. I am happy to explore that. There is not much funding to un-ring-fence in the event of sustained good performance because, as I said, not a lot of funds that are left that are ring-fenced.
I take the point made by the hon. Member for Putney about the tyranny of aggregation—it is an ugly phrase, but more meaningful than it sounds—and of considering things on a borough-wide level, rather than a smaller one. Even outside London, it is important to look at the lower level, rather than just at aggregated borough figures, to see what is really going on with crime in a particular area. I also take the point that much youth crime is perpetrated on other young people. We need to look at that issue.
I shall gloss over the point that I was going to make about Bury St. Edmunds and foolish partisan drivel. I was obviously having a bad moment, so I shall ignore that. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds always implies—and then goes off course a wee bit—that there can, and should, be cross-party consensus on much of what we do in terms of crime and policing. I agree, and I said that to his predecessor. For all the kerfuffle around the edges, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East could corral 80, 90 or 95 per cent. of Members to serve on the Home Affairs Committee and get broad agreement. It would probably be useful for us to get away from knockabout politics every now and then on the matter and from the use of bad research rather than good.
Well, maybe. I have not yet seen any good, sustained research—research that is not flawed in some way—from King’s college. I do not share the view that the centre there is prestigious. Its recent study on knife crime involved thinking of a number, doubling it and extrapolating. Suddenly knife crime has doubled in two years. That conclusion is not sustainable, purely intellectually, not least because of the paucity of accurate figures. That is why we have insisted that police now record crimes committed with pointed instruments.
I take the broad points made about paperwork, bureaucracy and IT. I do not doubt that if the fellows from “Life on Mars” appeared in front of the august Committee of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East, they would say the same thing about the 1970s. My difficulty is tangibility and getting people to say exactly what they mean—what bureaucracy and what paperwork. This is the same as Ronnie’s point about what is cholesterol and what is not.
Not for a moment.
It is equally unfair, although I know that I am meant to, to talk about the lack of process and the continued balkanisation, for want of a better phrase—or patchwork, if you will—of IT solutions in policing. That characterisation is probably five or 10 years old. Does more need doing? Absolutely; of course. But, at its core, certainly between forces, IT is developing an impact, although more slowly than I would like. We are slowly moving towards a new police national database that will do far more than the police national computer has ever done, even though the PNC has always had a wonderful branding—everyone thinks that we can just press a button and out pops everything we want to know about a particular individual. I am not complacent, nor am I saying that the issue has gone away. We are still suffering some of the consequences of almost informal solutions used on a force-by-force basis, so the problem is still there, in part, but it is not quite as bad as the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds characterised it.
I commend what the hon. Gentleman said about honesty in the finance debate. I have made the point about the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and intercept. There is something there and I have looked at it a couple of times. People are doing things—perhaps they are just covering themselves, as in Ronnie Flanagan’s point about risk aversion—but they are doing them to excess in ways that they should not. Matters such as intervention and interception are important, and there had better be a paper trail, but I take the point that that can be over-egged, possibly through the misinterpretation of ACPO guidance and training.
There can, and should, be a way through the complexities of value for money and input-output models but, again, we must be careful. The better the input-output model, the better our understanding of the business processes that make policing work, but if we want to know what those are and how people do them, it will mean more paperwork, more bureaucracy and more people measuring just to get to that stage. If we could get to a stage where I met each chief constable once a year and said, “Your crime is at x level this year. I will see you in three months and I want it down. That’s your target: reduce crime,” life would be far easier for me and them, but that is not the case. Things are complex, but that does not mean that we should not measure or try to achieve value for money through a range of processes.
Some of those processes are very simple. Our Treasury-sponsored research with PricewaterhouseCoopers and others through Operation Quest is partly about stripping down an internal process and rebuilding it to be far more efficient and effective in terms of public priorities. It could be something as routine as ascertaining whether call inquiries are level 1, 2 or 3 and that they are fully investigated. Good examples of that are occurring in south Liverpool and Ipswich. Much has happened in the policing world on productivity and efficiency, and much still can happen—on a consensual basis if that is our political will.
The report on police funding is good, and some of the points about how all this would have happened anyway without any Government intervention, or indeed extra money, have an element of truth. However, as I said before, most are specious post hoc rationalisation or casual empiricism at best. Of course houses are more secure now and the cars built today are far more secure than those 10 or 20 years ago, or the old bangers that I used to buy. I was distraught when my first car was stolen, but I was even more distraught to find that it had been left about 500 yd away, around the corner, because it was such a banger that the thieves were most disappointed with it once they got inside. I got my car back, which was the most disappointing thing of all, really.
Moving forward on all these issues is hugely important to each and every one of our constituents. The funding framework will continue and endure. I do not say that it will not be tight, but my point, like Dr. Timothy Brain’s, is that the police can none the less work within it. I look forward to the inquiry into policing in the 21st century by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East. However, before he asks me to go to it, will he give me some breathing space? He has an invite in his back pocket for me to appear before the Surveillance and Society conference, which seems to cover every camera that ever existed in the entire United Kingdom, rather than just the Home Office.
I am very grateful for everyone’s interest—hopefully a sustained interest—in policing. Much unites us. Let us step away from the rhetoric and ensure that we get the policing that our communities deserve and maintain its funding into the future.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at nineteen minutes past Five o’clock.