Wednesday 20 February 2008
[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair]
Working Neighbourhood Funding (Leeds)
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. McCabe.]
Once again, it is a pleasure to secure a debate under your benevolent and fair chairmanship, Mr. Gale. I am delighted to have obtained this debate and to see so many of my Leeds colleagues here, which indicates how important the matter is to Leeds. The matter affects the future of the local Leeds economy and, above all, the social cohesion of the city, which everyone has worked so hard for decades to improve and maintain and which is now threatened by the measure that we are discussing this morning.
In December, the Government announced the ending of the neighbourhood renewal fund. From April, a working neighbourhood fund will be in place. The Minister stated that the fund would
“provide resources to local authorities to tackle worklessness and low levels of skills and enterprise in their most deprived areas.”
I am sure that nobody in the Chamber has any trouble with a change in emphasis. I have always been of the view that the way out of poverty is through work—if a person is physically able to undertake work—and not through the benefit system. The problems in doing that are immense, but the rewards are great for both the community and the individual. Work gives confidence, dignity and financial freedom to the individual and their family, and the knock-on effects on children are palpable to see. Therefore, I do not fall out with the change of emphasis.
The fund amounts to £1.5 billion over three years. As is usual with Government announcements, that sounds like a huge figure, but it is less than what was available in the renewal fund by quite a few million. With a new fund come new criteria, and Leeds now fails by the narrowest of margins to qualify for funds. The partnership arrangements between the Government and the city council, which aimed to deal with the problems of inner-city poverty, have been ended by a Labour Government. Those arrangements have been in place for more than 30 years under both Conservative and Labour Governments.
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for putting this debate in a non-partisan context. The problem that he has alluded to in relation to Leeds applies also to the City of Westminster, which has just missed out on funding. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with some local authorities that those decisions have come too late, not least because of the accumulation of different statistical values? In Westminster, and probably also in Leeds, various plans were made on the basis of continued funding for programmes. If the Minister cannot go back on the entirety of the proposals, we call on him to keep the funding for the next financial year for both Leeds and the City of Westminster.
Before we proceed, may I remind hon. Members of the need for brevity? May I also draw attention to the fact that this is a localised debate. I am perfectly prepared to allow a slightly broader discussion about neighbourhood funding and, therefore, to allow the Minister to respond to any points, if he chooses to do so. However, a significant number of hon. Members are from the Leeds area, and it is only right that they should dominate the debate.
You have made a fair point, Mr. Gale. However, I totally understand the point made by the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field), to which I was going to refer. At the risk of repeating myself, what the hon. Gentleman has said is perfectly right. When the Minister made the rate support grant announcement a few weeks ago, he finished his speech by referring to a new partnership with Karen Dunnell from National Statistics. That decision was taken to take a closer look at the matter, because there are continuing questions and problems with the accuracy of statistics in the big cities, which is a problem that has been acknowledged and referred to.
The hon. Gentleman has made an important point, which I want to emphasise. Following the Minister’s announcement of the figures, three authorities have been told that they are getting different results. The hon. Gentleman has referred to Westminster, which is being taken out of the list. Another authority has also been taken out of the list, and Waltham Forest is going into the list. All sorts of questions can rightly be raised about the statistics.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (John Battle) has reminded me, a statistical blip means that Leeds has lost more than £40 million, which we expected to get to deal with problems over the next three years. The financial effects of that are stark. We expected to receive funds worth £54 million. I chided the Minister in the Chamber, because when he told me that we were going to lose £40 million, he used statistics to say, “Ah, but we will give you £60 million in the first year and £20 million in the next year.” He omitted to say that in the third year, the funds went down to absolutely nothing, which is £12 million of the £54 million that we expected to receive. He also failed to refer to the money from the Department for Work and Pensions in the fund. Therefore, if an authority is not one of the 66 authorities that are part of the neighbourhood working fund grant list, they do not get the DWP money or any reward money. Some £50 million will be used to reward authorities for doing well on tackling poverty. I find it incredible that anyone should think that authorities need to be rewarded. Yet, that is exactly the amount of money that Leeds is losing, because we have been removed from the list.
I listened very carefully to my hon. Friend when he made some of those points in our debate on 4 February. He said then that Leeds was losing £54 million that it expected to get. A little later, he said that Leeds was losing £52 million. I have been unable to work out exactly how he reached those figures. It would be incredibly helpful if my hon. Friend were to explain where his figures come from.
I am sorry that the Minister has such bad civil servants that they cannot provide him with the figures. However, the good civil servants in Leeds will provide him with the details that he wants. We receive between £15 or £16 million a year in neighbourhood renewal.
I will give way in a second, and then the Minister can challenge the figures. We are also in receipt of more than £700,000 in DWP money. On the basis of getting the same amount from the working neighbourhood fund, we expected to get £54 million from that fund alone. The Minister may say, “Oh, those are great expectations; the reality might have been different.” If he were to consider giving Leeds what he has given other major cities in Britain, I would happily accept that amount.
I am simply trying to understand the figures. For the current year, Leeds receives £14.9 million under the neighbourhood renewal fund. That is part of a total of £63 million under that fund between 2001 and 2008. Under the DWP disadvantaged areas fund, Leeds will receive £758,000 this year. For the life of me, I cannot make any extrapolation from any of those figures add up to either £54 million or £52 million over the forthcoming three-year period, so I am simply asking my hon. Friend where he gets his figures from when he talks about what Leeds expected to get over the next three years.
I am happy to cross swords with the Minister, who has more resources than the city and I would ever dream of having. I am happy to discuss any discrepancy in the figures that he cares to argue about. Leeds has supplied, and backed up, the figure of £54 million. If there is a dispute about whether it should be £60-odd million, £50-odd million or £40-odd million, we will negotiate with the Minister, because we are reasonable people in Leeds. If the Minister is in financial difficulties, I am sure that we can reach agreement, but what we cannot do is accept a move from £50-odd million to £12 million and then, in the third year, to absolutely nothing.
My hon. Friend has rightly championed this cause, and we in the city are grateful to him for doing so. The £14.9 million that we would lose from antisocial behaviour units, the drug intervention project, neighbourhood wardens and the burglary reduction projects levers in other money from other pots, and when we add the sums together, including money from other Government budgets, we are well up on the £43 million, as I think it was, at the baseline. Does my hon. Friend agree that we have to keep in mind the fact that the money in this fund accesses money in other funds, which will now be denied because we will not receive the basic money?
My right hon. Friend is entirely correct, but if the Minister is having difficulty, let us not muck about with big figures; let us consider the schemes. This morning, I will supply him with a list of current schemes that face total cuts or 40 per cent. cuts next year down to oblivion in the third year. We are not discussing abstract figures. We are discussing schemes that work in all sorts of areas to deal with the problem of inner-city poverty, and those schemes will disappear because of this decision. That is what we are arguing about.
The social effects are alarming. We often refer to two-speed Leeds—it is openly described in that way. As is usual in every big western city, we have a posh, prosperous centre. We also have posh, more prosperous suburbs, but in between, as with every western city from America to Europe, we have the inner city, with all the problems that are identifiable no matter whether people are in Paris, Rome, Washington, New York or Leeds.
I thank my hon. Friend not only for introducing the debate but for the points that he has made. Following his point about western cities, does he agree that even within some of the more prosperous suburbs—for example, Alwoodley in my constituency, which is one of the richest in the country—there are pockets of deprivation that match anywhere in the poorest parts of the poorest areas of our country? On top of that, we have inner-city areas such as Chapeltown and Harehills, to which he has referred.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. I may repeat myself, but it is worth making the point in case I forget it that the city council argues that if the old city boundaries were to apply, in which case the boundary ran around the urban, built-up areas, our figure would be not 19.96 per cent. but 36 per cent. That demonstrates the depth and the comprehensiveness of the poverty in all the areas within the inner city of Leeds.
What are the problems? I need not spell them out to colleagues, but the Minister should be aware of them. I am referring to high unemployment, bad health, indifferent education, crime, violence and vandalism. Those are all problems that the Government have targeted over their lifetime, but they are no longer visible to the Government. They do not exist now in the Government’s eyes, and no resources will be coming into the city in three years’ time to help with the objective of getting people skilled and into work and changing the nature of the inner city.
Will the hon. Gentleman accept that the statistical analysis by Governments of all colours in recent years no longer holds sway, for the following reason, which applies in London and, I am sure, in Leeds? In inner cities, the hypermobility and hyperdiversity of the population mean that many statistics are both unreliable and quickly out of date, which obviously has an enormous impact on much of this funding.
Yes, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We return to the question of how accurate statistics are. There is also the question of the base and the time. I need not remind my colleagues of how the inner city has changed in the past five years, because of the influx of people seeking asylum who have been sent to Leeds by the Government. Those people have changed communities, but let us consider the issue in economic terms and how it has affected the statistics. We all know the numbers. Thousands have come into our inner-city constituencies. That is why I cannot trust the statistics, which are seriously out of date. If those people are being considered for asylum, they bring £35 a week into each household—£35—and they have replaced people who have moved to other parts of the city. I cannot think of any indigenous family who have made do on less than £35 a week. I submit that that is impossible, so the areas have become economically weaker.
Why have the Government concluded that Leeds no longer needs help? The technical answer is that to qualify, the council has to meet one of three criteria. The criterion that Leeds has the overwhelming argument about is that super-output areas have to be in the 10 per cent. most deprived on the index of multiple deprivation. Stand up anyone who understands that. Shoot the man who described them as super-output areas.
Or woman, but I am sure that a woman would have more sensitivity. [Interruption.] Positively so.
Leeds has 476 of those areas, so mathematically it requires 96 of them to come within the relevant category to qualify. It actually has 95, so it has lost £40 million of grant because, as the Leeds finance and regeneration people tell me—the Minister will have to check this; it has not been challenged to date—that figure equates to 19.96 per cent. If it were 20 per cent., we would have received £50-odd million over three years. Because of 0.04 per cent., we will get nothing in three years and disappear from the list. Our poverty will disappear and our inner-city problem will disappear.
As a London MP, I recognise many of the issues that the hon. Gentleman has outlined, and I have a lot of sympathy in that regard. Does he agree that it is intuitively wrong that an area that is classed as deprived on 31 March one year is literally the next day suddenly regarded as good enough to receive no investment?
I could not have put it better—that is exactly the question I am asking. I shall depart from my script to say that I have had both public and private discussions with the Minister on the matter. The answer to the question is that a line has been drawn: it is lovely if one’s city is above the line; but Leeds is below it. That puts tackling inner-city poverty to level of a television game show, like saying “Oops! You just missed and you are going home with no money!” That might make nice television, and it might be riveting for people of that mind, but it is scandalous when it comes to tackling poverty. What the Government are saying is that 149,000 people in Leeds, who are in the deepest poverty and deprivation and all that I described, and who represent the 95 SOAs, are suddenly of no interest to the Government. If there were 20 per cent., the Government would have been very interested in giving money. How can a Minister in a Labour Government, who owe their existence to attacking such problems, suddenly draw a line and say, “We do not recognise you”?
Leeds is the only major city in Britain not to be included in the list—Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Sheffield and Newcastle are all included. I believe that it is the only major city in the western world not to have a partnership between the Government and the local authority to tackle inner-city problems, which we all have and work hard to deal with.
What has happened to Leeds? As the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) has said, our poverty disappeared in the eyes of the Government on 31 March. How can a Labour Government call themselves a Labour Government if they decide to tackle poverty at a given level, but say that cities above that level do not need any money because the poverty does not exist? It is not acceptable—it is bizarre and grotesque. The Government cannot go to 149,000 people in Leeds who live in conditions that almost defy description—they have no ambition or hope and live in terrible conditions—and say that if there were 0.04 per cent. more people, we would help. That is how to decide game shows, not social policy. There cannot be such a cut-off.
If the Government do that, what will they say to people? What will MPs say to people when we visit them and they tell us about their genuine problems—they do not have to tell us about those problems, because we live among our constituents and see them every time we go home? We sense that things have not changed much, and we are angry about it. Things did not change that much when we received £50-odd million to help change things, so what on earth will happen to the city when the money disappears? Things will inevitably get worse.
I am certainly not, Mr. Gale. I shall give way, if the Minister answers my questions, which I hope he will, but he will have time later. How can he justify making Leeds the only western city to receive no Government help? How can a Labour Government refuse help to 149,000 people who live in deprived areas and 65,000 working-age people who are on benefits? We are supposed to be targeting those people, but Leeds has only 65,000 of them, so it is too small to target and to receive help.
It is no excuse to say that a line was drawn. Before the Government draw a line, they should look at the consequences—I hope that they would do that on a matter as important as inner-city poverty. They should have drawn the line and run it through the computer to see what might happen. They should not run it through the computer and say, “Tough! Leeds or whatever other authority is out”. Should they not then say, “Get me the list, so I can see who’s out” and query the list? Did the Minister know that Leeds was out by 0.04 per cent. on the criterion? If he did not know, why not? If he did, did he ask the Oxford people to check their figures? Will he tell us the margin of error that is permitted, expected or acknowledged in the statistics? Is there a margin of error? Even if the Minister did not do those things, why did he not rethink where he drew the line? Taking Leeds out is an insult, and it is an insensitive decision.
The effect is horrifying, as my colleagues will say. It is bad enough now, so what is going to happen when there is no money for the inner city? What will the decision do? At the last count, it will close 67 schemes within three years. The schemes work on antisocial behaviour orders, health, education, youths and drugs—they are designed to achieve the objectives of working neighbourhoods. Some of us know inner cities and understand the problems and the people and what they go through. There are generations of people from families who have never worked. There are youngsters in their 20s and 30s whose dads did not work, who have not worked themselves and whose children are growing up to believe that they will not work, too. Because of the ghettoised system and bad education, those people are unskilled and unable to get a job. There is no anger in them—they have low self-esteem and lack confidence. Some people do not understand the trauma of those things and do not want to do something about them.
The problem has to be dealt with on an individual basis. It is not like putting a shape into a box. It is clearly a business of consulting cities, building relationships and confidence and identifying the problems, be they drugs, health, bad education or even bad attitudes. Why should people not have bad attitudes? I have a bad attitude, because I lived on those estates. It is about finding the problems and carefully and sensitively building people up and getting them to contribute as a stakeholder. Amazingly, we sometimes find that that can lift a whole family’s morale. We could work with children in schools, so that they understand the importance and see the sense of education and believe that they will go into a job. It is heartbreaking when I speak to youngsters in secondary or high school who ask me, “Why should I bother? I’m not going to get a job.” That is how they think.
My hon. Friend’s point was recently reinforced by the fact that Leeds has come top of the league table—it is an onerous position—for the number of 16 to 18-year-olds who are not in education, employment or training. Is that not the type of generational problem at the younger end that we need the resources that he has discussed to tackle?
Absolutely. That is true whichever age group we are talking about. The over-50s need help to build their confidence and to reskill, and the same is true of parents, youngsters and children. My hon. Friends the Members for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) and for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Hamilton), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West know about that from their work on the council—the latter worked hard as chairman of committees on housing and industry to bring those elements together. We need jobs for people in the communities.
The city produces 30,000 new jobs every 10 years. The aim has always been to skill the indigenous Leeds people to fight, compete for and gain their share of the growing number of jobs, and the city can do it if the political will is there.
Does my hon. Friend agree that for more than 20 years Leeds has been one of the most successful cities in the country in terms of growth in jobs, yet, as he has said, those jobs are not going to those who need them most in the inner-city areas, because those people do not have the necessary training or opportunities? Instead, the jobs have gone to people living outside the city in the more prosperous areas of West Yorkshire and North Yorkshire, who are flooding into the city as commuters, which causes further congestion and poverty for those who really need the jobs.
That is exactly the point. On the motorways in the Leeds area in the morning and evening, one can see the number of people who take employment in Leeds and then spend their money elsewhere. It is galling for inner-city MPs, and for all Leeds Members, that so many of their constituents are unskilled, unemployed, poor and with bad lifestyles, because we have not been able to raise enough resources and because there has not been the political will to pull together and nurse them in back to mainstream jobs.
I finish with some questions for the Minister. I am cynical enough to know that when it comes to Adjournment debates, apart from a few hurried comments, Ministers’ speeches are written beforehand. We are not going to change the Minister’s mind—we are not going to get a decision today—but I speak for all hon. Members and certainly for all Leeds Members in asking the Minister to think again about drawing such a line. We cannot go from having a problem to not having a problem by 0.01 per cent. There is either a problem or there is not, and there really should be a gearing, so that less significant problems get less money, which has always been the way with inner-city money. This is a brave experiment, but it is in danger of blowing up in the Minister’s face.
In view of the fact that three authorities had their figures changed within a month, will the Minister say whether he has asked the Oxford people if they stand by their figures? Has he asked them to check the figures? Has he asked them for the statistics? The Leeds authorities want to see the methodology, but it will apparently not be available for two months.
We want to work constructively with the Minister to see whether there is enough common ground—even within the criteria, although I think that the criteria are wrong—to see whether the figures are as accurate as has been suggested. We want the methodology and all the details to be given the Leeds authorities. Will the Minister assure us that the statistics on asylum seekers have been taken into consideration? Will he say when the statistics date from? What does he suggest should happen, given that the statistics are already two or three years out of date, when we see the effects in the inner city over the next six years?
I am sorry that conversations between myself and the Minister, who is usually calm, patient and tolerant, were so cross. I am sorry if my language was extreme, but the problem in Leeds is extreme. A Labour Government should not operate social policy in that way. We cannot face the people of Leeds and say that poverty, which will still exist on 31 March, has disappeared.
Order. A considerable number of Members still wish to speak. I propose calling the two Opposition Front-Bench speakers no later than 10.30 am. I would be grateful if hon. Members were to take recognisance of the time available, but it should be possible to accommodate everybody. I intend to give some priority to Leeds Members, but the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) has been good enough to indicate her interest, and if I can call her, I will.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie) on securing the debate and on leading on this important subject. It is a pleasure to follow him. He should not apologise for his forthright language and certainly not for his passion, which is shared across the political divide. He is doing his job, which is to stand up for our city.
As we heard, everyone is extremely proud of our wonderful city and its achievements and the fact that, economically, it has been doing very well over recent years. The hon. Gentleman spoke of the city centre, and we are all aware that there are areas of deprivation. That has to be a focus for us, for the city council and for the Government.
The neighbourhood renewal fund has contributed £63.421 million over the past seven years. The hon. Gentleman mentioned some projects, and I shall highlight a few. Leeds Voice, an interfaith project that works with groups and empowers local communities through a variety of schemes and initiatives, last year received 57 per cent. of its funding from the NRF. The “all relative” project works with parents of 8 to 13-year-olds at risk of antisocial behaviour—something else mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. The sports academy received £35,000 from the NRF last year; a sexual health link project received £109,000; and the Connexions youth project received £232,000. However, because of the change to the working neighbourhood fund, Leeds no longer qualifies for that money. All those projects will be at risk without that funding stream. None of the work done by those wonderful projects will be able to continue. That is of real concern to us all.
The hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Hamilton), who is not in his seat at the moment, made the important point that, although some areas of Leeds are a particular focus, there is relative deprivation across the whole metropolitan area, something that is a little unusual compared with other core cities. One of the problems is that Leeds is to some extent a victim of its own success.
The hon. Member for Leeds, East and I share a dislike of the awful phrase “super output area”, but we have to use it. We are talking about the fact that one super output area has led to us missing out on such a vital source of funding by the extraordinary margin of 0.04 per cent. We are talking about an arbitrary line. The message is clear. The Minister and the Government must reconsider how the funding is to be allocated, because at the moment it does not acknowledge the reality of the situation in Leeds. The scale and extent of deprivation in some parts of the city is clear and visible to all who visit.
Twenty-four authorities eligible for the new working neighbourhood fund have a total population smaller than the number of people living in the 10 per cent. most deprived areas in the country. It seems perverse that with a total of 149,000 people living in the most deprived communities, Leeds should be excluded. Surely, that cannot be right. Moreover, the city has more than 63,000 workless people, the fourth highest figure in the country, and worklessness is one of the criteria for the new fund. Despite the city’s economic success, of which we are all extremely proud, there has been insufficient movement in the number of people living in deprivation—and the number of people on benefits—since 2001. The figure has remained largely similar, despite the emphasis on worklessness.
Leeds has a very good track record in delivering effective schemes through neighbourhood renewal funding. The partnership between the Government, the city council and the other organisations in the third sector has used that money in a way that is a model of how that type of essential regeneration funding can be spent extremely effectively.
I think that the hon. Gentleman is hitting upon one of the reasons why this funding allocation is inherently flawed. It is the fact that it takes no account of the return on investment—in other words, how valuable the projects that the money is going to support actually are.
The hon. Lady makes an extremely valid contribution. This essential money has been focusing on the 3 per cent. most deprived areas in Leeds and it has delivered the type of returns that we have seen through the projects that have already been mentioned.
The wider problem is that the working neighbourhood fund that is being introduced is part of a wider financial situation in Leeds. As well as losing the neighbourhood renewal funding, Leeds will not receive any income from the local authority business growth incentive scheme. On top of that, of course, Leeds has this year received an extremely tight financial settlement, which has been acknowledged by the Minister.
We need to look at the comparison with other core cities. Next year, on average, the core cities will receive a 3.7 per cent. funding increase and Leeds will receive only a 2.8 per cent. funding increase. Indeed, the gap between Leeds and other West Yorkshire districts is even wider, with those other districts receiving a funding increase of 4.6 per cent.
However, it is when we look at the working neighbourhood renewal fund that the contrast is most extreme. Over the next three years, Leeds will receive £12.5 million before the funding peters out over that period, as has been explained. Meanwhile, Manchester will receive £85.6 million; Liverpool will receive £98.6 million, and Birmingham will receive a huge £114.4 million. Quite simply, the reality of Leeds and the deprivation that we face is not reflected in the funding that we will receive, and that is a real concern. It is something that those of us in Leeds from across the political spectrum, both MPs and those at local government level, simply will not sit down and accept. Overall, the net effect of these three funding issues is that next year Leeds will receive £8 million less than this year, which will undoubtedly have an effect on services.
I will wrap up my comments, because I know that there are other hon. Members who wish to speak. There is a strong and unified message coming from Leeds at all levels of political representation and that message was put in an extremely passionate and eloquent way by the hon. Member for Leeds, East. All of us in Leeds are saying to the Government that the arbitrary line that we appear to have just slipped over cannot be a sensible way to allocate essential sources of funding that we need to regenerate the parts of our city that need to catch up with the other parts that are doing better. We simply ask that the Government look at that issue again and come up with a way of allocating the new fund that is fair, commonsensical and, above all, based on reality, because I am afraid that this arbitrary line is not based on reality. The Government must look at the issue again.
May I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie) and say that the city is grateful to him for championing this cause, because it is an absolutely crucial one? He speaks with passion, with experience and also with knowledge. He might not recall this, but he taught me a good deal about politics years ago when we were together in the council. One of his watchwords was that politics is about the arithmetic and justice is in the detail of the arithmetic. I know that he has examined carefully the impact of this particular decision on some 200,000 people in Leeds.
In following the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland), I am tempted to say that I completely agree with him and that, in a sense, we suffer because Leeds is too big. Perhaps we should take what might now be described as the Kosovo option and make a unilateral declaration of independence in all our urban villages. Some of our urban villages, such as Seacroft, Armley, Wortley and Kirkstall, are larger than some of the towns that are now receiving renewal funds. So perhaps we should atomise the city, localise and apply separately as urban villages. That is the irony of our current position.
I would just say to the Minister that statistics are significant and statistical differences are sometimes minimal to statisticians, but they have a massive impact on people’s lives. That is the gap in this debate. Perhaps in contrast to the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West, I want to say that I can remember the days when there were cuts of 10 or 15 per cent. in budgets to Leeds every year. At least under this Government the overall budget for Leeds is increasing and that should be acknowledged.
We are talking about a particular pocket of funding, which has been renamed the working neighbourhoods fund to focus on getting people into work. The irony is that that budget, which has been cut, is precisely the budget that needs to be supported if we are to avoid having what I would describe as a dividing city—it is an active process; it is not over. The city centre has an 8 per cent. growth rate, with new jobs being created, but not everyone is joining in that growth. People without skills and training in my neighbourhood, which has the lowest number of people going into further and higher education of any constituency in the country, still need support in education and training.
My neighbourhood is that cake slice going out from the city centre that makes up Armley, Bramley, Wortley and Kirkstall, out towards the ring road in Bramley. It starts with the terraced streets with the washing outside; it extends through the council estates; then there a few semi-detached houses; and then it is life beyond the ring road. In terms of output and deprivation, I would describe those four neighbourhoods as Nos. 12, 13, 14 and 16 in the overall needs pattern of the city. If we were to take a compass and draw an arc at the bridge at Kirkstall, those inner neighbourhoods would come No. 1, No. 1 and No. 1—two of those super-output areas are the highest in the whole country.
Let me explain what happens in relation to boundaries. The super-output areas still have high unemployment in the terraced houses. According to Dr. Susan Lawrence, schizophrenia rates around Leeds prison are 10 times higher than the national average. The Government are now saying, “Of course we want to get people off incapacity benefit and into work and we passionately want to do that because it’s good for those people.” But how can we achieve that if the very resources to help us to get people off incapacity benefit and into training and work are taken away?
I am trying to become an expert on super-output areas. Why? It is because everything depends on where the boundary is drawn. We know that as politicians, from drawing up polling areas and the rest of it. That line across a street can be crucial. Let me give an example of what happens to the figures. I will find that 0.04 per cent. for the Minister, and I will tell him why.
New Wortley was moved from the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn), where it was in Holbeck ward, which is a high-output area. Its removal lowered the output in his area, but it was put into the better neighbourhood in my area of Armley and Wortley. The figures were therefore submerged by life out towards the ring road. Overnight, that super-output area went from being the top target neighbourhood to being one of the lowest. Did the people move? No, but one person moved, from Heeley in Sheffield, and said, “I have come to a neighbourhood that’s worse. If I had remained in Sheffield, I would have been in the super-output area that got access to the money. So I have moved away from the money and come into a poorer neighbourhood.” I simply make the point that, with increasing mobility, it cannot be right that people either do not move and end up with nothing or do move and end up even worse off.
Let me say to the Minister something about that shift, that redrawing of the boundary for New Wortley. It is welcome and the councillors have worked with that neighbourhood to build up a community centre, and to try to get training there. But what do they find? The very budget that supports that community centre and that training to get people into work is now being taken away. That cannot be right. I will just draw on this one example, but there is little point in other Ministers telling us that people on council estates ought to be given training and put into jobs, and suggesting that training is provided in community centres in the neighbourhood, if the resources to do that are not there or are even being taken away.
Leeds, West had the West Leeds Family Learning Centre, which was built up when my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East was Leeds council leader, from the germ of an idea to help people in a neighbourhood of high unemployment and low skills and training. We have the lowest aspiration in the city, with many single parents, especially women, and many unemployed people. That training centre provided by the council used the new deal of the Labour Government well: 293 people a year were training there to gain skills, and people ended up going in the direction of university or running Sure Start projects as a result of that training.
But what happened? Only a year and a half ago, the Government decided to put the training centres out to tender. Unfortunately, the council did not win the tender; it was won by a company in Bradford, and the consequence was that the only training centre in my whole constituency was closed down. Yes, a centre has opened in another part of town, but people cannot get to it on the bus, and when I checked how many young men and women from Leeds, West are now being trained, I found that it was two a year, not 293.
There is no training facility in my neighbourhood. Where will the money come from to rebuild it? I agree with the Minister for Housing that we should put training back in the New Wortley and Fairfield community centres, where the people are. We should do what those centres were doing, line up local employers, and make them family-friendly so that people can take their kids to school and walk to work. We were doing all that work before, but it has been dismantled. We should put it back in those centres, but which programme do we look to? We look to the new working neighbourhoods fund. Why? It is more flexible than Jobcentre Plus and can deliver locally to local communities. It can work with local employers in the way that I described. But what has happened? We now have no access to it at all.
Leeds now has 63,000 people without skills and training, and the numbers are increasing. My constituency has moved up the table, and Leeds, Central, Leeds, East and Leeds, West have some of the highest figures in the country for people without skills and training. Of course we have done something on low pay, and of course we have more people in employment, but we are still miles behind on skills and training, and the working neighbourhoods fund is precisely what we need.
The irony of the situation is that the fund is called the working neighbourhoods fund. If we take away that money, there will not be more work, and people will be condemned to live on benefits. We will have more difficulties getting people off incapacity benefit and getting them into training schemes or suggesting further and higher education. As it is, we have an almighty struggle to get facilities in the neighbourhood that people can get to. The city is clogged up by transport problems, so people cannot cross the city to go to jobs elsewhere; they are physically locked out and cannot get down the dual carriageway from Stanningley or down Tong road into the city centre in the morning. Getting into work is not doable without a two-hour daily journey.
Providing work in the neighbourhood means providing training in the neighbourhood and working with local people, and that means providing the budget to back things up. This is a small budget in terms of the overall city budget. Although the settlement is tough, it is better than what we had under the Conservative Governments, and it is at least increasing. The piece of the jigsaw that we are talking about is vital to tackling poverty in the round. The key to tackling poverty is getting people into work and training and supporting them. Without that, we will go backwards, not further forwards.
In that context, I hope that the Minister will think again. It is a sick irony that we now have a new working neighbourhoods fund to replace the neighbourhood renewal fund. Yes, there is a good focus on work, and there needs to be a focus on work, but, sadly, the means to introduce change are not there. If such means are not put back, we will go backwards.
I thank you, Mr. Gale, for giving me the chance to take part in the debate. I am not a Leeds MP, so I shall be brief because I do not want to eat into the time available to MPs from the area.
I recognise many of the issues that have been raised, because we face them in my part of London. We, too, have seen the withdrawal of the neighbourhood renewal fund and the deprived areas fund, and I recognise the absolute frustration felt by local MPs. They know that, with support, there are opportunities to achieve something for particularly deprived parts of their constituencies, but they will simply not get that support because there is no access to the necessary money.
I want to make two brief points. The first relates to the neighbourhood renewal fund and the deprived areas fund, which have now been combined into the working neighbourhood fund, with a collective fall in funding of £88 million. If it is believed that such funding works and that such investment achieves a positive return for the communities that it goes into, why is it being cut? How can that be a sensible decision?
My other point is that, although it is appropriate to start with the statistics for deprivation in areas where the Government want to target the money, they must surely look at the quality of the proposed investment projects and at what the money will be spent on. My frustration relates to the fact that investment can take two forms. We can have projects that are already up and running and which local people feel are valuable, as Leeds MPs have effectively articulated. However, regeneration opportunities could also be coming down the track, and careful Government support could make the most of them for local communities. There is a lack of thought on the supply side about what employment prospects there are and about the projects that are being supported by such money.
To conclude, local authorities seem to drop off a cliff and to get everything or nothing. That is not a sensible way of looking at how to apportion funds.
Although my constituency is called Elmet, it lies entirely within the Leeds boundary. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie) for raising the issue and particularly for arguing his case with passion and conviction. In that, he was echoed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (John Battle).
My right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend enjoy many advantages over me, including the fact that they used to be Leeds councillors. The only advantage that I enjoy over them is that I was born in Leeds and have lived my whole life there. I have watched with interest the development of the Leeds economy, and it is something about which I feel very committed. The trend in Leeds is summed up by the collapse of manufacturing industry. Up until about the 1970s, clothing, textiles, engineering and, in my constituency, mining offered good, well paid, secure jobs to the vast majority of people in Leeds. The collapse of manufacturing in the 1970s brought about a dramatic change in the city’s social structure and the beginnings of what has since become a fundamental generational issue. We now have neighbourhoods that have never seen permanent, good, relatively well paid employment, and that is a tough nut to crack.
On the other hand, there is the picture of Leeds as a booming city, which has a financial sector with banking, insurance and so on. However, huge areas of the city do not benefit from such developments, and although that does not include my constituency, I am still committed to tackling such issues as a Leeds person. In effect, we have developed an hourglass economy, and the market will not address that structural problem, which is why the role of local and national Government is so important.
I do not want to go on too long, because I am conscious of your decision to call the Front-Bench speakers shortly, Mr. Gale. However, the key factor arising out of the debate, as has been mentioned, is that 149,000 people in Leeds are designated as deprived. Some 63,000 workless people live within the Leeds boundary, giving the city the fourth-highest concentration of workless people in the country.
We have talked about lower super output areas, which is a real mouthful, and we have been told that Leeds misses out under that criterion by 0.04 per cent. I have a number of questions to which I hope that the Minister will apply himself, because, as my hon. Friend said, the Government’s decision means that Leeds and Leeds citizens will lose £42 million over the next three years.
I know the Minister to be a sensible, caring and intelligent individual and I ask him whether there is not a case for building a margin of error into the Government’s calculations, or for rounding figures up when they are so close to the 20 per cent. Could there not be a banding system? In this clash of the titans between the Minister and my hon. Friend, that might be the sensible middle ground, around which we can all gather, reach a deal and move things forward for Leeds.
What consultation did the Government undertake when they decided how the funding would be allocated? How did that compare with the consultations that took place on the allocation of the NRF funding? The key question, which has been raised by my comrades and by other Leeds Members, is why we are the only major city that does not get working neighbourhood funding.
I want to finish by saying that we are not paranoid in Leeds. Often people in the rest of Yorkshire feel envious of us. It may well be that there is a certain quality about Leeds people that puts us ahead of others. The point is that we are arguing today for fair funding for Leeds people. The Minister should address that, and I hope he will.
I thank all those hon. Members who have participated for adhering to my request for brevity. We should now have adequate time for the Minister to offer a full response to an important debate, as long as the Opposition Front-Bench Members exercise similar restraint.
I shall certainly accord with your exhortation to brevity, Mr. Gale.
At the heart of the debate, it seems, is a discussion of the fashion for formulae. I think that that is something that has eroded the quality of Government in recent times. The issue is over-reliance on those formulae, and under-reliance on the responsibility that every Government should embrace for decision making that takes an empathic view of the consequences that the formulae would impose. I love formulae. I am really a physicist at heart, and I have no doubt that mathematics and the formulae that it provides are very important for Government. However, we are dogged by bad formulae at the moment. The Barnett formula for allocating funds to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is so bad that Joel Barnett, its progenitor, says that it should be abolished and changed. Objective 1 funding has displayed the same kind of catastrophic failure to think about the consequences of minuscule percentage changes in local circumstances. Indeed, my own constituency lost, by a tiny percentage, tens of millions of pounds, very much as Leeds seems to be suffering now.
The formula that is under discussion today may again be wonderfully precise mathematically, but it completely fails to consider the human consequences of that precision. The victims of that mathematical fluke are the people of Leeds. We heard from the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie) that 95 areas qualify, but the bar is 96. As the hon. Member for Elmet (Colin Burgon) said, 0.04 per cent. is a rounding error that in any normal circumstances would be considered to be zero. Yet that small change will affect 63,000 workless people in Leeds, and 149,000 people who are considered to be in a deprived circumstance.
We have heard already that that will lead to the exacerbation of serious social problems, through the shutting down of many projects. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) made it clear that a huge number of specific and well intentioned projects, which make a difference, will be lost for the sake of that rounding error. In a passionate and considered speech, the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (John Battle) again pointed out the ludicrous nature of the mathematical formula being used to make the cut. He suggested that by atomising the city into urban villages one could play the same game—and indeed one could. We might as well accept that if the mechanics of social policy are no more complex than a Rubik’s cube we should move the boxes around until we find exactly the out-turn that would mean falling within the terms of the imposed formula. That is how I see the difficulty before us.
The challenge for the Government is not mathematical; it is political. If we are really so sure that formulae work, we may as well do away with Ministers and leave the government of the country to accountants. However, I believe that that is not the Government’s intention, and I have to believe that the Minister will be able to assure us that he empathises, to the extent of being able to agree that what has happened is a ludicrously random, arbitrary and unfair way to determine the future of the inner-city elements of Leeds.
Let us consider again what the hon. Member for Elmet said: the decision can quite legitimately be considered as a rounding error. I wait to see why the Minister is so sure that the figures are so precise that he can know the figure of 0.04 per cent. is reliable within the bounds of variation. I joined the Liberal Democrats in 1990, when the papers said that our poll rating was 3 per cent., with a statistical variation of plus or minus 4 per cent., so I have been pretty sceptical about statistics ever since I joined a party that was in theory at minus 1 per cent. in the polls. I want the Minister to explain why he is so sure that the precision of the figures being used now is better than that of those polling calculations, or other calculations that are open to doubt.
I want to add my own questions for the Minister. First, does he feel that the Government are imposing a common-sense situation on Leeds with the loss of all the money? Secondly, does he recognise that the anger that has been described by Leeds Members of Parliament is not necessarily anger with the Government, but comes from a pride that those colleagues obviously feel, and frustration that the Government seem to be failing in their duty to exercise political judgment in simply depending on a mathematical formula? Thirdly, why does the Minister think that it is reasonable for finance to be switched off like a light, even though it is obvious that the deprivation is real and present, and pretty much at the same level that it was at when the millions were being handed out?
Lastly, is the Minister willing to reconsider the matter, perhaps by meeting with the Leeds Members? I would not need to attend that meeting, because I am speaking now on behalf of my party, against what I believe to be an injustice. At the very least, I hope that the Minister will say that on consideration he will have a non-confrontational meeting with the Members of Parliament for Leeds constituencies who want to make their points clear, and that it will be a worthwhile meeting—a genuine consultation, and not another opportunity to explain to the Members why the decision is “clearly right”. If the Minister does that, there is hope for progress, but let us recognise that the decision that has been made is based on a rounding error. If the Minister does not reconsider, the cost, beyond the loss of good will, hope and opportunity, will in all probability be economically greater than the saving that he thinks he will make.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie) on securing the debate and on his sincerity and the heartfelt case that he made. He and his colleagues are a credit to the city that they represent. They are obviously concerned about the fact that the city will not continue to receive working neighbourhood funding.
Clearly, the work that has been undertaken in the past in the areas that have been mentioned, such as jobstart schemes, the work of neighbourhood wardens, and burglary reduction has made an impact on the quality of life of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents. Few would argue about whether that work was needed. I noted that his constituency has the 47th highest rate of unemployment in the United Kingdom, and that in Gipton and Harehills ward 47 per cent. of children were living in households on benefits and only 31 per cent. of pupils left school with five or more GCSEs in 2005. However, that is not an issue that affects only West Yorkshire. My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) recently discovered, through a parliamentary question, that there are no fewer than 21 local authorities in the same situation as Leeds: that is, having received neighbourhood renewal funding previously, they will not now receive working neighbourhood funding. In fairness, not all of those will have transitional funding at the level that Leeds will.
Far be it from me to help the Minister, although I know that he had a late night last night—half-past 1, I think—but the hon. Member for Leeds, East could be accused of gilding the lily slightly by focusing on just one of the criteria, which was the 20 per cent. figure for lower super output areas. He will know that two other criteria are used in allocations. However, it might be, of course, that he was taking issue with the wider problem of the methodology used by the Office for National Statistics. We could be here all day discussing that matter, on which I think that there is consensus, as was mentioned by, among others, the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) and my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening).
In fairness, as was explained in a parliamentary answer last year, between 2001 and 2007, Leeds, East received £1.95 million of discrete funding via Yorkshire Forward, and that does not include the single regeneration budget sums allocated to Leeds, East. That said, Leeds residents are entitled to feel aggrieved by the Government’s high-handed attitude. The revenue support grant increase of 2.8 per cent. this year threatens a serious cash shortfall, according to the city council’s deputy leader, Councillor Richard Brett. Inevitably, that will mean service reductions and above inflation rate council tax rises. In addition to the loss of neighbourhood renewal funding, the local authority business growth incentive scheme has also been axed, removing £10 million of funding from council coffers.
Yesterday, we read in the Yorkshire Evening Post how the hon. Member for Leeds, East felt moved to comment on the duplicity of the Department for Transport in recommending only small-scale transport infrastructure for Leeds while putting forward a massively costly project in Manchester, which even the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) called a “hugely expensive white elephant”. No wonder the hon. Member for Leeds, East felt moved to say:
“Manchester has been treated better than Leeds in terms of everything. I do not understand it. I am cross about it really - transport is just another example.”
Time and again, with this Government, we find ourselves in a situation where funding is hailed in a great fanfare one year, only to be ripped out of a community the next after yet another departmental rethink. When will the Government learn that continuity and stability are keys to community development and renewal across the country? Irrespective of the merits of the arguments for the neighbourhood renewal funding and the working neighbourhood funding criteria, I would be interested to hear from the Minister what the administrative costs were of migrating from the old funding stream to the new.
The Government are well known for their five and 10-year plans and for their insistence that local authorities should plan for the long term, yet it appears that authorities do not know, from one year to the next, how much funding they are to receive. That point was touched on by other hon. Members. How are large metropolitan areas such as Leeds supposed to plan for the long term if they are constantly susceptible to the year-on-year, see-sawing of ring-fenced grants?
Hon Members in West Yorkshire will be familiar with the sorry saga of the Leeds supertram project, cancelled in favour of a bus rapid transport system, which seems to sum up the Government’s casual waste and complacent attitude to taxpayers’ money. Both the National Audit Office and the Yorkshire Post, with its admirable road to ruin campaign, have highlighted the £3 million of taxpayer-funded money wasted on this project for seemingly dubious reasons.
Along with my concerns about the incessant changing of funding streams and allocations by this Government, I would like to draw hon. Members’ attention to what I would describe as the overcomplicated interconnections between funding streams, which was brought out by the hon. Member for Leeds, East. We are often told, “You have missed out on y funding, because it is connected to x funding”. He made the point earlier about how significant additional funding streams appear on the surface to be directly linked to working neighbourhood funding in respect of issues such as migration and funding from the Department for Work and Pensions. Something surely must be done to simplify this convoluted system or we will end up with permanent and entrenched winners and losers where it is literally “winner takes all”.
Conservatives believe that regeneration is a social responsibility and want radical reform of regeneration funding and a clear rationalisation of the vastly inflated and unnecessary number of funds. However, that must be done through a systematic and sensitive programme. We will reduce the number of delivery vehicles causing delays and confusion of direction and accountability and, as I alluded to earlier, provide a stronger role for elected local councils. We will radically overhaul the flawed pathfinder scheme, which is resulting in the unnecessary demolition of Victorian terraces in North-East and East Yorkshire and profits for speculators, reinvesting the funds in genuine locally led regeneration schemes. Furthermore, we will allow local communities to introduce new social enterprise zones to promote social enterprises and to help disadvantaged communities.
Over the last 10 years, and certainly the last 20, there has been a great opportunity for places such as Leeds to do something systematic and profound about welfare dependency. Instead, owing to unfettered migration, as alluded to by hon. Members, we have entrenched welfare dependency for short-term benefit. That has been felt across the country.
The final report from the Cities Task Force on urban regeneration, under the chairmanship of Lord Heseltine, is eagerly awaited by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Without wishing to pre-empt its findings, it is well known that the Opposition want a great deal more money collected and spent locally. Local authorities need to be given the freedom and responsibility to raise and spend how and when they see fit. They must not be forced into short-term, ring-fenced spending that benefits no one. That is not a view shared by Opposition politicians only. Even the opposition Labour leader on Leeds city council, Councillor Keith Wakefield, has argued that his Labour colleagues need to rethink their business rates policy and to look at returning locally raised money to local councils.
The real issue is welfare dependency, which, after all, is at the hub of much of the requirement for urban renewal. Here Government failure is rife: child poverty rose by 200,000, after housing costs, in 2006.
I would be interested to hear whether the hon. Gentleman has any influence in Leeds city council, which is a Conservative-led body. It recently raised tens of millions of pounds through the sale of Leeds Bradford airport. It should spend that money tackling deprivation by providing better transport throughout the city and, perhaps, even a bus station in Morley, which we do not have, despite being a town of 25,000 people. That would help to get people into work with more mobility. Will he write to his colleagues on the council and urge them to do that?
I would be delighted to visit and speak with my colleagues on Leeds city council. The Leeds administration is a breath of fresh air. In the spirit of consensus, I find it refreshing that it is sticking up for Leeds in the way that it sees fit, as are hon. Members today, without fear or favour of the party in power.
Some 2.8 million people are claiming out of work benefits and 15 per cent. more young people are not in work or full-time education than was the case in 1997. The number of people in severe poverty increased between 1997 and 2005. The Government should be concentrating on upskilling the population to allow people to escape the trap of welfare dependency, to become home owners, to participate in the democratic process and to make a worthwhile contribution to their local community. Rather than funding following the problem, it should be going to the root of the issue.
Investigation must also take place into the possibility of competitive bidding for funds. Failing authorities—of course I do not include Leeds in that category—should not always be propped up by Government money. Good money should not always follow bad. Some local authorities, just like some Governments, use public funds in much more efficient ways than others and they should be rewarded with more funding and flexibility.
I commend the hon. Member for Leeds, East, who is an experienced and well respected parliamentarian, for putting the interests of his constituents before the need to toe the party line. It is for him to have a debate with his party colleagues during the time that they have left in government. It is not for me to comment on the merits of whether Leeds or any other local authority should receive local neighbourhood funding; there will always be winners and losers in such an exercise, and it would be inappropriate, when the criteria have been set, for me to comment. However, the bigger, strategic issue is whether the Government’s horrendously complex and convoluted funding process is fit for purpose. Members will not be surprised to hear that I believe that it is not. Under a Conservative Government, it will be simplified, and we will end ring-fencing and the regionalisation of local government. The renaissance of cities such as Leeds will be about restoring authority, autonomy and civic pride to local government, and it will have their people at its heart.
I follow the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson), although I have less time than he took. I shall do my best to respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie), whom I congratulate on securing today’s debate, and to the points raised in today’s debate. He has been strongly supported by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (John Battle) and my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Colin Burgon). The Leeds MPs tend to hunt in a pack, and my hon. Friends the Members for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) and for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen) are also present.
I understand completely the strength of their pride in Leeds as their city, and how strongly they feel about its prospects and the problems that it still needs to tackle. I am ready to discuss in detail the working neighbourhoods fund decisions that I have taken, and the potential for a range of other funding sources that will go into Leeds to help deal with regeneration in the next few years. However, I am prepared to do so only on the basis of the facts, to which I shall return in a moment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East knows that we published the sub-national review of economic development and regeneration in July 2007, which was followed by extensive discussions. We set out the view that there has been massive progress in dealing with areas of disadvantage and deprivation over the past 10 years, but that there are deeply entrenched and persistent pockets of deprivation and that the future of any regeneration funding that followed the neighbourhood renewal fund would need to be more intensively focused on fewer areas, distributed on the basis of neighbourhood-level analysis, which is more finely tuned than ward level, and more sharply focused on the factors that help drive and regenerate the economy, in particular worklessness and enterprise, which my right hon. Friend has recognised.
I shall just finish this point.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East has rightly said that work is the main way out of poverty for people, because it provides greater dignity and independence not only for the person who gets and stays in the job, but for the whole family and the wider community. I shall give way to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West, and then I shall deal with the points that have been raised in the debate.
I want to pick up on the word “pockets”, because I do not want the Minister to be seduced by the idea that there are just tiny pockets of deprivation. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East has introduced a way of examining areas in detail through the benefit system to show that a lack of training, skills and jobs is increasing, not decreasing, in substantial areas of the inner city under this Government. That is the problem, and simply to say “pockets” suggests that there is just a bit of mopping up to do. The situation in the inner cities is getting much worse.
I do not mean to imply anything by saying “pockets”. I want to say—I mean this, because I have studied the figures—that there are areas of disadvantage that we have not shifted in the past 10 years, despite successful and massive investment, so we must do things in a more concentrated way and a bit differently. In particular, we must concentrate on worklessness and skills in the local economy, and I shall come on to that issue.
There are at least four points on which I must set my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East straight. He has said that the partnership arrangement between central Government and the city, which has been in place for more than 30 years, has been ended by that decision. That is not true, and I do not accept it. He said that the working neighbourhoods fund was the only investment in regeneration—especially through work—that would have gone to Leeds. That is not true, and I do not accept it. He said that no resources will go to the city in the next three years to help people become skilled and get into work. That is not true, and I do not accept it. Finally, he said that people in the remaining deprived wards are of no interest to the Government. That is not true, and I do not accept it.
I shall examine the expectations in Leeds on future funding for regeneration with my hon. Friend, but it is important that he understands that I cannot accept the council’s expectation of either £54 million or £52 million under the working neighbourhoods fund, if the council had been eligible. I shall also examine with him in detail whether the figures that we have used as the basis for decisions on the working neighbourhoods fund and the methodology for eligibility are accurate. I have checked and re-checked those figures, and I have had independent figures check the Oxford figures. I shall let him and the council have the figures and the detail of the methodology by the end of the week.
I understand that my right hon. Friend and hon. Friends are upset that Leeds has lost out by failing so closely to meet one of the three eligibility criteria, but my hon. Friend will understand that when taking any decisions, there must be a consistent basis for allocating funding. Once that basis, threshold or formula is set, it must be applied consistently, which is what I have done in the case under discussion. Leeds, like 21 other local authorities, including my own in Rotherham, has not qualified for the working neighbourhoods fund as it did for the neighbourhood renewal fund. In many ways, however, despite the remaining regeneration challenges and deprivation in Leeds, that is testament to the success of the city and some regeneration efforts.
Leeds has fewer neighbourhood areas—the lower super-output areas—among the most deprived 20 per cent. areas in England. In 2004, it had 151 such areas; last year, the figure was down to 131. At the same time, there has been an increase in the number of areas in Leeds among the top 20 per cent. least deprived areas: the figure was 56 in 2004, and 75 in 2007. The number of children in workless households over the past three years has reduced at a faster rate than throughout the country. It is still higher than the average throughout England, but it has reduced at a faster rate than the rest of the country, which is testament to some of the efforts and success in Leeds locally. The working neighbourhoods fund situation is not a product of statistical blips.
On the neighbourhood renewal fund, we were clear from the outset that it was time limited and coming to an end. My hon. Friend’s city authority received £63 million from that fund from 2001 to 2008. As a former Minister, who was responsible for setting up the Learning and Skills Council, he will appreciate the following point better than most: we have always said that in the end, the key issue is about the way in which one mainstreams funding programmes and the work of mainstream agencies to one’s regeneration efforts; the issue is not simply about the funds that are invested.
In order to avoid the cliff to which the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) has referred, we are providing transitional funding, including some for Leeds and the other 21 areas that qualified for neighbourhood renewal funds but not for working neighbourhoods funds. There are several areas where funding not only has gone in, as my hon. Friend has rightly pointed out, but will go in over the next three years.
No. I have less than a minute. The hon. Lady should talk to the hon. Member for Peterborough about that.
The area-based grant has no strings attached, and it is worth £49 million to Leeds next year. Leeds is one of only 29 areas that receive local enterprise initiative funding—£15 million. There are also Jobcentre Plus, special programmes including the new three-year pathways to work programme for Leeds, European funding, single regeneration budget funding, regional development agency funding and new local authority business-growth-incentive funding for next year. Furthermore, through the local area and multi-area agreements, there will be a chance to pull those measures together, and put pressure and a duty to co-operate on other agencies, which has not been possible before. Those measures potentially put the council in the driving seat, and I hope that it will work with me to ensure that the priorities of worklessness, skills and regeneration are tackled in Leeds.
Development Aid and Oil Extraction
I welcome this opportunity to raise important issues about development programmes being used for oil extraction and the need for an alternative approach that prioritises poverty reduction and combating climate change.
The matter was originally drawn to my attention by the “Ditch Dirty Development” campaign led by People and Planet. With its national headquarters in my constituency, and engaging many university and school students throughout the country, People and Planet is one of the principal agencies through which young people are engaging with environmental and development issues. It is to be commended for helping to build wider active involvement and commitment, which is essential in sustaining pressure to carry forward the drive to combat global poverty and its causes, on which Labour in government has a good record but on which we always want to do more. I am grateful to People and Planet and to Oxfam, which I am happy to say is also based in my constituency, for their helpful briefings for the debate.
The “Ditch Dirty Development” campaign has engaged some 20,000 mainly young people across the country in 32 university, college and school groups, collected thousands of signatures on petitions, met MPs and put points to the Government. I was pleased that last month, my hon. Friend the Minister’s ministerial colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), visited Oxford directly to discuss with local school and university students the issues raised in the campaign. I know that that was not the first such meeting that he has held. There is a helpful dialogue in which young people engage with Government on some of the most vital issues affecting the planet.
It is right that those issues are also brought here to Parliament. The case that the campaign has been pressing is that because of climate change and the adverse impact that fossil fuel extraction projects often have on local people and the environment, the presumption should be against aid for such projects. At the very least, a stringent assessment should be undertaken of such projects’ impact on poverty reduction, economic development and carbon emissions, including the extent to which they increase dependence on fossil fuels.
My purpose today is not to knock the oil industry. Getting the stuff out of the ground all round the world and into cars and boilers on demand is a formidable economic and logistic achievement, which is often hazardous. As we now know, however, it is not sustainable for the future. Oil companies examining alternative renewable and environmentally sustainable energy sources is greatly to be welcomed, but we must remember that whatever ethical and environmental responsibilities they acknowledge or are forced to acknowledge, their core purpose is to maximise shareholder value by running profitable businesses and not to reduce poverty or to develop sustainable energy sources to meet local need.
More than 80 per cent. of the extraction projects funded by the World Bank provide fuel for markets in industrialised and developed countries. Although there are, of course, some local jobs and export earnings, the overall economic, social and environmental impact on poor countries is often negative. Investigations into the west African pipeline and the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline show the sort of social and environmental damage that is often inflicted. The recent debacle about the Chad-Cameroon pipeline just what a fraught area of World Bank investment such projects are. That makes it crucial that the framework for assessing aid or other support for such projects is robust and focused on poverty reduction and that it takes full account of the opportunity cost of alternative support for renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy conservation.
In its published response to the “Ditch Dirty Development” campaign, I was pleased to see the Department for International Development agree with the overall purpose of the campaign—the need for faster progress on tackling climate change and its impact on the world’s poorest people. I was also pleased to see the emphasis on working with developing countries to invest in renewable energy and higher energy efficiency. However, I have questions about the shape and pace of the initiatives to carry forward that commitment.
As the Minister will be aware, the World Bank and regional development banks’ clean energy investment framework has come under fire from international and environmental non-governmental organisations, which have questioned its effectiveness in tackling climate change and improving poor people’s access to energy. A report by the Bretton Woods Project and others last September stated that the World Bank framework includes raising $10 billion for conventional energy technologies and investing in coal-fired, nuclear and large hydroelectric schemes, while not doing nearly enough for renewable and smaller-scale projects. The report criticised the fact that as much as 77 per cent. of the World Bank’s greatly expanded energy commitments are going on oil, gas and power sector projects, while only 5 per cent. are earmarked for so-called new renewables. Will the Minister say how far the Government share those concerns and what they are doing, through the World Bank and in other ways, to shift priorities to much more attention being given to renewables and energy conservation?
As the Minister will be aware, there are also real and valid concerns about what happens to the oil revenues that are remitted to producer countries and their Governments. Nigeria’s oil revenues have increased tenfold in value since 1965, but the country’s per capita real gross domestic product has not increased at all. One must ask where all that money has gone. In too many cases, it has gone to military spending or padding the offshore accounts of the oligarchs, rather than helping the poor.
I know that DFID supports the extractive industries transparency initiative, which seeks greater openness and accountability about revenues to Governments from extraction in resource-rich countries. Such greater openness would, of course, be a good thing. The Department has already spent £6.9 million in support of EITI work. A parliamentary answer to me on 24 January stated that the initiative’s impact had so far been measured by the number of countries signing up to it. It also stated:
“Evidence of EITI’s success is currently anecdotal.”
I think that that means that there is precious little hard evidence as yet. It continued:
“The new independent EITI Secretariat will conduct impact reviews and qualitative evaluation work as part of their annual review. These will be presented at the next EITI Conference which will take place in the autumn.”—[Official Report, 24 January 2008; Vol. 470, c. 2211W.]
Will my hon. Friend the Minister assure me that her Department will give close and proactive scrutiny to those reviews and that we will get not only qualitative impressions, but some meaningful numbers?
The initiative has a long way to go to deliver results. If the Minister looks on the EITI website, she will see under the heading “Implementing Countries” the number of compliant countries listed as “None”. I do not wish to belittle the progress that the initiative may be making—if it can really deliver, it will be an important step forward—but let us remember that transparency is only the first step.
We need revenues to be spent on reducing poverty and on providing health care, clean water, housing, education and basic infrastructure. We must ask why the international community is putting so much into fossil fuel extraction, when there is so little evidence of poor people benefiting at the other end and when the imperative of tackling climate change points in other directions altogether.
An important and welcome part of the UK’s response is the international element of the environmental transformation fund. Over the next three years, the fund will commit £800 million to projects that support development and poverty reduction through environmental protection, as well as helping poor countries to tackle climate change. Will the Minister give an update on how plans for the use of that money are progressing? Will she also give an update on what governance and accountability arrangements are in place, particularly the criteria that must be met to gain support for clean energy and energy efficiency projects? The criteria must include climate change impact, and I should like to know how that will be assessed.
Will the Minister also say what progress is being made on assessing the carbon footprint of all DFID’s programmes and related areas of Government responsibility, such as export credit guarantees? That is an essential element of having proper evaluation, transparency and accountability in the formulation and implementation of policy. Comprehensive carbon auditing, along with poverty reduction, could provide the basis of a framework against which all multilateral and bilateral aid and programmes could be assessed, making explicit the environmental, social and economic impact of projects and the trade-offs between those elements. That would gear programmes and aid more effectively towards meeting our social and environmental responsibilities and would, indeed, ditch dirty development.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing this debate on an issue that is important across the world, including in his constituency. I am sure that organisations such as People and Planet and Oxfam have every reason to be grateful to him for bringing their key concerns to the heart of Parliament today.
It might help if I outline the Government’s position on development aid and oil extraction and what we are doing to address some of the challenges that my right hon. Friend has rightly brought to the attention of the House, including promoting energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy. This area is of great interest to the Government, developing countries, industry, affected communities, non-governmental organisations, donors and others. I agree that there is tremendous potential for oil to contribute towards development. Unfortunately, however, in developing countries it is often associated with poverty, conflict and corruption, which is not what any of us want.
My right hon. Friend made it absolutely clear that oil use contributes to one of the greatest challenges we face: climate change. This issue is particularly topical given that world oil and mineral prices are at an all-time high and that major oil companies are reporting ever greater profits. However, there have been great changes in the past 10 years: oil, gas and mining companies and the extractive industries are all better placed to support development. My right hon. Friend has outlined the problems that remain, and I agree that more must be done. It is helpful to focus on the damage that may be done to the environment. This is a particular challenge as exploration moves to ever remoter parts of the world, which are often pristine and home to minority indigenous people.
There is a less localised environmental issue: some have called for a moratorium on fossil fuel extraction. My right hon. Friend talked about the very active “Ditch Dirty Development” campaign by People and Planet in his constituency, which calls for an end to support for fossil fuel projects by international financial institutions such as the World Bank. We do not support that campaign’s position, but we very much welcome the debate that it raises and the fact that concerns are being expressed. I am happy to continue to consider closely the points that it raises. Fossil fuels have played an important role in our development and it would not be right or fair to deny that opportunity to developing nations. If we went down that road, those countries would be denied the opportunity to support their own development.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there are important questions to be asked about whether support and subsidies from the international community, particularly the World Bank, for fossil fuel extraction projects, are a better use of money to alleviate poverty than alternative methods? Does she agree that it would make sense to have searching criteria against which both multilateral and bilateral support for projects should be assessed? Even if she will not accept an immediate moratorium, does she agree that we should set targets for the reduction of support for fossil fuel extraction?
I certainly accept that those searching questions need to be asked and answered. My right hon. Friend asked earlier why the international community is putting so much effort into fossil fuel extraction. It is important to step back and consider that fuel extraction is funded mainly by private sector finance, especially in the case of oil and gas. As a result, developing countries, which need energy to develop, also benefit. Access to electricity in developing countries is low—less than 25 per cent. in Africa—so we do need to ask questions about the issue.
I agree that we need to do more with institutions such as the World Bank. More should and will be done to press it to raise its ambitions by focusing more on renewables. That is something that my right hon. Friend seeks.
I am glad that the Minister raises the question of renewables. Returning to the important point about access for the world’s poor to electricity, does she accept that it would be better to invest public money, bilaterally and multilaterally, in projects that actually get electricity to the poorest people in the poorest countries? Investment in oil extraction and pipelines is a rather convoluted way of generating export earnings, which might end up being used for electricity projects, if not spent on weaponry or sent to some offshore account. Why not target the aid where it can have the most impact in transforming the life chances of the poor?
As always, my right hon. Friend makes a robust argument and important points. I put it back to him that those are the questions. The answers depend on the countries, on the resources available and on the challenges. This is where I part company with the campaign: I feel that it is important to view extraction as part of the contribution to developing countries. The debate is not just about aid, as my right hon. Friend understands, but about developing countries moving out of that world and into the developed world. They must be able to grow in a way that is sustainable, and that deals with the many challenges of poverty and, obviously, of being a developing country.
Perhaps I can give my right hon. Friend another assurance. Much of the work of the Department for International Development on behalf of the UK Government is directed at the promotion of renewable energy and improved energy use efficiency. Even in the work that we do directly, we are conscious of the important points that he makes. If I had to summarise my answer, I would say that there is no either/or: the aim is to support the country to grow in the interests of its people.
I put to my right hon. Friend that it is quite possible to view oil as a blessing to developing countries. The challenge for us is how to make it a real blessing and not a curse, as it has been portrayed. Oil, gas and mineral resources are major natural benefits for any developing country. In many cases, they are the major natural asset. It is not surprising that developing countries want to exploit commercially viable deposits to help support their economic growth and to encourage poverty reduction.
High prices in oil, gas and mineral commodities have been driving Africa’s higher growth rates since 2000. Three countries have growth rates above 7 per cent., largely fuelled by extractives exploitation. Seven per cent. per annum growth is, of course, what is required for sub-Saharan Africa to achieve the millennium development goal of halving the number of people who live on $1 a day or less.
Perhaps I can reassure my right hon. Friend and his constituents by saying that the role of the international community should be to help countries, as appropriate, to exploit their resources productively for the benefit of their people. The primary benefit would be the revenues that accrue to Governments through royalties, special petroleum taxes and so on. Wider sustainable economic benefits can accrue, including local procurement of materials and services by companies, and, perhaps, jobs and the establishment of businesses linked to the processing of crude oil into petrol and other products. Those in turn generate income and tax. Earlier this month, Ghana published a long list of benefits that it expects to derive from its recent oil discoveries. Companies can also contribute by building necessary new infrastructure and by providing benefits such as skills and productivity transfer.
What are the UK Government doing to help? The first thing to make clear is that the UK aid programme does not invest directly in the oil and gas industry, but we do work to help Governments maximise the value of oil and mineral deposits. A few examples of our work might be helpful.
First, the UK Government expect all companies to operate to appropriate social, economic and environmental standards in their work. We promote adherence to the OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises and the related risk awareness tool, which set standards for good corporate behaviour. The UK has a national contact point that involves three Departments—DFID, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—through which complaints of poor conduct can be brought and investigated.
Secondly, the UK Government established and supports the extractive industries transparency initiative, to which my right hon. Friend referred. I was glad to hear that he agrees that it is of great importance. I believe that it represents a groundbreaking way of bringing business, Governments and civil society together to tackle some of the negative impacts of extractive industries.
The Minister is being very generous in accepting my interventions. Will she act on my suggestion that ahead of this autumn’s annual meeting the Government need to be proactive in getting real, clear evidence of progress on the reviews that the EITI is committed to completing?
I certainly agree with my right hon. Friend’s comments and concerns. Tangible evidence is indeed required—I hope that that will be an assurance. I can add that the EITI is driving the debate about how revenues are spent in Ghana, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Azerbaijan and other places. That, too, is an area of concern that my right hon. Friend rightly raised. Yes, we will be pushing for the more tangible evidence that he has requested.
However, the level of disclosure that exists now was unprecedented just five years ago. The EITI has achieved a change in the way that extractives revenues are viewed, and transparency is becoming an international norm. Furthermore, DFID works through country programmes to support Governments in respect of their oil exploitation. The Government of Ghana, for example, are committed to using their oil revenues productively, and DFID, along with several other donors, is supporting them in organising a major week-long series of events at the end of this month that will allow them to access international expertise on mineral wealth management. We work with other donors on such issues.
My right hon. Friend discussed the need to promote development, the use of renewable energy and improved energy efficiency. Perhaps I could briefly refer to some examples of what we are doing in that respect. He referred to the clean energy investment framework. As part of that framework and to take forward plans, the UK Government, through DFID, provide money to fund new posts in the World Bank.
Secondly, the UK Government have committed £800 million for the environmental transformation fund, and we are working with others—the G8, the World Bank and so on—on its development. On funding for renewable energy in low-income countries, we are pressing the World Bank and other financial institutions to step up their efforts, and we are funding the Global Village Energy Partnership to increase access to modern energy services in developing countries.
My right hon. Friend rightly referred to the tension between climate change and energy access. I very much share his concerns about that. The clean energy investment framework is one of the most important instruments for tackling the problem, and its focus will be on large countries such as China and India, which have high future emissions potential. Of course, all countries can take steps towards low-carbon energy development, including countries in Africa, where clean hydropower opportunities remain to be exploited.
This is an important issue, and one that we take seriously. We consider that the UK Government, through DFID, have a major role to play. It is true that poor management of oil, gas and mineral reserves can lead to poverty, conflict and corruption, and that oil consumption poses significant environmental challenges, but effective management of oil revenues, coupled with moves towards greater energy efficiency and the use of new technologies, must be the solution, rather than removing from developing countries the right to use their own natural resources. We will continue our work in this area, and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his interest.
Sitting suspended until half-past Two o’clock.
Policing (Peterborough and Cambridgeshire)
It is a pleasure to serve under your benign chairmanship for the second time today, Mr. Gale. I am delighted to have the opportunity to debate this issue, which is of significant concern to not only my constituents in Peterborough, but local residents and taxpayers across Cambridgeshire, who are represented by my hon. Friends the Members for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) and for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara) and the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth). I am grateful that those hon. Members are here today.
I pay tribute to the men and women of Cambridgeshire constabulary, who serve and protect us in the county so ably, given the resources at their disposal, which is the kernel of today’s debate. In particular, I pay tribute to the northern divisional commander, Chief Superintendent Paul Phillipson, and the men and women who serve every day in the city of Peterborough and put duty above personal risk and the ever-increasing danger of injury and even death.
It would be remiss of me to overlook the leadership shown by the chief constable of Cambridgeshire, Julie Spence, who has shown guts and determination in waging her campaign for a fairer deal for my area. She has been strongly supported in speaking out by the chairman of the police authority, Councillor Keith Walters—leadership is about speaking out and sometimes making oneself unpopular, sustained in the knowledge that one’s cause is just. The arguments made in the excellent paper, “The changing demography of Cambridgeshire: implications for policing”, published last September, are unanswerable, and Mrs. Spence would have been derelict in her duty not to have raised those arguments so forthrightly.
Both the Home Secretary and the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing have met Cambridgeshire constabulary and the police authority in the past six months to discuss funding, and I thank them for their courtesy in making themselves available. According to robust and independent data, Cambridgeshire is the worst-funded police force in England and Wales. It has been disproportionately affected by the current funding formula for at least the past five years and, as a result of a unique set of factors, should be regarded as a special case. Ministers should, in the light of that, consider reviewing Cambridgeshire’s grant settlement this year and up to 2012.
It is important to put Cambridgeshire's current and ongoing fiscal position in the national context fully to understand its severity and the likely impact on the delivery of front-line policing. The Minister will be familiar with the national picture of a tight 2.7 per cent. grant increase this year through until 2012 as part of the three-year comprehensive spending review settlement. As we know, with the exception of counter-terrorism funding, there will be no real-terms increase in funding to police authorities.
The Association of Police Authorities and the Association of Chief Police Officers have a police expenditure forecasting group, which has identified a substantial funding gap at this level of grant allocation, even allowing for council tax increases up to 5 per cent. It is as well to remember that, because of the historical restriction of the council tax precept and grant allocation, some police authorities, including in Cambridgeshire, are forced to consider higher tax rises, not least due to the gearing of the police precept against total Home Office funding. In other words, a big precept rise is necessary to deliver even a modest expenditure increase.
The police service is also affected by general inflationary pressures, to the extent that any increase in funding in this and subsequent years may well be absorbed by pay increases and other factors. In addition, as recognised by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary three years ago, funding for protective services—those in respect of serious criminal activity—is not specifically covered by generic grant funding and relies instead on collaboration between forces under the redeployment of existing limited resources. On top of that, police forces have been committed to significant efficiency savings over the past eight years. The 9.3 per cent. in savings over the comprehensive spending review period will inevitably mean cuts in front-line police numbers, which will certainly be the case in Cambridgeshire, as the one-off nature of some savings will diminish leeway for further savings over time.
That is the national context in which Cambridgeshire constabulary finds itself. It is appropriate to consider Cambridgeshire’s situation in detail. The first and most important issue is the changing demography of the county and the impact of that on policing. We are not a leafy rural idyll, and the cultural predisposition of the Home Office on that point must be faced down, because it is simply not the case. The forecasted increase in migration across the United Kingdom over the next 10 years will have a disproportionate effect on Cambridgeshire. The population of Cambridgeshire is set to grow by 12.5 per cent. by 2016, which is twice the UK average, compared with 12 per cent. by 2031 across the country as a whole. Cambridgeshire will have the highest forecast growth rates in the east of England. Among similar forces, only Warwickshire exceeds Cambridgeshire for projected population growth, according to the Office for National Statistics. Net migration is expected to account for 64 per cent. of Peterborough’s growth and 73 per cent. of Cambridgeshire’s growth by 2016.
The growth of residential housing developments, such as Hampton near Peterborough and Cambourne and Northstowe near Cambridge, and migration by eastern European migrants in particular, has had and will have a major impact on population growth. According to statistics prepared by Anglia Ruskin university for Cambridgeshire county council, by 2016 there will be 25,200 more people in Cambridgeshire just as a result of natural growth, including people moving in from other parts of the UK, in addition to the 69,000 people predicted to come from outside the UK, mainly from the European Union.
Before I move on to discuss migration and immigration, it is as well to touch on the sheer scale of residential developments in the county in future years, because I have time only briefly to illustrate the implications of demographic changes on Cambridgeshire constabulary. In short, the Northstowe development at Longstanton and Oakington in south Cambridgeshire will mean 10,000 extra homes and 13,000 extra people by 2016. In Teversham, 10,000 new homes will be constructed as part of Cambridgeshire’s east area plan, and 3,000 new homes will be built in north-west Cambridge. No fewer than 25,000 new properties will be built in Greater Peterborough by 2021. However, that is only a partial list of proposals for residential development.
The primary cause of concern, however, is migration. Since May 2004, population pressures have had a major effect on the delivery of policing as well as other public services. The eastern region hosts a high proportion of the country’s new migrant population—indeed, it is the second highest after Greater London—and approximately 50 per cent. of that cohort has settled in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire. Research by the East of England Development Agency in its 2005 paper, "Migrant workers in the East of England”, indicates that the number of migrant workers resident in the region is somewhere between 50,000 and 80,000 at the peak of seasonal periods. Figures produced by the Office for National Statistics last year in its paper, "Migrants from central and eastern Europe: local geographies”, indicates that out of 410 local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales, as at December 2006, three local authorities in the top 10 for A8 registered workers were in Cambridgeshire—Peterborough, with 7,110, Fenland, with 3,441 and East Cambridgeshire, with 3,072, which, of course, has major financial consequences.
The constabulary’s translation costs for dealing with incidents and crime are almost £1 million in this financial year, which is up from £805,000 in 2006-07, compared with just £224,000 in 2002-03. That increase would have been even greater had the constabulary not appointed 29 multilingual support officers, funded by the mainstream police authority budget.
Demographic changes have led to non-UK offenders becoming associated with certain types of crime, such as drink-driving and knife crime, necessitating the routing of resources into tactical work, particularly in the Peterborough area, to tackle those trends. Intelligence from the northern basic command unit suggests a link between immigration, illegal immigration and criminal activity and the development of an international dimension to crime in offences such as the establishment of cannabis factories, credit-card skimming and human trafficking. My neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire, has taken a particular interest in human trafficking, and he may touch on that later.
The Times recently reported an authoritative assessment by Cambridgeshire constabulary that the number of brothels in Peterborough alone increased from three in May 2004 to more than 40 at the end of 2007. A practical example is that, between 2003 and 2006, the number of non-UK nationality detainees passing through the custody block in Peterborough increased from 894 to 2,435. The number of detainees arrested for drink-driving saw a 437 per cent. increase in the same period from 57 to 306 cases. For a small police force, that is a significant increase in work load. Overall, the number of non-UK nationals arrested in the northern basic command unit—the area covering the city of Peterborough—increased from 894 to 2,435. The figures are bound to be higher in 2007.
In 2005, the research consultancy IBIX Insight published “Policing Peterborough”, which identified the implications for policing large-scale migration in my constituency, particularly in respect of houses in multiple occupation. Issues identified were, inter alia, fire safety issues, petty robbery, disputes within households, violence and sexual assault towards women in mixed households, neighbourhood tension about lifestyle and noise issues and car usage and parking issues. In practical terms, that has massive resource implications.
An anecdotal example from a briefing note published last month by Cambridgeshire county council for the migration impacts forum stated:
“A Police Inspector in Wisbech who recently reviewed the detention of a Latvian national who spoke no English took over an hour on a task that would normally take 10 minutes. In this instance, the Inspector had to locate a translator, explain the process to them and once that had been completed actually do the review. This issue with detained persons, languages and translators is repeated countless times throughout the County on a daily basis.”
Yet, astonishingly, the Minister for Borders and Immigration confirmed in a recent written answer that there is no formal system for assessing the impact of migration on public services, including policing.
Other hon. Members may wish to focus on alternative demographic issues that are pertinent to the county, such as the likelihood of an increase in the number of Gypsies and Travellers from an already high base—Cambridgeshire is now home to more of the community than any other county in England—the pressures exerted on policing as a result of the high student population in the county, which currently numbers more than 25,000 full-time students according to a paper written last year, or tourism, given that Cambridgeshire has the largest visitor numbers in the eastern region. I would like to say that the tourism is a result of Peterborough’s attractions, but it is in fact largely due to the city of Cambridge. Nevertheless, the point has ramifications for policing.
That is the environment in which the police service serves my constituents. The Government’s funding regime militates against Cambridgeshire on two levels. First, there is a lag between the population and population estimates, and Cambridgeshire will and has been short-changed. For 2008-09, the Home Office will use the 2005 population estimates by the Office for National Statistics, amounting to a difference of 24,493 people. Were Cambridgeshire to receive the correct funding in 2008-09, based on the more accurate and up-to-date statistics, it would be granted an additional £2,678,152 in its formula grant allocation.
Secondly, the floors-and-ceilings funding formula, which has been in place since 2002, has consistently and unfairly impacted on the grant allocation made available to the county, which has hit the ceiling every year since April 2002, to the extent that the police authority has said that the sum withheld cumulatively during that period is £14.769 million.
In her excellent letter dated 18 February—just last Monday—to the Minister, Mrs. Spence made this compelling point:
“We find it difficult to understand why the Department for Communities and Local Government is giving some relief over the next three years to Peterborough, Fenland and Huntingdon Councils to offset some of the costs of dealing with the consequences of migrant workers, whereas the Home Office has given us nothing and we face similar, and often more acute problems. For the Record, we have no way of accessing any of those funds.”
As a result of that iniquitous situation, not only are there many fewer police officers on the beat—I shall say more about that later—but a far greater burden of revenue funding consequently falls on council tax payers and the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge.
According to the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, 34.1 per cent. of the police budget in Cambridgeshire was funded by council tax precept, against an average throughout England of 26.8 per cent. My constituents are forced to cope with the results of migration policies and development policies over which they have no control. They are short-changed by out-of-date statistics, and they are on the receiving end of a funding formula that is flawed and unfair. Consequently, to add insult to injury, they are grievously under-provisioned in respect of beat officers.
An independent report last year by KPMG concluded that, based on the current work load of the constabulary, the county requires an additional 100 police officers. The northern division, which covers my constituency, is currently served by 287 full-time police officers, as the Minister confirmed in a written answer on Monday. In comparison, the London borough of Lewisham, where I am proud to say my younger brother is a beat officer, boasts around 600 police officers to deal with a population and crime patterns that are comparable to those of Peterborough.
Indeed, in the Peterborough city council area, for the year ended March 2007 per capita crime rates for violence against the person, burglary from dwellings and theft from motor vehicles were substantially above the English average. Even allowing for the redeployment in 2004 of some resource to central functions, unbelievably, we have fewer officers now than in March 2003, when we had 360. The number fell to 356 in March 2004 and to 308 in March 2005. Police numbers have fallen in the Peterborough area.
According to the Library, between 2002 and 2007 the percentage change in full-time equivalent officers in Cambridgeshire was an anaemic 1.4 per cent. compared with, for example, an 18.9 per cent. rise in the Home Secretary’s police force area. In precise terms, that means that we have had 19 extra officers in five years. Only Surrey constabulary has fared worse.
Based on the number of full-time equivalent posts, Cambridgeshire has the lowest number of police officers per 100,000 head of population compared with not only the most similar force, but every other force. That fact was contained in a written answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) on 14 January at column 1059W. Given that the average number of full-time equivalent police in English shire counties in 2007 was 212 per 100,000 of the population, the authority needs an extra 230 extra officers just to catch up. Allowing for the cost of employing a police constable who has completed their initial training, that would have meant at least another £5.4 million on the grant allocation.
Instead, we have seen a cumulative reduction in funding of more than £16 million over the past six years. The current funding regime means that Cambridgeshire had to take £7 million out of its budget this year just to balance its books. The floor mechanism is costing £2.7 million this year, and there is no review mechanism—the gearing means that after council tax precept capping there will inevitably be a reduction in officer numbers for the period 2008-2012. While the police authority must stick to national efficiency savings targets and deliver a police service with fewer resources, central Government collect tax revenue across a growing county without recycling or ring-fencing fair, up-to-date and transparent funding. The situation is iniquitous and unsustainable. It is unfair to all those who work for the constabulary, and it is an affront to my constituents, who pay their taxes in good faith and are being short-changed.
On 14 January, the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing told me in the House that he was
“happy to talk…about the time delay between growth in population and the formula for police grant, and I am happy to extend that invitation to Cambridgeshire.”—[Official Report, 14 January 2008; Vol. 470, c. 645.]
I am sorry that he is not here today to continue that convivial mood. However, knowing the Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) will probably be more convivial.
I want the Minister to address all my issues. I do not want to hear a cherry-picked list of existing operational initiatives, such as e-cops, customer contact officers, core-handling services and the rest of the list that we get from Ministers. We do not want a polite peroration around the Flanagan review or the benefits of employing more police community support officers. I hope that I have shown with fact, and not merely anecdote, that Cambridgeshire constabulary is a special case. At the very least, it merits a proper review of its funding to 2012. The artificial cap needs to be lifted, and funding needs to be restored proportionately back to 2002. Accurate demographic data and forecasting needs to linked closely to methodology in the allocation of grant moneys, and a one-off payment needs to be considered to recruit at least 25 new officers for the county this year.
This has been a good opportunity to raise a local issue of grave concern that cuts across party political divides. I know that my hon. Friends will contribute well to the debate and will have a different perspective. We all represent constituents, who have been unjustly and unfairly treated. The gravity of the situation should not be underestimated, and I hope and expect the Minister to rise to the challenge.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) on securing this debate. The situation in Cambridgeshire is on the edge of intolerable. Cambridgeshire has 183 police officers, the third lowest number of police officers per 100,000 of population. It is the lowest of the comparable forces for similar areas. That situation will get worse as the population grows. At present trends, the figure will fall to as low as 170 officers per 100,000 of population by 2016. The funding crisis, however, is not in 2016, but now. As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, we are already seeing reductions in the number of officers. We are also seeing reductions in support staff. If one goes to police stations around Cambridgeshire, one will see that there are already unfilled vacancies on each shift because the commanders cannot fill the full quota of officers who are needed every day.
The average number of crimes per 1,000 of population per year across England and Wales is 61. At 57, Cambridgeshire is slightly below that average. However, it is not very far below the average. There are 20 forces that deal with lower crime rates than Cambridgeshire. Nearly all of them are better funded than Cambridgeshire.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the crime situation in Peterborough, so I had better mention the situation in Cambridge. As I said, the average figure is 61 crimes per 1,000 of population. In the county, the figure is 57. The relevant figure for Cambridge is 72. Therefore, there is above average crime in Cambridge. However, when it comes to violent crime, Cambridge is below the national average. The crimes that take Cambridge above the national average are shoplifting—because Cambridge is a retail and tourist centre—and bicycle theft, for which Cambridge holds the national record. That point illustrates why it is important to have local determination of police priorities.
There is nowhere else in the country where bicycle theft would be as important a matter. In Cambridge, one quarter of the population goes to work by bike. It is extremely annoying to have one’s method of going to work taken away by criminal action. Nevertheless, if we look at the crime pattern across the county, Cambridgeshire is not a high crime area, but it is not a low crime area either. That was the point that the hon. Gentleman was trying to make. He said that there was an image of Cambridgeshire as some sort of rural idyll in which nothing ever goes wrong. That is not true. The effect of years of underfunding on council tax payers in Cambridgeshire is clear. Council tax bills are higher than the national average for a lower level of service. That is what people complain about.
Last Monday, the police authority increased the council tax precept by 5 per cent, which was the maximum that it could do. That will not be enough to fund some of the Government’s new national requirements, including requirements on sexual offences, and on custody and detention. It would have cost another £1.4 million to fund the whole range of new Government requirements. That would be another 3.6 per cent. on the tax, which would blast through the capping limit.
I am not going to pretend that Cambridgeshire police are perfect or that it is the best force in the country. There have been problems, but those problems are being addressed by the chief constable and her commanders. For example, there was a problem in Cambridge about matching police resources and shift patterns to when people expected and needed police officers to be available. That did not quite work, but the problem was addressed and the situation is improving. As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, the key to the funding problem is the lag between funding and the increase in population. The population is expected to increase by 12.5 per cent. by 2016. Cambridgeshire is already one of the country’s fastest growing areas. That comes about through a combination of factors, but one factor is Government policy. The Government are telling Cambridgeshire that it needs to grow at that pace—that it needs population increases and housing to match. The question is: are the Government putting in the funding to match the growth that they are requiring of Cambridgeshire?
There is a long history to this. Economically, the Cambridge area grew immensely through high-tech industry throughout the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, but very little of that was planned by any of the Governments of the time. It just happened, in a way that national Government sometimes seemed indifferent or even hostile to, and the needs of the area were never effectively matched by funding from national Government. That has been added to by changes in the labour market in the rural part of the county, in the north of the county, which are producing in-migration from other parts of Europe.
Those two factors combined have caused an extraordinary mismatch between the funding that is offered and the funding that is required. That problem does not affect only the police in Cambridgeshire. It also affects the district councils in terms of housing costs. There will be a debate tomorrow in Cambridge city council about the fact that the Housing Corporation will not pay the proper amount towards building houses in the Cambridge area. It affects the health service. We have had debates in this very place about the funding of mental health services in Cambridgeshire. Again, that is affected by this problem. It has even affected Cambridge regional college, and further education funding. It is the same point over and again: the Government are not fully prepared to back the economic success of Cambridgeshire. They ask for more from Cambridgeshire, but are not prepared to put in more to help that success to continue.
I shall finish by talking about migration. My perspective on that issue is somewhat different from that of the hon. Gentleman. I would not want to give the impression at all that immigration by itself is a cause of crime. There is no evidence that immigrants commit more or, admittedly, less crime than anyone else.
For the avoidance of doubt, I should point out that I was not saying that migrants commit crime per se. I was merely quoting from an operational note whose provenance was the northern basic command unit. Far be it from me to make any sort of assertion that people who wish to come to this country and make a better life for their family are therefore de facto criminals. I have used data provided by my local police in Peterborough.
I am very glad to accept that clarification, but it should also be said, on behalf of the chief constable, that the chief constable was saying not that migrants cause more crime, but that there is an extra cost for the authorities in dealing with incidents involving them, both as accused people and as victims—it is important to stress that—and those costs in terms of interpretation and the translation of documents are important.
For me, the issue is more about the division of finance between national and local government. The hon. Gentleman mentioned that in passing, but for me it is a very important point. Overall, migration into this country has an economic benefit for this country. The question is where that benefit goes in terms of levels of government and who bears the costs associated with a rising population. On the whole, the tax revenues from income tax, national insurance, profits of companies and VAT come to national Government. Some, in the form of council tax, comes to local government, but not much, especially if not many new dwellings are built in the process and it is just that the use of existing dwellings is being intensified.
The revenues, the benefits from migration and population growth, tend to go to national Government. Population growth or migration mainly involves young, active, employed people, who do not cost national Government very much. They do not use the health service much. They do not claim much in the way of benefits and they are not pensioners. What costs there are tend to fall on local services, including, in this case, the police. That is the core of the problem. It is not just about sorting out which bits of local government get which funding. It is about the balance of funding, the balance of cost and benefit, between national and local government. That is at the heart of the problem and that is what the Government have to sort out.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) on securing this important and timely debate on the funding for Cambridgeshire constabulary. I join him in recognising the skill and effectiveness of our local police force and I commend him on what he had to say, all of which I agree with.
My hon. Friend’s area is urban whereas mine is more rural, but the variety of our constituencies and the differing requirements of urban and rural crime fighting make the lack of resources, if anything, more acute. As hon. Members will appreciate, the police grant and local government finance reports for 2008-09 were debated in the House on 4 February. That has raised a number of problems in Cambridgeshire. Admittedly, the grant settlement for 2008 and 2009 provides for a 3 per cent. increase, which is an improvement on last year’s 2.5 per cent., although I understand from the police that above-inflation growth in policing costs has eroded any benefit in that regard.
In particular, the settlement does not take into account the fact that the police service is already a victim of cumulative significant underfunding in recent years. Indeed, Cambridgeshire is now the third most underfunded force per capita in the country, following the Government’s introduction of the new funding formula in 2002. That is because when applying the formula as of 2002, the Government used out-of-date population figures. Had the correct figures been applied to the formula, Cambridgeshire constabulary would have been some £15 million better off over the previous five years.
That situation is compounded by the requirement to achieve efficiency savings equivalent to 3 per cent. a year over the next three years. As other hon. Members have said, the staffing position is very lean—there is no more fat to be shed. I have written to the Home Secretary asking when there will be a full and fair application of the funding formula.
The settlement also fails to take into account the needs of a rural area such as Cambridgeshire. Indeed, it proceeds on the very basic assumption that a rural area does not need as many policemen as a city because there will be less crime in the countryside. Unfortunately, as other hon. Members have said, that analysis is all too superficial.
In the past 25 years, the county of Cambridgeshire has changed considerably. It is prosperous and in full economic growth. It is expected to continue growing significantly. Projections include increasing migration and huge housing programmes—that is, new county towns and thousands more homes in existing towns such as the market towns in my constituency. That will accelerate the transformation in both the density of the population and its cultural mix. Of course, most people in Huntingdon welcome migration if it is controlled and supported by infrastructure, and appreciate that it has contributed significantly to the economic development of the county. However, it has also had a significant impact on policing and law and order, and the Government simply do not seem to be aware of that or to appreciate it.
Cambridgeshire constabulary is already disadvantaged because it currently has only 187 police officers per 100,000 people when the national average is 266. As other hon. Members have said, that proportion will decrease further because Cambridgeshire’s communities are growing in size. Importantly, we need to appreciate that it is Government who are forcing huge house building, which will have consequences, not least the need for more police. That places an even greater strain on the police and other agencies. My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough referred to the chief constable’s letter of 18 February, in which she stated:
“We have, currently, no opportunity to expand the infrastructure to deliver for the growing county. This will result in a continual stretch of already stretched resources. The impact of this stretch should not be underestimated, with officers already indicating a reason for going to the Metropolitan Police is more money and an easier life.”
It is important to note that Cambridgeshire’s changing demography is partly the result of international migration, and that has been touched on by previous speakers. Migration has increased particularly since EU expansion in 2004, with a large proportion of migrants coming from eastern Europe. Cambridgeshire has absorbed 50 per cent. of the migrants who have come to live in the eastern region, and that has contributed to the county’s economic growth, but it has also raised a number of issues that simply cannot be ignored. Incidentally, there has been significant EU migration not only into Peterborough and Cambridge, but into Huntingdonshire market towns.
To address the point made by the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth), migration has changed the nature of the offences that are committed in Cambridgeshire, and that has put pressure on police resources. For instance, hostility towards EU migrants and towards asylum seekers in the cities has led to tensions in the communities where such people live and work. If such incidents are not managed carefully, they could escalate into violence and require more work by the police force. At the moment, community cohesion is being well managed, not least by the police, but the result is that people in Whitehall seem to be believe that it is not a problem, so resources are not directed towards it. However, resources are being sapped by the need to manage and control such issues.
Large families and large numbers of migrant workers sharing the same house have rapidly increased the number of people living in certain communities. That has raised several issues for local service providers, such as dangers in relation to fire safety, petty robbery, disputes in households, summary eviction and temporary homelessness, and all those issues require an efficient and available police force. There have also been increases in offences linked to different cultural values, particularly offences relating to knife crime and vehicle-related offences such as drink driving, which my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough mentioned. All of that will inevitably have an impact on resources.
However, the Government’s response is to reduce the proportion of funding for policing, and Government grant has fallen by more than £15 million since 2002. Worryingly, the independent report by analysts from KPMG, to which my hon. Friend referred, concluded that the county requires an additional 100 police officers, based on the constabulary’s current work load. So where are those officers going to come from?
Mrs. Spence, the chief constable, made another important, but slightly wider point when she said:
“If the answer to Cambridgeshire’s future lies in cross government discussion as clearly housing growth, infrastructure development, inward migration and policing are not the remit of the Home Office alone, how does one county start that discussion and how do we make our case to ensure the complex intertwined range of issues we face are properly understood and taken account of quickly?”
I do not see how the Government can answer that question, but it is surely the key issue for rapidly developing areas such as Huntingdon and Cambridgeshire.
Cambridgeshire is suffering from the results of an outdated funding scheme that fails to take into account the reality of the county’s position. That is a dangerous situation, which could hamper the growth of my constituency, in a part of the country that is leading the way on job creation and wealth creation—developments that benefit not only the local population, but the whole country. I therefore look forward to hearing from the Minister how the situation can be resolved as soon as possible.
May I say what a pleasure it is to take part in a debate with you in the Chair, Mr. Gale? May I also say what a pleasure and privilege it is to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly), who is my neighbour? I also thank the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) and my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson). I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough on securing this important debate on policing in Cambridgeshire. It has been an issue for a considerable time, and it is right that we have a Minister here to take our concerns on board.
I must tell the Minister that this issue will not go away. Cambridgeshire Members of Parliament, the local police and other vested interest groups will not remain silent until the imbalance in the funding of Cambridgeshire police is properly resolved. I hope that the Minister does not intend to sum up with warm, supportive words that will not lead in practice to additional funding, because if he does, we and others will continue to raise this important issue. While I am talking about others who are dealing with this issue, let me pay tribute to Cambridgeshire’s chief constable, Julie Spence, to Councillor Keith Walters, who is chairman of Cambridgeshire police authority, and to their entire teams, which do sterling work throughout the county, despite their limited resources and the difficulties that they face.
The funding for Cambridgeshire police is flawed. Over the period 2002-03 to 2008-09, the shortfall will be £17.5 million, and it will continue to rise and to impact on the local community. The problem has arisen entirely because the funding system relies on out-of-date population statistics and uses ceilings that prevent Cambridgeshire from receiving the additional funds that it rightly deserves.
As other hon. Members have said, we must recognise that Cambridgeshire is one of the fastest-growing counties in the country, and I hope that the Minister and the Home Office will recognise that. There are two reasons for that growth. First, additional housing is rapidly appearing throughout the county. My constituency contains the southern third of Peterborough and 80 villages on the way down to, but not including, Huntingdon. The Peterborough part of my constituency includes a massive development called the Hamptons—it is one of the largest developments in western Europe—which is having a massive impact on the entire infrastructure of the area. Pockets of new housing are also cropping up all over the rural parts of my constituency.
Secondly, my constituency contains additional people from the migrant community. For the sake of good order and the avoidance of doubt, let me make it absolutely clear that neither I nor anyone else in the debate is talking about a race issue; the issue is about people management and recognising that more people are coming to Cambridgeshire, which is why local people want additional funding, including, in the context of this debate, funding for the police. I emphasise that, because I do not want the media or individuals either here or outside this place to take a different stance. The issue must be addressed sensitively and carefully, but it must be addressed. We must recognise that the migrant community creates different pressures, which perhaps do not exist in other areas, and I will return to that later.
The northern part of my constituency experiences all the issues that one could attribute to urban areas, such as antisocial behaviour, theft and assault. In such urban confines, the police do not have a lot of distance to cover, but they nevertheless struggle to deal as effectively as they would like to with all that occurs in their areas. What is more, however, there is, as has been said, a presumption among some decision-makers in Whitehall that all is well and good in villages such as mine in rural Cambridgeshire and, indeed, anywhere rural—the view is that everything is peaceful and quiet.
If any civil service mandarin in the Home Office takes that view, I suggest that they be seconded for just half a day to any hon. Member who has a rural patch in their constituency. We would be more than happy to take them to a rural village, where we could easily identify instances of serious crime. It is impossible for the police to give attention to some villages in my constituency, because of the distances that must be covered. I shall not repeat the points about the acute difficulties that arise in a mixed county with acute urban pressures as well as rural areas.
I want to outline the types of crimes that lead to extra pressure on infrastructure and the police, because the migrant community brings an international aspect. I have been particularly involved in campaigning on human trafficking. The Minister’s approach to the issue is welcome, and I acknowledge all the hard work that he does and will, I am sure, continue to do to combat that evil, barbaric trade in human beings in the 21st century.
Last year, Cambridgeshire police undertook Operation Radium, which identified a number of brothels and instances of trafficking throughout Cambridgeshire, and the template for that operation is now being used by other police forces throughout the country. Cambridgeshire did all the hard work and homework without additional resources, and so other police forces will take up a ready-made solution to the question how to deal with that difficult problem. I am not saying that that solution will deal with it as effectively as we would like, but it has gone further than has been done before.
When people are found in the course of that work, it adds to the need for translation. The sum of £1 million in costs for a year has already been mentioned. Every year, additional translation costs of £1 million are required to deal with the migrant community. It is imperative that everyone in this country should have proper justice, but with that goes additional time. An issue that might normally take 10 minutes to deal with, as my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough has said, can easily take an hour, because of the need to wait for translators and deal with the different language.
There is also a cultural aspect, which was also mentioned earlier. Among some east European communities, there is a different attitude towards, for example, carrying knives, drink-driving or fishing. In Britain, anglers go fishing and, if they have a successful catch, they put the fish back in the river. Some of the new communities here take the view that that fish will be their dinner for the evening. We must get used to that cultural change, and additional manpower, both in the police and generally, is needed to deal with those cultural aspects.
Some of the civil servants are smiling at what I am saying, but perhaps they should come to some of our rural areas, in which case we might not need a debate such as this. It is precisely those issues, which we see every day on the ground, that are not being fully understood by civil servants and the Home Office. I hope that the Home Office will not do what it has done in the past, when the Home Secretary promised a summit and we were promised a forum. Today, I hope that the Minister says that action will be taken to recognise that the people of Cambridgeshire are not getting a police service that is as effective as the one that they deserve, because of the unique circumstances articulated in this debate. We need action, and I hope that the Minister will go some way towards alleviating our concerns.
The reason for my appearance in the debate, Mr. Gale, is that my constituency shares a lengthy border with Cambridgeshire, from St. Neots in the north all the way down the eastern side through Wrestlingworth, Gamlingay, Edworth and Dunton to the Hertfordshire border. The two counties are identical in character. Today, I want to raise some cross-border issues on which Cambridgeshire’s resourcing affects my constituents. Cross-border issues do not always get much time or attention, so, although I do not expect the Minister to answer my points in detail, I feel it important to raise them for communities that often feel caught between two stools. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) for raising the issue and my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) for taking the debate forward. Of course, many of the issues that have been raised would be raised in Bedfordshire—the pressures in relation to rural crime and resources—but I do not want to spend too long on them, for obvious reasons.
I want to raise some of the difficulties that are caused by being in a cross-border area. First, postcodes are not always an accurate location finder in a county, because someone who lives in one county may have a postcode that refers to another. In that case, a call centre will sometimes misdirect a call and tell a resident who is waiting for assistance that they have phoned the wrong force, which causes immense frustration and upset. The Alington road industrial estate in Little Barford, which my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) will know well because it is adjacent to his constituency, has had such problems. People have called the police, and it has taken a long time for the force from the right place to be sent. That lack of certainty is an issue for those people.
A second issue is the availability of resources to deal with partnership work on the borders. Naturally, forces with constrained resources will concentrate, first, on the Home Office targets set by the Government, and, secondly, on urban areas or areas of high-volume crime. Rural crime will never be high volume compared with urban areas within or just outside our constituencies, so if resources are tight in Cambridgeshire—my hon. Friends have made it clear they are—how much attention will be given to the cross-border partnership that is necessary to ensure some degree of protection for those who live close to a border between constituency forces? What time and effort can be spent on ensuring that there is more partnership work, that scarce resources are shared, and that when police are not available in one area it will be easy to call another force on the other side of the border, which may have officers available to deal with the problem?
Lastly, I want to raise an issue on behalf of my local National Farmers Union and its chairman Charlie Porter, who has been in touch with me on the impact of crime in some outlying rural areas. Rural constituents in cross-border areas feel not only that they are relegated to minor importance because they live in a low-crime area, but that their location on the border, whether it is the Bedfordshire or the Cambridgeshire side, makes their position even more precarious.
There has been a significant increase in the eastern region in recent months in thefts of metal, because the worldwide price for scrap has gone up very much. There is a travelling community in the eastern region that has in the past been able to pick up on thefts of metal, and there is concern about how those criminals are tracked from whatever source that might be. Again, if resources in the counties are tight, who will put time and effort into cases that cross borders and involve thieves who know what they are doing as they move through an area and how to resist attention, so that they can concentrate on their crime? There are stories of farmers in outlying areas who have been threatened and bullied, or whose wives were told when they put their heads out of the window, “Just get back inside, love. Leave us to do what we are going to do, and no one will get hurt,” when there is no one else in the farmhouse to protect them. People are very frightened.
I raise those issues on behalf of the cross-border areas, where those pressures exist. I hope that the Minister will take account of cross-border issues when he gets a chance to respond, either today or in writing in due course.
Order. I have the power to limit the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen to five minutes each, as the debate is a local one, but I do not propose to do that. However, I would be grateful if both Front-Bench spokesmen were to bear in mind that the Minister will probably need at least 15 minutes to reply.
Thank you, Mr. Gale, for that guidance—I shall attempt to stay within those limits.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) on securing this debate and for eloquently setting out the reasons why we expect the Minister to respond positively. The contributions from all parties demonstrate that there is a cross-party consensus on the matter; indeed, if a Labour MP represented the area that we are talking about, I am sure that they would speak in favour of the points that many hon. Members have made.
Clearly, it is an understatement to say that police funding is an important issue. People obviously need their local police to work effectively and efficiently, and for them to provide value for money. However, the bottom line is that if there is not enough money going in, there will not be enough crime-fighting resources at the other end. That is what the debate is about.
I do not profess to be an expert on policing in the area that we are talking about. Hon. Members have made detailed and pertinent points to which the Minister needs to respond, but there are clearly some significant, pertinent issues that are specific to Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, principally those to do with migration. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) also asked where the Government’s tax revenues go. I am sure that the Flanagan review will provide some of the answers regarding additional limited resource from within Cambridgeshire and Peterborough’s existing resources, but the outcomes of the review will provide only a small component of Cambridgeshire’s needs. As a number of hon. Members said, there is a declining trend in the number of officers per 100,000 population. I checked with Cambridgeshire police whether there was any good news at their budget meeting on Monday but, of course, there was not, and they are in the same position and are being told that there will be no quick fixes.
As well as facing national challenges such as the issue of police pay and people’s rising expectations of police forces, Cambridgeshire faces the specific challenges to which hon. Members referred. The force has responded positively to the challenge of managing its own resources, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) said, was perhaps of its own making. The latest Audit Commission report shows that it has made a significant improvement in how it manages its affairs while other similar forces’ performance has declined. Hon. Members are worried about what chief constable Julie Spence and the police authority chairman say about their ability to do the job. They are the people in the front line; they know what resources they need to do the job; and they are telling the Government that they do not have sufficient resources to do the job properly.
The issue of population growth has been taken up by my hon. Friend and others with Ministers previously. The responses on the necessary changes to funding formulas and the time over which those take place have been somewhat disappointing. I would have thought that, given the Home Secretary’s statement today, we would get a positive response from the Minister. The Green Paper says that the Government
“recognise that occasionally there can be transitional impacts on the provision of public services in communities which might be subject to particularly rapid change at the local level”.
Will the Minister say whether police force funding might be useful for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough? Will he also say whether any assessment of the community infrastructure levy has been made? The Government are of course putting that forward as a way to get additional resources into local communities on the back of local developers’ proposals. That might have a role to play and I hope that the Minister will say that he expects that it will make a contribution.
Other hon. Members have listed significant statistics on the scale of the impact of migration—I do not intend to go over those again. By deploying those statistics, and with their much more detailed and specific knowledge of policing in their areas, hon. Members were able to make a convincing case for the unique situation of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. The debate is not about calling for additional resources across the board to help all police forces up and down the country to meet challenges. Rather, hon. Members have identified some specific challenges in a particular area, to which the Government must respond. It is about hard facts and special circumstances, which are linked particularly to high levels of migration. For that reason, the Minister must respond positively, given the Green Paper’s reference to the “transitional impacts” of migration and the funding that should be made available to manage them. I hope that he will be able to demonstrate that formulas are capable of flexibility, and that they are not always straitjackets.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Gale. The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) has done a very effective job of setting out the case for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough: the police force faces challenges associated with population growth and the pressures and costs that a more diverse community can create.
A number of other interesting issues have come out of the debate. I learned this afternoon that Cambridge has the highest number of bicycle thefts in the country, which I had not appreciated before—I am grateful to the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) for telling me that. He also made an effective point on the need to ensure that we have local priorities and that discretion is applied to local forces, and said that top-down targets from the centre cannot possibly reflect the needs and aspirations of local communities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) made the important point that we should not look at the matter in isolation—there are so many other interconnecting factors, such as economic and social ones, and those related to housing. A cross-cutting approach is necessary if we are to get the right solutions. We are discussing policing this afternoon, but I am well aware of how things such as education are acutely affected by the population growth in the Cambridgeshire area and some of the challenges associated with it.
My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara) rightly highlighted some of the frustration in rural communities where people feel that their issues are not being properly addressed, which was followed up by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt). A lot of rural communities feel and fear a sense of isolation, not only in relation to policing but other services. That message is repeated time after time, but the Government do not appear to have been listening. When I talk to people in rural areas, I find that they feel that their voice is not being heard as clearly as it should.
Some specific points have come out of the debate. Obviously, it is taking place in the context of the Government’s funding settlement and the police grant, which averages 2.7 per cent. throughout the whole country. Cambridgeshire will receive a 3 per cent. increase over the period, but it is clearly a tight financial settlement. In areas such as Cambridgeshire, certain factors draw into question the effectiveness and appropriateness of the current structure. There is the issue of policing needs and the different patterns of offending in migrant populations. That does not mean that there is a higher propensity towards crime in those communities, but that there are different patterns of offending, which might be related to drink driving or the carrying of weapons. Police forces will have to modulate how they respond to those things.
I will not give way because we are tight on time, and I am conscious, Mr. Gale, that you might pick me up on it.
The cost implications for policing have come through very clearly in the debate. I respect a number of the initiatives that have been undertaken in Cambridgeshire. In a positive effort to engage communities and provide community cohesion, a newcomer’s guide to policing and the law has been published. Various other councils in the county are taking steps to ensure that that sense of togetherness and an understanding of common norms and so on are developed and strengthened. I pay tribute to the work being undertaken by so many people.
We must also consider the cost of things such as translation services. We heard of figures showing the increase in costs that Cambridgeshire has had to bear. From the Freedom of Information Act requests that I have made, I know that that is reflected across the country. From 2003-04 to the end of the last financial year, there was an increase of about £9.3 million in the cost of translation and interpreter services. It certainly puts into context the scale of the problems that we are having to face. The Home Secretary spoke today about levying charges; tens of millions—I do not know how many tens of millions—are proposed to be raised by the new levy, but clearly that sort of sum could be used up rapidly for such services in policing alone.
Another issue is the lag in population numbers—they are not being picked up effectively under the formula. However, it is important to recognise that the Government have fastened on to the problem. During the police grant debate, the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing said:
“However, there are genuine concerns about increasing levels of population and about how the Government formula allocations can be quite tardy in picking them up.”—[Official Report, 4 February 2008; Vol. 471, c.674.]
Those concerns have certainly been amplified during this afternoon’s debate.
The question is how those concerns are to be taken forward, and how those factors are to be addressed and considered. I hope that the Minister will be able to provide an explanation for the recently announced migrant impact forum. Will it advise Ministers on such questions, and what sort of programme and what sort of time scale can we work towards in order to ensure that those factors are properly assessed when considering grant allocations? I understand from the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing that although the budget for the next financial year is now set, the indicative figures for the following two years are still open for discussion and debate, so I hope that that will provide an opportunity for such factors to be addressed.
The final point I raise is that of police numbers. The funding settlement is obviously very tight, as I indicated earlier, and that has led to some concerns about what that might mean for policing numbers. We heard earlier how policing numbers in Cambridgeshire have reduced in any event during preceding years, and what the new settlement might mean. However, the Flanagan report states that
“maintaining police numbers at their current level is not sustainable over the course of the next three years…we would not be making the most effective use of the resources dedicated to the police if police officer numbers were sustained at their current level.”
That suggests that we might be looking at more cuts in police numbers; rather than the emphasis being on cutting red tape, as we had thought, we might find that the thin blue line is being cut even further. What will that mean for places such as Cambridgeshire? What does the Minister think is a sustainable level of policing for the county?
Real and genuine concerns have been expressed this afternoon. There will always be winners and losers in any system, however well intended, however well constructed and however well considered; but at a time of real concern over growing levels of violence, with violent crime having doubled in the last 10 years, it is imperative that public safety does not suffer. The public, in Cambridgeshire and elsewhere, should receive the policing that they require and rightly demand.
I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Gale. I congratulate the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) on securing the debate and thank him for his kind comments—I appreciate what he has said. However, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing does not read the comments made about him.
I start by making what I believe to be an extremely important point. Migration and its effect has been mentioned by a number of hon. Members, but no one did so in a derogatory sense. It was mentioned by the hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara), but certainly not in a racist way. We have heard that migration has an adverse impact on crime; it may have an impact on types of crime, but it does not have an impact in that sense. The debate was very good tempered and well measured, and it important to reiterate the fact that no hon. Member here today spoke in a derogatory way.
I assure all hon. Members who have participated in the debate that the Government are aware of the issues with respect to Cambridgeshire. As hon. Members know, I do not necessarily deal with those issues myself, but my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing is aware of them. As has been said, the Home Secretary met the chief constable of Cambridgeshire and the chair of the police authority in November last year, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing recently met others from Cambridgeshire. I join hon. Members in congratulating the police on their work in the county—I have not heard anyone denigrate their work. We often say such things in order to get our retaliation in first, but everyone has been most complimentary. I will take back all the points that have been made today to my right hon. Friend, and I hope that that will be useful.
I shall answer a couple of specific questions that I will not cover in my later remarks. The hon. Member for Peterborough has mentioned population figures, but he knows that police funding is not based purely on population and that the funding formula takes account of a range of other factors. I note that the ACPO lead on finance, the chief constable of Gloucestershire, has said that the funding assessment was a
“genuine attempt at finding a balance between competing priorities”
and that it was
“broadly in line with anticipated rises in core costs”.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman and I can talk about that point after the debate, but I would be interested to know where he found a 24,000 discrepancy between the ONS figures and the anticipated population figures. The figures that I have for 2008-09 and 2009-10—I appreciate that after then we have only projected increases—show a difference of about 6,000. The ONS figure for 2008-09 was 767,325; Cambridgeshire police’s estimated population was 773,084. As I have said, we can talk about that after the debate.
The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) has discussed 3 per cent. efficiency savings. Police forces are required to make efficiency savings of 3 per cent., but that money does not go back to the centre; it remains with forces, which can use it in whatever way they think appropriate.
The hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire has raised the issue of trafficking. He was kind enough to congratulate me on my work in that respect, and I know that he is involved, as are a number of other hon. Members here today. The hon. Gentleman will know that we are looking at what more we should do to support the work of police forces in tackling trafficking—Cambridgeshire will have issues in that respect. I know of the force’s good practice, and others forces wish to learn from it. The hon. Gentleman will also know that Pentameter 2 is ongoing, and forces throughout the United Kingdom are involved in that work.
The hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire made an extremely important point about cross-border collaboration, which is collaboration between Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire in the case of his area. I am not sure about the geography of the areas represented by other hon. Members, but this is an issue that affects everyone, and we have allocated £35 million over the next three years for cross-border collaboration and cross-border work. Either Bedfordshire or Cambridgeshire could bid for some of that money to help with their cross-border work. Again, I hope that is helpful to the hon. Member.
The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) and the hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) have both raised the issue of the British trust fund, which was announced today by the Home Secretary. Of course, it could well be that money raised from that fund, irrespective of the charges for it and how much they will be, is used by the police force in Cambridgeshire and by other forces across the country to pay for certain services.
The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington also mentioned the community infrastructure levy, which, as he knows, will replace section 106. The details of that levy are still being worked on. However, the levy is the type of new development that one would expect to contribute to public services in a particular area.
First, the Minister will be aware that section 106 money is being used in parts of Cambridgeshire to build police stations, although there is no revenue public funding to put police officers in them. Secondly, we are in a situation where, two days ago, the budget was set but, because of Government policy, the authority had no option but to recruit police community support officers on a standstill budget. That is a crazy situation, too. Will the Minister address those two key issues?
I will come on to revenue funding. Section 106 funding, which may be replaced by funding from the community infrastructure levy, has been used not only in Cambridgeshire but across the country to support the provision of public services. I will come on to the revenue implications in a moment.
I would just like to mention the migration impacts forum, which the hon. Member for Hornchurch has referred to. The July meeting of that forum will be dedicated to crime and policing. Other hon. Members asked what effect the forum will have. As I have said, the July meeting will consider crime and policing. The ACPO representative in that forum is the chief constable of North Yorkshire police, Grahame Maxwell. Of course, as hon. Members will appreciate, North Yorkshire police is a rural force and no doubt the chief constable will be able to bring some of his knowledge to the work of the forum. Indeed, the Home Secretary has recently asked all the chief constables, including the chief constable of Cambridgeshire, Julie Spence, to contribute to the work of that forum in July.
Will the Minister confirm that when that forum examines crime, it will also examine the crimes that migrant communities are often the victims of? I have personal experience of Kent and the farming communities there that rely very heavily on migrant workers, who themselves are either victims or at risk of becoming victims of trafficking within the UK, for example.
It seems to be a perfectly reasonable suggestion to ask that forum meeting in July to look at that issue. What may be appropriate is for each hon. Member here today to talk to the chief constable in their area—in particular, Cambridgeshire Members should talk to the chief constable of Cambridgeshire, Julie Spence—and ask them whether they feel that it is appropriate to make particular contributions to the forum. I suggest that the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington makes a suggestion to his chief constable to see whether they will take that issue to the forum.
I want to go through a few other issues. First, I want to discuss funding for Cambridgeshire. Total Government grants to Cambridgeshire increased by more than £30 million between 1997-98 and 2007-08, which is a cash rise of 52 per cent. or a rise of 19 per cent. in real terms. Having said that, I know that the hon. Members here will be keen to look to the future. Under the terms of the provisional funding settlement, which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced on 6 December last year, Cambridgeshire’s general grant will increase, as hon. Members will know, by 3 per cent. next year and for each of the next two years.
I know that Cambridgeshire still has concerns about the fact that the funding formula is still not fully implemented. Of course, in an ideal world we would make all payments strictly in accordance with the needs-based formula, but that would leave some forces in dire financial straits. In the most extreme case, one force would lose 10 per cent. of its budget. Although hon. Members are keen to secure additional resources for their own forces, including Cambridgeshire, we would not want to be in a position where other parts of the country experienced dramatic cuts in policing provision. If that happened, we would be in a situation where other hon. Members would be arguing against changes that were having an adverse effect on their own forces. Indeed, I understand this argument very well, since Nottinghamshire, which is the force for my local area, suffers from exactly the same problem as Cambridgeshire with regard to the application of the funding formula.
I apologise for my late arrival, but I was in the Foreign Affairs Committee, which is producing an important report. Otherwise, I would have liked to have spoken in this debate.
The key issue is that the Government seem to be making some allowance for migrant workers and the growth in population by giving additional moneys to local authorities with problems associated with migration, and yet on the police side there is not the same recognition of the problem. As Cambridgeshire Members, we cannot understand why the same kind of approach cannot be made towards policing, so that additional money could be provided both for local authorities and for the policing of what are real problems on the ground.
The chief constable of Cambridgeshire pointed out in her letter that the Department for Communities and Local Government is making certain funds available for policing. Certainly, that is another issue that the migration impacts forum will need to examine. Again, I suggest that that is the type of point that needs to be made at the forum, which will consider how best to address it.
I would like to say something about the strength of Cambridgeshire’s performance. It is clear that the increased investment in Cambridgeshire has been put to good use. There are now more police officers in Cambridgeshire than there were in 1997. There are 288 more support staff who, of course, help to release uniformed staff for front-line duties, and there are also 180 community support officers. If one adds all those extra staff together, 500 more people are working in the police family in Cambridgeshire compared with 1997.
I know that hon. Members have made points similar to this, but it is important to recognise when we congratulate the police that overall recorded crime in Cambridgeshire fell by more than 18 per cent. from 2002-03 to 2006-07. Burglary was down by 31 per cent., and violent crime was down by 6 per cent. In the authority of the hon. Member for Peterborough, crime fell in the same period by 24 per cent., and crime was also down in other basic command units. Of course, there are challenges for police forces. However, in the same way that we have tried to put this debate into a wider context, it is also important to recognise the falls in crime in the past few years.
I would like to say a little more about migration. A number of chief constables, including the chief constable of Cambridgeshire, Julie Spence, have expressed concern. As was said at the beginning, they have generally been at pains to say that migrants have not caused a crime wave. Instead, they having been trying to make the point that when people whose first language is not English come into contact with the police, perhaps as victims—as the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington has said is sometimes the case—or as witnesses, there may be extra costs involved for services such as interpretation.
I want to make three more points. First, the Government recognise that there is an issue here, and Ministers have made that clear in our meetings with Cambridgeshire constabulary and other forces that have been affected. When I return to the Department, I will relay the points made in this debate to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing.
Secondly, population is a key factor in the police funding formula. In calculating the comprehensive spending review funding settlement for the police, we used the best available ONS data from September 2007. The data incorporate recent methodological improvements, principally an improved estimation of international migration nationally and of the distribution of migrant numbers to local areas.
Finally, as I have already said, the Government have set up the migration impacts forum and we hope that people everywhere will contribute to that forum.
In the short time that I have left—less than a minute—I want to say that this has been an important debate. Hon. Members have been very measured in the way in which they have made their points. I also reiterate my belief that such debates are important and worthwhile only if we try to learn from them. As I have said, I will take back to the Department the points that have been made by hon. Members today, particularly those made by the hon. Member for Peterborough. Hon. Members have raised what they feel is a real issue in Cambridgeshire, and they have represented their constituents’ concerns. I hope that some of my earlier points in response to specific questions about collaboration and other issues have helped hon. Members. I will write to the hon. Member for Peterborough in due course, once I have discussed those points with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing.
I indicated to the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) and to the Minister that there is likely to be a Division on the Floor of the House at 4.28 pm. I suspect that neither hon. Member will wish to return for two minutes, so they may wish to pace their remarks accordingly.
Thank you very much, Mr. Gale. I am sure that we can manage that between us. I am grateful for the opportunity to raise issues surrounding the heavy rainfall and flooding that occurred in Rochdale on 21 January and it is good to see my near neighbour, the Minister responsible for flood policy, responding to the debate.
Having just returned from Bangladesh, I appreciate that the problems in Rochdale and the UK pale into insignificance when compared with the flooding that occurs on a regular basis in Bangladesh. Nevertheless, the flooding in Rochdale in January, and the other floods that occurred during the summer of 2007, offer us valuable lessons, locally and nationally, that we need to learn. That was illustrated by Sir Michael Pitt, in his interim report, when he stated that
“flood risk is here to stay”.
I have had discussions with the Environment Agency, Rochdale council and some of the local people affected by the flooding, and all were positive and indicated that important lessons both locally and nationally can be learned from this and similar incidents. Flooding in Rochdale occurred in the following areas: first, at the bottom of Bury road and on the Mellor street junction, due to a non-main river culverted under the road. That drains into the River Spodden, but because of the volume it gushed up through a manhole cover. I was told by businesses at the bottom of Bury road that that area has flooded eight times this year. Clearly there is an urgent need to resolve that problem.
Secondly, in the Littleborough area, seven houses in the Whalley avenue and Calder avenue areas were flooded. The cause of that problem is well known. Houses built higher up on land that formerly had a mill lodge have caused a culvert to collapse. Up to 50,000 gallons a minute were gushing down the remaining sewer, which cannot cope with such volume and regularly floods. Again, I have had discussions with Rochdale council, which has proposed a solution, although in my view building additional pipes just moves the problem further down river. The company that built the original houses ought to be tackled for causing the additional flooding. The third instance of flooding occurred when the River Roch burst its banks around Keller street and Heybrook, flooding cellars and allotments. Several horses had to be rescued from the allotments by the fire service, but regrettably other livestock on the allotments were drowned.
There are clear implications for the location of future house building and for whether insurance will still be available for houses built on river flood plains. Indeed, there are plans to build more houses in the areas of Rochdale that I have just mentioned. The Association of British Insurers said that a third of the 3 million new homes that the Government plan to build will be on flood plains. If that remains the case, there is a real concern that flood insurance might not remain available, which would have severe implications for home owners.
In the town centre, the college car park was flooded, threatening an electricity sub-station, which could have lost electricity supply for a large part of the town. Staff in town centre offices and the town hall, and students at the college, were evacuated as a precaution. I have with me a photograph of the Lviv bridge, taken from the Rochdale Observer that shows how the River Roch came dangerously close to flooding the whole town centre. I am sure that the Minister is aware of a further incident of flooding in the Milnrow area.
That incident, and those from last summer, were considered by the Environment Agency’s report and the interim report by Sir Michael Pitt. They illustrate the following points that need to be looked at. The first is the lack of co-ordination between the Environment Agency, the council, the Highways Agency and United Utilities about who is doing what. For example, people ringing the council were given three different phone numbers for officers to deal with the flooding problems. Secondly, the Mellor street and Bury road junction has been flooding for years with both the council and United Utilities saying that it was not their responsibility. A recent letter from United Utilities to me stated:
“We are not responsible for this flooding, and may I suggest you contact Rochdale Council.”
I am not bothered who is responsible, but I wish to see a solution. That sort of attitude illustrates the lack of co-ordination and the fact that no one is ultimately responsible for ensuring that work is carried out.
Thirdly, there is the lack of a flood disaster plan detailing who does what. For example, shopkeepers in the town centre were questioning why they were not warned when the council decided to close its offices. Fourthly, flood levels forecasted for Rochdale and Littleborough were below the flood warning trigger level. If the Minister looks at the photograph that I have with me, he will see that Rochdale town centre would have been dangerously close to flooding, if the River Roch had breached its banks at that point. Clearly there is a need to review the trigger level and therefore the warnings given to people about the possibility of flooding.
The majority of flooding was the result of surface water flooding, for which no warning is in place despite drainage systems being overwhelmed. As a result of such incidents, I am pleased to say that the council has agreed that over the next 12 months every gully in the borough will be cleared. That is to be welcomed. However, there remains an urgent need to consider better co-ordination between United Utilities and the council, particularly on the capacity of the drainage system to cope with rainfall that, as a result of climate change, is becoming the norm.
Rochdale suffered a near miss. Unless we act now, we might not be so lucky again. What happened there was nearly as bad as what happened in Doncaster and Hull. If the town centre had flooded, the cost might not have been as great as in the latter places, but it could have run into many millions of pounds. We were very lucky. I do not want to see a repeat of the situation, which is why I believe that urgent action is necessary. The River Roch was inches from bursting its banks and flooding our town centre.
In light of that, I would like to ask the Minister to consider introducing the following so that we learn the lessons both locally and nationally: first, a new floods Act giving the Environment Agency strategic overview of all forms of flooding, including surface water flooding, and setting out clear responsibilities for emergency planning, clear long-term planning, warnings and so on to be taken by councils, highways authorities, water companies and house builders when going about their business. Secondly, will he consider requiring providers of critical services, including electricity and water, to consider steps that they should take to protect vital power and water supplies? We know what happened in Gloucestershire where a whole power station was nearly engulfed. Had the sub-station in the centre of Rochdale been inundated when the Roch broke its banks, that could have caused a similarly severe loss of power.
Thirdly, the Minister should consider requiring house builders and infrastructure providers to take action to reduce flood risk. Such measures could be included in the current Planning Bill and in the forthcoming climate change Bill. Houses built on flood plains must have adequate flood defences, and if they are not built into the plans, the Department should have the power to require the builder to do so. If we do not do so, as the ABI has warned, many people who have flood risk insurance will no longer have it. If the Government are to meet their house building target and more than 1 million homes are to be on the flood plain, we need to see action on that issue. We also need to ensure that infrastructure organisations provide adequate defences for rail and roads, so that they are not cut off, if and when flooding occurs.
Fourthly, there is a need to make more information available. The Environment Agency’s floodwatch text messages provide valuable warnings, and many people at risk know about them, but they are not known by everyone. For example, in Rochdale town centre, the council and the college decided to close, but there was no mechanism in place to warn others of possible danger, which shows that not only locally, but nationally, we must review our system for issuing flood warnings.
Fifthly, we need to continue with short and long-term investment to strengthen our flood defences. Over the past five years and earlier this year, the Environment Agency has spent a considerable amount of money strengthening the River Roch’s flood defences, which has helped in Littleborough, where flooding is nowhere near as great as it has been. However, in view of what happened in Rochdale town centre, we must examine the issue.
The issue is not unique to Rochdale. Its implications in an era of global climate change affect us all and have important implications for public policy. I strongly believe that we can develop the policies to resolve those problems, and that the good will exists on all sides to make it happen. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) on securing the debate. He has made a number of intelligent points, and I am glad to be able to report that I agree with the main thrust of his comments. I shall respond to his five points before I set out the Government’s policy.
The hon. Gentleman suggested a new floods Act, and that was a recommendation of the interim report from the Pitt review. Giving the Environment Agency strategic overview and responsibilities is something that we are doing anyway: we have already done so for coastal protection, and we are considering it for inland flooding. There are other measures that a new floods Act might introduce, but he would not expect me to make any revelations; indeed, it is not within my power to do so.
On requiring providers of critical infrastructure to examine the protection that they afford, again, that has been taken on board, and the experience in Rochdale highlights its importance, because there was a combination of river flooding and, as the hon. Gentleman said, surface water flooding, which is much more difficult to deal with, particularly as it occurs in areas where people are not used to flooding.
On requiring builders to take action on protection, planning policy statement 25, which has been in place for about a year, gives the Environment Agency the opportunity to make objections and to call in proposals if the planning authority does not meet the agency’s requirements satisfactorily. It is early days for that policy, and local authorities are still learning, but the hon. Gentleman is right that if one is going to build in a flood risk area, it must be protected by flood defence schemes and/or by resilience measures.
The hon. Gentleman is also right about information. We can always do more, and he cited a good example from his constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Jim Dobbin), who has just assumed his place, has always made that point. The hon. Member for Rochdale called for continuing investment, and I am happy to report that the comprehensive spending review provided the Department, and through it, the Environment Agency, with additional capital resources.
I shall turn to the important point that the hon. Gentleman raised. He was gracious enough to acknowledge—for which I thank him—that the flood defences that were put in place in his area by the Environment Agency in 2005 improved the situation, which would have been a great deal worse otherwise. Nevertheless, the river over-topped, and as he said, the flood warning mechanisms did not indicate the level of water that eventually came about. The Roch scheme overview followed two successive floods in 1992, which flooded more than 100 residential and industrial properties in Littleborough and Rochdale, and led to the construction of the flood alleviation scheme.
On risk, the chance of flooding in Rochdale and Littleborough before the scheme was estimated to be between 10 per cent., one in 10 years, and 40 per cent., one in 25 years, in any given year. The scheme included strengthening and raising existing walls, new flood walls and embankments, and ramps to improve access to the river channel to make maintenance easier and safer. The construction works cost some £6 million and were completed within four years. In that scheme, it was agreed that the level of protection would be raised to one in 100 years, which meant that Rochdale and Littleborough had a 1 per cent. chance of flooding in any given year. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the formal opening of the scheme was held in July 2005. His points are therefore important. Measures have been put in place, and flooding occurred on different parts of the river. That indicates the issue that our country and others face.
I shall outline the Government’s activities with the Environment Agency to improve the situation by reducing risk, by improving preparedness, warnings and emergency response. I point the House towards three documents. First, there is the cross-Government strategy, “Making Space for Water: Environment Agency strategic overview”, which was published in 2005. That strategy development programme was the most thorough review of flood risk management policy for many years. I say that, because the accusation is sometimes made that it took last summer’s floods to make the Government sit up and take notice. That is unfair. The hon. Gentleman did not make the accusation, but in case others did, I put that statement on the record.
The second document was Sir Michael Pitt’s review, and we published the third document on 7 February, just last week. The new water strategy, “Future Water”, included a range of announcements on surface water drainage management and other aspects of water policy. It confirms our aim to clarify and improve management of the risk nationally by giving the Environment Agency a strategic overview of all forms of flooding in order to address exactly the situation that Rochdale met in microcosm just three weeks ago, when the responsibilities of United Utilities, the local authority and the Environment Agency were not clear.
Earlier, the Minister quoted the figures on risk. Does he intend to ask the Environment Agency to reconsider the risk? There are lessons. On investment, he rightly said that there are still areas at risk of flooding. Can we have a review, and will it happen nationally?
Indeed. In the case of Rochdale, as I have said, the risk assessment following the new scheme meant that the risk was put up to one in 100—much less of a chance—yet we nevertheless had floods. We are considering the situation. Whether it was due to climate change is a moot point, but we face the likelihood of increasing rainfall as a result of climate change.
I shall make some more specific points in addition to my clarification of the management of the risk nationally by the Environment Agency. As with the coastal protection overview role, the inland changes will be informed by public consultation. They will also take into account the results of the 15 projects that we are currently funding to help to identify improvements in surface water drainage. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the capacity of drains, which is important. Surface water drainage has a complex interaction of systems, with different responsibilities in different boroughs or sometimes within boroughs, districts and counties. We made a range of announcements on that point in the water strategy document to which I referred.
The partnership between the Environment Agency, local authorities and the water companies, and inland drainage boards in other parts of the country, is crucial. It involves long-term planning as well as the risk management decisions to which the hon. Gentleman referred. We are also encouraging better resilience and resistance of buildings themselves, and he and I have mentioned the emergency infrastructure. We have a £500,000 project in partnership with local authorities in six areas, which is exploring the feasibility of providing financial assistance to households in areas where community defences cannot be justified, to make their homes more flood-resilient. We are also working with the insurance industry to consider ways to encourage the public to make greater use of flood resilience in their homes, and the level of premiums is important.
As for the recent event in Rochdale, we understand that last summer, about two thirds of the flooding was caused by surface water rather than over-topping or the breaching of river defences. We are therefore developing flood risk maps for surface water similar to those for fluvial overflow such as happened in Rochdale. Surface water flooding is difficult to predict and often a result of sudden, localised rainfall events of the type that the hon. Gentleman, my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton and I are used to in our part of the country. Such events occur across the United Kingdom.
Often, small variations in the built environment can have significant effects on how water flows. The hon. Member for Rochdale gave examples of buildings in Rochdale that are not themselves at risk of flooding but can cause flooding elsewhere in the drainage or river systems. In his area, the river travels mostly through built-up areas and has done for hundreds of years, which affects how surface water interacts with river water.
We know that we can never prevent all flooding. Flood warning and emergency planning are therefore key, and the Environment Agency is engaged in a £200 million programme to improve its flood forecasting and warning systems, which warn of potential flooding from rivers and the sea. We are looking into developing a warning system for surface water, although, as I have said, there are significant technical challenges.
I reassure the hon. Gentleman that the lessons learned from Rochdale will be important not just for Rochdale but for the rest of the country. It is important to understand why the system there was not as had been predicted. He said that all that requires funding. We have increased the funding significantly within the context of a long-term investment plan, so the whole country knows what it has at the moment, what it can expect and what the risk base is.
The important thing about public consultation is not just to have warm words from a middle-ranking Minister. It is important that we understand the drainage and river systems, and local people understand them best—in my experience, down to street level. The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to mention my constituency, and I declare an interest: Railway street, in the fabulous village of Newhey, was subjected to flooding. I know the reasons for that flooding from talking to residents there, who can point out to me exactly where it will occur. The Environment Agency does a fantastic job—the hon. Gentleman has made that point publicly. I thank its officials and employees for the work that they did in Rochdale, but even they, with their expertise, cannot replace that local knowledge. I give the hon. Gentleman that reassurance.
We will increase expenditure to £800 million by 2010-11. Is that enough? I do not know; nobody knows. It is more than the Association of British Insurers suggested before last summer’s events, which is important. I have mentioned the strengthening of policy for planning authorities, whereby the Environment Agency is now a statutory consultee on planning applications in relation to flood risk. Powers have been established under the new policy for call-in by the Government.
We all need to take responsibility. I echo the hon. Gentleman’s words about the flood warning systems and appeal to the public to play their part in the preparations. Those who have not already signed up for flood warning systems should do so, and not just in areas that have experienced river flooding, because as we have seen, other areas can suffer from surface water flooding and the interaction of that with other water. The agency provides useful information. I know that not everybody has access to the website, but increasingly people do, and it is a useful source of information. There is also the floodline phone service.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and take his points seriously. I confirm that in response to his points two, three, four and five, the answer is yes. On point one, we are already doing it but have not ruled out the need for new legislation. I assure him that I take the matter seriously. He gave the example of Rochdale, but flooding has happened in other places and will happen elsewhere. We have to put plans in place. He says that it is not clear where responsibility lies. At the end of the day, it lies here. That is why I give him those undertakings. Thank you, Mr. Gale, for chairing the debate.
Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.
Thank you, Mr. Gale, it is a pleasure to be here under your chairmanship.
I am pleased to have secured a short debate on an issue that has a devastating effect on the lives of people throughout the United Kingdom. I am sure that, like me, all Members of Parliament have been contacted by constituents because either they or a relative have been the victim of a scam of one sort or another, be it a mail scam, an internet scam, a door-to-door salesman scam or a get-rich-quick scheme that seems too good to be true. There is even an internet dating scan, which was exposed just last week on “Tonight with Trevor McDonald”. It is a sad reflection of life today that large numbers of fraudsters are constantly trying to trick people—often elderly and vulnerable people—out of money that they usually cannot afford to pay.
Few people will not have received a scam letter or e-mail. Most of us recognise those for what they are: clever ways of pretending that if people send a cheque for £20, for example, they will win £5,000, or if they phone a number they will hear that they have definitely won a prize. Of course, that phone number is for a premium line and by the time that people have learnt that they have not won the phone call has cost £10. I am sure that even you, Mr. Gale, have received such communications.
Most of us immediately bin such letters and e-mails, but some are sufficiently convinced that if they send the money or make the phone call they will receive money, but they never get anything back and even when the evidence of their own experience should be telling them that this is a scam, they continue to be taken in. We know that that is so, because if there were no return for the fraudsters they would stop. However, instead, they produce even more elaborate letters and become even more sophisticated.
I shall confine my remarks to mail scams and I shall explain why I asked for this debate today. Over the years, a number of constituents have come to me with sacks of mail all demanding money in return for a promise, a gift or a poor-quality item. My advice has always been to put any further letters of that kind in the bin and never to send any money. One lady asked if I could get her money back and I had to say no. One gentleman went to the police with the catalogues for cheap, sub-standard goods that he had bought, but they told him that there was nothing that they could do because the goods originated from outside the United Kingdom. I was not able to help that man get his money back, no matter what bad value the goods were.
My constituents knew that they had been taken for a ride, but they did not want to admit that they had been so gullible as to believe the promises. They just wanted the mail to stop. However, ironically, as long as the mail kept coming, they were constantly tempted to reply because they could not distinguish what might be real from what was part of the scam.
Towards the end of last year, a constituent of mine, Gordon Lennox, came to see me because he was concerned about what had happened to his father-in-law, who had died in the summer. Mr. Lennox and his wife only became fully aware that her father, Robert Somerville, had been the victim of multiple scams after he died. At that stage, his mail was redirected to their house and they got control of his bank accounts.
They had suspected that something was going on, because when he was in hospital he used to get very agitated about not being able to pick up his mail. He even went so far as to take taxis from hospital to his home to pick up his mail because no one else would bring it in. Even so, Mr. and Mrs. Lennox were flabbergasted when a deluge of mail arrived addressed to Mr. Somerville. I have one week’s worth of his mail in front of me. When they saw how much he had been paying out, they were even more amazed. In three weeks in May last year, he had sent £650 to fraudsters, trying to claim prizes that they said he had won. Mr. and Mrs. Lennox think that he must have spent between £6,000 and £7,000 during the last year of his life. That was all the money he had, because he was an 87-year-old pensioner who lived on the basic pension and only had attendance allowance as a supplement. He even incurred £240 of bank charges while in hospital because he was still sending money, but had not been able to get to the bank to pay money in.
Mr. Lennox says that his father-in-law was like a gambler and had become obsessed. But he was also of a generation that believed what was written in the letters it received. Why would he not believe that? The letters were addressed to him personally; they were emphatic in their promises; some of them looked like real invoices and real cheques; and sometimes they contained gifts that he felt obliged to pay for, especially when they appeared to have come from a charity. He was also of a generation that believed that it was only polite to reply to mail. However, he did not realise that the more money he sent, the more scam letters he received. By this time, he was on the suckers list, so his name and address were a saleable commodity.
Much of the mail that Mr. Lennox’s father-in-law received was in envelopes with a Royal Mail stamp, even though many of the return addresses were abroad. When he came to me, Mr. Lennox told me that he felt that there was a moral obligation on Royal Mail and that by accepting such bulk postings it was profiting from illegal activity. In his view, that should be illegal, too. He also felt that, as a public company, Royal Mail had a responsibility not to aid and abet people who were making money by deception.
In November 2007, I wrote to Royal Mail expressing Mr. Lennox’s view that it had a responsibility not to take money from people who were clearly fraudsters. The reply that I received said that there was little that Royal Mail could do:
“We are prevented by the Postal Services Act 2000 from opening or interfering with post. The Act requires that Royal Mail as the Universal Service Provider delivers the mail to the intended recipient as set out on the address/letter.
We are also governed by our licence to ensure (Condition 8 - integrity of the mail) that we take steps to ensure that the mail is not interfered with between the sender and the intended recipient. It therefore is not possible for Royal Mail to intervene in mail as the carrier.
This issue is also covered under the Act where statute 83 states that, ‘A person who is engaged in the business of a postal operator commits an offence if, contrary to his duty and without reasonable excuse he intentionally delays or opens a postal packet in the course of its transmission by post or intentionally opens a mail bag’.
The letter continues:
“there are prohibitions within the Act”—
such as on sending creatures, something that “is likely to injure” someone else, or “indecent photographs”. So there was no joy from Royal Mail; it appeared that it was not going to accept any responsibility for what was in the envelopes that it took money for delivering. The only part of the reply that gave any hope was a paragraph that stated:
“Royal Mail will cancel the contract of a company if it is proved that its mailings are fraudulent or misleading.”
Who is the judge of whether the contents of the letters were fraudulent or misleading? It is the Office of Fair Trading.
I received that reply in November, and I had intended to apply for an Adjournment debate in December or January, but had not got round to it, so I was delighted when I came across a press release from the Office of Fair Trading saying that it had designated February as scams awareness month. That was music to my ears, because it meant that someone was taking the issue seriously, and I was pleased to hear about that initiative, which is called “stamp out scams”.
The OFT has produced a new booklet for carers and care professionals on how to recognise scams, and how to deal with them.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate. Does she agree that it is not only the Office of Fair Trading, but local communities, local Members of Parliament and local elected representatives who must raise awareness of the issue? The only way of stamping it out is to ensure that people do not respond, so that there is no profit to be made.
I could not agree more, and I was going to suggest that the OFT should communicate directly with Members of Parliament to say that it has a locus in the issue and is interested in receiving complaints. I was not aware that that avenue was open to me. I was aware of the local trading standards office, but I was not aware that the OFT would treat the matter as seriously as it does. I have since discovered that the OFT has a scam buster unit, and is interested in the problem. I hope that the Minister will tell us how the OFT wants to take the issue forward.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising the matter, and for informing us that February is stamp out scams month.
Before Christmas, I pointed out to the Office of Fair Trading what I would call a scam on our high streets with games and consoles being bundled together. I hoped that in the run-up to Christmas, people would be able to buy what they wanted to without games being unnecessarily bundled in to hike up the price and put families into debt. Unfortunately, I did not see much action as a result of my correspondence with the OFT, but I hope that during this month it will try to stamp out that scam also.
I am sure that the Office of Fair Trading will read this debate with interest. The hon. Gentleman has made his point.
As part of my preparation for this debate, I spoke to Del Henderson, a trading standards officer in the Aberdeen office. She confirmed that the OFT had involved all the local trading standards officers throughout the country to ensure that they were involved in the stamp out scams campaign. She also told me about Consumer Direct’s information line for consumers. I was not aware of it, which may show a remarkable lack of knowledge on my part, but it is a fairly new organisation. In the past week, it has updated its website so that it is now much easier to report scams, and she said that the website is easy to use.
It is important that people know how to report scams, and to believe that if they pass on letters or e-mails and so on they will be taken seriously, and that something will be done. Most people, including me, put such letters in the bin, and would not think of passing them on to anyone in authority, whether trading standards or the OFT. Until this month, I did not realise that the OFT was taking such an active role. It is important that the Office of Fair Trading is proactive, tracks down the source of scams, and takes action to close them down or to prosecute the perpetrators. The difficulty is that the perpetrators often live not in the UK, but abroad.
It is difficult for a member of the public to know what is illegal. Letters are often constructed in such a way that it is difficult to define them as fraudulent. We need clearer guidelines on what constitutes fraud. There are so many examples in circulation that it must be possible to define the most common practices as a criminal offence. I realise that by the time the fraud is tracked down, the fraudsters have moved on, thought up a new scam, moved abroad, or closed it down. I know that only too well, because I have been involved in changing the law on a pyramid gifting scheme—women empowering women. It is amazing how inventive such fraudsters can be. It can also be difficult to track down fraudsters, because many scams originate outside the UK, particularly in Canada and Holland, but also in Switzerland and elsewhere.
I am not in a position to judge whether the OFT has sufficient powers in this area. I know that it has a scam buster unit, and I hope that it is advising the Government on what action needs to be taken to close down some of the worst perpetrators. I hope that it is clear whether more consumer protection regulations are needed, and if so, that the Government are aware of that, because I am sure that all hon. Members would support such legislation. More people would be more willing to pass on examples of mail if they thought that something would happen as a result and that their complaint would not just be ignored.
I would like to know whether the OFT is working with Royal Mail to identify the companies that are sending out fraudulent and misleading letters, so that the Royal Mail will end their contracts. The letter that I received said that Royal Mail will do that if there is proof, but I suspect that only the OFT is in a position to prove whether mail is fraudulent. Has that ever happened?
When someone believes that they have been the victim of a crime, the first organisation to which they turn is the police, but if my constituent’s experience is anything to go by, the policeman or woman on the front desk will be dismissive and say that the police can do nothing. Police forces should be aware that local trading standards offices or the OFT treat scam mail seriously, and an individual seeking help from the police should be directed to one of those organisations.
It is impossible to legislate to save people from their own gullibility, but some scams are so professional and so convincing that it is difficult to tell whether they are bogus. Even people who would not call themselves gullible cannot always tell. Is a charity called Feed My Children, which sends my mother gifts for which she has sent it money, legitimate? It has a website, but is that part of the charade? Mr. Lennox’s father-in-law also received letters from that charity.
It is easy to tell people that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. It is also easy not to be sympathetic to someone who has been taken in because of greed and because they thought that they would get something for nothing. However, it is worth remembering that a sizeable number of the people who are taken in by such scams and lose money that they cannot afford to lose are of a generation for which it is merely polite to answer mail.
I hope that the OFT will, in the words of its campaign, stamp out these scams, and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.
It is a pleasure to be serving as a speaking Whip under your tutelage, Mr. Gale.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) on securing this debate on an issue that is serious and distressing for both the victims and their families, and I share her concern. Sadly, it is often the case that the most vulnerable members of society are targeted by these conmen and criminals, and that makes the matter even more distressing.
The Government are committed to improving Britain's consumer regime, protecting and empowering consumers as well as being fair to business, which is a delicate balance. We recognise that our consumer regime needs to be more effective at stopping rogues and criminals and those who deliberately set out to defraud consumers, especially the elderly and vulnerable. My hon. Friend highlighted several cases, particularly that of Mr. Lennox’s father-in-law.
Tackling the menace of mass-marketed scams is a priority area for the Office of Fair Trading. Its research found that the UK public lose a massive £3.5 billion to scams every year, which equates to £70 for every man and woman in the UK. It is interesting, but not surprising that older victims of scams lose twice as much as other groups, the average being more than £1,200.
While an estimated 3 million people a year lose money to scams, the greatest impact is often felt by those least able to see through it or to deal with its consequences. Elderly victims, who are often socially isolated, over-trusting or suffering from illnesses such as dementia, can be repeatedly targeted by scammers. Many lose their life savings and suffer ill health as a result.
That is why the OFT takes the issue very seriously. In 2005, in response to a significant problem, the OFT set up a dedicated scambusters team to develop a long-term national strategy to combat mass-marketed scams. The strategy is built on three pillars: targeted enforcement action; hard-hitting consumer education; and the destruction of the scammers’ routes to market.
Taking effective enforcement action is central to the strategy. The OFT has taken the lead in targeting mass-marketed scams that originate in the UK. Using its powers under the Enterprise Act 2002, the scambusters team has had a number of notable enforcement successes. It has secured High Court orders against a variety of scams, including a £17 million pyramid selling scheme, misleading prize draw mailings that were sent to hundreds of thousands of people to con them into calling premium phone numbers and, most recently, a bogus racing tipster who netted more than £200,000 from innocent victims.
The OFT also works closely with regional trading standards scambuster teams funded by the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. Those teams work closely with other enforcers, including the police, to tackle the range of scams that blight our communities. I am pleased that the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform was able to announce recently the extension of the trading standards scambuster teams. That will give trading standards an opportunity to bid for a share of a further £7.5 million extra over the next three years to tackle the toughest scams. That will help to build on the success of the past two years.
The statistics alone are impressive: £16 million-worth of fraud has been uncovered, £2 million-worth of criminal assets have been seized, and £3 million-worth of savings have been made for consumers. The OFT has been successful with the existing civil powers. However, while it has been successful, there are often outright crooks behind the scams. Therefore, I am delighted that we will be strengthening the powers of both the OFT and trading standards services later this year with the implementation of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2007. Those new rules will ban all types of unfair selling and marketing methods and, crucially, they will be enforceable through both the criminal and civil courts. That will ensure that appropriate action is taken against the prolific scammers and serve as a deterrent to others. In addition, the companies investigations branch of BERR regularly uses its powers under the Companies Act to investigate scams on consumers operated by limited companies, which has led to several such companies being wound up by the court and, in some cases, their directors being disqualified.
Unfortunately, as my hon. Friend rightly pointed out, scammers do not respect national boundaries. They often use borders to try to frustrate law enforcement. However, the OFT has taken the lead in tackling misleading prize draw mailings originating from within the European Union. It was the first public authority to successfully bring a cross-border court action under the injunctions directive 2004. Yet again, EU legislation has a positive impact on UK consumers. It acted to stop a Belgian mail order company from sending out millions of deceptive prize draw mailings to UK consumers. The OFT has also initiated court action in the Netherlands against a Dutch company for similarly misleading practices.
As my hon. Friend mentioned, the OFT has no jurisdiction to enforce consumer law outside Europe. However, it has been successful in building important links with international counterparts in more than 30 countries to detect and to act against the perpetrators of scams. For example, the OFT has formal enforcement co-operation agreements with partners in the United States, Canada and Australia, and is a member of two Canadian partnerships, based in Vancouver and Toronto, targeting the fraudsters behind many international sweepstake scams.
The OFT has also instigated an innovative policy of warning traders outside its jurisdiction that they should stop disseminating deceptive mailings to UK consumers. Indeed, that has led to a number of publicised successes in relation to misleading weight loss and prize draw mailings.
The OFT seeks to take strong enforcement action against scams wherever possible, but enforcement alone will not eliminate the harm that is caused. Great emphasis is therefore placed on educating and empowering consumers and equipping them with the skills that they need to recognise and to avoid scams. Key to success has been the effective targeting of the 6 per cent. of the UK adult population who fall victim to scams every year, and especially the hard-to-reach, vulnerable groups.
In addition, the OFT is developing resources aimed at delivering consumer education alongside basic skills learning in further education. Those resources aimed at further education tutors are adapted to suit a variety of needs in the UK. They will help develop adults’ consumer skills, knowledge and confidence while also improving their literacy and numeracy skills.
BERR also established Consumer Direct, which is now managed by the OFT, as the first port of call for consumers who have been wronged by traders. The helpline received more than 1.5 million calls last year alone. In addition, it has worked with local authorities across the country as part of its “scamnesty” campaign. In Dundee, Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands, local authorities are placing bins in local libraries and other public places to encourage the public to report scams. That is providing crucial intelligence to the OFT to target new and emerging scams and to raise awareness with the public in general. That may be something that other hon. Members who participated might want to look at in their particular areas.
The OFT has focused on helping so-called “chronic” scam victims. Those are elderly people who are repeatedly taken in by scams. Victims may be too ashamed to admit that they have been scammed to family or friends—as confirmed by my hon. Friend—or simply refuse to accept they have been taken in, rationalising their failure to receive what was promised as bad luck. As a result, they do not tell anyone and often continue to send off money.
Working with partners such as local authority trading standards services, social services, Age Concern and Help the Aged, the OFT has undertaken a range of initiatives to raise awareness of the plight of elderly scam victims and to empower local support networks to protect them. As my hon. Friend has highlighted, the launch of the OFT’s scams awareness month campaign this month focused on that particular issue. As part of its campaign, the OFT has run targeted radio adverts and launched a free booklet for carers and care professionals. The OFT material provides useful tips on how a repeat victim can stop being scammed.
Beyond that awareness raising, the OFT is delivering, in partnership with local trading standards services, advice to vulnerable elderly victims on a more personal, individualised basis. That often arises where the OFT becomes aware of potentially vulnerable victims through the interception of responses to scam mail. Family and friends are vital in that process. Obviously, if they fear that relatives or friends are being abused, they should report that either to local trading standards services or to the OFT direct.
A final plank of the OFT’s strategy has been to disrupt key choke points in the scam supply chain. Often, the services of legitimate businesses, such as postal operators, mailbox providers and money transfer agents, are abused to facilitate scams. My hon. Friend may be interested to know that the OFT is working with Royal Mail to finalise a protocol for facilitating requests for the suspension or termination of bulk-mail contracts that are being misused to distribute scam mailings to UK consumers. Obviously, Royal Mail has a duty to deliver the mail. As part of the OFT’s protocol with Royal Mail, Royal Mail has changed its standard terms and conditions to make it easier to terminate contracts where there is abuse. The OFT will continue to work with Royal Mail in that area.
I am also advised that the Advertising Standards Authority is working with Royal Mail to try to reduce the amount of abuse that potentially goes through the Royal Mail system. I hope that that slightly reassures my hon. Friend. The OFT has developed an information-sharing protocol with Mail Boxes Etc., the largest private supplier of mailboxes, to facilitate the rapid exchange of intelligence about customers who abuse mailboxes to facilitate scams.
The Government and the OFT are committed to tackling mass-marketed scams at local, national and international levels. I have heard what hon. Members have said about their lack of knowledge of what the OFT is capable of doing. I will take those comments back to the Department and see whether we can ensure that hon. Members are better informed—more directly, perhaps, by the OFT itself. Although much has been achieved, clearly too many people are affected by scams, so the OFT plans aggressively to use its new powers and criminal sanctions to detect, prosecute and deter scammers. Importantly, it also intends further to increase its engagement with overseas enforcement agencies to combat effectively what is a global phenomenon. It will continue to educate and empower consumers to recognise and resist scams.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at twenty minutes past Five o’clock.