PCSOs are an invaluable addition to policing. They engage with their local community, provide high-visibility reassurance, and deal with low-level crime and antisocial behaviour. They are complementary and supplementary to the police, and communities up and down the country are benefiting from their presence and their work.
In my constituency, PCSOs have helped to decrease theft from cars by patrolling hot spots. They take 75 per cent. of all antisocial behaviour order cases to the local panel and their visible presence on the streets is much welcomed by the public. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the funding for PCSOs will continue beyond 2008 and become part of the general policing grant, so that my constituents can continue to benefit from successful neighbourhood policing in my area?
I know that my hon. Friend does a lot of work with local police in her area and that her police division does exceptional work, including the PCSOs. They are to be commended on that. I can assure her that over the next comprehensive spending review period—and, I suspect, beyond, although I should not say that—we have committed to the funding and that work will continue. There is a debate, which ultimately we need to address, about whether the neighbourhood policing fund should be subsumed into the police grant and un-ring-fenced, but for now she can have the assurance that over the next three years that money is assured.
May I congratulate the Minister on the initiative behind community support officers? It has been one of the better initiatives of this Government, and I welcome all those PCSOs in my constituency. However, as my constituency is in Surrey, he will be more than aware of the Government’s gross underfunding, under the formulae, of Surrey police. This has become a crisis situation. He has proposed capping the police element of the county council’s council tax, yet has made no offer to substitute for the shortfall that would then emerge for Surrey police. The year-on-year underfunding of the Surrey force is causing great concern for the residents of that county.
I am more than aware of the circumstances of Surrey’s police and their resource base, although I do not think that I would characterise that in quite the terms that the hon. Gentleman used. He will know that following my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government announcing the capping criteria, all police authorities involved have some 21 days to put their case together. My hon. Friend and I will be meeting them.
I am sure that Surrey will put its case, and do so quite robustly, and I am happy to offer the hon. Gentleman and other Surrey MPs a separate meeting to look at that matter, as I have authorities on the list of six or seven police authorities that are at least in the frame to be capped, although that will not necessarily happen. Those decisions will be determined at a later date.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Durham police on the roll-out of neighbourhood policing? Police community support officers have played a key part in the rolling out of that initiative. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although the Opposition voted against the introduction of PCSOs, they have become a vital part of the delivery of neighbourhood policing in rural communities such as Durham?
I agree wholeheartedly. I happened to be up in Durham looking at neighbourhood policing a couple of Fridays ago, and—this brings me back to the point made by the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt)—I saw that both urban and rural communities were benefiting from it.
Like anyone else, I take great joy from the repentance of sinners. If the Opposition now endorse PCSOs and all that they are doing to help our warranted police officers up and down the country, I shall be a very happy man.