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West Yorkshire Police (Funding)

Volume 503: debated on Wednesday 6 January 2010

It is a pleasure, Mr. Cummings, to serve under your watchful eye.

Hon. Members are often accused of special pleading in such debates, but I believe that what I am about to say does not amount to special pleading. All that I ask my hon. Friend the Minister and his Home Office colleagues to do is to fund West Yorkshire to the extent suggested by their funding formula. Progress made with local policing in West Yorkshire, particularly in my constituency, has been phenomenal during my time as an MP, which goes back to 1997.

At one time—my right hon. Friend the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (John Battle) will echo this—our contact with constituents was much more to do with the unsatisfactory responses and attitude of our local police force than with the crimes being suffered by the community. Today, although challenges remain and criticisms continue, they are few and far between compared with those of the earlier period. The no-can-do mentality that characterised the previous era has been almost totally reversed.

It is a tribute to Colin Cramphorn, the late chief constable of West Yorkshire, and his extremely able successor, Sir Norman Bettison, that the development of neighbourhood policing has been driven forward so effectively. They worked in concert with the police authority, under the chairmanship of Mark Burns-Williamson. It is always difficult when naming names because one invariably misses some, but many individuals have helped to translate neighbourhood policing into a reality. They include people such as Chief Superintendent Ian Whitehouse, the divisional commander, and his two predecessors, Howard Crowther and Ian Levitt. I also single out some of the neighbourhood police team inspectors—Tom Horner, Simon Hepworth, Richard Coldwell and Richard Cawkwell—and their immediate superiors, Chief Inspectors Paul Money and Elizabeth Belton. I am sure that I have missed some names, but I have mentioned the most recent incumbents and those with whom I work.

Substantial real-terms increases in Government funding for the police have played a huge part in West Yorkshire’s success, and we have seen tremendous improvements in my constituency. Over the past seven years or so, acquisitive crime has fallen by something like 35 per cent. That includes burglary and robbery, and crimes such as the theft of motor vehicles for which the figures are even more impressive. Although that kind of improvement cannot go on for ever, we must provide the resources that the West Yorkshire police need to keep a lid on crime, in which they have so far been most successful. However, resources on their own are not enough. They have to be used effectively, and change has to be transmitted from the top down to the local level, with every police officer playing his or her role in the constant fight against crime, to meet the expectations of the local community.

My hon. Friend the Minister will be aware that the Audit Commission recently praised West Yorkshire police for their ability to provide a policing service that offers good value for money to the local people. It will not come as a surprise, therefore, that I want to concentrate on the police funding formula. The Government have already given a clear indication that the settlement for 2010-11 will remain unchanged. Although it is obviously to be welcomed that West Yorkshire will receive an increase of 3.3 per cent., the force is still almost £18 million short of what it would have received if it had been fully funded under the raw funding formula.

The Government’s revamping of the police funding formula recognises the chronic underfunding to which areas such as West Yorkshire had been subjected under Tory Governments. As I said, there is no denying that extra funding for West Yorkshire has allowed the number of police officers to rise to record levels. I have already mentioned the beneficial effects of that in my constituency and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West. However, that clearly does not change the fact that West Yorkshire is still about £18 million adrift of what it should have received under the Government’s own assessment of its needs.

I appreciate that one reason for the Government’s decision is that they need to mitigate the impact on those authorities that receive more than is suggested under the funding formula. Unfortunately, the dampening of their pain also dampens West Yorkshire police’s ability to continue meeting the challenges—and meeting the expectations not only of the local communities but of the Home Department. Those expectations are quite legitimate.

Other factors constrain West Yorkshire and prevent it from escaping that financial impasse. For instance, there are obviously wide variations in council tax between the different police authority areas. West Yorkshire’s precept is now the third lowest in the country. If my hon. Friend and his ministerial colleagues are not already doing so, I urge them to apply pressure to get some flexibility in the capping process.

The capping system currently focuses more on increases in precept and in overall council taxation than on the individual budget increases and precepts of authorities such as West Yorkshire. That is particularly important in West Yorkshire, because it has such a low gearing. I understand that an increase of 5 per cent. in the West Yorkshire precept increases the overall council tax in places such as Leeds by only 0.5 per cent.

Another concern in West Yorkshire is the potential vulnerability of specific grant funding, which is exacerbated by the overall failure to deliver resources through the funding formula. The loss of specific grant, or funding from external partners such as local authorities for police community support officers, would obviously have a tremendous impact on the force’s capacity to continue imposing downward pressure on crime and meeting community expectations.

I understand that a few posts remain at risk and that no commitment has been given to continue funding. They include 60 detention officer posts paid for by the Home Office and three senior police officer posts funded by the Ministry of Justice. I hope that my hon. Friend can give me some assurance, if not today then perhaps in writing, that that funding is safe.

There are also problems on the capital funding front. They reflect the difficult economic circumstances and the state of public finances. I understand that an announcement is due to be made later this month about capital funding. The provisional figures are £3 million for supported capital expenditure and £5.6 million of capital grant, but the fear is that will not be confirmed. The difficulty is that those figures have been injected into the planning process. Any shortfall will result in the revenue budget being raised to pay for the revenue consequences of meeting capital expenditure, yet a lot of that capital expenditure is much needed, and it will create savings over time. I would be grateful to my hon. Friend if he commented on that factor.

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way—and thank you, Mr. Cummings, for allowing me to intervene. My hon. Friend has rightly been praising the work of the police force in our neighbourhood, but he, too, deserves some credit for his consistent and indefatigable campaigning for public services, particularly the police, transport and fire services.

Will my hon. Friend join me in suggesting that the pioneering restorative justice project in Leeds, which operates out of the Belle Vue police centre and has great leadership, is proving to be a brilliantly successful scheme that could be pushed out across the country? We do not want to see its revenue funding undercut.

I thank my right hon. Friend and neighbour for his comments. I agree wholeheartedly with what he said and thank him for his accolade. I have been accused by some people of having been “bobbied”, which is a reference to those who at one time were hostile to the police and who have now been taken very gently under their wings. If that was put to any of the officers whom I mentioned earlier, they would smile because they know what a robust relationship we have. I have always believed in credit being given where credit is due.

The crux of the problem is that West Yorkshire is not receiving the funding it should under the funding formula, that various aspects of its funding are under some specific threat and that many of the priority developments that it is taking to respond to Government initiatives and the demands of the local community increasingly have to be funded from savings. Although the authority is efficient and has proved its ability to make savings, that is not in the long term a sustainable way of meeting the funding challenges, especially on the revenue front.

The authority was conscious of the difficult economic climate when it settled its budget for 2009-10, and agreed a 2.99 per cent. increase in the police precept, which allowed for an increase in spending of 3.38 per cent. overall. However, two thirds of that is already locked in by the pay award that was negotiated over a three-year period. Savings have been identified from the base budget to divert into priority areas, such as the automatic number plate recognition team, the road death investigation team and additional resources for Every Child Matters and force intelligence. The result was as we would want it—the force strength remained virtually unchanged. Some of that was achieved by leaving vacancies open for much longer than is operationally desirable, which I regard as the cracks starting to appear in the revenue budget.

The preliminary estimate for the budget that is required in the next financial year is an increase of 4.3 per cent. Again, more than half of that is locked in by pay awards that have already been agreed. The increase is also required to meet the full-year consequences of some of the developments to which I referred a minute or so ago. It is also needed for further developments, such as the replacement of body armour, making up for the loss of interest on investments resulting from reductions in interest rates and the revenue implications of capital expenditure.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

As I was saying in this soap opera before I was so rudely interrupted, the Government have already announced that they expect council tax increases to be below 3 per cent. for 2010-11. The West Yorkshire force must therefore make savings of £10 million to cope with those expected increases and the challenge provided by all the other measures that I have referred to.

The Chancellor’s pre-Budget report on 9 November 2009 announced that sufficient funding will be made available in the years up to 2012-13 to enable police authorities to maintain the current number of warranted police officers, police community support officers and other staff who exercise police powers. However, no further details were given at that stage, and I would like my hon. Friend the Minister, either today or in due course, to indicate that some clearer guidance will be given to authorities, such as West Yorkshire, to enable them to plan to meet the challenge ahead.

Initial forecasts of the anticipated budget shortfalls in 2011-12 and 2012-13 in West Yorkshire, assuming a 1 per cent. pay award, which I suspect will itself be a vexed question, are £16 million and £26 million respectively. Those forecasts also assume the continuation of the specific funding to which I referred earlier. Again, we need far more detail about the funding mechanisms and how those sorts of targets will be reached than we received in the Chancellor’s statement, so that effective planning can take place.

I want to end my contribution by referring to two revenue-funding avenues that would help to mitigate the major problems that the West Yorkshire force faces—problems that I have outlined—because the Government cannot find overnight the resources required to make up the gap between what West Yorkshire currently receives and what it should receive under the funding formula. One of those avenues is to introduce a statutory power for police authorities and police forces to charge for the full cost of policing commercial events, such as sporting events and music festivals. I cannot see any justification for council tax payers to subsidise profit-making organisations in the way that they do currently.

The other avenue relates to revenue raised by the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, or POCA. The West Yorkshire force has made significant advances in raising money from POCA. Each division within the force now has a specialist team dealing with POCA and the economic crime unit within the force is also undergoing structural and process changes.

Receipts from POCA obviously fluctuate enormously as a result of delays in bringing cases to court and delays in the judicial process itself, and also because of the fact that during the economic downturn assets that are seized, such as houses, have lost a lot of their value. To its credit, the West Yorkshire force has been running a campaign called, “Why should they?”, which is an attempt to raise awareness of the use of POCA both internally within the force and among the general public, as a way of encouraging people to report crime or people who are believed to be criminals through Crimestoppers. That campaign has had a great deal of success.

The notion of recovering moneys from criminals through POCA is obviously very popular. I understand that a recent Ipsos MORI survey found that, despite relatively little knowledge about the mechanics of POCA among the people surveyed, there was a lot of support for the idea of criminals’ assets being seized. In fact, asset seizure was the third most popular option selected, with 86 per cent. of people who responded saying that it was a good idea. It came third only behind the usual demands for a greater police presence on the streets and longer sentences for criminals.

However, I must make a point about the incentivisation fund through which POCA operates. It is quite right that those agencies that are at the coal face, such as the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and Her Majesty’s Courts Service, and working to make POCA operate effectively, should receive the proceeds from POCA. But it is far from clear to me—perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister can enlighten me—why 50 per cent. of the proceeds of POCA should be retained by the Treasury, and it is also unclear exactly who or what that division of the money is supposed to incentivise. There is an overwhelming case, in terms of fairness and providing an incentive, for at least some and ideally all of the money that is retained by the Treasury to be disbursed to the three agencies involved in POCA. Obviously, such a change would benefit all police authorities, including West Yorkshire.

That is really the end of my journey through the trials and tribulations of West Yorkshire police funding and how the particular constraints that I referred to will undermine the West Yorkshire force’s continuing attempts to address the challenges that are put before it, not only by the Government but by people such as myself and local communities.

The West Yorkshire force has made huge progress. It obviously uses its resources extremely well and it deserves a fairer allocation of money through the funding formula. However, if that is not possible—we all know the reasons why that is not instantly possible—then at least the force should be able to enjoy more sympathetic treatment in relation to some of the other problems that I have referred to. I am looking forward to hearing my hon. Friend the Minister’s response to those points.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Cummings.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) on securing the debate and the way in which his contribution recognised, in a very balanced way, both the progress that has been made in recent years by police forces, including the West Yorkshire force, and the challenges that those forces still face. I welcome the opportunity to discuss the issues that he raised.

As my hon. Friend would expect, I want to refer to some of the more general issues before dealing specifically with the points that he raised. West Yorkshire police received a 37 per cent. increase in real terms in total Government grants between 1997-98 and 2009-10, which means an actual increase of £194 million. In addition, the provisional police settlement for 2010-11 allocates £250.5 million in general grants to West Yorkshire, which is an increase of 3.3 per cent., or £11.3 million over and above the previous year. That is well above the minimum 2.5 per cent. increase guaranteed to all forces, and I will return in a moment to the point about the damping mechanism in the funding formula. Alongside the general grant, the West Yorkshire force will receive a range of other Government funding totalling £30.8 million in 2010-11. In addition, it will receive a capital allocation, to which I shall also return shortly.

In 2009-10, West Yorkshire police, along with other forces in the region, will benefit from an additional £564,000 in specific grants relating to collaborative delivery of protective services. The facts show that there have been continuous increases in funding, and we are protecting the increases in 2010-11, despite the present challenging economic and financial conditions.

With the growth in funding, there has also been growth in police officer numbers. The number of police officers in the West Yorkshire force has increased by 578 since 1997, which is an 11 per cent. increase. That has resulted not only in a force that has nearly 5,800 officers, but in a ratio of officers to members of the population in the area that is above the average for England and Wales.

Alongside the increase in officer numbers, police staff numbers have also been rising since 1997. That increase has given chief constables more flexibility to support officers on the front line and to ensure that they spend their time protecting their community where they can and making a difference. West Yorkshire has deployed police community support officers since 2002-03 and received more than £50 million towards their salary costs. Neighbourhood policing is key to delivering a responsive police service that deals with crime and antisocial behaviour, which affects areas up and down the country, including my hon. Friend’s constituency.

The evidence suggests that West Yorkshire police has used its additional resources well. Between 2002-03 and 2008-09, total crime in West Yorkshire declined by an impressive 32.7 per cent. That is a positive reflection of the good work done by the force and the resources provided to support it. It is essential that greater numbers of officers and staff at the front line link directly to increased capacity and productivity in delivering for the public. West Yorkshire, like all other forces, must keep up the good work

I will discuss national funding and then come to my hon. Friend’s point about the funding formula. The funding increase for West Yorkshire sits against a background of year-on-year grant increases—60 per cent. to date—for all police forces since 1997-98. That is an increase in real terms of almost 20 per cent. in the grants that police have to spend.

The provisional police funding settlement of November last year honoured our commitment to increase the revenue settlement by a further £259 million in 2010-11, notwithstanding the challenging economic times. We have also honoured our commitment to fund counter-terrorism. Our commitment to providing such levels of funding reinforces the fact that policing and reducing crime are a top priority, but I accept that police forces will always be concerned about whether they are getting a fair and adequate share of funding.

My hon. Friend referred to funded posts. If he will allow me, I will ask the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism to write to him with a full answer about funding the post to which he referred. On the wider issue of guidance, it might be necessary to allow and help police authorities to meet funding challenges, which will continue despite the revenue funding committed in the pre-Budget report.

On funding for such things as football and music events, opportunities have arisen in recent years to raise funding through such channels, but a consultation on the funding formula is planned for this summer. That will be a good opportunity for police authorities to come up with innovative ideas for additional funding sources.

On asset recovery, we are considering incentivising the distribution of assets recovered. I congratulate West Yorkshire on playing a proactive role and making the matter a priority. The public want to ensure that criminals do not get away with it, but there is also a view, to which I subscribe, that many criminals fear losing their assets almost as much as being sent to prison, if not more. That affects their status within the criminal world and the society in which they live. We want to ensure, as the public want us to do, that they do not get away with it.

My hon. Friend raised the issue of the 50 per cent. share for the Treasury. That is actually a mechanism by which 50 per cent. comes to the Home Office and goes into its budget. The Home Office relies on that to fund policing, for example. I assure him that it is not squirreled away or used for other purposes. I am aware of concerns that the incentivisation in place is not necessarily appropriate. We are reviewing it, and I hope that police forces will be able to benefit more from the good work that they do.

On that point, I think that most people, irrespective of whether they live in West Yorkshire, believe that if the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Court Service have recovered assets in an area, the money should go back into the area, both to fund the capacity to raise even more, and to reward the people there for their efforts.

Yes, of course, but in many ways that is what happens. In many cases, the money that comes into the Home Office as part of that 50 per cent. goes to finance officers in the first place, and the officers then collect assets. We want them to collect more. Particularly in a recession, even if cars and houses are seized, income can fall, if we are not careful, and we want to ensure that that scheme is properly incentivised.

There is also a community cash back scheme, which we ran successfully this year with £4 million taken from assets recovered. We allowed local communities to bid for the money so that something physical could be seen in their areas as a result of recovering assets. I assure my hon. Friend that we take his points seriously and I will certainly reflect on his remarks.

On the funding formula, I assure my hon. Friend that I did not take what he said as special pleading. I took it as him standing up for his constituents, for which I applaud him, even though I cannot necessarily agree with what he asked us to do. The formula has been in development for many years and is under constant review. It will go out for consultation in the summer of 2010, and I hope that he and his police authority will make the points that he made on behalf of his area and that changes can be made, if necessary.

My hon. Friend also raised the issue of damping. I understand that some police force areas, such as his, are adversely affected by damping; I assure him that mine—Northumbria—benefits from it. It is not just about applying rules but about whether the rules are right in the first place. To state the blindingly obvious, the pot remains the same size. If we change the funding formula and someone wins, someone else will lose. Damping ensures that nobody loses to the extent that it completely disrupts their activity.

The announcement on capital allocations was delayed until January, but I assure my hon. Friend that it was made today. Capital allocations for 2010-11 will be unchanged from those announced provisionally at the start of the comprehensive spending review period. That is good news for his area, which will receive £8.6 million and will not require decisions about capital and revenue funding to be made. The money will be there for capital funding and for front-line officers.

The pre-Budget report brought positive news for the future of police funding beyond 2010, as my hon. Friend acknowledged. There will be sufficient funding in 2012-13 to enable police authorities to maintain current numbers of warranted police officers and police community support officers. It is not our view that areas will need to increase their precept greatly. In fact, we believe that the 3 per cent. figure is accurate and necessary, not just because it allows the police to continue to be funded properly in their areas, but because it protects council tax payers in general. There is a balance to be struck, but I am sure that he will make a contribution by lobbying his community and local government to argue, when the time is necessary, the issues around council tax.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on what he has done throughout his time in this House. He has stood up for his constituents, especially by speaking about their safety and security. I hope that I have provided him with assurances on most of the points that he raised, and I will ask my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism to write to him about any outstanding questions.