I beg to move,
That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2010-11 (HC 278), which was laid before this House on 20 January, be approved.
This debate takes place against a backdrop of record falls in crime and record levels of police numbers. One thing that can be said about the Government, more than anything else, is that we have invested in police and policing numbers, not just through neighbourhood policing, protective services and collaboration programmes, but in relation to all aspects of the police service. I am delighted, therefore, that the British crime survey and figures last week showed a marked reduction in crime for 2008-09, compared with 2007-08.
It is worth placing that on the record because the police do a magnificent job, as has been shown by the fact that over the past year total recorded crime fell by 5 per cent.; vehicle crime by 10 per cent.; violence against the person by 6 per cent; robbery by 5 per cent.; sexual offences by 4 per cent.; robbery with a knife by 2 per cent.; and firearm offences by 17 per cent. Challenges remain, but I put it to the House that, whatever is said in this debate, those figures are good, particularly given that we are coming out of a recession. Normally, under such circumstances, crime would rise, but actually, over the past 12 months, in what have been—by any stretch of the imagination—challenging financial circumstances, crime has fallen.
That can be added to the overall drop in crime of 36 per cent. since 1997, which is a very positive thing. The House will also know that the British crime survey last week showed that confidence in policing is now at 50 per cent. and that the chance of being a victim of crime is the lowest since records began. That is the backdrop to today’s settlement and discussion. Coupled with those falls in crime, last week I was able to announce historically high numbers of police officers and staff on the streets. Figures published last week show that police officer strength remains at 142,688, which is an increase of nearly 17,000 officers over the past 13 years.
Obviously there are variations, challenges and difficulties, which no doubt will come out in the debate, but the record numbers of police officers, and indeed police community support officers—more than 16,000—show that today’s settlement is building on a history of strong settlements that have seen crime fall, policing numbers rise and the introduction of PCSOs. The levels of confidence in policing and the fact that a person’s chance of being a victim of crime is the lowest ever show that the Government have done a good job to date.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Government improved the funding formula for West Yorkshire police. Nevertheless, it is still £18 million adrift of the figure it would get were it fully funded. Will he and his colleagues consider how police authorities such as West Yorkshire can bridge that gap, so that they can continue to enjoy record levels of police officers and the subsequent major impact on crime?
I will return to the funding formula later because it is an important issue, and a number of representations have been made by different forces about some of the inequities in the funding formula. We are currently considering the matter, and will continue to do so in the future, but my hon. Friend will know that, this year, West Yorkshire police saw an increase of 3.3 per cent.—£11.3 million—for the next financial year. Historically, West Yorkshire police funding has increased by 37 per cent. in real terms over the past 13 years.
Why has the Home Office consistently failed, until recently—with the migration impact forum—properly to take into account the significant impact on crime and policing of large-scale migration since May 2004 from eastern European countries? Does the Minister agree that that has had significant ramification for the number of police whom people in Cambridgeshire, where my constituency is located, expect to see on the beat? Why is that the case?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, that is one of the issues on which we have received representations, including from the chief constable of his own force. However, I hope that when the hon. Gentleman reflects on Cambridgeshire police funding, he will be pleased that the Labour Government have delivered an extra 109 police officers to his force in the past 13 years, that 33 per cent. more resource is going in than did under the Tory Government, and that even this year, in these challenging times, his force has £2.5 million more than it did last year—and all that from a Labour Government. I hope that he recognises those facts when he talks to his local police authority about the Government’s performance in those areas.
Funding statistics and formulae are important, although most people are more worried about outcomes than how we get there, but can the Minister assure us that the population figures, whether or not they include people on the electoral register, are up to date as the basis of the formula? That has been a recurrent issue for local government and other service funders in London. Will he also comment on the fact that there is still some doubt about the veracity of the crime figures, which—if he is to be believed—are falling? Although that is to be welcomed, to have public confidence the figures ought to be arrived at in an entirely neutral way and separate from the Government as far as possible.
The crime figures which I commented on—not announced—10 days ago were announced by the Office for National Statistics, which is independent of the Government. Indeed, I see the crime figures only as a matter of courtesy a few hours before they are produced, so they are independent. I do not gerrymander them. I take the hon. Gentleman’s point about the important population issues, but under any measure crime has fallen across England and Wales over the past 13 years, including in London and key areas as a whole.
The Minister will know that police numbers in Essex have increased, and he will probably have guessed that I will seek to claim credit for that. However, people out there know that the real reason is that the Government have increased funding to enable police numbers in Essex to increase, and I thank him for that. However, will he use innovative surveillance and high-tech equipment to improve policing—for instance, vehicle automatic number plate recognition systems? We need those to clamp down on burglaries, which are a particular problem on Canvey island, for instance.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support. He recognises, as I do, that there has been a 30 per cent. real-terms increase in funding for Essex, that there will be a £5.2 million increase—2.9 per cent.—next year and that there has been an historical fall in crime over the past five years of nearly 6 per cent. I fully accept that there is always more that we can do, and the automatic number plate recognition is a valuable tool—I know from my constituency how it helps to identify potential vehicle crime and to reduce crime. However, it relates to issues not only of vehicle crime, but of mobile burglary and people who cross borders to commit crimes. I certainly, therefore, encourage and support its further use, for which we should all be grateful.
Let me turn to the nub of today’s debate. The police revenue support grant, which was laid on 20 January, confirmed the indicative figures, and we are implementing the 2010-11 funding settlement as announced in December 2007, which is good news for the police. Between 1997 and 2010-11, we have increased the police service grant by about £3.7 billion—a cash increase of 60 per cent. and a real-terms increase of almost 20 per cent. The figures that I gave to the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) can be replicated across the board in every police authority in England and Wales and represent a substantial increase in funding. They show that this year total Government funding for the 2010-11 cycle in today’s report will be more than £9.7 billion—an overall increase of 2.7 per cent. on 2009-10. Some £8.5 billion of that provision is for the police general formula grant, and there is also an additional £1.2 million in specific grant funding, to which I will return later.
We gave those commitments several years ago. In fact, they were probably given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), who is with us today, as part of the three-year cycle of this comprehensive review. We kept those commitments and delivered on them in 2008 and 2009, and now in 2010-11. We have also kept ring-fenced funding to a minimum, so that we can allow forces the maximum flexibility in deciding how to allocate and spend their resources. The police grant deals with Home Office general police grant for revenue expenditure. The amounts for individual police authorities are set out in the papers before the House today, and I hope that they will be generally welcomed.
We have set a minimum floor of 2.5 per cent. for the grant provision for 2010-11. My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell), who raised this issue, will know that, whatever our views on the funding formula, the fact that we have set a minimum rise of 2.5 per cent. is helpful to many forces. It means that each police authority in England and Wales is guaranteed an increase of at least that level. In my view, that is a positive announcement. We are trying to strike what I would describe as a sensible balance on the issues in economically challenging times.
Indeed, I would be interested to hear from the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) about whether, in what I would obviously see as the unlikely event of a change of Government, he will commit himself to the 2.5 per cent. increase that we have put in place for next year, whether he will support that funding for police community support officers, and whether he will support the ring-fencing of that funding, because those are crucial matters that will form part of our debate between now and whenever my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister calls the general election. We want to look at the funding formula review, and we will do so shortly. I hope that we will be in a position to do that in the next 12 months.
There has been no change to rule 2 grants since the start of the current spending review, in 2008-09. Police authorities have complete flexibility on how best to use that resource.
Specifically on the settlement, we have also put in place absolutely committed funding for neighbourhood policing, as the foundation for local police in the 21st century. That is why, for 2010-11 we are maintaining and increasing the ring-fenced funding that helps to support those 16,000 police community support officers. I look forward to hearing the hon. Gentleman make a commitment to fund those 16,000 PCSOs next year, in the unlikely event of a change of Government, or at least supporting me from the Opposition Benches for the good that the Government are doing on that. PCSOs provide a valuable resource, delivering on the policing pledge commitments and raising public confidence. Neighbourhood policing is the key. That investment is making a difference and contributing to the crime falls that I mentioned. We will shortly produce a safe and confident neighbourhoods strategy, which will look at how we develop the policy still further. I look forward to giving the House details of that, I hope within the next month.
As well as the policing of local communities, which is the bedrock of our activity, we also need to look at protective services and the collaboration programme, to ensure that we drive up and develop minimum standards across the board. We have made an additional £2.2 million available in the settlement today to help deliver regional capability in tackling regional crime, which is a serious issue and one that we need to address. We are keen to ensure that we aid the police in reducing crime and have designed programmes accordingly.
In today’s announcement, we have also committed to the basic command unit fund and ensured that forces receive the same allocation in 2010-11—a total of £40 million—as previously. From my perspective, public confidence is at the heart of our agenda—public confidence on issues such as antisocial behaviour and crimes that matter locally, which are best dealt with by locally supported forces. That £40 million is extremely valuable.
In the document before the House, we have also confirmed the capital spending for supported capital expenditure for next year. Again, I say to the hon. Gentleman and others that we have committed a total of £220 million. That is money that we said we would allocate previously—we have committed to it and continued to support it. That has meant some difficult and challenging decisions, but, by making that commitment today, we have been able to support that capital expenditure firmly, which is good news for the police in dealing with the capital issues that they need to address.
Almost finally, for Welsh police authorities, which are close to my heart as a Member of Parliament representing a Welsh constituency, we have set a minimum increase in the grant, in line with English authorities. We have again adjusted the Home Office police grant for Welsh police authorities, to maintain consistency with those in England. The additional support will total £16 million this year and will help to maintain police numbers and reduce crime.
I should also like to report to the House that we asked for, and received, representations in our consultation on the settlement. However, I received only four sets of written representations about the settlement, from four police authority areas. That is fewer than in previous years and a little more than a quarter of the representations that were received last year. That indicates the level of support not just in the House, but in the community, for the proposals that I am putting before the House. Following those representations, we have laid the papers before the House, which in my view show a good settlement, which is something that we need to take into account.
The pre-Budget report of December 2009 is also crucial to our consideration today. It has enhanced our immediate understanding of the future funding of the police, by announcing, through my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that sufficient funding will be made available to 2012-13 to enable police authorities to maintain the current numbers of warranted police officers, as well as police community support officers and other staff exercising police powers. Again, that is a commitment from this Government to real money, on the table, to fund real police officers out on the street, reducing crime still further.
I do not wish to be too political—although we are in interesting times—but that is a commitment on the funding to date that was announced in the pre-Budget report. I hope that that commitment will be subject to debate, and I look forward to receiving the hon. Gentleman’s support, because it sets the framework for the confidence that police authorities can have in knowing that the record numbers of police that we have provided will continue, should they wish them to.
Next year we will also maximise the increase in the general grant, providing a further £2.5 million to ensure that all police authorities have received that minimum increase. Again, at a time of falling public spending and challenges, which normally increase in a recession, that is a good indicator of the extra resources that are being supplied, and that at a time of falling crime.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will speak later on the implications for local government spending of police funding. However, there will also be debates and consideration about the capping action, decided in 2008-09, on Cheshire, Leicestershire and Warwickshire, in advance of the 2010-11 settlement, as a result of previous excessive increases set by those authorities. Cheshire and Leicestershire have accepted their caps, whereas Warwickshire will be debated as part of our discussions later today. However, despite those difficulties and challenges locally, there are genuine funding increases today that we should welcome.
In summary, we have positive falls in crime, record numbers of police and a commitment next year to a minimum of 2.5 per cent. for each force. That is good news at a time of recession. We are seeking greater value for money from police authorities generally, and there will be a drive next year to look at issues that we raised in the White Paper and commented on yesterday, in producing our high-level group report on value for money. We need to drive better efficiency and value in the system. We need to ensure that we reduce police overtime and look at better procurement and the better deployment of officers. However, the resource is there, and this House can commit to it today. I hope that Members in all parts of the House will commit to it, because this Government have a proud record on policing and police numbers. I want that to continue next year, and I commend the motion to the House.
The one thing that we can agree on in this debate is that the police of this country do a difficult and usually very dangerous job. On behalf of the Opposition, I would like to pay tribute to their service. They need the resources to discharge their duties to the public in upholding law and order, which is why this debate is so important. This year’s settlement is the final part of the three-year comprehensive spending review. Excluding additional grants for counter-terrorism and other specific grants, the police settlement will increase by 2.7 per cent. this year. Including specific grants, total revenue funding will also increase by 2.7 per cent.
It is worth flagging up a few issues that many outside this House, and not just police authorities, have with the distribution of the police grant. It is a complicated calculation, based, as we know, on five separate components, including the needs-based formula, or the “principal formula”; additional rule 1, which reduces grant provision for the South Wales police authority and redistributes it to other police authorities in Wales; and additional rule 2. In the past, the Home Secretary distributed specific grants such as the rural policing grant, the forensic grant and the initial police learning and development programme grant. The Home Office decision to amalgamate those grants into a single pot, so that police authorities could have more control over how those funds were used, was welcome. The Home Office also distributes specific grants for police authorities. Finally, the police grant floors are applied. I will return to that issue of scaling later.
What we do know is that this year there are 20 police authorities in total receiving the lowest increase of 2.5 per cent., including Cheshire, Gloucestershire, Lincolnshire, Suffolk, Surrey and the Met. The biggest increase in the police grant is received by the West Midlands at 3.9 per cent.
Let me go to the heart of what I took to be the political thrust of the Minister's speech. We are in a severe economic situation and it has added huge strain to already tight police budgets. In written evidence provided to the Home Affairs Committee for its report on police service strength, the Association of Police Authorities
“acknowledged the deteriorating state of public finances”
and the expected impact on police budgets. Similarly, a study undertaken by the Association of Chief Police Officers’ finance and resources business area found that several forces in England and Wales—this is the crucial point that I would like the Minister to return to—were already using budget reserves to maintain front-line services.
There is increasing confusion about police officer numbers and police strength, with evidence from police forces contradicting what the Minister is asking us to believe. In research for its report into police strength, the Home Affairs Committee—I am sad that the excellent Chairman of that Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), is not here to confirm this—wrote to all police forces in England and Wales and asked them to provide information on their officer and staff numbers; crucially, likely changes to the work force during the remainder of 2009-10 and 2010-11; and the plans that the forces are putting in place in relation to staffing levels next year.
The responses were very interesting. They were clear. Just four forces anticipated maintaining staff and officer levels. Some forces had already begun to reduce officer numbers and many have plans to do so. To provide one or two examples, Humberside police force said that it was planning to cut 300 officer posts. Cumbria said that there are
“cuts likely of staff and officers”.
Derbyshire said that “police staff cuts” will be likely, and Durham is planning a
“vacancy freeze on staff and officer posts”.
Kent said that it had
“significant planned police staff reductions for 2009-11 to meet funding savings”.
Out of 43 forces, only four said that they anticipated maintaining staffing levels.
Are we seeing a pattern of grand promises prior to a general election that are not delivered? Does my hon. Friend remember that before the 2005 general election the Government promised 24,000 new community support officers? In fact they delivered just 16,000—8,000 short—a clear broken promise in their manifesto.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Could we get down to specifics? The grant is before the House today. It increases funding by a minimum of 2.5 per cent. and overall by 2.7 per cent. If the hon. Gentleman were sitting on this Bench, what figure would he put on the grant increase over and above what we are proposing? Will he give a commitment today to do that? I do not think that he will, as his party is committed to cutting public spending.
The shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer has made it quite clear that we will make a decision when we write our next Budget. We are still waiting for two things. We are waiting for a Budget from this Government. Also, no CSR was put in place, even though it was open to the Government to do that.
I want to get back to the promises that the Government are making about 2010-11. The Minister has given us all sorts of blandishments about how everything will be fine and everything will be maintained, but the evidence that I have been reading out completely undermines everything that he has been saying. To make promises about what will happen in 2010-11 is impossible; the evidence shows that it is not possible. I want to hear from the Minister why he believes that this settlement will maintain what he says it will maintain, because the evidence is quite to the contrary.
I will try again. If the hon. Gentleman has the opportunity to increase the 2010-11 settlement over and above the 2.5 per cent. to the 2.7 per cent. average, will he do that? If he were in my position now, or if he were in my position in eight or nine weeks, would he increase next year’s money? We have already announced today the funding that the grant will provide.
I think that the shadow Chancellor has made the position entirely clear, and we will present a Budget should we be in a position to do so, but I still do not think that the Minister has explained why all these authorities that we have talked about—including Humberside, Cumbria, Derbyshire—are saying that there will be a cut in police strength. It flies in the face of what the Minister has been promising.
In a minute.
I want to test further what the Government are saying will happen in 2010-11 on the basis of the grant settlement. I was troubled by what the Chancellor said in his statement on the pre-Budget report, because it does not make sense to a lot of those in the police service. He said:
“I am today able to offer...sufficient funding to maintain the number of police and community support officers. That means that I can confirm not just that we will increase spending as planned next year on hospitals, schools and policing, but we can pledge that spending on these crucial front-line services will continue to rise over and above inflation after 2010-11”.—[Official Report, 9 December 2009; Vol. 502, c. 370-1.]
The evidence from the Home Affairs Committee clearly shows that police forces around the country have, or are preparing to, cut the number of staff and officers. I am amazed that the Minister does not have an answer to that. Can he please tell us how this Government are planning on, as he claims, guaranteeing police officer numbers when we do not have any details on police budgets after 2011? Crucially, can he tell us how he defines front-line policing services, because those were the words that slipped into the Chancellor's pre-Budget report? If the Minister is defending that, what is the definition of front-line policing services? It cannot mean police strength because police authorities have already told the Home Affairs Committee that those numbers are being cut and will be cut. It is a total mystery to me what protecting front-line policing services means in that context.
Derbyshire police have far more police officers and PCSOs than when I was elected in 1997, but we have continually argued that we should move more quickly towards where Derbyshire police should be compared with other authorities. They cannot do it too quickly because other authorities’ budgets would be cut—that is the floors and ceilings argument. Is the Conservative party able to give me an assurance now that, if it were in power, Derbyshire would immediately go to its right level, without cutting other police services?
The hon. Gentleman did not mention in his list the largest police authority—that of London. What advice is he giving to his friend, the Mayor of London, whose draft budget includes a provision for a cut of 455 police officers? If we take into account the four budgets for which the Mayor will have been responsible, it works out at a net reduction in police officers by just over 100, I believe. This is taking place at a time when much is being made about the freezing of precept, so how does the hon. Gentleman advise the Mayor to proceed?
Let us first make it clear and put on the record what the Minister is saying about defending police officer numbers. As I say, he talks about protecting front-line policing services, so will the Minister give us a definition of that when he concludes the debate?
The plot thickens, because two newspapers today report that the Association of Chief Police Officers has drawn up proposals to cut 28,000 officers and replace them with civilian staff. Part of the leaked report, as reported this morning, says:
“As a result of a variety of approaches to modernisation, in the case of the most mixed forces there are over 50 per cent. staff. If all forces were to mirror that position… this would result in a more diverse workforce but with approximately 28,000 fewer officers and with savings in the region of £400 million”.
Will the Minister confirm that? Has he commissioned that work? Is he aware of it?
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that that document has no locus for the Government and it has not been commissioned by Government Ministers or the Home Office, and it does not have the support of ACPO. It is an explanatory document presenting options that have not been endorsed and are not being endorsed either by ACPO or the Government.
He may not have the chance for it to become part of his policy in a few weeks’ time, so that might be why he is so confident in making that assertion. Unfortunately, the Government’s decision not to hold a comprehensive spending review that would detail proposed expenditure over a three-year period underscores that fact that they have no confidence in their rather woolly guarantees made in the pre-Budget report and repeated by the Minister today.
Surely one of the key parts of policing—ensuring that we have their presence on the street—involves the amount of time officers spend on patrol. It would be fair to say that the figures on the amount of time police spend on the beat have fallen under this Administration. According to the Government’s own latest figures, the amount of time a patrol officer spends on patrol has fallen from 19.1 per cent. in 2004-05 to an even lower 17.8 per cent. in 2007-08. Jan Berry, the Government’s police bureaucracy tsar, when asked whether officers were spending more time on patrol now than two years ago said:
“If you talk to police officers they would say it has remained the same or got slightly worse”,
and she went on to point out, in what I take to be a real indictment, that only one of the 33 proposals to reduce bureaucracy in the final Flanagan review of February 2008, had been implemented.
I apologise for missing the beginning of the hon. Gentleman’s speech and, of course, the Minister’s. I was attending another engagement, as I shall explain later if I can catch Mr. Deputy Speaker’s eye.
Good practice is an issue raised in a number of Select Committee reports. If there is good practice in one area, it is important to ensure that it is translated into other areas. Should we look to organisations such as the National Policing Improvement Agency to ensure that this kind of efficiency is delivered to the police service, as in the end, that will also save a great deal of taxpayers’ money?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. We had a discussion about one bit of good practice—the four pilots for lighter and more nimble recording practice. I remember that when we discussed it in July, I asked the right hon. Gentleman how many forces had adopted this pilot of slimline recording, which was happening in the West Midlands, Staffordshire, Surrey and Leicestershire, but he did not know. He said that I had asked a good question, but I thought it notable that he, the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, was unaware of how far this practice had been rolled out and adopted. I am sure that the Minister would agree that there is a need for some direction from the centre on certain issues. This provides one tangible example of bureaucracy reduction that has not been driven forward and has not delivered the gains that it could have. As the shadow Home Secretary has said, we intend to make this one of our priorities.
Making better use of resources is at the heart of the grant settlement before us. All police authorities understand that they need to get more from less. Police authorities should be encouraged to find savings in back-office and procurement, and release them for use on the front line. We all agree on that. Why, however, has the Minister not used the powers in the Policing and Crime Act 2009, which gave the Home Secretary powers to mandate collaboration on areas of procurement—both information technology and non-IT procurement—that could yield efficiency savings? Powers to mandate have been available for a few months now, so can the Minister tell us whether he is contemplating use of any of these mandated powers to squeeze more efficiencies out of the system? If not, why not? The Minister has cheerfully spoken about the prospects of another Labour Government and how 2010-11 will be all sweetness and light, but if he is going to make promises about spending, will he tell us what he intends about mandation and squeezing more bang for the buck?
On the police grant formula, I have received many representations recently regarding the operation of police grant floors and I would like to raise one or two of them with the Minister. As written evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee has highlighted, because of the operation of scaling and floors, forces such as Hampshire receive £1.5 million less than they should under the principal needs formula. Similarly, I have received extensive representations from Derbyshire police authority and constabulary, as due to the cost of providing floor protection within the funding formula, they lose out to the tune of £5 million a year. I could cite many other examples and I am sure that hon. Members from all parties could provide their own for me and the Minister.
We welcomed the removal of the ceiling that the then Minister with responsibility for crime and policing announced in 2008. In that debate, the Minister said that
“we were able this year at least to announce a settlement that had no ceiling. Some progress has therefore been made towards the formula and I hope that, in the coming years, it will continue, if not accelerate somewhat.”—[Official Report, 4 February 2008; Vol. 471, c. 673.]
Will the present Minister be more precise and give us an update from that statement of two years ago?
It is quite clear that we need to move towards applying the needs-based formula more purely. There is a need for that to happen, and I think that all Members will see the sense of that. Sir Ronnie Flanagan, in his final report into the future of policing—it was essentially about bureaucracy, but he understood how resourcing impacted on that—said of grant floors that
“if we are to get the best performance return for our investment over the lean times ahead, we must start to deal with these anomalies.”
He went on to suggest:
“I think it prudent that, from that point on, there should be a staged relaxation of the ‘floors and ceilings’—
well, the ceilings bit has been dealt with—
“which dampen changes in allocations, possibly combined with special consideration for those few Forces which would face the most significant reductions in funding.”
The Home Affairs Committee confirmed that by saying:
“we support Sir Ronnie Flanagan's recommendation for full application of the police funding formula at the next Spending Review.”
We did not get the next spending review, because the Government funked that rather significant policy and political challenge. Today I give the Minister an opportunity to atone for the Government’s sins, and to say “All right, we did not carry out the CSR, but we will give some indication”—an update on the statement given two years ago by his right hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty)—“of the stage that we have reached in regard to the future of floors and the full application of the police funding formula.”
I look forward to the Minister’s response. Given that he has been specific about some of what will allegedly happen to police strength in 2010-11, I think it important for him to be a bit more specific about the future of the floors that constitute the basis of the document before us.
The hon. Gentleman invited me earlier to ask my question again when he reached this point in his speech. I am sure my constituents would be very interested to know how long it would take his party—if it unfortunately came to office—to restore the level of the grant funding formula that has been agreed, whether that could be done only at the expense of either other police services or some other budget elsewhere, and which budget might be affected.
I think the hon. Lady is putting her question to the wrong person. I put the same question to the Minister when I asked him whether certain factors would be taken into account, as Sir Ronnie Flanagan had suggested, to prevent there being significant losers. The Minister should also tell us what stage he has reached in the review of the regime that he says he is conducting. The last statement that said anything was given to us two years ago, and it would be useful to have some specificity. I hope that when he has answered that question, the hon. Lady will be able to ask her own question again.
The fire and rescue authorities’ grant floors have been lowered for 2010-11. Has the Minister examined the impact that those significant future changes have had on the finances of different authorities, and does he think we can draw any lessons from them? He is the Minister in charge, and he is doing the technical work. We should like to hear about it.
This country is in dire financial straits. Let us not forget that this Government, not any other Government, are responsible for the mess that we are in. We know why, and the British people know why. Given the additional pressures from the economic collapse over which the Government have presided and which the country is experiencing, police authorities—as they have told the Home Affairs Committee—already face projected cuts, and are now planning for cuts in police strength. Can the Minister please tell us why that is, and why it conflicts so obviously with the rosy picture of the grant settlement that he has painted here today? The two simply cannot be squared.
There is also concern about funding formula changes. I think it incumbent on the Minister, in a debate on police grant, to tell us exactly what stage, in technical terms, the review of police funding arrangements has reached in the Home Office. I think that not only the House but the country deserves an answer to those two questions.
It is important for us to take the police, and police finance, extremely seriously. I do not think that that has happened of late, certainly on the Opposition Benches. I said two years ago—the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) quoted me without mentioning me—that I believed that the time had come for a proper and substantial review of the way in which we funded our police. If we are serious about localism—which I do not think many Members are, on either side of the House—we have, in the funding of the police, the perfect model of what might be called transactional politics.
Even as Policing Minister I opposed the capping of police authorities—not local government—and I still do, because it offends against the localism to which I have referred. We saw that in London for the four years during which Ken Livingstone said, very clearly, “I will put x per cent. on your per cent. precept, and this is what you will get for it in the end. You will get a team of six—one sergeant, two constables and three police community support officers—in every ward in London.” I shall say more about London later. People bought that, and it was delivered. We thought that it was sacrosanct. I shall say more about that as well.
I take on board what the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds said about the formula, and I welcome what my right hon. Friend the Minister has done in that regard, but in my opinion it is time for a fundamental rethink—locally based—of the funding of police forces. As I think I said from the Dispatch Box when I was a Minister, it cannot be right for the amount offered locally to the overall resource base of police forces to range from—I hope the House will forgive me for using old figures—some 18 per cent. in Northumbria to well over 55 per cent. in Surrey when the two areas are providing essentially the same service. It cannot be right that the precept at that time—again, I hope the House will forgive me for not using up-to-date figures—ranged from about £80 to the best part of £250 or £260 per head, or even more. Of course policing in Surrey is different from policing in Northumbria—if it were not, there would be a national police force—but such local vagaries should not obstruct the provision of a more universal and fairer system that is much more locally based in terms of contribution. I mean that in an entirely non-partisan sense.
My right hon. Friend is making an adult speech on a difficult subject. Will he bring within his compass the issues of how the precept is determined and the role of capping? One worry is that when a local community is consulted widely on what would seem an appropriate precept which has gained a good deal of assent, as has happened in Derbyshire, the Government nevertheless intervene and impose an artificial cap on the precept that may be levied. Would it not be reasonable to recognise some freedom in that respect as well?
I am sorry that I did not make myself clear to my hon. Friend. As I may have said more gently when I was Policing Minister but will say more vocally now, I do not consider that capping figures at all, or should figure, in my little purview or compass. We are talking about a unique relationship: a potentially transactional relationship. To say “The police authority will do x with y increase in, for instance, capital or police numbers, and it will cost you, the public, y” is pure transactionalism, and need not involve capping.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman—who, if I may say so, was a very good Minister—for mentioning Surrey. As he will know, Surrey taxpayers contribute up to 50 per cent. of policing costs. That is a terribly high percentage, and capping caused those taxpayers a great deal of difficulty. Unless I misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman, he seemed to be showing some sympathy for Surrey. I only hope that his right hon. Friend the Minister will accept words from him that he might not accept from me.
Of course the hon. Gentleman may say what he said about what I was like as a Minister.
I am talking about where we need to go, rather than about the existing circumstances. To be fair to myself—if that is possible—I think that I said much of this from the Dispatch Box during the debate that was mentioned earlier. I believe that there needs to be a collective will and consensus.
As I said earlier, there needs to be some seriousness in the debate about police grant and resources, and all the issues that surround that subject, if we are to do right by the public. Let me give an example that is relevant to resources. Back in 2005 we decided, rightly, that there were serious problems with the data relating to violent crime. We consulted widely on that, and a cross-party panel looked at the detail and arrived at some conclusions. The upshot was, in essence, that it was thought that the way in which violent crime data are assessed and collected should be changed so that, instead of having just the standard police definitions, the victim’s own thoughts on the level of the violence of the crime were at least taken into account. We therefore changed those definitions, which I think was rather brave, although we could perhaps have gone further.
As a result, all subsequent data on violent crime are substantively different, and that, of course, has implications for the measurement of the performance of police forces. It is, therefore, frankly not on for the boss of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds—the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling)—to compare the new violent crime figures with the old ones, and to do so in such a distorted and disingenuous fashion. I was going to say “mendacious”, but I suspect that that word is on the list of non-parliamentary language. This airbrushing of statistics does the hon. Gentleman and his party no credit, and, more importantly, it serves to distract from the reality the Government were trying to get through to by changing the statistics in the first place.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that our chief constable in Derbyshire has in the past had to disavow newsletters put out by the Conservative party, because they included misleading crime statistics? Does my right hon. Friend also share my concern that the police feel that they are forced into such a position? They should not be put in such positions, because nobody should play around with crime statistics. Indeed, our chief constable has begged for games not be played with statistics.
That is absolutely and entirely right, and it is to the Conservatives’ shame that they have played around with the statistics. It is not enough for the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell to say, as he did on the “Today” programme this morning:
“There are certainly changes in the reporting methods”.
Well, I am not sure whether I should congratulate him on spotting that, because the changes have been quite significant. He continued by saying that
“the point is that they are the only comparators available.”
That is nonsense. Comparing the previous figures with the current figures is like comparing apples with oranges. If the upshot of the changes was that we had somehow, through sleight of hand, hidden the extent of violent crime, I could understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, but violent crime rose by 35 per cent. because of the adjustments, as—it is to be hoped—we were now measuring it in a far more accurate and victim-centred way. The Government, and all political parties, should be given great credit when they use such data in public forums.
I was just beginning to warm to the right hon. Gentleman in his role as bipartisan statesman speaking for all of us when, in the past few minutes, he started to become over-partisan. To revert to the bipartisan tone, does he agree that the floors and ceilings mechanism is a very blunt instrument that fails to take into account—I am sure he will concede that it failed to do so when he was Police Minister, as well as now—specific issues such as population change, the recording of population numbers and, particularly in Cambridgeshire, tourism? We need to go back to square one in reviewing the funding formula, because not all of the 40-odd force areas can possibly be the same in key aspects such as urban population and rurality. I invite him to conclude that this Government have not looked at that pressing issue with the appropriate alacrity.
On the first part of that intervention, the hon. Gentleman misses the point entirely. I am not trying to be partisan. As I have said, the criteria for the figures were determined by a cross-party panel, and we deliberately changed the entire definition of violent crime. Given that there was broad agreement on that, it is incumbent upon all of us to use the new figures appropriately and not to compare them with the previous figures—and nor, frankly, to shroud-wave and scaremonger to the public in the disgraceful way that the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell has done.
The other points that the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) made were precisely the points that I was making. When I was Police Minister, I clearly did not succeed in everything I did. If I had, the formula would not be quite as it currently is and more of the contribution would be local. Although, of course, we will never reach the stage when the entire police budget comes from local sources, because of the transactional nature of policing and police authorities, we have to move to a system beyond the current formula.
The hon. Gentleman is also wrong on another point; the needs-based formula we have is far more responsive to the factors he mentioned than the system prior to 1997. I agree, however, with his broader point about the Government in general not responding to changes on the ground as quickly as they might—and that will not change if, heaven forbid, the colour of the Government changes—and about how that links in with various formulae allocations not being as they should be. That is in part because the creaky old Whitehall machinery is not responsive enough to the massive and almost instant changes that are happening in Peterborough and elsewhere; changes that used to take five or 10 years to happen fully now happen in three or six months.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on making such sensible arguments about formula funding, but he talked about the needs-based formula and the truth is that that formula is still too crude. I hope that he will at least go along with me on that. In Northamptonshire, we are simply not getting the money that the needs-based formula suggests we need.
I accept that, and the hon. Gentleman is, in a different way, putting the point about floors and ceilings again. However, considerable progress has been made over the past 10 to 13 years in the allocation of resources and in trying to reflect the needs of local areas. I think we should go further on that, of course, and we could, and should, do that on a cross-party basis in future.
Whatever the difficulties in terms of police authorities, the Opposition are in a state of confusion about the notion of having elected police commissioners. If that were in place now, we would be in considerable difficulty, because, effectively, the person whom the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell has ordained as the role model for elected police commissioners has just walked off the pitch. The Mayor of London has just said, “I don’t like this any more. It is too tough. I cannot be bothered being chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority.” He said in his manifesto, no less—[Interruption.] I would like Members to listen to this, and I apologise for being metro-centric, but that is just the way I am. [Interruption.] I said “metro-centric”, not “metro” something else. In his manifesto, the future Mayor said:
“It is important for the Mayor to take a public lead, so I will chair the Metropolitan Police Authority. I will take personal responsibility. No offence will be too trivial to demand my attention. No challenge will be so big that I shrug my shoulders and pass the buck.”
What has he done just last week, however? He has shrugged his shoulders, passed the buck, and said to himself, “I know what I’ll do; as £140,000 is not enough, I will write another column for The Daily Telegraph for £250,000.” He can afford the time to do that, therefore. In the same week that he gave up the chairmanship of the MPA, he also said, “Think green, vote blue” and “I can’t be bothered with the London waste authority either.” The chairmanship of that is in the Mayor’s gift, but he cannot be bothered to do that either.
The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell needs to think about this idea of elected police commissioners. It is terribly badly thought through, and he has managed to do something I could not do in two and a half years in ministerial office: unite the police world against him. The idea must be wrong in some aspects, therefore. I fully accept and concede that when I was a Home Office Minister, we discussed these issues and agreed that there was something lacking in terms of accountability, but elected police commissioners are not the way to address that. That is a mad idea.
I have said in a London context that there must be some way in which local councils can more readily hold to account their borough commander for local policing, and that that is not captured through the MPA structures. That issue is complicated in London because the Met does so much nationally as well. We were also told by the Mayor that he would spend less on press officers and redirect more resources to front-line policing. How many fewer press officers are there now than when Mr. Johnson came into office? What is the difference between his quota of press officers and Ken Livingstone’s? None; the number has not changed at all. Someone who does the counting right might be able to say that Mr. Johnson has saved 0.5 of a press officer post and that is it. We were told in fluid style during the campaign that he would cut the number of press officers and that that would fund four new rape crisis centres, which, as the police and everybody fully accept, are needed. Have they happened? No. We have one such centre—some might say that we have one and a half, but barely so—and by the end of his term two will be completed. Promises that were made barely two years ago have not been delivered, to the consequence of London. In this context, the only new money—additional money—that London will get this year is the 2.7 per cent. for the next two years that the Minister announced among other things today.
Does my right hon. Friend also recall the pledges made about the young Londoners fund, the youth charity and the colleges and training for young people that were supposed to be set up as part of the drive to tackle gang violence and youth crime? Can he shed any light on what has happened to any of those commitments over the past two years?
We could look and shed as much light as we want, but we would find that the answer is nothing, even if we throw in the Mayor’s fund and all sorts of things. The crucial thing given London’s unique structures—the unique structures that the police authority introduced in London and that Mr. Johnson took over two years ago—is that we were told that London was the crucible. Someone who wanted to see how a future Conservative Government would work in this country was told to look to London. People in London are doing so, which is why, irrespective of whether the count is done on Thursday night or Friday night, Conservative Members might wish to look with interest at how some of the London results go.
Policing is far too important for what the Mayor is doing. There are to be 455 fewer police officers over the next three years, despite his promise that there would be more and that tackling crime was to be central to all that he does. He promised that he would spend more on the police, but for the first time since the inception of the Greater London authority, this year and next year the police budget will decrease. It would decrease by significantly more if it were not for the generosity of the Minister. The only two times that there have been cuts in the level of council tax for police services since the beginning of the GLA are the two years of Boris Johnson, and that is not good enough. He also said, as part of his anti-bureaucratic sway, that the Metropolitan Police Service was fat on reserves and that he would strip out the reserves to the bare minimum and spend the money on front-line policing or in other ways—I believe he cited 26,000 hand-held scanners in his manifesto. However, the MPS reserves, which are preciously needed given the way he is starving them, have increased, rather than otherwise. Again, that is to his shame. Why does that matter? It matters because in each of London’s 32 boroughs policing is central to the welfare and security of each of our local communities. Harrow is a relatively safe borough; there has been an excellent roll-out of safer neighbourhood policing and its police are under the excellent leadership of Chief Superintendent Dal Babu, who is doing a very good job.
Because Boris Johnson is not; because crucially, Ken clearly said to the electorate during his four years, “I am increasing the police precept for London by x and here is what you are going to get for it in terms of safer neighbourhood teams.” Boris has said to people—again this is typical flim-flam—that he is going to freeze the GLA precept, but he has told them nothing about the consequences of that, especially for the Metropolitan police. My right hon. Friend rightly points out that the only moneys that Harrow and elsewhere in London are getting that are new in any way, shape or form are coming from central Government and the settlement that we are discussing today, which the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds so blithely dismisses in the same way as he done for the past three and a half years—it could have been the same speech.
This matters, especially in respect of capital, because my right hon. Friend is announcing significant millions more in capital for London. Boris intimated, at least when he was in campaign mode, that the new police station that Harrow needs, as opposed to what it has in south Harrow, will be built. That proposal has been scrapped. Any notion of significant growth in the capital spend for London has been scrapped, and that matters throughout London, because if the custody suites are not in the right place, more policemen and women are driving around London looking for somewhere to put the people that they have in the back of their cars. It matters, in terms of rolling out safer neighbourhood teams properly, that they have a base out in the communities, rather than in Fort Apache-style police stations.
I really fear a mix involving playing politics on the data—shame on the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell, who is at it yet again. As I said the last time I was on my feet in this House, I would not get a route map to the Home Office if I were him, because I do not think he is going to end up there, even in the stark, worrying times that would arrive if the Conservative party got into power. This matters because when someone plays politics with police resources and policing policy, they play politics with people’s lives in a way that is unforgivable. It is easy to get on a soap box and scare people. I say very clearly that Harrow is one of the safest boroughs in London, not least because of the investment that has been made during the past 10 to 13 years and because of what Ken Livingstone did as Mayor on rolling out safer neighbourhood teams. I want it to stay that way.
My biggest fear is that through Boris Johnson’s rank incompetence, the Metropolitan police will, because such a large budget is involved, have to start to make cuts by picking into either the specialist squads to tackle fraud, rape and a series of other very important pan-London issues or the safer neighbourhood teams. If the lasting legacy of Boris Johnson’s mayoralty is the unpicking of the settlement on safer neighbourhood teams throughout London, that would be to his shame. We have made significant progress on policing in London, and nationwide. For that to continue, the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds needs to get off the soap box and join a cross-party initiative to put policing at the centre of what our politics—rather than our partisan politics— is about.
As we have heard, this is the third year of a three-year settlement and, as such, it holds no surprises. The Government deserve to be congratulated on the introduction of the three-year process, which applies across all sorts of areas, not just to policing. It makes budgeting for local authorities, schools, hospitals and all sorts of organisations far more effective than the old 12-month, short-termism that meant that no effective planning could be done. It has been a step forward.
Given that this is the third year of the settlement and there are no surprises, much of what we said in the debates on the police grant report last year and the year before still stands; having looked back on those two debates, it appears to me that we said the same thing almost word for word. Most of it does not need repeating, but some of it does. This three-year settlement was the tightest for a decade, but it was still quite reasonable. The great fear now is about what will happen for the next three year period—2011 to 2014. The pre-Budget report estimated a 0.8 per cent. fall in funding for the police from 2011 to 2014, but that is entirely unbelievable. Sir Hugh Orde, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, has said:
“I can confidently predict cuts in police budgets of 10 to 20 per cent. over the next few years.”
That is probably a much more realistic figure. Interestingly, two university vice-chancellors from my region said at a meeting in this place last night that they had been told by contacts in the Treasury to expect similar cuts in their university budgets. The pre-Budget report estimates a 0.8 per cent. cut in the next three years, whereas Sir Hugh Orde much more realistically estimates a cut of between 10 and 20 per cent.
Such a cut will occur at a time when the police numbers are starting to fall. Figures published this week showed that, in six out of 10 police forces, numbers, which had reached a record high, were starting to drift downwards; ACPO notes that many forces are already freezing posts in anticipation of what is to come next year and in subsequent years. Today’s edition of The Independent contained a report on precisely this in which it said that it has
“learnt that about 2,000 would-be officers were recruited by the Metropolitan Police during…January 2009 and told that they would start their training in spring last year.
Now, despite passing exams and interviews, the successful candidates have received letters informing them that they will not be offered a start date until 2011 at the earliest—almost two years later than they were led to believe.”
That is happening across England and Wales.
For example, in Gloucestershire nearly 100 candidates who were recruited have been told that it has been deferred until 2011, possibly later. Similarly, 240 candidates for the West Midlands police have gone through all the stages of the recruitment process only to be told recently that their recruitment has been deferred. Cleveland police had 102 successful recruits treated in exactly the same way, and Cumbria had 59 so treated. That same practice has also happened in Greater Manchester and Hampshire—it is happening across the country. Fears about what cuts are to come are already having an effect, in that police forces are freezing and postponing recruitment. As I have said, numbers are already falling in six out of 10 forces.
Such cuts, should they snowball and continue in the next year or two, will be a tragedy. The Association of Police Authorities said of this grant:
“The provision of effective adequately resourced policing is one of the Government’s primary responsibilities in a developed civil society.”
In the past few years, such provision has been used to very good effect in the redevelopment of neighbourhood policing, or beat policing as it used to be called. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Conservatives in government slashed police numbers, and one of their defences was that beat police were old-fashioned and out of date, that they did not work, that they were ineffective, that they did not stop crime and that they did not catch criminals—so it did not matter that police numbers were being hit so drastically.
At the very first, when this new Labour Administration came in in 1997, they deployed the same argument for a brief period. They quickly came round to accept, however, that neighbourhood policing is one of the most effective forms of policing. Of course, we have the headline policing issues, such as terrorism, serious crime, bank robberies and so on, but, as the chief constable of Derbyshire—the one who has retired, not the one who is in office now—said some years ago, when he looked at the figures every year, of all the issues and complaints that people in Derbyshire raised, serious crime accounted for only a tiny percentage of them. In their day-to-day lives, people were complaining about, fearful and being bothered by the issues that are relatively low level—vandalism, antisocial behaviour, car theft, burglaries and local drug dealing—when compared with issues such as terrorism.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He will know that the settlement before the House gives an increase of £259 million to police forces for 2010-11 over that in 2009-10. To help frame the debate, will he tell me how much more than that £259 million the Liberal Democrats believe we should give to police forces next year?
The Liberal Democrats have clearly said that we would divert money by abandoning particular Government programmes—identity cards have been a long-standing option. At one time, based on the original grandiose costings for ID cards, that would have paid for up to 10,000 extra police. Now the figure is about 3,000. That answer has been given and published before.
After a short interim period back in 1997, the Government accepted that neighbourhood policing was effective and one of the No. 1 issues that the population of this country was concerned about—it still is to this day. The expansion of neighbourhood policing beat teams has been very effective. We should remember, however, that some of the glowing headlines that Ministers often tell us about are not the same all over the country. We have heard about the situation in London where, because of the combination of a London system that can raise the police precept without its being capped by the Government and that can put that money into the police force along with the receipt of money from the Government—this is a situation that we often hear boasted about—every local authority ward will have a neighbourhood team of six, made up of a combination of officers and police community support officers. That is very effective—I see it, living in London as I do for three or three and a half days a week when Parliament is in Session. However, that is not true in the bulk of the country.
Many hon. Members would make that point. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter) has long campaigned on the fact that his area, Stockport, and Greater Manchester in general cannot remotely approach the levels of neighbourhood policing that we see in the London wards. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Stephen Williams) has long campaigned on the fact that Bristol, compared with other comparable cities, has one of the lowest ratios of police officers for neighbourhood policing and for all kinds of policing. There are huge disparities. Exactly the same is true of Chesterfield and Derbyshire—those aspirations of six officers dedicated to a team for each local government ward are a pipe dream in many parts of the country. If that is the situation that we have reached at the peak of success and investment, what is going to happen as things start to get worse?
Only two weeks ago, I was talking to the beat team in an area called Loundsley Green in my constituency. One of the police officers had been assigned to such things as the police response cars for 17 years and had now switched to beat policing and neighbourhood policing. He said that it was by far the most successful and rewarding part of police work in which he had ever taken part. Instead of rushing to one emergency and spending as little time as possible there before rushing off in the car to the next and then to the next, he was able to get to grips with local issues and to follow up local miscreants. He was able to get to know them, their parents and the people involved and to follow their cases up effectively over a period of time. He could really feel that he was making a huge difference to policing, community safety and community consciousness in that area. It would be a great shame to see that undermined in years to come, but that is the danger.
If police numbers are at a high and are just starting to fall from that high, is there a danger that they could start to plummet very quickly? The chief constable of Bedfordshire has pointed out that police numbers depend not so much on the core police grant, for which we get funding for the three-year rolling cycle that we are discussing today, but on special grant funded allocations. That is the case for PCSOs, in general, but it also applies to all sorts of policing.
The special grant funded allocations are just the sort of thing on which the plug could be pulled next year, the year after or the year after that. A Government could boast that they were maintaining core funding, with little change, but could pull the plug on the special grant funded allocations. We would then see a drastic reduction in police numbers.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am not clear about this point. Have the Liberal Democrats said in terms whether they would commit to the neighbourhood police fund—the fund that supports the 14,000 PCSOs—or whether they would un-ring-fence it? I meant to try to ask the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) that—I believe that the Conservative line is that they will un-ring-fence that money, with all that means for neighbourhood policing. Have the Liberal Democrats come to a settled view on that yet?
We would have to ask our gurus, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), about that specific point. In the long-term, following exactly the theme that the right hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) was talking about earlier, we would look to transfer most of the control and funding of and fundraising through local precepts for policing to local communities. It would be their decision, along with duly elected police authorities, what to do with that, how to do that and what the priorities were. As was correctly pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman earlier, the policing requirements in an area of inner London can be very different from those in a rural area, a shire area, a small town such as Chesterfield and so on.
If the special grant funded allocations were to be withdrawn in years to come, we would see a dramatic drop in police numbers, even though core funding was, on the face of it, being maintained. As the chief constable of Manchester has pointed out, one cannot rely, as people sometimes suggest, on special constables. They do a fantastic job—I have been out many times with special constables in Chesterfield—but, as the chief constable of Manchester pointed out, they are volunteers. Special constables cannot be ordered to be on duty on a certain day or evening at a certain time. They can be asked or persuaded and both they and their goodwill can be relied on, but they cannot be ordered. We cannot guarantee policing on that basis. They are a fantastic supplement to what the police do and what they provide, but they are no alternative and they are certainly not a free, cheap and easy alternative. We must consider how we will maintain numbers in the future.
One of the alarming factors underneath what looks like a relatively rosy picture is the fact that police numbers in forces around the country have been maintained through the use of dwindling reserves. That has certainly been true in Derbyshire. Derbyshire has features of its own that have been mentioned and to which I shall return, but over the past few years it has considerably run down its reserves in order to maintain and expand police numbers because of the lack of appropriate funding from central Government and because of the threat of council tax capping, which has stopped it using that option to fund police numbers. However, reserves can only be used for so long before they have gone. Quite a number of police forces tell us that they are approaching the point at which they will no longer be able to dip into reserves to plug those manning gaps. Again, we could be approaching the edge of a precipice if special grants disappear and reserves are running out. If we do not have the alternative that the right hon. Member for Harrow, East rightly discussed in considerable detail, and if we maintain the capping regime whereby the Government tell local authorities and, as in this case, police authorities, that they can increase their precept only by a specified amount, or not at all—there are suggestions that council tax might be entirely frozen for a while in the future, which means that there will be cuts—where will the police and local communities turn to? Will police numbers and the services that the police provide simply drop dramatically?
As a few hon. Members have already pointed out, surveys by MORI and other organisations have all come up with the same message—local people would be willing to pay 10 to 30 per cent more on their police precept if they could see a direct link between that money and local policing. A lengthy, in-depth consultation by Derbyshire police authority over two or three years reached a similar conclusion. People do not want that money to go to someone in London who will then hand it back out in grants that may or may not come back to Derbyshire, for example. They want it to go to their police authority to spend on policing the streets in their towns and villages, but the Government say that they will not allow that to happen and they have capped authorities. We heard about capping earlier. In Derbyshire, last year, there was not an outright cap but what happened was effectively the same. The Government said, “We are not going to cap you and make you re-bill, but we will reduce your grant by the amount that you raised by increasing the precept by more than we thought that you should.” So, this year that police authority is faced with an effective cap, even though it has been given a different name.
We are told that efficiency savings are the new solution. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, the Conservative Government used “efficiency savings” as a euphemism for the massive cuts that they imposed in most sectors, including policing and education, in which I worked. We must conclude that this Government’s use of the same term will amount to much the same thing. Several points need to be made about that. First, if one says that there are large efficiency savings to be made in the way that our police authorities should be run in the next year or two, it implies that there is a lot of waste—a lot of fat or flab—in the system that could be removed, so that that money could be spent on proper policing. I cannot speak for other police forces, but I know that that is not true of the Derbyshire police, who have had to make as many efficiency savings as possible in the past few years because of Government underfunding. There are few efficiency gains left to be made in that force, so the idea that there is a lot of flab to be cut so that money can be recycled is a dangerous one, especially given that police authorities cumulatively have made £2 billion-worth of efficiency savings in the past 10 years. How much more can they do?
I take those points in part, but does the hon. Gentleman recognise that the five east midlands police authorities and forces have collaborated significantly since the denouement of the merger debate? The efficiency savings that they are making are real, and that money is being transferred to the front line.
Yes, the authorities have made great steps forward in that regard. Some criticisms have been levelled about police forces not collaborating, but the Derbyshire police authority always says that that is not true of the east midlands forces, and points to what successful collaboration there has been. It is also looking at further collaboration, so there are things that can be done. However, if £2 billion-worth of cumulative efficiency savings have already been made across police authorities— percentage-wise, the saving in Derbyshire will have been higher than in other areas because it has had to make savings as a result of being underfunded by £5 million a year—how much more flab can be cut? How many more resources can be redirected into front-line policing? Given that 88 per cent. of police budgets are staffing costs, a demand for more and more efficiency savings must mean much more civilianisation, which has already gone on apace. How much further can authorities go without taking real police off the streets? Alternatively, efficiency savings will mean a loss of uniformed officer numbers, so the phrase “efficiency savings” is a euphemism for cuts.
Absolutely. In Derbyshire alone, the loss is equivalent to 160 police officers. If we add the losses across the east midlands, we arrive at the figure that the hon. Gentleman has just given. I will return to my slightly more parochial take on Derbyshire and the east midlands shortly.
I am interested in hearing the Minister’s comments on a different issue that has partly been touched on today, which was also raised last year and the year before. Some police authorities are very badly hit by rapid population movements such as migration and changes due to migrant labour. For example, 1 million Poles—10 times the estimated number—came over, as did many people from other groups. Such movements can hit certain areas particularly badly in all sorts of ways, such as the requirement to fund the cost of using translators in courts and police stations. The Government have just had to admit, in the past few days, that those costs are much higher than they had previously stated in their answers to parliamentary questions. When this issue was raised in 2008, the then Minister with responsibility for policing, the hon. Member for Harrow, East—
Sorry. The right hon. Member for Harrow, East said that it was a very good point and that we should look into it. When the same issue was raised last year, the then Policing Minister—now the Minister for Schools and Learners, the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker)—said exactly the same thing. I wonder whether the current Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), will now, three years on, not only say that that is a good point and that we should look at it, but exactly what concrete action is being taken to address the matter. Police authorities cannot wait for five or 10 years for Government statistics to catch up. Education and health authorities have the same problem when there are rapid influxes and sometimes egresses of population, particularly of migrant workers, as with the large number of Poles.
Let me ask a specific question. Appendix A of the report says that the population figures used to calculate police grants are
“those available to the Secretary of State on 1 October 2007”.
It talks about calculating the projected population for 2010 by using figures from the Registrar General that were published on 27 September 2007, whereas for Welsh authority areas, the projected total resident population has been estimated using Welsh figures. A big argument regarding local authorities and funding is the fact that projections are often based on figures from the previous census, the last of which was nine years ago in 2001. Is appendix A suggesting that the calculations for police grants are made using more up-to-date estimates, calculations or projections? How exactly are those figures arrived at, and are they more up to date than the projections used generally for local authority formulae calculations? If they are better and more up to date, that would be of great interest to old colleagues of mine who get involved in local government funding issues, which tend to be based on census figures.
Let me discuss what is a slightly more parochial issue for me as a Derbyshire MP. We have already had one example about the east midlands receiving, because of formula funding, caps, floors and ceilings, the fourth-lowest level of Government funding for policing out of nine English regions. That is happened because of relatively low Government grants and the below-average base of council tax in relation to income. For example, there is a greater proportion of properties in the lower council tax band in the east midlands, so any council tax precept increase brings in much less than a similar increase in more affluent areas.
In 2006, the Government said yes to the full implementation of the police grant formula in the east midlands. The figures were wrong and the F40 campaign was right after all those years. The formula was reworked, and the new formula, from 2006, said that the east midlands should have had an extra £19 million. Given that the east midlands police authorities collectively say that to meet the policing needs that they and the Government assess are required now, this year, they need an extra £22 million, that £19 million virtually closes the gap.
There is a huge gap between what the police authorities say is required to meet policing needs in relation to risk, what the Government say that they should have in funding and what the Government will give them. In that regard, the Derbyshire force is losing £5 million a year, so, for the Government to say, “Yes, you need this money, but, no, you can’t have it,” seems outrageous. We have heard some eloquent comments on that issue from a former Policing Minister, the right hon. Member for Harrow, East, but it is a shame that he could not implement those ideas two years ago, when he was in office. Derbyshire’s underfunding of £5 million a year is equivalent to 160 officers and more than 200 PCSOs. Derbyshire has the lowest level of PCSO funding per head of population of all forces in the country.
Earlier, the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber), who is not in her place any more, said that Derbyshire’s police numbers had risen considerably in the time that she had been a Member of Parliament. However, in the five years between September 2004 and September 2009, in an area with one of the lowest numbers of police officers per head of population in the country, the rise in police numbers was exactly 29. That is not a great tribute to the Government’s actions in redressing the unfair funding given to Derbyshire compared to similar police authorities.
That rise is still one of the lowest, per head of population, in the entire country.
Finally, the Derbyshire police authority wrote to the Government on 6 January about the police grant report that we are debating today. It said:
“We are disappointed that the final year of the three year grant settlement has not been used to move swiftly to full implementation of the new formula grant settlement, introduced five years ago.”
It is still not fully implemented. The letter went on:
“The grant floor continues to peg back the grant increase for Derbyshire Police Authority.
For Derbyshire, this means that the Authority has lost out on funding of…£26 million in the five years since the new formula was introduced. We appreciate that full implementation in one year would have been unduly harsh on authorities that stood to lose grant. Nevertheless, we believe that the three-year settlement provided an ideal opportunity to move to full implementation of the formula, in a phased way that would have enabled those authorities to plan for a reduction in their grant.”
Derbyshire is in a bad position that has not really improved. The future for all police authorities is, of course, looking grimmer but I hope that whoever is making these decisions in a few weeks or months will consider regions such as the east midlands and police authorities such as Derbyshire. If cuts have to be made, I hope that they will redress the balance, with areas such as Derbyshire, which is already so far behind, suffering fewer cuts than better funded areas.
It is unacceptable for the Government to say, “Yes, you need £5 million a year more if you are to provide the policing that’s needed and, yes, we’re going to inspect and judge you as though you’d got that money—but no, you can’t have it.”
I am happy to support a fellow east midlands Member of Parliament in asking for more. One of the features of debates like this is that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House press the Police Minister for more resources for their area. In the end, we will all be judged, when we face the electorate, by whether we take the issue of crime seriously and whether we have used the resources that we have been given to deal with the causes of crime, and crime itself, in the five years since the last election.
The Minister is probably fed up with my voice, as he was with the Select Committee on Home Affairs this morning as we concluded our inquiry into crime prevention. The former Prime Minister Tony Blair talked about the Government being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. The Minister came with the very good news that crime has fallen since he has been in his post, and that is obviously something to celebrate. The police budget has increased, as hon. Members on both sides of the House must accept. However, it is important to look at the causes of crime, and we hope to conclude our report on that subject before the general election is called.
I want to apologise to the House for missing the opening statement made by my right hon. Friend the Minister, but the wonderful new technology of the BlackBerry, which we have suggested should be given to every police officer, meant that I was kept informed of everything that he said. I was waiting to see the Prime Minister to discuss the important issue of Yemen, and the Prime Minister’s diary and commitments on Northern Ireland meant that the meeting kept getting put back. That is why I missed the start of the debate, for which I am sorry, although I was present to hear the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley), talk about the Conservative party’s policy in this area.
I thought that we could reach a consensus on police numbers, certainly after the Select Committee decided to conclude its unanimous report on police service strength. I see that two other members of the Committee—my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter)—are in their places. We were being lobbied hard by police authorities and others: some said that they would have to cut numbers, while others said that they were happy with what they had been given. Some authorities said that they had not had enough funding over the past 12 years. The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) reminded us that the east midlands had done worse than any other region, and asked us to look at that. We therefore decided to have a dispassionate look at numbers.
We published our report a couple of weeks ago, and the key facts are in it. We found that the Government were right to say that there had been a real-terms increase of 19 per cent. in central funding for the police since 1997-98, and that there had been an increase of 4.8 per cent. in the number of officers, and a rise of 15.5 per cent. in police support staff. However, we found that there was a decline in the number of visible police officers in 13 of the 43 police authorities. Although we can agree that the amount of money being made available has gone up, the worry on both sides of the House has to do with what is going to happen in the future.
I obviously hope that the Labour party will take office after the general election, but it could be the Liberal Democrats or the Conservatives. Whichever party it is, though, it will face the difficulty that a declining amount of resources will be dedicated to the police service. One can wait for ages for a Police Minister to come along, but we have heard from two already today. It is possible that there are two future Police Ministers on the Opposition Benches. Because 88 per cent. of the police budget is to do with the work force, I and my Committee believe that every Police Minister will have to face the prospect of financial restraint.
I hope that all hon. Members will read our report, because it suggests alternatives to cutting the budget. We looked at the involvement of the private sector, and we talked about how the public sector could be more efficient. We also raised the issue of voluntary mergers: although we do not say that they should be compulsory, we in the east midlands have already seen collaboration between the forces of Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. That is an option and a scenario that could be pursued.
My right hon. Friend is talking about other ways for police forces and authorities to raise revenue. Did his Committee look at the possibility of giving police authorities greater powers to raise the full cost of policing major events such as music festivals and large sporting fixtures?
Yes, we did. Although we did not specify music festivals in particular, that is one of the last recommendations in the report. We said that police authorities, with the assistance of local stakeholders, should be able to raise the money that they need if local people agree that that should happen.
Of course we were worried about the cap, as Leicestershire is one the authorities that is to be capped. I was one of the all-party group of the county’s MPs that went to ask Ministers not to cap Leicestershire, on the grounds that the county’s police need the resources to deal with the work that has been put before them. We accept that funding has increased, because that is a fact, but Ministers have also posed new challenges to local police forces. The amount of legislation that has emerged from this House and the challenges facing local police officers mean that they have to spend more time doing what the Government ask.
The current Police Minister was not in post when the Labour Government came to power. In fact, I cannot remember who the first one was, but the Government have been elected three times now and there will be things that the police were asked to do in 1997 that they are now being asked not to do any more. That is why we welcome the appointment of Jan Berry. We welcomed her report, but we want it to be implemented. What she says is not that much different from what Sir Ronnie Flanagan said in his report, or from what we said in our report “Policing in the 21st Century”—that is, that there should be less bureaucracy and more technology. We should cut red tape and make sure that police officers are on the front line and that they are visible.
I raised with the Minister the case of Staffordshire, as I always do. I saw very good practice in Staffordshire— 24 pieces of paper reduced to one. I asked the previous Home Secretary whether that could be done all over the country. She said that the Government would look into it. I asked the current Home Secretary and the Police Minister. They said that the Staffordshire experience is being rolled out all over the country. It is a while since I was in government, so I am not quite sure what “rolled out” means. Does it mean that rolling out will take several weeks, months and years, or does it mean a Home Secretary telling police forces, “You will do this. We think this is a good idea because it saves money in Staffordshire, so you will save money in Lincolnshire or in Northamptonshire”?
I know that the last time I raised the matter when the Minister was on the Front Bench he nodded and said that it was being rolled out in Staffordshire, so let us see when he replies how many police authorities have done what Staffordshire has done, rather than waiting for the great roll-out process, which I am sure is happening. It would be helpful for the House to have some facts.
What I say to the Minister is yes, we need to look at innovative ideas. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds has, of course, had many debates and discussions with me and with the Committee on these matters, and the shadow Home Secretary gave evidence to the Committee this morning about what the Conservative party would do to try to cut crime in the future. What we say is that it is important that we do not get into a debate about the statistics, but that we look into the effect.
I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds agrees that what people want, in the end, is the visibility of police officers. They will accept any changes in backroom staff, so long as a police officer turns up when they ring and ask for an officer to be present. They will forgive us a great deal if we continue to provide that basic service. If we do, they will understand that there must be changes in the way that the police do their business.
I was as surprised as most when we read in the papers and heard on the radio that the overtime rates have shot up to such an extent that some police officers may be paid—I do not know whether this was mentioned before I came into the Chamber—£100 for answering one phone call on overtime. That is an enormous sum of public money. We do not know how many calls are answered. When I put that to the Minister this morning, he said that the Government needed to be robust in dealing with it. I said that we should have attached strings to the increase in police funding. We should have required police authorities to do more so that such stories did not emerge and so that we did not see a ballooning of overtime payments for the police.
The Government are responsible for making sure that that happens. We cannot wait for local forces to achieve efficiency. There must be some direction from central Government because it is central Government funding. I hope that that will happen in the long run, under whichever Administration take office after the next election. We should be much clearer about how public money should be spent.
We suggested in our last report that we should spend money on new technology. All officers should be given a hand-held device so that they can take statements at the time of an incident. That would save time. They could use that instrument to find out whether a car had been stolen. That would save the time of witnesses and of the police. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether that scheme has been rolled out. It is a no-brainer to make sure that our police are provided with sufficient equipment to enable them to do their job as efficiently as possible.
My final point relates to accountability. The Select Committee has not considered the question of elected commissioners or police chiefs at a local level, as opposed to the current system. The Government wanted to ensure that members of the police committee were elected. They then withdrew that proposal. My concern is the way in which the current system is run. We may know, as elected representatives, but the public do not know, precisely who sits on police committees.
In addition to local police forces acquiring greater visibility, police committees need to ensure that they are more visible, so that if people had complaints about policing, they would not necessarily have to make a complaint against the police. They could go to their local police authority member and ask them to take up their complaint. Police authority meetings would not then be seen as private meetings that are held in police headquarters. More information would be provided to the public. Perhaps by means of modern technology, such meetings could be televised by the police and put online so that people had access to what was being decided on their behalf.
I am not sure that that would mean that we do not have elected police chiefs. That is a debate that we need to have. There are no conclusions from the Committee and I have no personal views on the matter, but the public needs to be much more involved in the process than they can be by attending one or two local neighbourhood meetings. In any popularity contest, the local beat officer is infinitely more important and more popular than any other local official, apart from the local doctor. Of course, we are way down the list because we are elected officials and nobody likes Members of Parliament, do they? Local councillors are probably one rung ahead of us.
That local popularity must be translated into an understanding of how the local police force works. I hope very much that we will engage in a discussion that will allow more information to go to local people, so that they feel better informed and know that their money is well spent. We will never have the opportunity again, in my view, when people will not require value for money from local police forces.
It is a terrible state of affairs that special measures may be introduced for forces such as the Nottinghamshire force. We have had to wait so long for action to be taken. I know that the Minister told us today that these were matters for the inspectorate, but the inspectorate should have acted sooner. Why was it allowed to reach a stage where a police authority with a multimillion pound budget and chief officers who are paid hundreds of thousands of pounds are assisted to do their job? That cannot be right.
There must be a better system of monitoring our local police forces at a local and national level, through the inspectorate. Whether it is through the National Policing Improvement Agency or by Denis O’Connor, someone must do their work better so that council tax payers and citizens, like those of Nottinghamshire, do not have to see their local police force being taken over because it has not been properly run. We want to make sure that that is the only case of its kind, and that we act before we get to that stage.
I hope to say a few words about the county of Surrey, and I very much hope that the Policing Minister will at the end of the debate acknowledge not only that Surrey has a very good police force, but that our county has particular problems. I am quite certain that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley), who will be the next Policing Minister, will take a similar line.
We have a very good police force in Surrey. It is well led by chief constable Mark Rowley, and the British crime survey assessed that it was the absolute top force in the country in terms of public confidence in the police and local councils’ joint work to deal with antisocial behaviour. In Surrey, not least because of financial constraints, we are focusing very hard on local expectations rather than on national targets.
We perform well with a low level of funding. So far, so good, but funding has always been a problem for Surrey. I do not expect any Government Front Bencher to talk as positively as I shall about extra funding for Surrey police, but we are in a bad way. A lot of funding comes from a central Government grant, and some comes from the county council precept, but Surrey has historically received one of the lowest per capita levels of central Government funding of any police force in the country. For example, Government funding for Surrey police in 1996 was £96 per head of population. By 2009-10, it had dropped to £93, which is £57 below the national level. That is not a happy state of affairs, and the formula that the Government use to allocate funding to forces does not reflect the real cost of policing our county.
That drags us into the issue of the formula, which is mind-bogglingly complicated. I shall address that in a minute. If we work out our population and the application of the formula over those many years, we are left with the figure that I gave the House a moment ago.
Surrey has rather different problems from those of any other county. We are the best away-day county for criminals. I do not say that all criminals come from somewhere other than Surrey, but the M25 has certainly helped them. When my house in Surrey was burgled seven years ago, I was sure that an hour and a half later the burglars were somewhere north of London. I do not know why I think that all burglars come from north, as opposed to south, London. What a bias I show! I do not mean that at all; I withdraw it. However, the reality is that the motorway has helped considerably. Being serious, I think that 50 per cent. of crimes in our county are committed by cross-border criminals from neighbouring areas. That aspect of life in Surrey is not accounted for in the funding formula. We have extra, different problems and responsibilities in Surrey, and they are not reflected in the formula, although I hope that they might be in the future.
At this point, I address my remarks particularly to my hon. Friend on the Opposition Front Bench. The M25, for example, has extra policing requirements, and we also have to help with Gatwick and Heathrow, which are both massive airports. Then there is the odd, one-off case, of which Surrey seems to have rather too many. They are the one-off cases in which there is an extra bill for Surrey council tax payers, who fund the police precept. A typical example was the General Pinochet situation, when we had to look after him in Surrey for years and years but got no extra money for doing so.
There is another little issue, which I discussed with the chief constable not long ago: terrorism. One thinks of Surrey as a county with leafy lanes; one would not somehow associate it with terrorism. But in Surrey there are potential cells—put it that way—of people who do not mean well, and I know that the burden of expense on the police force has been increasing. Trying to explain that Surrey faced extra burdens in that connection, I raised that issue, and some time ago so did my noble Friend Lord Trefgarne. He did so in the other place with the noble Lord West, who answered on behalf of the Government. As I have said, Surrey does very well with a low grant.
It was sad when our policing grant was capped, however. It was a terrible business when the decision was announced. We had a big debate about it in Westminster Hall and I remember that all my Surrey colleagues were there. The decision was made to ask Surrey police to return £1.6 million to the Surrey tax payer at an actual cost of £1.2 million. It is ludicrous to spend £1.2 million to send back £1.6 million, and it was an indefensible decision. When we set that against the chronic shortfall in central Government funding, in particular, we find that it was a sad state of affairs.
I come now to the funding formula. I am not aware of whether you, Madam Deputy Speaker, have a first-class degree in mathematics—that seems to me entirely possible—and the Minister may well have such a degree. However, I defy any Member of the House to explain, in comprehensible terms, what this formula is. For posterity, I shall quote from a magnificent document called “The Police Grant Report”. Wait for it, Madam Deputy Speaker—it is incomprehensible. I have never, in—I was going to say my 64 years of life, but I will say my long life—come across anything that is such gobbledegook: I am flabbergasted by it. This part is one of about 15—it talks about something called top-ups, and is headed “Police Crime Top-Up 1”. Here we go; I advise the Minister to make a note:
“2.6482 multiplied by DAYTIME NET INFLOW PER RESIDENT POPULATION; plus
0.2953 multiplied by LOG OF BARS PER 100 HECTARES; plus
16.2210 multiplied by INCOME SUPPORT/INCOME BASED JSA/GUARANTEE ELEMENT OF PENSION CREDIT CLAIMANTS; plus
34.1326 multiplied by SINGLE PARENT HOUSEHOLDS”.
Well, it is impossible; I could look at that on an exam paper for a couple of hours and would not have the slightest clue. At the end of the document, under the heading “Scaling Factor”—I did not have a clue what a scaling factor is, and I am still none the wiser—it says:
“The scaling factor used in paragraph 5.6…is:
It is magnificent.
I am very grateful. The Minister is a very good man for whom I have had the greatest respect over the years, and that respect remains even now.
Surrey is battling on. Something rather innovative is happening in our county, and I wonder whether other police forces are aware of it; I suspect that the Minister will be. Whatever the financial constraints, we are trying to get 200 more visible police officers on the streets. How are we going to do that? Well, there are some very interesting new ideas as regards what is happening in Surrey. There are to be cuts in the number of senior officers, and cuts in bureaucracy. The chief constable, Mark Rowley, is exploring, with local councils, opportunities to locate local policing teams within borough and district council offices to provide a better service to the public in tackling local problems. That approach has been piloted in my own constituency of Woking. I wondered about it to start with, but then I thought after a while that it is not a bad idea. People can pop into the council offices, and the police are there. They sometimes want to have a chat about various issues, and they do not have to go miles from one place to another. Then I thought of one or two clapped-out police stations in Surrey, and realised that it is no bad thing if the police can move around a bit and, in the meantime, save a bit of money that they can use for front-line policing. That approach is working pretty well in Woking; Addlestone has also reaped its rewards. Having more accessible places for the public to meet the police is a great idea, and replacing some old and expensive police buildings can help as well.
In my retirement, I plan to spend day after day looking at the police formula and trying to comprehend it. There may come a time when I send a note to my colleagues saying what it really means, but I think that the Minister is absolutely right—it means “We need more money, please.” One day, surely, the formula must be revisited a little bit; we should recognise that it can operate somewhat unfairly against an extremely good county such as Surrey.
It is a great pleasure and privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins). The House will miss his witty interventions when he retires—ridiculously early, if I may say so—at the next general election.
In this short debate, we are considering the police support grant for 2010-11. However, the elephant in the room is what happens in April 2011 for 2011-12 and onwards.
It is good to see that the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, has come back into the Chamber. I know that he is going to stay throughout the entirety of my speech, so he may wish to take his place. I agree with him that much of the evidence that we have heard over recent weeks and months suggests that from April 2011 onwards, there will certainly be a tightening of the position. Many chief constables and police authorities around the country are concerned about that.
It seems to me that whoever wins the election, from April 2011 there will be a tightening of budgets. The key challenge is protecting front-line policing when budgets will be under constant pressure, probably for three to five years. Obviously, that will partly depend on individual police officers being able to improve how they deliver services, through some of the ideas that have come forward this afternoon, and it will partly be about saving costs elsewhere in the system in a way that does not have an impact on front-line policing. I wish to suggest one possible way of doing that, using my own police authority—Devon and Cornwall—as an example.
First, I wish to say that Devon and Cornwall has a good police authority and a good police force, and I pay tribute to all the hard-working police officers in my constituency, whether they are inspectors, sergeants, constables or police community support officers. Day in, day out, they do an excellent job, and all credit to them. I obviously welcome the uplift in the amount of money that Devon and Cornwall will receive over the next 12 months—an additional £5.746 million, making a total grant from the Government of £117 million, which is very welcome. The police authority’s total spend in the 12 months to March 2009 was £295 million, which shows that a lot of its income is received apart from Government, but we welcome any increases in Government funding.
As I said, from April 2011 we will struggle to safeguard front-line policing, whoever is in power. How can we do that? I was looking last night, sad person that I am, through the Devon and Cornwall police accounts for the year to 31 March 2009. I was interested to note that it cost £1.4 million to run the police authority—not the police force but the bureaucracy and administration necessary to support it. If we are successful in winning the next election—let us face it, it is by no means in the bag and it will be a very close contest—our innovative and radical plan of electing police commissioners will cut most of that cost at a stroke. As a country we are short of radical ideas for police forces, but that would mean that we would not need so much bureaucracy, so that £1.4 million could mainly be diverted towards police officers.
I know that the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall will not thank me for pointing this out, and he is a good chief constable doing a good job, but I was interested to note that he is paid a salary of more than £175,000.
Indeed, and that is much the same as the Prime Minister. I do not know what other Members think, but I find it hard to understand how people in the public sector doing lesser jobs than the Prime Minister can justify salaries of that magnitude. When the Prime Minister goes to bed at night he is concerned about Northern Ireland, the situation in the middle east, Afghanistan and all the pressures that he is under. It is not quite the same to grapple with crime on Union street in Plymouth, serious and important though that is. I am not saying that the chief constable’s salary is too much, but I wonder whether many people in my constituency are aware of how much he earns. Perhaps they will be from tomorrow onwards.
There are five police officers in Devon and Cornwall who earn more than £100,000. I did not know that until last night, and I do not think many of my constituents do. In the great wider debate about public sector salaries at senior level, it is important that our constituents have the information on which to make their judgment. I certainly agree with those who say that no one in the public sector should earn more than the Prime Minister in the years ahead.
Devon and Cornwall police authority spends £500,000 a year on press and publicity. Maybe that is money well spent, and perhaps it is a reflection of the world in which we live, but it is still an awful lot of money. It could pay for five senior police officers, I suppose.
The main thrust of my argument—the Minister has heard it before, and I have bored the Home Affairs Committee with it quite a lot in recent weeks and months—is that we can do an awful lot more to ensure that there is co-operation between police forces, up to and including voluntary mergers. When that was being discussed five or six years ago by the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), whose views we now agree with daily—he has some great insights into the workings of this Government—I completely opposed the suggestion that Devon and Cornwall police should merge with other authorities. However, as I have said in the Home Affairs Committee and to wider audiences, I was completely wrong on that. The Government were wrong to force such mergers from a top-down position, and we have probably arrived at a much more balanced situation today. Police forces up and down the country are being encouraged—and they are doing so voluntarily—to look at the savings that can be made by co-operating or merging with their next-door police force.
As part of the Committee’s studies, we interviewed the very impressive Chief Constable Parker of Bedfordshire police. Answering a question from me about the possibility of her force merging with the Hertfordshire police force, she gave me this information:
“Since 2006 the Chief Constable of Hertfordshire and myself have been working with our authorities on a collaboration programme. We have collaborated to the extent that we have joint units of more than 500 police officers and staff and that has saved us £2.2 million year-on-year. Our estimates—in fact they are more than estimates because we have worked very hard on the business case—are—first of all, the bad news—that it will cost us £20 million to make the merger happen, but within three years we would be gaining savings of £14.6 million per annum.”
My maths is not particularly strong, unlike yours, Madam Deputy Speaker, with your first-class degree in the subject, but £14 million savings for £20 million is a pretty good start—it is for only three years.
Chief Constable Parker went on to say:
“To put that against the picture that we were working on in terms of budget gap, we estimate—this is an estimate obviously—that by 2013-14 combined forces would have a budget gap of over £23 million.”
Whoever wins the next election, that is the sort of challenge that police forces are going to be looking at—that was from the horse’s mouth, the chief constable of Bedfordshire. One way we can fill that gap is to encourage police forces to consider voluntary merger.
What kind of savings could be made and on what functions? If Devon and Cornwall police merged with Dorset police, the new force would need only one chief constable—thereby saving a very significant salary—fewer senior officers and only one headquarters. I imagine that one force could get away with far fewer accountants in the police authority and, presumably, one force would need the same number of press and marketing people as two—they would just need to cover a slightly wider territory. Money would be saved on back-office costs, administration, and human resources and personnel. Such savings could add up to many millions of pounds. The Devon and Somerset fire services recently merged. There were quite a few wobbles and concerns about that to begin with, but things settled down extremely well, and it has been able to save significant sums in back-office functions. Police forces could do the same.
One may ask, “What about accountability?” but I would answer, clearly and boldly, that Devon and Cornwall police authority has no real accountability to the people of Devon and Cornwall. I must confess—this is a shocking admission—that I did not know the name of the chair of Devon and Cornwall police authority until I looked it up this morning on the internet. The chair recently changed, so that was not completely hopeless on my part, but I did not know the name and I am supposed to be an informed elected representative of that area. If I asked my constituents how many of them could name the chair of the Devon and Cornwall police authority, I suspect the answer would be three or four. That is the reality: there is no connection between the authority and the people of Devon and Cornwall.
Accountability and connectivity happens at basic command unit level. We have a tremendous relationship with the commander of the Plymouth BCU—local Members of Parliament and councillors have regular meetings with him and he is a very impressive officer—and a tremendous relationship at ward level, with inspectors, sergeants and constables on the beat. That is how most communities relate to their police. They relate to their beat constable, and they might go to meetings to which an inspector or sergeant might go. The relationship is not with the police authority or with the headquarters at Middlemoor in Exeter; it is much closer. Therefore, adding Dorset to Devon and Cornwall police, or even going a step further to incorporate Avon and Somerset within the same police area, would not diminish accountability on the ground, because accountability happens in a very different way. It is wrong, of course, to do things just for financial reasons, but I see little or no downside to a bottom-up rationalisation of police forces—not top-down pressure from the Government in which they would define the values of mergers—that could save millions of pounds. Such a rationalisation would help whoever wins the next election to bridge the gap and keep police officers on the front line. I encourage chief constables to speed up discussions with neighbouring authorities and consider voluntary mergers.
My experience in 17 years as a Member of Parliament has been that uniformed services—be they the armed forces, the ambulance service, the fire service or the police force—are slow to change and can be poor at embracing technology. It is not good enough to leave things to them. A little pressure from the Home Office is necessary to encourage police forces to seek the most efficient way to deliver their services.
The police force in Devon and Cornwall spends an awful lot of money every year on policing Travellers. We have an increasing number of intrusions into my constituency, and one reason why they are so expensive to police is the system for dealing with them. In almost every case, the local authority must serve a notice, which means consulting lawyers and putting legal papers in order, and that is expensive. Then the authority must wait for the notice to expire, during which time the police are in attendance in most cases—costing money—but they are not free to act. The legislation needs to be looked at again—
Does my hon. Friend agree that, once the process has been completed, the Travellers go on a little circuit, returning in nine months to a year, and the whole process has to be gone through again? In my patch, that has happened for five years in one particular area—it is crazy.
I agree strongly with my hon. Friend, and the House needs to look at this issue again. We need to modernise and streamline the law, because it is an expensive problem that causes great irritation in the local community. At the very least, the police should have the power to move Travellers on without waiting for the local authority process to take place. I do not quite understand why that is not the law, although I am sure that it is for good reasons. The Minister may not want to touch on this when he winds up, as it is slightly outside the scope of this order, but it is a costly business and very frustrating for local councils and our constituents.
My main point is that whoever wins the next election will face tremendous challenges. One way to bridge the gap and ensure that we can support and protect front-line policing is to try to encourage all police forces to consider increased collaboration and voluntary mergers.
In the middle of the 19th century, Lord Palmerston said:
“Only three people have ever really understood the Schleswig-Holstein business—the Prince Consort, who is dead—a German professor, who has gone mad—and I, who have forgotten all about it.”
One could say almost the same thing about the police formula grant. Yesterday was Groundhog Day, and that is what it feels like today for me, because for the past three years I have come to put to Ministers, either in the Chamber or in Westminster Hall, the sui generis situation in Cambridgeshire of consistent underfunding of its constabulary.
I begin by paying warm tribute to all the staff, police officers and police community support officers in Cambridgeshire, especially to the leadership of the chief constable, Julie Spence, who has made a coherent, cogent and strong case for increased funding on the basis of a perfect storm of issues that have affected the Peterborough constituency in Cambridgeshire, alluded to earlier by the Minister and, generously, by the right hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), the former Minister. I speak as someone whose father served in the Metropolitan police for 25 years and whose younger brother is a serving Metropolitan police officer.
I thought that the Minister showed a strange mixture earlier of cocky complacency and rather pugilistic arrogance, which is unusual for him—he is normally pretty emollient and amenable to arguments. We do not see policing in Peterborough through his rose-tinted glasses, and it ill behoves him to lecture and challenge us on our fiscal policies given that his Government have presided over an appalling deterioration of public finances and have been unwilling, or unable, to come forward with a comprehensive spending review for the next period. All the Government’s prognostications, pledges and promises are therefore worthless. They certainly care, but they cannot possibly know what situation will prevail beyond 2011.
That pertinent and apposite point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) from the Front Bench. As I made clear earlier, prior to the May 2005 election generous promises were made on the then vogue of having more police community support officers, and a promise was given to deliver 24,000 over the next period of the Labour Government. They were re-elected, but failed, by 8,000 officers, to deliver on that manifesto pledge. So hon. Members will understand if I consider that the Minister might have gilded the lily somewhat in his self-congratulatory speech.
I shall return to the situation in Cambridgeshire. The Minister will know that I secured a debate in Westminster Hall in February 2008 on funding in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire, in which I was supported by hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth). We made the case that, in our opinion, Cambridgeshire was a special case. The floors and ceilings system must be looked at again, because although we received a slightly more than average increase this year, cumulatively under the damping mechanism we have lost £2.7 million. Since the mechanism was put in place in the 2004-05 fiscal year, we have cumulatively lost £16.5 million, which equates to about 80 additional police officers who could have been recruited to tackle crime in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire.
The Minister will know that Cambridgeshire has one of the fastest-growing populations in England and faces specific issues with large-scale EU migration. Close on 20,000 EU migrants—mainly Lithuanians, but also Latvians and Poles—have come to Peterborough in the past six years, and inevitably that has demonstrably put a strain not only on primary education, primary care and housing, but on crime and policing. That is the reasonable and fair point that Mrs. Spence, the chief constable, has consistently put to Ministers over a significant period—but to no end, apparently.
If one takes the census figures as read, including the 2006 mid-year estimates, we remain the sixth lowest funded force per thousand head of population for police officers and the fourth lowest overall for all staff in the whole of England and Wales. Unfortunately, despite the lobbying and myself and others imploring the Government to consider our specific issues, we compare very unfavourably with comparator forces such as Essex, Gloucestershire, Avon and Somerset and Warwickshire.
I want to return to the stresses and strains caused by the ramifications of the free movement directive, which was enacted in May 2004 for EU migrants. I have never said that those people—many of them good, decent, hard-working people—are particularly responsible for any more or less crime than anyone else. That is not the point. The issue is the large numbers. The right hon. Member for Harrow, East made the point that things have moved so quickly that the Office for National Statistics, the Home Office and the Migration Impacts Forum have failed to keep track of the numbers and the pressures that have arisen so quickly, changing the character of whole neighbourhoods and making the challenges so significant for senior and beat police officers.
On the hon. Gentleman’s point about whether migrant labourers are more likely to be involved in crime, I understand that some recent research has shown that they are more likely to be the victims of crime. That still causes extra costs for the police, because of translation services and all the rest of it, but migrant labourers are more likely to be the victims of crime than the cause.
The hon. Gentleman makes an astute point. The research consultancy Ibex Insight undertook a study called “Policing Peterborough” in 2005, which made that exact point. To give a simple example, where single women who do not earn very much money are living with younger men in houses in multiple occupation, they are, whether we like it or not, likely to be the victims of offences as serious as sexual assault, theft, intimidation and so on. That was one of the findings of that report, which was commissioned, incidentally, by Cambridgeshire constabulary to support its argument on funding.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right that we are not stigmatising the migrant work force, but saying that both ends of the spectrum—from those who perpetrate crime to those who are the victims—put significant extra pressure on police forces. Around half of all the cases processed through the custody block at Thorpe Wood police station, in the west of Peterborough, involve people whose first language is not English. One can imagine the substantial revenue issues that that raises for Cambridgeshire constabulary. Indeed, the projected cost of translation and interpretation in this financial year is £865,000. The cost of using the interpretation service offered by Language Line Services Ltd runs at approximately £7,300 a month, while 22 per cent. of those using it are Lithuanian, 19 per cent. are Polish and 12 per cent. are Russian, with a significant number—two dozen—of various other languages used.
For that reason alone, Cambridgeshire is deserving of a specific review of its funding, and that is without taking into account the issues of tourism in Cambridge, the organic growth of residential housing in the county and, as touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter), Gypsies and Travellers, who have crime-related issues that have had a big impact on the south of the county in the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) and for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice).
We would not be so concerned about the issue if the crime figures were not so spectacularly out of kilter with the views of the Minister. In the city area of Peterborough, we are more than twice as likely to experience problems of acquisitive crime, as compared with the English average. The rates for robbery, burglary, sexual offences and theft from a vehicle are all twice as high as the average too, while our rate for violence against the person is one third higher. Indeed, some in my constituency have said that over the past year we have witnessed, on the latest figures, an epidemic of acquisitive crime. Burglaries are up by 20 per cent. and robberies are up by 37.5 per cent. since 2008, notwithstanding the excellent work of Cambridgeshire constabulary, in particular through Operation Alert. It might be as well to mention the great work of Chief Superintendent Andy Hebb and his deputy, Superintendent Paul Fullwood, who are trying their best to deal with having very few officers and an increase in crime.
Policing is only part of the issue. We need to look again at sentencing policies, the role of the judiciary and the message that they send out to victims and criminals and those who would be tempted to commit crime. I mentioned in passing last week one of many examples, I am afraid, from Peterborough Crown court: the case of Lee and Carl Edwards, two brothers in my constituency, who were convicted on 135 counts of burglary between them. The judge at the trial, deputy circuit judge John Farnworth, considered it appropriate to jail them for 30 months and 51 weeks. The message that sends to my constituents—decent, hard-working people who get up in the morning, take their children to school, look smart, take pride in themselves, go to work and earn a decent wage—is that the judicial system does not care about them; it looks after people with so-called chaotic lives, at the so-called fringes of society, and it is more interested in them than hard-working people. That has to be a factor not just in the number of police, but in the way in which the judicial system works. The feeling that some people have is that the system works to the advantage of the criminals, not the victims.
To bring my hon. Friend back to the financing debate that we are having today, does he agree that the problem is that, even when the police catch criminals, they are back out on the street because of the Government's early release scheme? That alone costs forces more money than they have—
I am grateful for your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I concur heartily with my hon. Friend.
May I finish on some of the points made by my hon. Friends? I totally agree with the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon. The problem with the mooted 2006 mergers was that they were top-down and forced; there was little public consultation and little opportunity to debate properly the issues surrounding the specific challenges and problems of each force. The then Home Secretary understood that. There is ample evidence that, on payroll, human resources, procurement and premises, local police forces can and will work together. My hon. Friend is right about Devon and Somerset fire service, which is accruing significant savings as a result of that.
There is a huge deficit in accountability because many senior police officers are accountable to no one but the Home Secretary in practice. They must be accountable within strict parameters and a framework that we all buy into and understand and that has legitimacy in the House and beyond to local people, with their local priorities. We should never be in a situation where the operational decisions of the police are in the hands of politicians, who may use them for electoral advantage. I do not agree with that, and that is not the case in most places in the world. However, we need that golden thread between ordinary people on the street and their experience of crime and policing, and the people who make the decisions in central Government and at local level in the constabulary. For that reason, I heartily support the call by hon. Members and hon. Friends for elected police commissioners. That will restore people's faith and trust in the criminal justice system. It will mean that people have a real input into the decisions that are made about their local communities and tackling crime. Most people are law-abiding and decent, but they want fairness, accountability and transparency.
With that, I hope that the Minister specifically addresses the issues that I have raised about the Cambridgeshire constabulary. I pay tribute to all the people who work in the police service in Cambridgeshire, and I hope that we get a better settlement when we have a Conservative Government in the next few weeks.
I wish I could tell the Minister that my remarks will be sizeably different in any way from many of those who have spoken before, but they will be similar—except that I shall talk about the needs of Northamptonshire whereas other Members spoke of the needs of their counties.
What strikes me, however, is the degree of cross-party unanimity on the need to reform the formula. We heard a wonderful display of proper contribution to debate from my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), who is no longer in his place, about the total lack of ability to understand formula funding and its detail. I hope that the Minister will be able to promise us a total review of funding to ensure that when the new funding formula is introduced, it will be understandable at least to those who have to read these documents and try to make sense of them, but who, as my hon. Friend said, so far fail to do so on every occasion. I do not want to test the Minister on his knowledge of understanding of the formula. [Hon. Members: “Go on.”] It would be cruel to do so. There is a real need, however, to create a greater understanding for all of us.
There is also a real need to create fairer formulae. I know that my own county constabulary—as I shall explain in a little more detail later, it has missed out badly as a result of formula funding and experienced considerable difficulties with financing—has worked tremendously hard and wants to communicate that fact to the people it serves. A police survey is currently under way, which simply asks, “I would be prepared to pay more council tax for a higher level of service. Yes or No?” I do not know what the result will be, but it shows that there is real concern about police funding. I know that my county constabulary is most concerned about formula funding.
I welcomed the remarks of the former Policing Minister, the right hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), who is no longer in his place. He spoke thoughtfully on the basis of his long experience, but he made the same point that I am making to the Minister at this very moment: the formulae used for funding are so open to total incomprehension that they must be reformed. That from an ex-Minister. I know that the present Minister has a number of very clever civil servants supporting him—they are sitting in this Chamber at this moment—and I hope that they will understand the depth of feeling among us on this issue, because we need everybody to get behind this. If we manage to make the changes we want, it is they who will have to do the work, and I wish them very well.
I have had a number of discussions with my own constabulary, the last this morning, about the particular issues affecting it. The damping arrangements are a particular problem. Damping is supposed to subsidise forces with the least relative need by taking grants from those forces with the greatest relative need in order to ensure that they receive a minimum year-on-year increase rather than a cut. That is my basic understanding of damping as a formula.
Tragically, damping is not working—certainly not in Northamptonshire. My police authority and county constabulary believe that they suffer from a particularly unfair example of formula funding. Northamptonshire police estimate that they will lose £853,000 of formula grant next year as a result of damping. Indeed, they tell me that they have lost £1.844 million of formula grant over the last three years because of this particular process. As the Minister will know, that is a great deal of money to Northamptonshire police. In fact, it equates to 20 extra officers in the county each year.
I have already observed that the east midlands region seems to be particularly damaged by this element of formula funding. It is estimated that over the last three years the region has lost £60 million of formula grant that it believes should have come its way. As I pointed out in an intervention, that equates to an additional 600 officers each year. I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) make the same point earlier.
Northamptonshire county constabulary is particularly bewildered by the results of damping as it affects Northumbria police, who are the biggest gainers in this respect. They receive £36 million of subsidy per annum, which allows the local authority to freeze the council tax. How my own police authority would like to be in the same position, but it is not. It is especially unfair that, owing to the cumulative effect of damping over a number of years, Northamptonshire police are consistently being denied the level of grant that they require according to the needs formula itself. That seems to me like Alice in Wonderland.
If there was ever a need for change, this is it. I should like someone to look in the mirror, decide that change is needed, and tell us that it is going to happen. I hope that the Minister, who has been fair and courteous throughout the debate, will be able to promise to review the formula funding process.
Well, he is here now, so he can make the promise now. I would expect a similar promise to be made from my own Front Bench. If the Minister makes that promise today, I shall be able to go back to Northamptonshire and tell the county constabulary, which will be immensely happy. The Minister can see how easy it is to make our policemen happy, and I hope he will try to do that.
There are other reasons why I believe that the funding formula should be changed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Woking pointed out in his amusing speech, we need only look at the book to see how complicated it is, but no formula is any good if the basic input figures are wrong. This formula uses national statistics, and, unbelievably, the Office for National Statistics concluded that Northampton would experience no population growth between 2000 and 2008.
I am sorry, but Northampton represents part of the Government’s major expansion plan. I am sure that the Minister has been to my town and has seen the thousands upon thousands of new houses. I do not know who lives in them. I know some of my constituents but not the whole lot, and many are relative newcomers. Unless people in Northamptonshire are dying at an incredible rate there must have been an increase in population, but those are the figures that were used for the funding formula. No wonder we consider them to be totally discredited.
My good and hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) mentioned immigration. As in Peterborough, so in Northampton. We have seen a massive influx of mostly very good people—mainly from eastern Europe—but some of them are not so good, and they place put a sizeable additional strain on our police force. The formula is not nimble and quick-footed enough to be able to take that increase into account. Therefore, Northamptonshire misses out again, especially bearing in mind that the county town accounts for about a third of our population.
All specific grants, excluding the neighbourhood policing fund, have been frozen for six years. That means there will be a real-terms cut for Northamptonshire police. Indeed, Northamptonshire’s capital grant from Government is frozen at £1.379 million. Specific grants are used to fund activities such as rural policing, and rural policing is especially expensive. I know from all my correspondence and conversations with people from the rural area that I myself live in, which is just outside Northampton, how strongly the local rural population feels that it is not getting a good deal from the police service. The people there rarely see a policeman. It is true that Northamptonshire police have tried very hard to lift the profile of policing in rural areas, but the fact of the matter is that the local population still feels it is being hard done by, and I would put money on that also being the case in constituencies across the land with rural areas.
I ask the Minister to look at this issue as a matter of urgency. He has heard that plea from Members on both sides of the House during this debate. I simply ask that when he rises to his feet, he looks at me and smiles sweetly, and says how much he agrees with the hon. Member for Northampton, South and that he will ensure that the change to the formula funding is undertaken and that that will create an easier to understand and fairer situation for constituencies such as mine and counties such as Northamptonshire—and I hope my Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) does the same thing.
With the leave of the House, I would like to respond to the debate. It has been very interesting, and there have been some common themes—and there has also been occasion to smile, just for the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Binley). The main common theme is a point I mentioned at the beginning of the debate: every Member who has spoken represents an area whose police force has more officers now than 12 years ago. The local force of the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) in Cambridgeshire, for instance, has 109 more officers than 13 years ago. The police forces covering the constituencies of every Member who has spoken today also have more resources than in 1997 in real terms, including, dare I say it, my own force in north Wales, which has £45 million more than in 1997 in real terms. Every force of every Member who has spoken today has lower crime rates than in 1997, too. Overall, the rate is 36 per cent. lower than in 1997. Therefore, whatever points Members have made in this debate, the background to it is that we are still working from a very strong base in terms of the resources, crime figures and police numbers in their constituencies.
Under the police settlement for 2010-11, next year there will be about £259 million more for policing across England and Wales than this year. That means that every force of every Member who has spoken in the debate will get a minimum increase of 2.5 per cent. The average increase across the board will be 2.7 per cent., with a high of 3.5 per cent. in the case of Avon and Somerset. That is extra resources at a time of recession with a commitment from Government to meet those resources, and along with that there is falling crime, higher police numbers and more resources in general.
I accept that there are some issues, however. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley), my right hon. Friends the Members for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) and for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), and the hon. Members for Woking (Mr. Malins), for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) and for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) all said that they have concerns about the funding formula. I can also, at last, smile sweetly at the hon. Member for Northampton, South, because he has raised that issue in a way that can only charm me into responding to him in a positive way. I must tell all those Members that we keep the funding formula under review. I recognise that, as the hon. Members for Woking and for Peterborough said, there are pressures from population factors, tourism and a range of other issues; in Wales—in my part of the world—Cardiff city council and the South Wales police force are raising issues relating to sporting events.
We are undertaking a review of the funding formula. It was started in September 2008 and is due to conclude shortly. I would like to announce a public consultation period over the summer of 2010, after—I hope—I have been re-elected to this office in the general election. The points that colleagues have made should be passed on to me and my officials, because we need to examine the issues as part of the public consultation. We have given a commitment to examine the funding formula for the next comprehensive spending review. We did not want to carry out that examination in the middle of the current three-year cycle, because there will be winners and losers in any potential change.
There is a genuine wish—the hon. Member for Northampton, South can take this back to his constituency this weekend—to say that there will be a review and a consultation, that an assessment of the factors mentioned in this debate will be made and that there will be a revised funding formula, in one shape or another, for the next comprehensive spending review. As hon. Members will know, we have removed the ceilings—floors still exist and we intend to remove those. The time frame has not yet been determined, but we will seek to remove them when we can. We need to ensure financial stability.
There will be a public consultation, and I hope that it will take place in the summer of 2010. It will be up to whoever forms the Government and whoever the Policing Minister is to take that forward, but there will be a need to examine the funding formula. We anticipate that that will happen and it will involve widespread discussion. We certainly want to look at that positively.
The hon. Members for Chesterfield and for Peterborough made points about population estimates. They are based on the census, but they are projected forward by the Office for National Statistics. The formula does still use the most up-to-date population data possible as part of our assessment for the future. When I see the evidence before me, I can do no other than accept that there are disparities in the funding agreements because of the formula; the range is from 36 per cent. in Northumbria to minus 4 per cent. in Essex, and we are examining those wide variations. But I still contend that the formula is good for the current cycle in its form, it has delivered more resources and the £259 million that we have put in has been important.
The hon. Members for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) and for Bury St. Edmunds raised the valid point about funding post-April 2011. They will both know that I cannot commit on the broadest Home Office funding issues at the moment, because we do not have a CSR. In answer to the point made by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, I should say that the Chancellor has made a commitment to ensure that forces can maintain their officers numbers, be they police community support officers or full warranted officers. The forces will receive sufficient funding to maintain whatever officer numbers they wish to maintain, based on the current levels for April 2011. The priorities for this Government have been education, health and police numbers. All Departments will face challenges as a result of the funding settlement, but those commitments have been given to date.
It is important—these are my final two points in response to those that were raised—that we get better efficiency from the system. We talked about that this morning in the Home Affairs Select Committee and we have mentioned it in the debate today—it was mentioned by the hon. Member for Chesterfield and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East. I refer hon. Members to the high-level working group report that we published yesterday, which aims to get £540 million of efficiencies out of the system within the next three years—I have made a commitment that the police can keep those efficiency savings to put into front-line services. Those efficiencies are being sought through better procurement, for example. I think that it is madness that we have 43 individual forces buying body armour. It is madness that we have 43 forces buying vehicles, having air support, looking at forensics or getting IT. It is not a cut to combine those elements into one contract to get the best value out of the buying power—it is an efficiency that releases money that we can put into other services.
Similarly, the hon. Member for South-West Devon mentioned back-office services. There are co-operations and collaborations that we can do and we have considered mandating some of them to get value out of the system. We can, particularly in smaller forces, get better use of personnel, HR and a range of other matters by having that back-office support without having formal mergers.
I put down a clear challenge yesterday on the question of overtime for police. We are spending an awful lot of money on overtime and with better deployment, use of special constables and some scrutiny of overtime we can save money and can, I hope, save £70 million.
I am conscious of the time, so my final two points relate to voluntary mergers. We have made it very clear that, following the difficulties of the merger debate several years ago, the White Paper published before Christmas set a framework for voluntary mergers. The people involved can merge if they want to and they will have the support to do so, but they will need the support of the chief constable, the authority and, ultimately, the public who they serve. To help that process, we have put in place a £500,000 fund up front to help with some of the costs of preparing for mergers. That is available to be drawn down and applied for now and will be until April of this year.
We have also said that we will consider one of the blockages to mergers, which is council tax precept equalisation. We are happy to consider how we can work through that now and in the longer term with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. There is a wish to move the mergers forward. They can save resources, but they have to be voluntary and locally driven.
Finally, may I refer briefly to the roll-out of the four force pilot, even though my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East is unfortunately not here. It is, dare I say it, rolling out. Forces are at different stages of implementation and are being strongly supported by ACPO in taking up that four force pilot. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is writing to police chiefs and chairs to encourage them to adopt the four force pilot in their local areas.
There is a lot more that could be discussed, but time is pressing. Let me simply say that I hope that Members will approve the grant today for £259 million extra for next year. I hope—dare I say it—that the Opposition will support us in that commitment and will not renege on it, whatever happens in any potential election. I believe that we have a strong financial base for police funding, strong reductions in crime and strong police numbers. I accept, however, that specific issues need to be addressed, which we will consider and reflect on. I commend the grant to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2010-11 (HC 278), which was laid before this House on 20 January, be approved.